Suspension of Standing orders and Quorums: A look into Political Skullduggery

In Parliament today the Labor Party moved for another suspension of standing orders, the 8th straight Question time interrupted by a call to Suspend Standing Orders. Along with an increased amount of calls for Quorums in the House of Representatives these Parliamentary tactics have again come into question as to how valid these tactics are. First of all it is worth giving a definition of both tactics.

A quorum (1) dictates that at any time in Parliament one fifth of the members must be present within the chamber, in the current Parliament of 150 members this means that 30 members should be present at any moment. Similarly in the senate (2) there are rules for a Quorum that require a quarter of senators present which in the current senate is 19 of the 76 members. The suspension of standing orders (3) is when the House or Senate has a member who seeks to alter the current order of business in order to debate an issue that is of national significance, be that a policy or political point. These are often moved by Opposition Parties to interrupt the government order of business of a sitting day to make a political or policy point that they feel is important. A more cynical person however would suggest that appearance of chaos in Parliament tends to hurt the Governing Party more and so suspending the order of the House leads to an appearance of chaos that reflects badly on the Government.

A lot of the public probably would not have heard about quorums as Question Time which is the main Parliamentary Debate followed by the public will be attended by most members of Parliament. However as members of Parliament MPs have a lot of work they are required to do outside of the House during sitting days and so it is usual procedure for MPs to let it slide if Quorum is not present. However an Opposition that wants to cause Skullduggery can move for a Quorum to be counted which then forces 30 Government MPs to get back to Parliament within 4 minutes. If Quorum is then not reached the Speaker can suspend the sitting of Parliament from anywhere up until the next sitting day which is an embarrassing look to any government. The Labor Party have carried out this technique at an increasing rate over the last few Parliament sitting fortnights especially on the Welfare Debate yesterday and it has the effect of ensuring the Government have to ensure MPs are able to quickly return to Parliament for counting. Now Labor Party followers would rightfully point to examples like the following (4) where the Liberal Party during the hung Parliament called two successive Quorums to catch out the Labor Party as revenge for Anthony Albanese using another political technique, namely moving a member be no longer heard. Now as I will say in the next section that’s a reasonable argument but it also is the sort of stunt that makes the general public continue to lose respect in Parliament and that is something that all politicians should be trying to respect.

The Labor Party on Wednesday moved their seventh straight suspension of standing orders during Question Time and then today moved their eighth straight suspension of standing order breaking Tony Abbott’s record of six straight suspensions of standing orders in the Hung Parliament period between 2010-2013 (5). All of Labor’s motions to suspend standing orders in the last fortnight have related to Barnaby Joyce and his citizenship status. Now this is an important issue but Question Time is an important opportunity for the opposition to hold the government to account and every suspension of standing orders cuts into Question Time and is less opportunity for the Government to be questioned on different policy issues. This is Particularly the case when the Labor Party focus on just one topic for now 2 weeks of question time straight exclusively and off and on in previous sitting weeks before that. At a time when we have North Korea possibly about to start World War 3, Power Prices being at punishing rates for families to contend with and an ongoing argument on the merits of economic policy direction, be it a more Social or Capitalist approach and marriage equality. It just beggars belief to me the Labor Party think that Citizenship is the only issue worth pursuing in Question Time.

Now again similar to the last paragraph the Labor Party will point to the Liberal Party moving such motions in the hung parliament of the 2010-2013 government and they are right to do so, but just because it gave the Liberal Party Electoral Success in the 2013 Election it then meant there was no Political free will given by the Labor Party when they hit opposition. With this cycle in mind there is a real concern that a Liberal Opposition Party in 2019 may try the same Parliamentary tactic. No one has yet to convince me while this following exchange makes good Parliamentary debate:

Tony Bourke: “I move that so much of standing orders be suspended such that the Manager of Opposition move the following motion forthwith. That the House censures the Prime Minister for continuing to accept the vote of Barnaby Joyce and keeping him in Parliament”. End Motion, start to debate motion and Suddenly:

Chris Pyne Leader of the House: “I move the member be no further heard”

Tony Smith Speaker: “All those in favour say I” I “Opposed say No” No; “the I’s have it” No “Is division required, ring the bells for four minutes”

Cue 10 minutes to divide and count the votes

Back to Tony Smith: “Is the motion seconded”

Joel Fitzgibbon: “I second the motion”,Shouting Barnaby Joyce should not be in….

Chris Pyne Leader of the House: “I move the member be no further heard”

Tony Smith Speaker: “All those in favour say I” I “Opposed say No” No; “the I’s have it” No “Is division required, ring the bells for one minute”

A few minutes later Chris Pyne moves the motion be put and the Speaker then repeats the procedure to eventually have the motion defeated. This is the procedure that has taken place at 2:50PM Eastern Time just as the main ABC channel is about to end their Parliamentary Feed and go to regular programming. Again Politically a valuable tactic but I will leave it to the reader to decide whether it’s a great showing of our democracy.

Lastly I just want to say that I hope that wiser heads can prevail with North Korea because I think we are nearly at the point where the best course of action to prevent extra casualties will be to take military action to avoid more civilian casualties from a North Korean Military test that if went wrong could cause a large amount of casualties.

 

References

(1) https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2004A03790

(2) http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Senate/Powers_practice_n_procedures/aso/so051

(3) https://questions.peo.gov.au/questions/under-what-circumstances-would-standing-orders-be-suspended-and-for-what-purpose/22

(4) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/coalition-catches-labor-short-in-parliament/news-story/0b3cbd139d36edb0a7a7bc728fbd9197

(5) https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/parliamentary-chaos-labors-enthusiastic-embrace-of-tony-abbotts-destruction-political-playbook-20170906-gybuq5.html

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