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Chapter 1 Introduction
Following the 2010 general election and in the lead-up to the 43rd
Parliament, significant procedural reforms were proposed by a group of non-aligned
Members, and agreed to by the
major parties. These were articulated in the Agreement for a Better
Parliament: Parliamentary Reform (the Agreement) which was signed on
6 September 2010. The full text of the Agreement is at Appendix A.
Environment for parliamentary reform
In the weeks following the election of 21 August 2010, it became
apparent that no single party or established coalition of parties had the
numbers to form a majority government. As shown in Table 1.1 the Australian
Labor Party (ALP) won 72 seats, the Coalition 73 (if Mr Tony Crook, who
described himself as an ‘Independent WA National’ is included),
the Greens one and the Independents four.
Table 1.1 Party
composition House of Representatives in the 42nd and 43rd
Australian Labor Party
Mr Tony Crook)
Composition as at the dissolution of the 42nd Parliament.
**Coalition comprises Liberal Party of Australia; The Nationals/Country
Liberal; Liberal National Party and includes Mr Tony Crook (see Footnote 1,
A period of intense negotiations followed, as both major parties sought
to win the support of sufficient non-aligned Members to allow them to form
government. An agenda for parliamentary reform, based on the role of ‘local
MPs’ as the ‘building blocks’ of Australia’s democracy, and the assertion of
the parliament’s authority in its relationship with government, was a key component
of these negotiations.
On 7 September 2010, having secured support of the Greens Member and of
three of the four Independent Members, it was established that the ALP had the numbers
to form a minority government. In a statement to the press, Ms Gillard said:
We’ve agreed to far-reaching reforms that make me as prime
minister and our government and how it functions more accountable to the
Australian people. So let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in, let
our parliament be more open than it was before.
The 43rd Parliament was opened on 28 September 2010
and in her first speech the Prime Minister stated:
Mr Speaker, the result of the 21 August election is a
salutary reminder that parliament is not a creature of the executive and that
every piece of legislation will require, and should be given, careful and
thoughtful deliberation. It is also a reminder that our colleagues on the
crossbench have their own rights as legislators which must be protected and
upheld. For the government’s part we accept these realities and welcome the
opportunity for reform that they present. We want this parliament to be productive
both in its rules and procedures but also in its outcomes for the nation, and
we pledge to uphold the spirit of consensus and goodwill at every possible
Scope of the inquiry
An important aspect of the Agreement is that it provides for a mechanism
... review all standing order and other procedural changes in
this agreement and will report following the first session of this Parliament.
On the second day of the new parliament, the House agreed to a large
number of amendments to standing orders, a sessional order and a resolution. In
speaking to the motion to amend standing orders in line with the Agreement, the
Leader of the House, the Hon Anthony Albanese identified the Procedure
Committee as the appropriate body to review the implementation and operation of
As the agreement stipulates, all of these reforms will be
reviewed over the course of this five-week sitting period. All House related
initiatives are to be subject to informal monitoring by the Procedure
Committee, with the committee to hold round table meetings to discuss progress
and any necessary refinements to the detail. The committee will present a
formal report on the first year of operation of the new arrangements, but in
between there should be discussion between the government, the opposition and
the crossbenchers about how it works in practice and whether any refinements
are needed prior to parliament returning next year.
At its first meeting of the 43rd Parliament, the Standing
Committee on Procedure (the Committee) adopted the following terms of
To monitor and report on procedural changes implemented in
the House of Representatives in the 43rd Parliament.
Although the Committee intends to present a more detailed report on aspects
of the parliamentary reforms after a longer period of implementation, it is
keen, first, to capture the early views and experiences of Members and to
report to the House on these. In producing this ‘interim’ report the Committee acknowledges
its inherent limitations.
Sitting weeks to date in the 43rd Parliament could largely be
viewed as a period of ‘bedding in’ for the reforms. The Committee avoids being
too definitive at this early stage, confining its observations to broad narrative,
other than some of the comment made in chapters three and five. While the
Committee presents comparative data in this report, it notes that trends may
change over the course of the 43rd Parliament and will present more
substantive data in its later report.
The inquiry so far, and this report, focus on the nature of the reforms
and the initial processes of their implementation. The Committee cannot comment
now on whether the ultimate objective of the reforms—the building of a more
active and participatory House—has been achieved.
Conduct of the inquiry
On 29 October 2010 the Chair of the Procedure Committee wrote to all Members
of the House inviting feedback on their early experiences of the reforms. The
Committee has drawn on this feedback, which includes evidence contained in five
submissions and one exhibit, as well as feedback provided informally, in
correspondence, at Committee briefings and a roundtable meeting with Members
(detailed below). The report also draws on data collected by the Chamber
Research Office and on comments made by Members in the House, or elsewhere,
which are in the public domain.
On 25 November 2010 the Committee held a private meeting with the Speaker
and the Clerk to discuss emerging issues on the reforms. The Clerk later provided
some additional comments in a submission, a copy of which is included at Appendix
E. On 22 February 2011 the Committee held a private roundtable with Members to seek
initial feedback on their views and experiences of the procedural changes. Further feedback was
collected during a private briefing with party Whips on 24 February 2011.
Structure of the report
Chapter 2 presents an overview of the reform agenda, outlining the objectives,
individual reforms and the mechanisms used to support their implementation.
In recognition of the reforms’ focus on increasing the opportunities for
participation by all Members, Chapter 3 considers the opportunities available
now and the implications of these changes for the institution of parliament, as
well as for Members.
Chapter 4 reviews two other significant procedural reforms: changes to Question
Time and to the House committee system.
In Chapter 5 the Committee discusses issues—current and emerging—that,
in its view, need to be addressed quickly, or to be monitored closely over the
next several months.
Appendix A contains the text of the Agreement; Appendix B, a comparison
of the reforms implemented in the standing orders with the previous situation;
Appendix C, an outline of the evidence obtained by the Committee; Appendix D,
the principles guiding the operations of the Selection Committee; and Appendix
E, a copy of the submission from the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
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