Howard Comments On Crean’s Proposed Parliamentary Reforms

This is an interview with Prime Minister John Howard in which he comments on parliamentary reform proposals offered by Opposition Leader Simon Crean.

Crean proposed a number of reforms, particularly to the role and operation of the Speaker.

Howard was interviewed by Laurie Oakes on Channel 9’s Sunday program.

Transcript of interview by Laurie Oakes with Prime Minister John Howard on Channel 9’s Sunday program.

OAKES:

And of course a year ago you looked as though you were finished too and you came back. No change of leadership in the federal Liberal Party. Does that make you feel pretty cocky as you go into this new session of parliament?

HOWARD:

No, I’m never cocky. I’m gratified to have got a third term but I take my opponent seriously. I think the Labor Party on occasions has made the mistake of not taking their opponents seriously. I’m not going to make that mistake. I think Simon Crean will work very hard as Opposition Leader and I don’t underestimate him as an opponent.

OAKES:

Well, he’s been flattering about you this morning.

HOWARD:

Yeah. It’s all part of a careful plot to sort of ensnare me, I’m sure (laughs).

OAKES:

But, you’re being nice about each other. Does this mean there’s a chance that we could have some agreement for a kinder, gentler parliament?

HOWARD:

Well, I’m prepared to look at reform of parliamentary procedures. If he’s serious about it, I will. I think there are some changes that could be made and I don’t reject out of hand what the Opposition has put forward. I think the …

OAKES:

This is the idea of a rotating Speaker.

HOWARD:

Well, the rotating Speaker thing is about … I mean, in Britain what happens is you’re there for so long as you want to and when you cease to be Speaker, the convention is you resign from the House of Commons and also you are not opposed at elections. I couldn’t find that particular element in the proposal that Labor put forward.

But, look, I’m more interested in some of the procedural changes and if Simon Crean is serious when he says that he wants more debate and less argey-bargey then I’m prepared to realistically go halfway on that.

OAKES:

You’ll talk to him about that?

HOWARD:

Well, either I’ll talk to him or I’ll get Tony Abbott to talk to Wayne Swan. I think the latter to start with anyway would be the best way to go. Mind you, it is an Australian parliament and has got to reflect the character of the Australian people and we are pretty up front.

In fact, I had a discussion with the American Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill who knows Australia very well as a former boss of Alcoa and he said he loved the in-your-face, as he put it, character of Australian politics. And he said he found it invigorating and less hypocritical than the political systems of other countries.

So, we’ve got to temper our sort of beginning of term embrace of some of these changes with a recognition that it is an Australian parliament expressing the character of the Australian people. But, having said all of that, I’m prepared to look at some changes but, you know, we’ve got to have everything on the table, things that affect the Opposition’s freedom of movement at present as well as the things that they have proposed.

OAKES:

I’d like to go back to the position of Speaker quickly.

HOWARD:

Sure.

OAKES:

Before the ’96 election you said a number of things. If I become Prime Minister I will adopt a system of having a completely independent Speaker. You repeated that on at least three occasions. Now, that’s a broken promise, isn’t it? You’ve done nothing about that.

HOWARD:

Well, I don’t think Neil Andrew as a Speaker or Halverson or Sinclair before him … I think they have been more even-handed.

OAKES:

But people would say you got rid of Halverson because he was even-handed, and the party’s now trying to get rid of Neil Andrew for the same reason.

HOWARD:

Well, people have said a lot of things about me. The other thing, in relation to the … question time, one of the great promises I made was that I’d be … I’d turn up every day, which Paul Keating didn’t, I’ve done that. And on top of that we’ve averaged about twenty questions.

We’ve had more questions and I have been more accountable than any of my predecessors going right back to Menzies, as far as question time is concerned. Far more accountable than Keating or Hawke or Fraser in terms … although, in the Fraser government there was a … there were more questions asked than in Hawke or Keating.

OAKES:

So, do you want Neil Andrew to be re-elected in the polling tomorrow?

HOWARD:

I’m voting for Neil Andrew.

OAKES:

Are you asking others to do the same?

HOWARD:

No, I’m not involving myself, because … in the campaign for the Speakership. And the reason is that this is something that belongs to the party room, it’s the one position where the leader doesn’t assume the right … if I thought the leader ought to appoint the Speaker there wouldn’t be a ballot. But I think the leader … I think the party room should decide all matters relating to the Speakership and the Deputy Speakership.

OAKES:

One other small aspect, what about the position of Deputy Speaker? Are you trying to take it away from the Nationals?

HOWARD:

No, I’m not trying to take it away from the Nationals at all.

OAKES:

So they’re still guaranteed …

HOWARD:

Well we’re … you know, the proposal is that we have a joint party room vote on both positions, but I would expect there’s a lot of support for a National Party person in that position.

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