Parliament in dire need of reform

30 Jan 2013 Article

Originally published in the Australian Financial Review on 30 January 2013.

The Parliament is controlled and defined by the government, the example set by the prime minister and the actions of its members. These things shape the parties we represent and the public policy we advocate. Right now, the Australian people believe their representative government is rotten.

A Coalition government would work to restore faith in the Parliament should we be fortunate to win government this year. People are entitled to ask how. Upon election, as Speaker of the house, I would seek various innovations, including lifting the overall tone of discourse in the Parliament through the example of Tony Abbott as prime minister and his senior team.

We would introduce an additional backbench question time every day, to restore confidence and make the executive more accountable. This would be one of the signature parliamentary reforms of a new Coalition government. In practice it would mean members will have the opportunity to deliver written questions to the Clerk of the House who would direct the question to the appropriate minister. Ministers would then be given a number of hours between receiving the question and backbench question time in which they can obtain a definitive answer. Ministers will need to respond with substance because Australians want fewer insults, less spin and more accountability.

We would enable members to accept interventions during their second reading speeches. This would help ensure parliamentarians are on top of the issues important to their local communities.

To prevent sledging, we would strengthen the standing orders so it would be disorderly to repeat allegations once the Speaker has ruled a member has corrected them.

We would support an independent Speaker. What has happened with the speakership over the past two years is a farce. It has strengthened my resolve that the Speaker should be independent, should abstain from their respective party rooms and when the Speaker is taken from one party, the Deputy should be taken from the other. A Coalition government will ensure that the office of Speaker is treated with respect, not as a bartering tool.

We would also introduce a 30 minute “take note session” after a full question time, to allow for consideration of the answers provided by the government.

We think any member of any political party who has serious questions to answer should be given time to explain themselves through the Parliament.

We would provide accessible government through a Parliament that sits when it needs to, rather than being truncated as has consistently occurred in this so-called “new paradigm”.

The Coalition's approach to reform is an opportunity to strengthen accountability and our democracy. A change of government would also deliver a prime minister who respects the institution of Parliament and who, like John Howard, will lead by example, setting the tone of a more respectful, less personal political discourse of which we can all be proud.

  • Christopher Pyne is manager of opposition business in the House of Representatives.