PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS Wild Rivers (Environmental Management) Bill 2011

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (20:11): The member for Leichhardt referred to false impressions. If there is any false impression, it is being generated by those opposite. Quite frankly, it is outrageous that they suggest that it is because of the substance of the issue, that we have a problem with the way they have attempted to pass what they are proposing. On three occasions changes have been made by those opposite to this bill. All have been referred to other committees for consideration. This bill has been brought forward three separate times since February. Even though the Leader of the Opposition is quick to point out there have been five separate committee inquiries into this bill, he does not mention that they have changed the legislation on three separate occasions.

The government cannot support the Leader of the Opposition's motion because what is being proposed is plagued with a variety of drafting problems, as the Chief Government Whip indicated today, and with a series of provisional changes that all fail to simply address the real barriers to economic development in Cape York and western Queensland. Also, it is a bit churlish for the member for Leichhardt to suggest that nothing has been done to advance the issues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when we have made significant commitments and harnessed all levels of government. Only a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister delivered an update to our Closing the Gap strategy, which attempts to get all levels of government, regardless of politics, focused on these issues.

We are not going to have the types of problems that have been experienced as a result of those opposite being unable to put forward a sturdy bill to this place, and we are not going to have that dressed up as some sort of indifference to the issues of the people we are seeking to help. Each version of the bill has had different content and different clauses from those opposite, and each attempt has been riddled with serious drafting problems which have required close scrutiny. The Leader of the Opposition would have the people of Australia believe that this bill has been buried because of institutional go-slow. Every time a different version has come forward, it has to come up for debate.

Frankly, sitting on the Selection Committee I have seen firsthand the abuse of the committee's process. The standing orders introduced to this place subsequent to the 2010 election were designed to change the way we operate and to allow for greater scrutiny of bills. I for one am very supportive of that and I know there are others who are supportive of it. But you cannot have a situation where every single piece of legislation that is being proposed is referred to a parliamentary committee. This is not being done for the sake of scrutiny. This is being done as a deliberate act of vandalism by those opposite, who seek to frustrate the legislative timetable and process, all in an attempt to demonstrate—mistakenly, when you look at our record of getting legislation through—that the House is not working and not getting legislation through or that there are delays when, frankly, that is not the case.

For instance, another piece of legislation—the R 18+ video games classification legislation—was successfully passed through the House after 10 years of study and 54,000 public submissions—probably the greatest number of submissions received on a piece of legislation. The opposition had sought to refer that legislation to a committee yet again. After consultation with all the attorneys-general in the country, after going through COAG, after repeated studies and committee inquiries, at the last minute being referred again by the opposition. The only reason they relented was the realisation that this had been examined to the nth degree. They recognised—and I credit them for it—that it had been over-examined, and it had been allowed to be debated on the floor of the House.

Again, we have a situation where these processes are being abused. The consequence of this is that, if legislation such as we are debating now is proposed, it cannot be given adequate time because of the backlog of legislation inquiries being undertaken by the various committees. I see this, for instance, in the Standing Committee on Infrastructure And Communications, of which I am a member, where a number of bills are being rolled in for inquiry after inquiry after inquiry. I noted a few weeks ago that the member for Kennedy had circulated a letter raising his concern about resourcing of the Parliamentary Library—a serious issue. But what the member for Kennedy did not mention in his letter—and this is not a criticism of him, but it was noteworthy—was this: if committee workloads suddenly go through the roof because those opposite decide, not in the interest of scrutiny but of parliamentary tactics, to refer every single piece of legislation to committee, then the resources of the House come under pressure. We will see more and more of the type of things the member for Kennedy raised.

What are we supposed to do? Those opposite want to indulge in parliamentary tactics and force these bills through to committee. We are expected to tolerate that. This is an abuse of the process and we are seeing it here today, with those opposite chopping and changing their minds, unable to come up with the right clauses, unable to put a competent bill forward and then trying to mistakenly, wrongfully and improperly—

An opposition member: You're going to need a shower after this speech tonight!

The SPEAKER: Order! The Chief Opposition Whip was heard in silence and the member for Chifley will be afforded the same courtesy.

Mr HUSIC: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It just comes with the territory. They cannot stand the heat of criticism of anything that they do, but we have to cop the type of contribution made by the member for Leichhardt tonight—and we are also forced to cop an abuse of the Selection Committee process and not say anything about it.

I think it is important that we find balance. I have absolutely no problem with the opposition referring bills that it believes need scrutiny. I think it is a good process and I think it is what we should do. But bear in mind also that the House of review is another place. This is the House that instigates the bulk of legislation and, more often than not, it is subject to public consultation. People have an opportunity to have their say. We, as House of Representatives members, have constituencies where we are required to deal with those very real concerns in a way that the representatives in that other place are not. We have to be mindful of balancing our representational role and our role in review. That is the problem that we have: all this legislation is being put through to committees for inquiry and it is putting a strain on the operations of this place.

From seeing the contributions of the opposition's representatives on Selection Committee, I might add that moderation has started to occur in recent times. We do not know if this is going to be something long lasting or if it is just a pause in the approach undertaken by those opposite. I certainly hope that it will be a fundamental change in the approach used by those opposite because the type of arrangement we have confronted to date is not sustainable.

Returning to the bill, I have discussed the abuse of the Selection Committee process by sending every bill through to committee without identifying upfront any of the bill's faults or strengths or any of the issues those opposite might actually want to inquire about. The first version of the bill we are debating was considered in February 2010 by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee, which recommended it not be passed. The second version was introduced in November 2010 in this House and in February last year in the Senate. Each time, it was found that these were just rehashes of the bill and they simply did not cut the mustard. If we are going to undertake these considerations we should do so in a thorough way, but not in the way that is being proposed here today

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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