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Thursday, 5 November 1992
Page: 2768

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Mr TIM FISCHER (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (4.35 p.m.) —I rise to support the honourable member for Bass and Manager of Opposition Business (Mr Smith) on these points. While there is a Senate timetabling and scheduling problem, which we are reminded of twice a year at least, it is a deeper problem than that: the organisation and the running of the Parliament. It is a responsibility for the Government, the carriage of which is the responsibility of the Leader of the House (Mr Beazley). He has now had some experience on this issue over the last few years. I would have thought that, with the benefit of five years experience, this man would come up with a better scheduling of legislation so that we do not come to this House to face not one but two guillotine urgent Bills listings. As the honourable member for Bass correctly pointed out, the first listing was for 20 Bills, now we have 51 Bills being guillotined through on one bit of paper, by a given date—a date which, incidentally, is beyond the cut-off date for an election this year.

  Parliament is a fragile institution. The standing of parliament is a matter of great concern and import to the governments of Australia. This is all the more so during periods of recession, during periods of great economic agony which exist right across Australia—whether it is those who have to go to the community kitchens in Albury-Wodonga for their meals for the first time in 60 years since the Great Depression or whether it is the unemployment in Bundaberg and Gladstone.

  We can cheapen the standing of parliament very quickly by going down this process of adding 51 Bills into the sausage machine legislative process which the Government seeks to impose on the Parliament this afternoon. It is unacceptable conduct. It does nothing for the standing of the Parliament. It does nothing for the standing of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Neither does the conduct of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), who again today added insult to injury with further descriptions of senators—` swill' yesterday; `pansies' today. That conduct further cheapens the standing of the Parliament and the institution of parliament and offends against standing order 75: the conduct and behaviour of members and members' descriptions of senators. I now find double affirmation and confirmation—and I know I can only make passing reference to this—that the Speaker asked the Prime Minister to withdraw those remarks. That has now been confirmed in cold blood. That makes the Prime Minister's conduct even more reprehensible.

  The 51 Bills under guillotine are provided with very short debates, sometimes less than 45 minutes.

Mr Beazley —Five.

Dr Wooldridge —Sometimes five minutes.

Mr TIM FISCHER —The five-minute Bills are sometimes cognate Bills, but the total debate in respect of the grouping of legislation is often less than one hour.

  One Bill not on the list, for an obvious reason, is the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill, which is before the Senate at present. It is on today's Senate Notice Paper as item No. 10. It is of more than passing interest. We are not obsessed by it, we just want to get the date out to the public as soon as we can as to when the next Federal election is to be held.

Mr Beazley —I thought you knew. You have been announcing it.

Mr TIM FISCHER —My best bet is 27 February. We are led to believe that the Government must have this particular Bill passed before the Parliament is dissolved for the elections. There are a number of happenings which are neither the wish of the coalition nor the Government, particularly the mailing out of literature and information on nominated candidates, their photos and other procedural matters, which are tidied up by this legislation.

  It therefore follows that there will have to be a further guillotine in addition to the two guillotines before the House with regard to additional legislation coming from the Senate and not yet the subject of a guillotine because the Government cannot get access to it as it has not been introduced onto the floor of the House. One of these Bills, notably, is the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill. I invite the Minister in his response to confirm that he would seek to have that legislation passed during the Budget session of 1992. I assume he does. That would confirm that more than 51 Bills will be the subject of the guillotine next week, quite apart from those that are the subject of the guillotine this week.

  This is a shabby legislative process for which the Government and the Minister must stand condemned. He has been in business five years. As Leader of the House he has had a great deal of experience in the Parliament. He has been well aware of and has, in more recent years, factored in the Macklin amendment and the two-day sitting requirement. Indeed, it was that two-day sitting requirement that cost Bob Hawke the prime ministership last year.

  I simply say to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that enough is enough. It is time for a better deal for the Parliament. It is time for a better deal for the people of Australia with regard to the legislative process of the Parliament. It is time for a fair go and it is time this place had the opportunity to focus more on the economic circumstances of so many Australians who have found their standard of living has deteriorated further over the five years of Minister Beazley as Leader of the House and over the 10 years of Prime Ministers Hawke and Keating.

  I put it to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the guillotine of 51 Bills is a shame on the Government, a shame on this Minister. We deserve a whole lot better and the sooner the better. The sooner the election occurs so we can clean up this act the better it will be for all Australians.