ADMISSION OF THE TREASURER INTO THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY
(Ashfield - Minister for Police) [11.37]: I move:
That, on Tuesday, 21 May 1996, standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow:
(1) The Premier to adjourn the debate on the Appropriation Bill and cognate bills immediately after moving, "That these bills be now read a second time";
(2) The Hon. M. R. Egan, MLC, Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council, being immediately admitted to the House for the purpose of giving a speech of unlimited duration in relation to the New South Wales budget 1996-97; and
(3) The Premier to give the second reading speech at a later time upon the order of the day being read for the resumption of the adjourned debate on the Appropriation Bill and cognate bills.
The motion is self-explanatory. The Government considers it appropriate that the Treasurer attend this House to deliver his address on the Appropriation Bill. We went through all the arguments last year, and I would hope the Opposition will refrain from traversing the same old ground. Arguments such as those raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - that the Treasurer attended this Chamber last year because of the presence of television cameras - are spurious and ridiculous. Last time I looked, cameras were also operating in the other place. Last year's debate covered constitutional history from the birth of responsible government forward. We heard arguments about the Act of Settlement and just about every other piece of relevant legislation ever enacted. The fact is - and it is about time the Opposition woke up - that Australia has been formally separated from the British legal system since 1986.
It is about time honourable members opposite recognised that fact and joined the twentieth century. I therefore ask that we have no more of these time-wasting arguments. It is proposed that the Hon. Michael Egan address this House. He will not be involved in any procedural matters. He will simply make a statement as he did at last year's budget time. The simple facts appeared to mystify the Opposition last year. I shall again state the proposal as simply as I can for those members on the other side who probably still do not understand it. The Treasurer is merely going to read his Budget Speech. He will not be able to contribute to the debate as he does not have the same rights as any member of this House. This procedure is hardly revolutionary.
For the record I shall state the important reasons the Treasurer should be admitted to this House. With the exception of one occasion, the budget has always been delivered in the Legislative Assembly. The Government believes this tradition should be upheld because this Chamber, the people's House, is the place where the Premier resides. The House should take note of relevant comparisons. As I said last year, the House of Representatives has a procedure whereby strangers can be admitted to the House. I refer honourable members to section 38A of the New South Wales Constitution Act, which allows honourable members of the Legislative Assembly to attend the other place. Perhaps the most important issue in today's debate is the effect of last year's speech by the Treasurer. The record shows that the Treasurer gave his speech last year in this Chamber. Did democracy suffer? Did the walls cave in? Did the flood gates open? The answer to all of those questions is, of course, no.
All manner of people have not been traipsing through this place demanding to give speeches, the likelihood of which was suggested by particularly astute members on the other side. It is time the Opposition stopped living in the nineteenth century, and it is time for the member for Cronulla to stop reliving 1984 when the former Treasurer was the victim of a scandalous campaign in the Cronulla electorate that he represented as a member of this House. As I said last year, it is appropriate that the Treasurer's attendance in this Chamber, if he or she is resident in the other place, becomes accepted practice. The Government sought the advice of the Crown Solicitor, who said:
I do not consider the presence of section 38A in the Constitution Act precludes a Minister in the Legislative Council, otherwise able to do so, from being present in the Legislative Assembly and speaking.
The Constitution Act would, however, preclude such a Minister from sitting in the Assembly and participating in the proceedings in the sense that a Member of that House sits and participates in proceedings.
I suggest that this advice puts the matter beyond doubt. Last year the Opposition offered no worthwhile arguments against the motion. As far as I am concerned, nothing has changed. As my colleague the honourable member for Auburn said last year, the Legislative Assembly is the paramount force in New South Wales. This House can invite any person it chooses into this Chamber. I commend the motion to the House and remind honourable members of the text of the resolution. The Parliament should not be permitted to wander off into the reasons that the former Treasurer, the
former honourable member for Cronulla, lost his seat in the Legislative Assembly, nor should it have anything to do with the Cronulla working man's club. This resolution is solely for the purpose of determining whether the Treasurer is admitted to deliver his Budget Speech in the Legislative Assembly.
(Gosford) [11.42]: Are the members of the Labor Party in the Legislative Assembly unable to read? The Government says all it wants to do is bring a person from the Legislative Council to read a speech in this Chamber. If we believe the words of the Leader of the House, that person will not do anything else but read his own speech. Why cannot a Government member in this House read the speech? Are Government members so incapacitated that none of them can represent the Treasurer and read his speech? Is the Premier not able to read the speech? Why does the Government want a particular person to read the speech? Because he is the Treasurer. During the rest of the year he is represented in this House by another Minister and questions can be put to him through that Minister.
The Government wants the Treasurer to read the speech but does not want him to be accountable for it. That is the issue in this debate. It is not a question of the Opposition scoring political points; it is a question of the Opposition insisting that Ministers that attend this House be accountable to this House. The Opposition ran this argument last year and will run it every year because it wants to maintain the principle of accountability that the Government wants to walk away from and deny. The Government wants the Treasurer to read his speech and then walk out of this House without answering any questions. The Opposition says those questions should be answered by the Treasurer. The Opposition does not object to the Treasurer coming to this House on the understanding that he is accountable for his speech and that he answer questions about it and accept responsibility for his budget.
If all that will happen is that the Treasurer reads his speech, why cannot one of the government members in this Chamber read it? The Government wants a television grab to show the Treasurer of New South Wales giving his speech - a real rip-roaring speech - to the Legislative Assembly. The Government wants the best of both worlds by securing television coverage of the Treasurer delivering his speech and by preserving the principle that the Assembly is the dominant House because the Budget Speech is delivered in this House. The Opposition is not interested in those games or in having the Assembly turned into a television theatre for a 30-second grab by Mr Egan as he delivers the annual State budget - a budget that will be a joke anyway because the Federal budget has not come down and the Government does not know the amount of allocations it will receive from the Loans Council. Notwithstanding that, the Opposition will not play the TV theatre game; it will play the game of parliament, which is the reason we were elected and why we insist on ministerial accountability. I move an amendment to the motion of the Minister as follows:
That the motion be amended by the addition of the following paragraph:
(4) On the next sitting day following the Premier's second reading speech the Hon. M. R. Egan, MLC, Treasurer, Minister for Energy, Minister for State and Regional Development, Minister Assisting the Premier, and Vice-President of the Executive Council, be admitted to the House immediately after the conclusion of question time to attend for two hours to answer questions to be put by members in conformity with the standing orders in relation to questions seeking information.
The Minister can give his speech in this House. Let him read the speech and bore everyone witless with his nonsensical presentation, but let him account to the Parliament immediately thereafter when honourable members have considered the Budget Speech and have decided on the questions to ask him. If he has the courage, more significantly if he has the ability, to answer questions for two hours, let him be prepared to do so. The second point is that the Hon. Michael Rueben Egan is a person that the Legislative Council has adjudged as unsuitable to sit in its House. Members of the upper House do not even want him there. Everyone saw the film clip of the Usher of the Black Rod escorting him from the Chamber and dumping him like unwanted garbage in the street. The Hon. Michael Rueben Egan has become the Flying Dutchman
, wandering from House to House looking for a place to call home - unwanted in the Legislative Assembly and unwanted in the Legislative Council.
The Opposition is not interested in taking the Legislative Council's rejects. This House already has so many members on the other side who failed in preselections for that House, and it does not want any more. The Opposition is not interested in Legislative Assembly rejects. The Hon. Michael Rueben Egan was rejected from the Legislative Assembly by the voters. The Opposition is interested in a person with some integrity and credibility to present the budget. The Opposition is not interested in hearing from the rejects of the Legislative Council. The Hon. Michael Rueben Egan has no credibility, no position and no standing to come to this Chamber.
Who do you want to do it - a man of integrity?
They are all on this side of the House. I do not think anyone on the Government side fits the bill. It is probably a rhetorical question that the honourable member for Gladesville has asked, but I will answer it. It is difficult to find a man of integrity on that side, but I have been invited to answer the question. Would it be the honourable member for Fairfield, a man of great integrity who has rigged ballots, stacked branches and done all sorts of wonderful things in Young Labor? Would it be the honourable member
for Cabramatta? Would it be the honourable member for Gladesville, who put out false advertising during the election campaign about toxic incinerators? There is a man of matchless integrity, but we will talk about that at a later date! Will it be the honourable member for Wollongong? Will it be the Minister for Mineral Resources, and Minister for Fisheries, who sits at the table simply because he won a raffle draw?
The only time the ministry in this State was raffled was when the Minister at the table won it. There is no more difficult a question to answer than the one asked by the honourable member for Gladesville: find a man of integrity on the benches opposite. If he has any more interjections, I am sure he will make them. I thank the honourable member for Gladesville for his question. I must confess that for the first time in eight years in this House I cannot answer a question. I have no intention of prolonging debate on the motion. The points are simple and clear. First, if the Treasurer comes into this House he must be prepared to be accountable for the budget. Secondly, he needs to come into this House with clean hands. He should not be foisted upon this House until he has resolved his serious differences with the Legislative Council.
(Gordon) [11.51]: I shall be brief. The two matters raised by the honourable member for Gosford - they were eloquently raised in the House last year by him and by the honourable member for Cronulla - canvass important principles relating to the modus operandi of the Westminster system. Firstly, if the Treasurer cannot appear in the Legislative Council, why is he coming to the Legislative Assembly? Clearly, he must follow the customs and procedures of this place and answer questions. We, the elected representatives of the people, understand and adhere to that fundamental and accountable mechanism for dealing with matters raised in this Chamber. Secondly, is someone who has been removed from the upper House fit to enter this House? I strongly suggest, on behalf of all honourable members and, indeed, the wider community, that the Treasurer does not deserve a home anywhere. He is not fit to be in the other place there and he is not fit to come here.
The matters of integrity and credibility that the Treasurer wishes to test - we are happy to have the powers of the Legislative Council tested by the Supreme Court - will clearly show that the Parliament has power. Previously the Solicitor General referred to a Privy Council case that originated in Canada. The fact is that Canada does not have a constitution. If the matter reaches the High Court, this Parliament will ultimately be shown to be supreme under the Westminster system and able to exercise its powers. The Treasurer has not complied with what people demand and with what honourable members expect in relation to documents. If he cannot comply with the clear procedures of the Parliament and with matters relating to accountability, integrity and credibility, he does not have a home in the other place and he does not deserve a home in this House.
(Cronulla) [11.53]: I am happy to accept the invitation issued by the Leader of the House to talk about the twentieth century. It is sad that the Government has misconstrued what is happening. The amendment proposed by the Opposition shows that we want to keep the Hon. Michael Rueben Egan in this place. It is sad, and it must have hurt the Treasurer, that the people of Cronulla did not want him in this House in 1984, and now his own Government is trying to get him out of this House as soon as he finishes speaking. The Opposition wants to keep him in this House after he finishes speaking. Opposition members want to talk to him, yet they will be denied his company and his information, perhaps in the same way that the dividend holders of the Cronulla workers' club were denied information about financial dealings. We would like to talk with the Treasurer about financial dealings.
The reason the Treasurer is in the upper House is that the Government does not have anyone in the lower House who is fit to be Treasurer, and that is an indictment on the Government. Not even the honourable member for Gladesville is fit to be Treasurer. The Minister for Police said that it was an unbroken tradition that the budget is always presented in the Legislative Assembly. Before the Hon. Michael Rueben Egan became Treasurer, invariably - certainly in the twentieth century - the Treasurer was a member of the Legislative Assembly. Government members have insulted the House by saying that they do not have anyone with financial acumen.
It is an insult.
It is an insult to the Parliament. It is also astute judgment on the part of the Government. The motion is purely a public relations stunt. The Government will bring in the Treasurer to make a speech; he will simply blow in, blow up and then blow out. That is what the Government wants him to do. Every other day another Minister must answer questions in this House on behalf of the Treasurer. That means that someone else could read his speech in this House. Someone else will write the speech so someone else could read it.
A Government member could read it, or it could be read to Government members by someone who can read.
Yes, the speech could be read; one member on the Government front bench must be able to read. The Opposition accepts that the law of averages is on the Government's side. At a Cabinet meeting it may be worth looking around to see if someone is available. This is all part of the Hon. Michael Rueben Egan's voyage through life. He could not find a home electorally in Cronulla. The workers' club was demolished and rebuilt, so he could not go there. The Government now wants to throw him out of the Legislative Assembly as soon as he finishes reading his speech. That shows how much trust the Government has in the Treasurer. The Government will not allow the people's representatives to question the Treasurer, and that is a tragedy. As the Leader of the House said -
He will be at the estimates committee meetings.
It may be that no honourable members of the Legislative Assembly will be at the estimates committees. That is a matter for the Government to decide. Once again the representatives of the people are denied a spot at the table.
That has been decided in the other place by the honourable member's colleagues.
No, it is decided in the other place by a majority of honourable members in that House. The Government did not make the honourable member for Wollongong the Treasurer because obviously he has not worked out where the numbers are, although he was a school teacher.
He may have leprosy but he doesn't have numeracy.
That is right. I would stick to the history classes.
: Come on, Mr Bean, hurry up.
I sometimes wish that the Minister's name had never been pulled out of the suitcase.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Rogan):
Order! The honourable member will return to the leave of the motion.
Once again I lament the Government's insult to democracy. Over the centuries the legislature has had control over the Executive through the purse strings. This Government has removed the purse strings from the people's House, and it will not allow the representatives of the people to question the financial stewardship of this State. That is a tragedy.
(The Hills) [12.00]: I feel compelled to speak in this debate because the necessity to bring the Hon. Michael Egan to this House eludes me, just as it eluded me last year, and no reason for doing so has occurred to me in the intervening 12 months. The Government could consider a range of options for introducing the budget before the Parliament. One of those options - which the Government will not entertain - is that Michael Egan, as Treasurer, could read his speech in the upper House where there would be an opportunity for interjection and interaction. Democracy would be better served by that course of action. A further option would be for the Government to give the Budget Speech to another Minister to read in this House. As the honourable member for Cronulla pointed out, there seems to be a dearth of talent on the Government frontbench in this House. Nobody has the economic acumen to be Treasurer - and when one looks from the Premier down one understands why. The Minister for Police is another who does not have the required degree of acumen to be Treasurer of this State. Has the Minister for Fisheries put in his bid? Is he likely to have his name drawn out of a hat to be Treasurer next time around?
Six loaves and six fishes, that is all you need.
That is about the status of the economic understanding of the Hon. Michael Egan. For the second year in succession the Hon. Michael Egan will come into this House and read a speech for half an hour. The other options to which I referred were not considered. I shall be interested to hear the Minister for Police explain the compelling necessity for the Hon. Michael Rueben Egan to come into this Chamber to deliver his speech, which appropriately could be delivered by another Minister or could be given by the Treasurer in the upper House. The Government broke with 140 years of tradition last year and is breaking that tradition again this year. That is consistent with the way this Government has operated on a range of issues, for example the changes to the Governor's role. The Government cares nothing for tradition, for our heritage. The Government wants to grandstand, in the belief that it will get a better run from the members of the press gallery and the media by having the Hon. Michael Egan deliver a speech that anybody and everybody could read - apart from the members of the front bench. The Government should consider those options. I await the response of the Minister for Police to the points made by members on this side of the House.
(Ashfield - Minister for Police) [12.04], in reply: It is clear from listening to the Opposition's arguments that if the Government did not have a Treasurer by the name of Michael Rueben Egan there would be no objection to the proposal. Let me sum up the very interesting arguments that have been put - which is very difficult because they are convoluted. As I understand it, the Opposition is happy to allow the Treasurer to come into this House to read the Budget Speech so long as he answers questions - but only if the Treasurer is not the Hon. Michael Egan.
Michael Rueben Egan.
Michael Rueben Egan. Last year the Opposition put up the same arguments and lost the vote, though there will be a little variance in the numbers today because there is at the moment a more commonsense approach in the Parliament. I do not know why the Treasurer's character is in issue but I caution the Opposition against saying anything about it. The Hon. Michael Rueben Egan has instituted contempt proceedings against the Legislative Council. Members of the upper House abide by that principle and members of this House should do the same. If the Government were prepared to concede that the Hon. Michael Egan should be here to read his Budget Speech and then at an appropriate time to answer questions, there would be a logistical difficulty.
The Opposition expects him to be here, to read his speech and answer questions, but also expects him to be in the upper House answering questions. He is the Leader of the Government in the upper House and is responsible for running the
Government's business program. How can he be in two places at the one time? The fact is he cannot. An interesting constitutional issue arises. Legislative Assembly Ministers can go to the upper House but the reverse procedure is not possible, which is why this motion has been moved. The Government wants the Legislative Assembly to agree that a Treasurer or Minister should be able to come from the other place to this Chamber. If this House was debating, for example, industrial relations issues and the Government wanted the Minister for Industrial Relations to be here -
Fahey went up there.
That is permissible under the Constitution. Would the Opposition raise the same objection if the lower House wanted Jeff Shaw to come to this place and give details and answer questions on the Industrial Relations Bill, which is currently before the other House? With what rights should he be empowered? What capability does he have? What would happen if the Treasurer - or the Minister for Industrial Relations in the analogy I drew - was non-compliant with the request and infringed the standing orders of the House? Would standing orders apply to another member of Parliament in this Chamber? The Opposition's arguments are based on the fact that in 1982 people in the Cronulla electorate decided that Michael Egan should not be the member for Cronulla. The people of Cronulla made that decision and I am sure the Hon. Michael Egan, then a member of the Legislative Assembly, accepted that public judgment about him. He has been a great Treasurer of this State and a welcomed advocate of the Government's legislative and fiscal program. I understand why the Opposition does not like him - because he is very successful.
Question - That the amendment be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Mr Armstrong Mr O'Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Peacocke
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Collins Mr Richardson
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rixon
Mr Debnam Mr Rozzoli
Mr Ellis Mr Schipp
Ms Ficarra Mr Schultz
Mr Fraser Mrs Skinner
Mr Glachan Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Dr Kernohan Mr Tink
Mr Kinross Mr Turner
Dr Macdonald Mr Windsor
Mr Merton Tellers
Ms Moore Mr Jeffery
Mr O'Doherty Mr Kerr
Mr Amery Mr Markham
Mr Anderson Mr Martin
Ms Andrews Ms Meagher
Mr Aquilina Mr Mills
Mrs Beamer Mr Moss
Mr Clough Mr Nagle
Mr Crittenden Mr Neilly
Mr Debus Ms Nori
Mr Face Mr E. T. Page
Mr Gaudry Mr Price
Mr Gibson Dr Refshauge
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rogan
Ms Hall Mr Rumble
Mr Harrison Mr Scully
Ms Harrison Mr Shedden
Mr Hunter Mr Stewart
Mr Iemma Mr Sullivan
Mr Knight Mr Tripodi
Mr Knowles Mr Watkins
Mr Langton Mr Whelan
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson
Mr Cochran Ms Allan
Mr Downy Mr Carr
Question so resolved in the negative.
Motion agreed to.