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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 545

Senator MACKLIN(9.24) —A long time has elapsed between the writing of the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Standing Orders and today. We are not debating the first report, which was even further back. There have been considerable discussions about the time limits for speeches. I think that most senators realise that the situation confronting us cannot be easily solved. Indeed, if one looks at the total time allocation with regard to what goes on in the Senate one comes up with some rather interesting information. For example, in the 1985 Budget session 95 Bills were considered, there were 244 speakers and the total time devoted to those speeches was 59 hours and 53 minutes. The average time per speech was 14 minutes and the average time per Bill was 37 minutes, with the average time per debate being one hour and 15 minutes.

Senator Peter Baume —That was the present 30 minutes limit, was it?

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. In the Budget session of 1986, 81 Bills were brought in. The number of speakers was 260, the total speech time was 74 hours and seven minutes, the average time per speech was 17 minutes, the average time per Bill was 54 minutes and the average time in a debate was one hour and 35 minutes. In other words, the average times-which, of course, should not be taken as the mean times-came within the limits proposed by the Standing Orders Committee. At the time the proposals were considered I was of the opinion that the 20 minute time limit was reasonable and the 10- minute time limit for a speech in the Committee of the Whole was reasonable in comparison with the 20 minutes in a second reading debate. However, since that time I have had discussions with a number of senators from the Government, the Opposition and my own Party. It would seem that the reduction that has taken place within the last six years, from one hour to 30 minutes, is the limit that most people seem to want to accept. I think it has been fairly evident from the debates in this place that unless there is a reasonable agreement on these types of matters time will not be saved by moving to a new standing order that substitutes a time limit that people are unwilling to accept. However, interestingly enough, whereas there seems to be almost total lack of support for moving from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, there seems to be a great deal of support for moving from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in the Committee stage. I believe that those of us who are on the Standing Orders Committee would be well advised to look more at that item in the recommendation than at the first one. I say that the second recommendation can be more easily accommodated because senators have a second, third or fourth bite of the cherry in the Committee stage. The only time that opportunity is likely to be reduced is when no other senator wishes to intervene. In those circumstances the total time available to a senator in the Committee of the Whole would drop from half an hour to 20 minutes.

In the six years that I have been here I can remember only one occasion when a senator was teetering on that possibility. Another member of his party was able to leap to his feet in time to say that he was so fascinated by what the honourable senator was saying that he would like him to continue. The person making the speech actually went on to speak for three hours, as I remember it. I do not think that there is an actual reduction in any senator's ability to contribute to a debate in the Committee stage. By and large, the speeches of most senators in the Committee stage do not go over 10 minutes; most of them probably do not go over five minutes. I believe that the proposal is reasonable. However, I am also conscious of the fact that it is likely to save us almost no time whatsoever, and that after all is the whole point of the exercise by the Standing Orders Committee.

This item has not been dreamed up as an opposition or government proposal. Quite frankly, the major parties in this place want to see some reasonable movement of legislation, on the understanding that the opposition parties, when in power, will want at least a reasonable movement. At most times governments believe that that movement is unreasonable. At most times the Opposition believes that it is overly reasonable, and a compromise is generally struck by the end of the session whereby we manage to put through all sorts of Bills in the last couple of days in debates which do not bring any credit to this place. Therefore I believe that in most matters concerning these Standing Orders if we are to get any progress-I am also mindful of the last debate we had on this when we spent six hours of debate on whether or not to read our speeches--

Senator Haines —Most of which contributions were not read.

Senator MACKLIN —In fact the best contributions were not read, particularly those from people who were saying that they should be allowed to read. There were also people reading from copious notes who said they should not be allowed to read from notes at all. Mindful of that, and the time I have already spent on this item, I would urge the Committee to look at what we might be able to achieve. In my discussions with various honourable senators I believe that the most that those of us on the Standing Orders Committee can look forward to is probably getting the 15 minutes down to 10 minutes.

Senator Gareth Evans —Multiples of 10.

Senator MACKLIN —I am possibly being optimistic, but as I read the numbers around the place, the ability to reduce the time from 30 minutes to 20 minutes is not on. I therefore believe that we should try to wind up this debate as rapidly as possible to get through as many of these items that are before us as we can. I believe we should leave out the first item and concentrate only on the second item and see whether there is a consensus to look at it.

The CHAIRMAN —There are four questions before the Committee on the time limits to speeches. With the agreement of the Committee I will put the four questions separately later. The debate should continue on all four questions for the moment.