A day in the life as an MLA – 15-17 February

This is Part 2 to my earlier tome about what Monday and Tuesday of the most recent sitting week looked like.


Wednesday

Wednesday is a special day every sitting week because it’s Private Members’ Day. This means that all business brought to the Assembly today must come from a Private Member – that is, a non-executive member. A Minister can speak on what we raise, but we’re the ones that have to raise it.

There’s a roster each sitting week Wednesday that’s proportional to the number of non-executive members each party has. The way it works out is that this week Labor has 2 of the motions and the Opposition has 4, and Labor has the 1st and 4th of the six spots available. The Administration and Procedure Committee allocated the order on Monday so we’re ready to go when the bells ring at 10am.

The first motion is on marriage equality and support for the LGBTIQ community and it’s moved by Michael Pettersson. Every single Labor Government member (except for the Speaker, who happens to be presiding) takes the opportunity to voice their support.

Here’s my speech:

Around about this time, an Opposition colleague says that we each have stood up to say the debate associated with LGBTI issues is hurtful – while debating it. That ain’t true. We each stood up in support of it. The Federal Government refuses to legislate for same-sex marriage so the ACT Government is beholden to making its support known at every opportunity. And I am bloody proud to add my voice to that support.

In the middle of all the speeches, the Assembly takes the unusual step of adjourning. You see, we’ve got our Assembly photo. We would hope to do it at lunchtime but some members have other engagements that require them to be out of the building so this is the best time we’re all available. This is a photo of all of us who arrived as part of the 9th Assembly and will hang on the walls of one of the committee rooms with all the others. In my office the question is whether I wear a jacket which stands the test of time (black) or the plaid jacket. Plaid is the choice and I offer my apologies to anyone who sees this photo in 10 years time.

Unsurprisingly, the marriage equality motion is supported in the affirmative.

The other motions of the day are a review of the bail system in the Territory, business confidenceAlexander Maconochie Centre – accommodation of female detainees, Mpowerdome and Parliamentary Agreement for the 9th Assembly for the ACT. 

Amendments can be moved to each of these motions and this occurs for a number of them.

Something that happens often on this day is that a vote is taken of members on the floor – all those in favour say aye – and the Speaker determines whether the ayes or the nos have it. However, if one side (in this case, the Opposition) believes they had the number of voices when the vote was taken, they can challenge it (ie “I believe the ‘nos’ have it”) and a division is called. A division is when the bells are rung and everyone (who is not paired*) needs to get down to the Chamber and have their name called out like a roll call about whether they support what’s happening in the Chamber or not.

*Pairs is something that I’m in charge of a Government Whip, together with Andrew Wall (Opposition Whip). If a Government or Opposition member needs to be out of the Assembly for a very legitimate reason (eg attending a funeral), then the Whip of that side approaches the Whip of the outside to seek agreement for this to occur and a ‘pair’ is found. The persons who are paired then must not be in the room when a division is called and one of my jobs is to police that!

Like every sitting day, we adjourn at 12.30pm and start again at 2.30pm. My questions during Question Time are to Minister Gentleman about ambulance and fire and rescue response times and to Minister Fitzharris about the impact of light rail on local jobs in the ACT economy.

Once Question Time is done, we’re straight back into the rest of the motions for the day. With adjournment debates we finish at about a quarter to 7pm.

Thursday

Thursday begins with another round of motions of public importance (MPIs) due to the Speaker by 8.30am. As Whip my office helps make sure we’ve submitted our motions on time – if they’re not in, they simply do not get considered – there are no extensions!

The motion that’s drawn out of the hat today is The importance of better road maintenance to Canberrans.

Before we head into the Chamber, the Labor team takes a moment to reinforce what we’ve been saying all week: marriage equality matters and we offer our support to the LGBTIQ community.

Sadly I am not very good at positioning myself in photos! I am working on this.

Like every morning, we start with reflection again before we head straight to a statement from the Justice and Community Safety Standing Committee which has a dual role of scrutinising legislation. The Chair, Giulia Jones, reports on behalf of the committee in advance of the Assembly debating the Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill which was introduced (unusually and with some urgency) on Tuesday.

The Minister for Education makes a statement and then Minister Ramsay introduces the Family and Personal Violence Legislation Amendment Bill (which will help reduce red tape to facilitate streamlined family violence and personal protection order schemes).  Minister Rattenbury introduces the Cooperatives National Law (ACT) Amendment Bill.  Debate is adjourned on both of these until the next sitting.

Thursdays are unusual again in that we have Assembly business. This is for a range of things to be put forward and voted on. Some examples today include establishing our Estimates Committee for June, which the Opposition moves. Part of the motion requires the names of the two Government committee members to be put to the Speaker quite quickly. This is my job. We’ve decided that Bec Cody and Michael Pettersson are our Labor nominees so I submit these to the Speaker, and she later reads out the full membership, which additionally includes Alistair Coe, Andrew Wall and Caroline Le Couteur.

Something unusual is that normally each year annual reports are considered by committees in the latter half of the year. However, this doesn’t happen in an election year (because we’re having an election and then getting a new Assembly set up!), so the consideration of annual reports happens in late February/early March of the following year. To allow this to happen, the Manager of Government Business (Mick Gentleman) puts forward a motion referring the annual reports to the standing committees, and this is agreed.

Two other motions include referrals to the Administration and Procedure Committee, which I’m on as Government Whip.

Next up is Executive Members’ Business. This is different from Executive Business – Executive Members’ Business is an opportunity for the crossbench member of the ministry to put a motion on a topic of their choosing. Today Minister Rattenbury has a motion on climate change. The opposition moves an amendment which is voted down, and Minister Rattenbury’s original motion is voted up. Of interest however is that Minister Rattenbury uses a prop – a solar panel – during his speech:

This prompts a point of order from the Opposition, and the Speaker agrees to come back to the Assembly with advice. And she does after Question Time, noting that:

“Whilst I do not think that Mr Rattenbury displayed any irresponsibility in his actions I would urge members to exercise some judgement and responsibility in their actions when displaying material to illustrate and add to their speeches. As House of Representatives Practice states at page 508: The general attitude of the Chair has been that visual props are tolerated but definitely not encouraged.”

Question Time starts as usual at 2.30pm. I mentioned in my earlier post that there is a ‘set’ of questions per person. The originator of the set of questions gets two, and then it’s thrown open to the floor of non-exec members who have an equal chance of being able to ask a question on the same topic to the same Minister. Today, Caroline Le Couteur asks questions about the LDA to the Chief Minister. I want to ask a supplementary question, so when the opportunity arises I stand from my seat and say, “Supplementary!” The thing is, a few other people have questions, too, and they all do the same thing – so the Speaker picks the person who is first. Watch this short clip to see and hear what happens:

The afternoon includes the presentation of papers, including the Government’s response to the Inquiry into Auditor-General’s report on rehabilitation of male detainees at the AMC and Treatment in Custody of Steven Freeman—Government response to the Independent Inquiry.

After this it’s time for the matter of public importance to be discussed – road maintenance. It’s an issue that’s raised in all electorates, and the Government puts forwards some key facts in this discussion which are useful about how it all happens. (Did you know that you can check out the ACT’s Road Resealing Program here (in detail) and the daily schedule here?)

During the MPI have to depart as I’ve got a radio interview with 2CC about trolleys. I’ve been banging on trolleys for a long time (this article is from 2014) and the ACT Government has been working with major retailers to make sure they’ve either got a coin-locking system, a wheel-locking system or staff surveillance to limit the number of trolleys being dumped on our streets. Dumped trolleys is dangerous, environmentally hazardous and affects the aesthetic of our beautiful city.

At the end of the MPI we head again into the adjournment debate. I opened a walking trail in Oaks Estate in December 2016 on behalf of Minister Fitzharris and it was important for me to put its value on the public record.

Another point of interest is that the Speaker is not in the Chair the entire time. There is a Deputy Speaker (Vicki Dunne) and three Assistant Speakers (Bec Cody, Elizabeth Lee and Chris Steel). They are not referred to as ‘Madam Speaker’ but as ‘Madam Deputy Speaker’ or ‘Mr/Madam Assistant Speaker’. Unfortunately it’s very easy to get in the habit of saying ‘Madam Speaker’ which I do as I open my speech!

I finish the day – and sitting week! – off with a debrief with my staff before heading to an external meeting.

Friday

Multicultural Festival – the most wonderful time of the year – starts today! I am really excited. I take the bus into work at least once a week and it is definitely a FriYAY kind of feeling.

This is quite simply a day for me to catch up with as much correspondence as possible and managing my Inbox. There are a few things to prepare for in the following week, where our Committee meetings start up again in earnest so there’s a lot of effort to knuckle down ahead of the week.

And that’s what a sitting week looks like!

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