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MPs ‘ambushed’ in sitting day stoush

Written by on May 16, 2024

The NSW Opposition is in arms over a motion which would extend the sitting weeks to Friday, while cutting question time on the additional days.

Opposition MPs say they weren’t given any notice to consult on the changes, and were told of the “ambushed” with just an hours notice before they were presented to parliament.

The move would also disadvantage regional and rural MPs who must travel into Sydney for sitting weeks, and female MPs with children, said members opposed to the proposal.

On Thursday, Leader of the House Ron Hoenig introduced a motion to increase the current three-day Legislative Assembly sitting week to four days, with the changes taking place from June 18. It would also add an extra sitting week in November.

Overall this would add an extra eight days to the 2024 calendar, extending the total amount of sitting days from 36 to 44.

As it stands, no extra days have been proposed for the upper house.

Critically, the added Friday sitting day would not include question time, which is when non-government MPs can ask ministers question.

Mr Hoenig said motion was introduced at the repeat requests of crossbenchers, so the parliament could hear motions and legislation from non-government MPs.

It’s also more cost-efficient compared to creating additional weeks, as MPs who live outside of Sydney wouldn’t need to make extra travel arrangements, he said.

“The purpose of this motion is to provide for more time effectively for opposition business and also to provide for time for government business to try and prevent those late nights,” Mr Hoenig told the lower house.

“Members of the house might sign up for those late nights but it impacts the staff of the parliament.”

For example, in March MPs remained in parliament for an overnight session in order to pass legislation banning gay conversion therapy.

While the motion was passed with 45 yes votes to 38 nos, the Opposition very critical that the additional day would not include question time.

Liberal Wahroonga MP Alister Henskens said it was an “affront” to democracy, and said the Opposition were “ambushed” with the motion.

He also said there should have been prior consultation with MPs to factor in the needs of regional members and single parents with young children.

“The Minns government demonstrated its disregard for democratic scrutiny by setting down a record low number of sitting days in 2024 for a non election and non pandemic-impacted year,” he said.

“No new time to debate private members bills has been included in the routine of business for the additional days.”

Liberal North Shore MP Felicity Wilson said sudden changes to the sitting schedule unfairly affected single parents, and said there should have been prior consultations before voting.

“Making changes like this on the hop means I have a mere week to try and organise care arrangements for both of my small children,” she said.

“(Fridays are also the) one night in a sitting week where I could actually pick them up and have a meal with them after not seeing them for days because I’m a single parent that cannot see my children for those multiple days.”

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Voting in favour of the motion, independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said the new sitting schedule prevented late night and overnight sittings.

“Workers across NSW would be shaking their heads in disbelief that MPs would have the nerve to complain about this,” he said.

Mr Hoenig said he was open to consulting with MPs on the structure of the additional days.