O’Neill: MPs will vote on conscience

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The National, Wednesday 25th January 2012

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill said his government was ready to pass the women’s bill but will respect the right of individual members to “vote on conscience”.
O’Neill was asked what the government was going to do with the 22 reserved seats for women as the election was approaching.
Earlier he told reporters to ask Sir Michael Somare what he would do because he was the one who sponsored the bill.
He said Somare and his group had abandoned the bill after sitting on it for almost nine years.
“They continued to avoid the bill by boycotting parliament.”
However, O’Neill said his government had passed the first hurdle by amending the Constitution.
His party and coalition partners tried to pass the enabling of organic law in parliament but did not have the numbers.
When parliament voted for the first time, they were short by three to make up the required 73 votes. On the second vote the number decreased further as some members of the government did not turn up.
The amendment to the Constitution does not qualify women to automatically take up 22 reserve seats as some think. It will require another 73 votes to enable the legislation which will qualify them to take up the 22 reserved seats.
It has not become law yet.
O’Neill said his government would try again next month but members would not be forced to vote for it.
He said it was up to the Somare group to come and support the passage of the bill.
He blamed Somare and Agiru of letting women down.
If government fails to muster the 73 votes, women will have to wait for 2017.