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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1447

Senator GARETH EVANS (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) —I seek leave to make an explanation as to why leave is refused.

Leave granted.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The circumstance is that the Government readily acknowledges that it is inappropriate in the course of Question Time to lay down a document which purports to be a formal and full response to a report of a Senate committee. It is appropriate to do that only by way of a ministerial statement or treating it as a ministerial paper in the ordinary way. In this instance it would have been a considerable luxury for the Opposition to have had a response so quickly because the report of the Senate Select Committee on Television Equalisation came down only last week. It is intended that the legislation be debated on Wednesday afternoon. What happened was that wires got a little crossed as they sometimes do in government. The Minister for Communications, Mr Duffy, wanted to make a public response and give a reaction to the report in order to signal-so that people could be prepared for the debate on Thursday-and make a Press release accordingly. There was some discussion with me as Manager of Government Business in the Senate as to what would be the best way of handling this matter. The indication I gave to Mr Duffy was that the best thing to do was to delay a formal response to the Senate Committee report until the time for debate on the legislation but to put out a Press release indicating a general reaction to the Senate Committee's report. If he wanted to mention that matter in Parliament I could see no difficulty, in terms of Question Time procedures, in doing so.

The tabling of a formal response to the Senate Committee report was premature under those circumstances. The Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, can speak for himself in this respect. This procedure having taken place obviously it cannot be undone except by leave and I am not sure whether the Opposition is willing to grant leave. If it is, so much the better. I urge that debate on this matter be postponed until such time as we debate the legislation when all the issues that are raised can be debated together. As everyone knows there is tremendous pressure on the timetable and if it means just another two or three hours debate--

Senator Lewis —We can't be responsible for your mucking up the business of the Senate.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Leave has been denied and I simply state for the record that there will be ample opportunity to debate the substantive matters in issue at the time of the debate on the legislation when we hopefully reach it on Wednesday. Under those circumstances it would not seem appropriate to put down the report. The response to the Senate Committee report will be formally put down as a ministerial statement at an appropriate time.