With only two sitting weeks left in federal Parliament before the September 14 election, Labor has made a last-ditch effort to push a mounting pile of legislation through both houses. Some 96 bills remain before Parliament, with 31 of them introduced since May 29.
Parliament resumes next Monday and rises for the final time this term on Thursday June 27 — so there’s a lot to do.
By the end of last week’s sitting, 53 of the bills had passed through the lower house and are due to be considered by the Senate. Thee government isn’t ruling out introducing more bills in the last fortnight of this parliamentary term.
Labor made no secret of the fact that education was its legislative priority last week. The government had little trouble getting its Gonski reforms (Australian Education 2013) through the House of Representatives last Wednesday, after Independent MP Rob Oakeshott took the somewhat surprising step of joining Labor to “gag” debate. The Gonski reforms are now before the Senate, though Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s political focus is on signing up Victoria.
The budget — via the Appropriation Bills — also still needs to be passed by the Senate, along with tax amendments, changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and superannuation changes.
Once bills come before the Senate, they can be referred to committee, which at this late stage will likely kill them off. The government will be looking to speed up Senate consideration in the final eight days by seeking to guillotine debate (or what’s officially known as “time management”), cutting Senators’ speaking times.
June 27 will be the final parliamentary sitting day before the September election. Any bills before the House of Representatives or the Senate that are not passed by this date automatically lapse. These bills will then need to be re-introduced after this year’s election once Parliament resumes — if the new government wants to pick up where its predecessor left off.
Little wonder, then, that Labor is anxiously eyeing the calendar. What else would have possessed the party to introduce a staggering 31 bills into Parliament when there was just three sitting weeks left?
But does the government really intend to get all of its bills through Parliament before the end of June?
So it says. “The government introduces legislation with the intention of passing it, and we have been extremely successful at doing so,” Transport Minister and leader of the house Anthony Albanese told Crikey.
While the Coalition has doggedly focused on asbestos and “convicted jihadi terrorists” in question time this week, the government has continued to add more bills to the already towering pile it is seeking to get through Parliament before the end of its term.
Liberal Senator Mathias Cormann — who sat on the same economics committee as Doug (“Watch-mah-tea!“) Cameron at last week’s Senate Estimates — put this question to Finance Minister Penny Wong at Estimates: “Are you saying that in eight days of sitting left, all aspects of the budget and the previous budget will be passed?”
Wong tried to put the onus back on the Coalition, by pointing out that the smooth transition of bills through the Senate needs support from both sides of politics.
It isn’t unusual for a government to have leftover bills at the end of its term. In 2010, Labor had 30 bills left as outstanding business after the final parliamentary sitting day (although Labor probably had other things on its mind then, given June 24 was also the day Julia Gillard memorably ousted Kevin Rudd to gain party leadership, and then went on to call an early election). This meant that the bills like the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill — which would have allowed voters more time to enrol to vote after an election is announced — lapsed, disappearing into the political ether.
Back in 2007, John Howard’s Liberal government, which more or less maxed out its possible sitting days before going to the polls, had 16 bills left as unfinished business before losing the election that year.
In the likely event that this government does not manage to get every piece of legislation passed in Parliament in the remaining eight sitting days, it will leave a great deal of unfinished business.