The reason for this arrangement is straightforward: pairing exists to prevent—
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: And—
an artificial majority from being formed when members are absent for legitimate reasons. There is no risk of an artificial majority being formed when an absolute majority...is required because that number represents a majority of all...elected members of the house...not simply a majority of those members present and voting.
Members may be interested to know that this articulation of the reason for the different treatment is actually not my words but those of Tony Burke, Labor's Manager of Opposition Business in the federal parliament, in describing why the federal Labor Party wished to so adopt this practice in their chamber that in my view we have had for an extended period of time.
The Labor Party in this house has presented a different view. Later on 12 February, the Opposition Whip wrote to the government characterising the situation as the government having 'actively disregarded the pair' and identifying that the opposition would 'no longer be assisting the government with pairs'. The Member for West Torrens spoke about this in the house on 13 February:
…it is very important that those votes and the reflection of the will of the people at that time is maintained for those four years, so that we cannot lock people out and we cannot trick them into not voting; so that if you are sick, your community is still represented in this parliament; so that your voice is heard here, regardless of whether you are pregnant, or ill, or have a sick father, mother or child; and so that pairing arrangements mean something.
He and the Leader of the Opposition have characterised the government as having disregarded a practice of over 100 years.
The government disputes this. Indeed, for the first two sitting weeks of the parliamentary year I had assumed that the leader and the member for West Torrens were carrying on in the manner that they were in an attempt to score political points and that things would return to normal once they had made their point. That, indeed, has been the case in the Legislative Council, where I understand that normal relations have resumed.
It is now clear that in the assembly Labor members propose to maintain their position. I urge those members to reflect on the points I will now make and to reconsider their position.
The SPEAKER: Order!
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: The question in dispute is whether absolute majority votes should be treated differently from other votes on substantive motions and also whether a convention of the house has been breached.
The SPEAKER: Order, member for West Torrens! Calm down.
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: Pairs, and particularly their technical detail, are not often discussed here formally, but I note that in 1969 former Labor premier Don Dunstan described matters relating to absolute majority votes, as they applied to constitutional issues in his case, by saying 'pairs do not operate since it is an absolute vote and not the relative vote which counts'.
The SPEAKER: Deputy Premier and member for West Torrens, please!
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: I further refer to correspondence between Des Corcoran and David Tonkin in 1975—
The Hon. A. Koutsantonis interjecting:
The SPEAKER: Member for West Torrens, please; I am trying to listen.
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: —when an agreement between the parties was articulated. The correspondence talks about the nature of issues that might lead to a pair: illness, bereavement, government business, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association affairs and study tours. It goes on to identify that all official pairs will apply in the case of votes of no confidence but not in the case of votes on constitutional matters. This relates to votes requiring an absolute majority.
To my and the government's understanding, the application has always considered a suspension of standing orders. There have been other negotiations from time to time about how private members' time, conscience votes and other such matters are handled as they have come up, but those are the key issues. Pairs are important for some of the very reasons that the member for West Torrens articulated on 13 February.
The will of the people of South Australia should be reflected in the expression it receives in votes of this parliament, but we are also mere humans. Illness, bereavement, or indeed from time to time serving the best interests of the people of South Australia by being somewhere else on government business, may mean that we wish for one or some of our members to be granted leave during sitting days without removing their community's vote from the house.
I therefore encourage the opposition in the coming period to reflect on their approach and play a constructive role in the operations of this parliament through again participating in pairing arrangements in the usual fashion. The government will operate in good faith in this matter.
The SPEAKER: Order! Leader, do not point.
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER: In the meantime, since the opposition has withdrawn from pairing practices for the present, I thank the three Independent members for continuing to assist the house by allowing this to happen. I thank them also for allowing the Minister for Transport a pair tomorrow to attend a funeral.
As has been noted, the custom of this house has been, preferably, to seek a pair from the opposition for a minister to be absent from question time. As the opposition is not at present granting any pairs, I therefore instead give notice, and will continue to do so for as long as they do not wish to participate in pairing practices when such occasions arise, that the minister will be absent tomorrow for the reasons outlined and questions may be taken by another member of cabinet.
The Hon. D.G. Pisoni: Mismanagement of opposition business.
The SPEAKER: The Minister for Industry and Skills is not assisting right now.