The state opposition has accused the government of muzzling its attempt to pay tribute to flood-affected north coast communities in the upper house yesterday.
The government has dismissed the claim as point scoring but the Greens have sided with Labor, saying the issue should have been given an airing.
In what Labor described as ‘an extraordinary move’ the Nationals blocked shadow north coast minister Walt Secord three times from paying tribute to the north coast communities struggling with the worst flooding in 50 years.
Mr Secord said he was ‘profoundly disappointed that the Liberals and Nationals would stop parliamentarians speaking on one of the worst disasters to hit the north coast in living memory.’
He initially sought permission to have equal time to speak during Questions Without Notice.
When that was knocked back Mr Secord says he twice sought to suspend standing orders to make a shadow ministerial statement on the impact of the flood on north coast communities.
He added that the Nationals had ‘broken a long-standing tradition of dedicating parliamentary time to discuss a significant natural disaster.’
‘It was an extraordinary display by the Nationals and Liberals. A natural disaster like this should be above partisan party politics,’ Mr Secord said.
‘I had prepared a major speech paying tribute to those who lost their lives in the flood, the impact on the community and the brave SES emergency, health workers and volunteers who rallied behind the community.
‘It was an absolute disgrace to see the leader of the government in the upper house twice prevent the shadow minister for the north coast speaking on the floods,’ Mr Secord said.
But parliamentary secretary for northern NSW Ben Franklin described Mr Secord’s claims as ‘utter rubbish’.
Mr Franklin said the reason why Mr Secord was denied leave to speak at that stage of the day was ‘because he would have been the only one able to speak on it.’
‘It would have been inappropriate and unprecedented. The government believes that this issue is so significant, all members should have the right to speak on it – not just one,’ Mr Franklin said.
He added that the government is planning to have ‘a full debate on the disastrous events of the past few days, when every parliamentarian will be able to speak…who wishes to do so.’
He accused Mr Secord of ‘playing politics with the issue’, adding that ‘if Mr Secord wanted to contribute with a speech today, he could have done it in the adjournment debate at the end of the day’s sitting.’
‘This is an appropriate forum and is exactly what I have just done as parliamentary secretary for northern NSW,’ Mr Franklin said.
But according to Ballina MP Tamara Smith (Greens) a very different approach was taken in the lower house.
‘That’s so disappointing as in the Legislative Assembly it was different,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘The government allowed both their priority motion and Labor’s to be debated (quite unusual and bipartisan).
‘Labor got a priority motion up to commend the community and SES on the north coast and I got leave to speak, which also quite unprecedented as usually only Labor and LNP get to,’ Ms Smith said.
But she added that ‘a few Labor MPs… took the opportunity whilst speaking on the flood motion to slag the government off so that may have led to “upstairs” being told [not to] give Labor any more airtime.’