Who said this about the Prime Minister’s job? “It is
plainly an office that offers enormous opportunities. The capacity to influence
events for the good, the capacity to bring about change is almost limitless but
it is an office that has to be exercised and used in partnership with the other
great institutions of our nation. The first and foremost of those is of course
the Parliament itself and I do revere Parliament and I do revere the
accountability of the Executive to the Parliament.”
It was John Howard – back in 1997, at
the inaugural Prime Ministers on Prime Ministers Lecture.
Back then, the PM was referring to how he fronts every Question
Time – unlike Paul Keating in his Captain Whacky
days, who introduced something akin to Prime Minister’s Questions in the
Commons and only attended on certain days.
He brought the topic up in Question Time just last week. At
the same time, though, Howard takes delight in answering opposition
questions with a simple “No.” At least it’s direct. But it also says something
about just how much accountability he offers – the bare minimum.
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Today, the industrial relations bill is expected to pass through the House,
with the Government guillotining debate – using its numbers to cut it off. The
Government is also set to introduce its counter-terrorism bills. Debate will begin
immediately. That debate will be guillotined at some stage, too.
Look at some of the comments from this morning. Leader of the House, Tony Abbott, told the Parliament 77 MPs had
taken part in the debate over a total period of 24 hours:
“We have had very, very extensive debate,” he said. “I put it to you Mr Speaker how much debate, how much more
debate could this bill possibly require?
“I put it to you that members opposite aren’t interested in debating
this bill, they aren’t interested in trying to improve this bill. They simply
just want to reject this bill.”
Earlier, his opposition number Julia Gillard had told the ABC: “It’s not
enough when the bill hasn’t been referred to a House of Representatives
committee for inquiry and report, it’s not enough when the Government isn’t
going to give us extensive clause-by-clause consideration of the bill.”
Both are right.
lot of parliamentary procedure is ritualised – Question Time itself is almost
single combat. A lot of crap gets spoken. Hour after hour of debate can be
settled with a vote where nobody would ever dream of straying from the party
line. Yet Parliament exists to be a talking shop.
all remember our civics lessons: Parliament derives from the Old French parlement, from parler, to talk…
But we should also remember another word with the same root, parley – a discussion
or conference, especially one between enemies over terms of truce or other
exist to settle national concerns through speech, not conflict. We would do
well to remember that at this time of strife – to show that we, as a nation,
believe in settling our differences by talking things through.