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Thursday, 5 November 1992
Page: 2767

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Mr SMITH (Manager of Opposition Business) (4.27 p.m.) —I take this opportunity to comment on this motion. In effect, it is a guillotine motion to declare some 51 Bills urgent, the effect of which is to limit time for debate on these Bills. As I was saying earlier in the week when a similar motion was passed, this is because the Government has been unable to get the management of its affairs in order such as to meet the requirements of the Senate, even though on this occasion the Senate will not formally require us to have the legislation out of this place and to the Senate by a fixed date, if the Government wishes to get the legislation completed by Christmas. The Government has now adopted less obvious means to have the same effect.

  The number of times that the Government has moved these motions to declare Bills urgent is increasing rapidly. From 1976 to 1982, only 17-odd Bills were declared urgent. In the period 1983-91, 401 Bills were declared urgent. Last year, 101 Bills were declared urgent. I am not sure where we will finish up, and I do not know whether there are any more Bills to be declared urgent this year, but we certainly will at least equal the record of last year. This has implications for the Parliament. It means that honourable members on both sides will be limited in the debate that they can have about matters of substance, particularly in the Committee of the Whole House when they can go through legislation clause by clause, raise matters and get responses from Ministers about these issues. That is now, in reality, denied to the House.

  There are matters, such as the child support legislation—something that is important to each and every one of us in this place; certainly to honourable members on this side of the House—which we want to discuss and debate and perhaps suggest amendments in committee to the relevant Minister as he or she listens to the debate to see whether or not there might be the opportunity to reflect on those suggestions when the Bill leaves this place and goes to the Senate. That will now be denied. Honourable members are finding it less relevant to be in here when this number of Bills is put through under a guillotine. That has the cumulative impact of making honourable members feel that their role in this place is being diminished. That is why today I will yet again oppose a motion to declare Bills urgent and, in effect, apply the guillotine. It is very regrettable.

  We are seeing a lot of professing today. The Prime Minister (Mr Keating) talked about the majesty of the decision of the people in a slightly different context. If the majesty of the opinions of the people are going to be truly reflected, then their representatives ought to be given the opportunity to discuss matters that they are sent here to discuss in a meaningful way. Twice in the one week we have seen guillotine motions where a substantial number of Bills are going to be forced through the House. I think that is regrettable.

  This Parliament is becoming a cipher for the Executive. The Executive will always need to have a role in the operations of the business of the nation in this place. No-one denies that. But our structure is such that Ministers of the Crown, the Prime Minister and others, come into this chamber and are able to be questioned openly by representatives of the community and legislation and proposals from the Executive are able to be scrutinised in a meaningful way. Once the balance shifts markedly in favour of the will of the Executive, then the balance that our system tries to represent, in giving the opportunity to the community through its representatives to have meaningful debate, is denied.

  We are rapidly seeing, particularly from this Prime Minister, a tendency to treat the Parliament merely as a rubber stamp. We should take the view that parliament is not just this place, the House of Representatives, but also the other place, the Senate. Standing order 75 says that we shall not reflect upon each other's place of representation. In recent days we have seen that the Prime Minister has flagrantly disregarded that convention. Today we saw an absolute outrage when he compounded his error of yesterday, describing the Senate as unrepresentative swill , and today he described the members of the other place as pansies. On being asked to withdraw, he did not do so. That is very unparliamentary language and is very regrettable.

  The point I am making is this: where this motion to declare Bills urgent is moved continuously and increasingly to impose the guillotine, it effectively disturbs the balance of the needs of the Government to deal with its legislation and also denies the rights of members from both sides to discuss these matters, which are matters of importance. It is not as though some of these Bills are not important. I have mentioned child care. There is a change to the Medicare levy which impacts on each and every Australian. That matter is going to be pushed through the House. There are the Natural Resources Management (Financial Assistance) Bill and the Corporate Law Reform Bill. A range of debate has taken place in this country about corporate law reform. Mr Cameron has just been appointed as the new head of the Australian Securities Commission. Many issues could be debated and discussed—they are all going to be denied to us. There is also the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill. There are many differing opinions in this place about how we should be dealing with higher education funding.

  What about the Farm Household Support Bill? What about the farmers in this country who are suffering mightily at present? I note that the Leader of the National Party (Mr Tim Fischer) is in the chamber. He could tell the Parliament, chapter and verse, about the pain that is being experienced by farmers right around Australia. There is a Farm Household Support Bill which recognises this pain. But does it go far enough? Are there ways in which we can amend it, to make it better, to make it more relevant, to bring into the net many of those young farmers, particularly the ones last onto the farms who are being forced off because of the financial positions in which they find themselves due to the huge interest rates that they have had to suffer in recent years, and of course the vagaries of the weather? We are probably losing our best and brightest farmers, the ones we cannot afford to lose. They are the ones who have the young children—the future farmers of this country. Let us not forget the wealth that comes to this country from our farmers. That is a very important Bill on which we are being denied the opportunity for detailed debate.

  There is the Australian National Training Authority Bill. These are issues that are important to the Government. I know there are many on the Government side who are concerned about training, and rightly so, but the guillotine effectively means that we cannot debate these matters in detail. I know the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Beazley) has a commitment to training. We do not always agree with his proposals, but I am sure he would agree that there needs to be time for debate.

  So we come back to the reason. The reason is that the Senate is somewhat unreasonable in how it deals with legislation from the House of Representatives. There is no doubt about that. We also know that the legislative arrangements of the Government, the legislation committee of the Cabinet, could be doing far better than it is doing in requiring its Ministers to get the legislation here far more quickly and more timely to give this chamber the proper time to deal with this legislation in the detail which it deserves.

  It is sad that 51 Bills are being declared urgent today. The other day we had 17-odd. There is an accumulation of some 70-odd Bills that are going to be pushed through the House this week and next. On the few remarks I have made, it is quite clear why we believe that the balance between the needs of the Executive and the needs of private members is being denied. That is why we will be opposing this motion.