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Opposition should respect convention and cease attacks on Burch

By John Hargreaves - 8 February 2016 9

ACT Legislative Assembly

Conventions are regarded in Westminster parliaments as almost as sacrosanct as formal parliamentary procedures set out in such illustrious handbooks as that produced by Odgers and May.

House and Senate Standing Orders are the “bible” and the “rule of law” in parliamentary procedures and govern everything from rules of debate to time limits for discussion, behaviour in the chamber and a host of other processes. The disrespecting of Standing Orders is not tolerated and is unacceptable behaviour in all parliaments. Disregard can mean expulsion from the House.

Accompanying these Orders are conventions which have been developed over centuries. All parliaments of which I have some knowledge apply conventions to grease the wheels of operation in the chamber/s. Some conventions are the selection of presiding officers, the criteria for granting pairs, the use of electorate names rather than surnames of members, the standard of dress in the parliament.

In Britain, there is a convention that the Speaker shall resign from a political party in order to become absolutely neutral. The convention which swings into play here is that the Speaker is not challenged at the general election by the Opposition, usually guaranteeing the Speaker a lifetime tenure as an MP.  However, if he resigns or is persuaded to depart, all bets are off. Again, convention swings in and the ex-Speaker is elevated to the House of Lords (as an independent Member of that House) after being given a life peerage. All very gentlemanly!

In our federal parliaments, these conventions are observed and respected in the main. It is true also of the state parliaments of which I have some experience.  But they are not observed particularly well in the ACT.

It is a convention in most parliaments that ministers receive a pair when they are on ministerial duties. Thus convention has been honoured by all Labor governments since self-government came into being. It was not honoured on numerous occasions by the Liberal Opposition with threats made to the Chief Minister on one occasion that a pair would be refused.

In a Chamber with so few Members, the absence of one Member critically affects any vote on legislation. It is also a convention that pairs are granted in the case of illness or family crisis. It has always been the case that the Member applying for the pair, through the Whip, is not asked the personal details on the understanding that the convention is based on honesty. On more than one occasion, as Whip for the Government, I was asked by the Opposition for the personal details of the request, something I refused.

The choice of Speaker is the subject of convention but again this has not been honoured by the Liberal Opposition. The convention is that the Government provides the Speaker and the Opposition provides the Deputy Speaker. The convention is that there is no vote, in that there is only one nominee for each position, and if a cross bench challenge appears, the Government and Opposition vote together to respect the convention. This was never respected in my time in the Assembly.

It is also a convention that the Opposition’s shadow Treasurer chair the Public Accounts Committee.  This was not respected by the Liberal Government in 1998 – 2001. The chair of this committee and the Legal Affairs Committee (under various names) are conventionally the remit of the Opposition.  It was always offered by a Labor Government but again not by the Liberal Government in 1998-2001. The Liberal Government and its cross bench allies used their numbers to award these prizes to themselves. I served as the Labor nominee on the Justice and Community Safety Committee (Legal Affairs by another name) as the Deputy Chair under both Liberal and Labor Governments. One did not respect the convention and the other did.

Another convention is that the parties will nominate their own Members for membership of Committees, suggesting that it is the business of a particular party which Members it chooses for which committee and no one else’s business. The same prerogative applies to the nomination for Speaker and Deputy Speaker. We are now witnessing the Liberal Opposition disrespecting the convention of prerogative yet again in its vendetta against Joy Burch. Frankly, it is none of their business who Labor chooses for which job.  To try to hide a hideous vendetta under the guise of parliamentary purity is beyond belief!

This vendetta has serious overtones.  It insults the Parliament by the ignorance of well-established Westminster conventions, but then they have always believed in their divine right to rule and thus they are entitled to ignore custom and practice.  A respect for the institution of Parliament is essential for good governance and good accountability. The rules of engagement are set down in the Standing Orders and interpreted by Odgers and May, but the quality of engagement is not. 

The elements of respect and trust are embodied in the custom and practice and if these are ignored, a hostile and unprofessional environment ensues. It is rank bullying and not a contest of ideas. This vendetta could also be construed as workplace bullying.  Having hounded Joy Burch into submission and contributing to her decision not to contest the ministerial position, they are now continuing their aggressive attacks, clearly intending that she should leave the Assembly entirely, and if she won’t, then they will deny her any position of contribution to the Parliament by the use of their numbers.

The Opposition’s threats to deny Joy Burch the Deputy Speakership and to deny her the committee chair or deputy chair position exceed their authority and responsibility in and to the Parliament. The abrogation of the convention that a Party will select its own nominee is unacceptable but more unacceptable is the rank hypocrisy of people wearing white ribbons in the Chamber and then deliberately going steadfastly about diminishing a woman in the Chamber.

The constancy of these attacks takes it to another level.  I recall being a bit aggressive and being on the receiving end when in that arena but I don’t recall anything so constant in its personal attack since the attacks on me personally in the period 2004-2008. The sad part is that a deliberate and targeted attack on another human being at work would be illegal in every other workplace.  One can’t sue for harassment and when it is called out, then a debate ensues in the very Chamber the offence occurred, with the attendant speeches of viciousness and venom. The attacks on Joy Burch now with no letup nor any remorse, are uncalled for and should cease immediately. The Speaker is charged with protecting Members from such practices.  Where is the Speaker now?

What’s Your opinion?


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9 Responses to
Opposition should respect convention and cease attacks on Burch
1
Blen_Carmichael 8:10 pm
08 Feb 16
#

“but more unacceptable is the rank hypocrisy of people wearing white ribbons in the Chamber and then deliberately going steadfastly about diminishing a woman in the Chamber.”

Yep. He really said that.

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2
ungruntled 11:18 pm
08 Feb 16
#

It is not just in the parliament where this is occurring, unfortunately. It is just that here the transgressions are obvious because the standards are written down.
I’m not sure how we got to this. Good manners are the grease of society. That’s all it’s about when you bring it back to basics. Being well mannered

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3
Mysteryman 11:27 am
09 Feb 16
#

Do you actually expect us to believe that you care about tradition and convention? You’re on here frequently dismissing our traditional ties to the British crown, and had no shortage of complaints about reinstating the tradition of having Knights and Dames of the Order of Australia. I don’t believe for a moment that you care about tradition or convention. What you actually care about is finding new ways to complain about the Liberals. At least be honest about it, John.

but then they have always believed in their divine right to rule and thus they are entitled to ignore custom and practice.

A prime example of my point. You can’t make your case without falling back on banal, nonsensical insults. It’s a shame, because having a regular contributor with a background in politics could have done a great service to RiotACT. Instead, we get the same thinly-masked, tired swipes at the party you don’t like.

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4
miz 1:16 pm
09 Feb 16
#

Are you seriously saying they are picking on Ms Burch because of her gender and not because of her political history??
Or that she needs ‘special protection’ as a female politician?
As a woman I find either of these positions offensive.

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5
HiddenDragon 6:40 pm
09 Feb 16
#

There are plenty of policy and management issues over which the Opposition should be pursuing the ACT Government, so aside from any questions of parliamentary practice and convention, spending further time and “airspace” on this is not a smart move.

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6
John Hargreaves 1:14 pm
17 Feb 16
#

miz said :

Are you seriously saying they are picking on Ms Burch because of her gender and not because of her political history??
Or that she needs ‘special protection’ as a female politician?
As a woman I find either of these positions offensive.

I’m not saying that they are picking on Joy because she’s a woman, but there is a similarity in the misogyny suffered by Julia Gillard.

She doesn’t need protection because she’s a woman, she needs respect because she is a representative of an electorate and she has never once been afforded that respect. She has been targeted by the Opposition for short term political gain and the attack has been personal on Joy because they see her departure as a scalp.

I received the same sustained personal attack when I was there and this is just a feeble response to criticism on a lack of policy or an oppositional stance. Debate cannot be enjoined without the personal invective being applied. in all my time I can honestly say I didn’t initiate the personal attack but I sure as hell returned fire and in spades at times. A perusal of Hansard will show the truth of this.

The sad thing is that there was an era of clever and amusing oratory which was appreciated by both sides if it was clever and amusing even if it was targeted. I can remember giving a scorecard of 7/10 to Harold Hird when he “got me” once in the Chamber. Those days of chivalrous debate are gone to be replaced with schoolyard bullying.

While ever people target an individual and use personal insults, invective and innuendo to bring a Member to resign, the Parliament is and will remain a sandpit. the quality of the debate at the moment is not worthy even of the term “bull pit” as applied to the NSW Parliament.

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7
John Hargreaves 1:22 pm
17 Feb 16
#

Mysteryman said :

Do you actually expect us to believe that you care about tradition and convention? You’re on here frequently dismissing our traditional ties to the British crown, and had no shortage of complaints about reinstating the tradition of having Knights and Dames of the Order of Australia. I don’t believe for a moment that you care about tradition or convention. What you actually care about is finding new ways to complain about the Liberals. At least be honest about it, John.

but then they have always believed in their divine right to rule and thus they are entitled to ignore custom and practice.

A prime example of my point. You can’t make your case without falling back on banal, nonsensical insults. It’s a shame, because having a regular contributor with a background in politics could have done a great service to RiotACT. Instead, we get the same thinly-masked, tired swipes at the party you don’t like.

A bit unfair. I can honestly say that in the period 1998 to 2004 when I was in the Assembly, both sides honoured the conventions and the Parliament ran smoothly as a result. After that time, things started to go astray. Interestingly, the reneging on the conventions was only ever one sided. My criticisms are a plea for those in the Opposition to consider the implications of ignoring conventions, customs and practices because it negatively affects the operation of parliaments, reflects negatively on the participants individually and collectively and does not allow a set of mutually agreed rules of engagement which make life there more collective.

And, it must be remembered, what goes around, comes around. There will be a day in which the current Government will find itself in the no-man’s land of irrelevance, but they will conduct themselves the way in which they have been treated. Reap what is sowed etc.

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8
Ian 6:04 pm
17 Feb 16
#

I’d suggest that they’re picking on Joy Burch not because she’s a woman but because, quite reasonably based on past history, they don’t think she’ll be any good at those jobs.

That being said, pity they don’t seem to apply the same standard to their own side of the house.

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9
justin heywood 10:22 pm
17 Feb 16
#

…..While ever people target an individual and use personal insults, invective and innuendo….

…says the bloke who lost his parliamentary position (whip) for passing a smutty and unfunny little note about another member in the chamber, and was widely known as a head kicker.

Or who described the Tuggeraanong Community Council as a ‘self help group for geriatrics’ amongst many other insults during a career where the word ‘chivalrous’ does not come to my mind at all.

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