Part-time pollies: which is Australia’s laziest Parliament?
As federal politicians jet into Canberra for Parliament’s first sitting day of 2014 today, they can rest assured they won’t be back very often. Australia’s parliaments are lazy, scheduled to sit on average for fewer than 50 days this year. And an academic has warned that makes it much easier for governments to hide from scrutiny and cramp public debate.
Crikey has tallied up how many days Australia’s lower houses are scheduled to sit — i.e. formally meet in their parliaments to consider legislation and debate issues — in 2014. While the UK House of Commons will sit 164 days and Canada’s lower house 130, Australia’s federal House of Representatives will sit for just 72 days.
That might not sound like much, but it’s better than South Australia’s lower house. Australia’s laziest Parliament is on a holiday of four to five months. It last sat on November 28, has no sitting days scheduled for this year, and is expected to sit again in May. The gap is nominally because the state election is March 15, but there’s no reason Parliament couldn’t have sat this year. Governments decide how many days they will sit each year — and the answer seems to be “not many, thanks”.
Queensland not only fails to have an upper house or a viable opposition, it fails to meet often — just 40 days. Victoria is on the low side at 42 days.
New South Wales and Tasmania fare better, while Western Australia is the standout state with 66 sitting days scheduled.
While there are plenty of parliaments around the world that sit Monday to Friday, our state politicians feel that Tuesday to Thursday is enough (the feds sometimes sit on Monday too).
Interestingly, the federal total of 72 days is historically high — the most sitting days since 2003. The long-term average is 67 days (there are usually fewer sitting days in election years, like 2013). The reason is that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has scheduled an extra sitting week for the lower house in July, when MPs usually set off on taxpayer-funded study tours. It’s likely the move is aimed at giving Parliament time to repeal the carbon tax under the new Senate from July 1.
Here are our results, for lower houses only, for 2014. The column on the right shows budget estimates, which are not technically sitting days. Budget estimates are where MPs form committees to grill the government on its spending and policies. We’ve included the cases where lower-house MPs drive the process (sometimes it’s upper house MPs only) …
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