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Monday, 24 November 1997
Page: 9206


Senator ROBERT RAY(12.52 p.m.) —Senator Harradine makes the point that the government is entitled to its concertinaed legislation. I agree with that basically. But I do reflect back, Senator Harradine, that on two occasions in the period 1995-96 we actually had agreements from the then opposition to get to a certain point in the program before we departed. On both occasions their word was betrayed. On both occasions the chamber got up before we got to that—that is, after I and others jettisoned off a whole range of legislation to get the program down to a minimum. On two occasions we did not even get to the minimum. On one occasion Senator Hill told us we would, and then he disappeared off overseas and the rest of the coalition went home. So that happened on two occasions towards the end of the Keating government.

But this is about leverage. This is about saying, `Wik is essentially so important that we can take the opportunistic tactic of putting everything else on before it rather than after it.' You ask yourself, `Why not get on with Wik and put these other legislative items on afterwards?' The simple reason is that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Ian Campbell) cannot hold his backbench on this. He knows that when they get the smell of a water hole they will be off home. That is why these particular bills have been shoved in before Wik, because he cannot control his own backbench. `Shove them all in now' is the argument.


Senator Ian Campbell —How are those cheap Qantas fares going? Two for one, if I remember.


Senator ROBERT RAY —The old cheap Qantas fares. We did not fly to LA first class just to dodge going business class, Senator Campbell. In fact, I would keep a bit of a low profile, if I were you, after your grand statement hidden away in Western Australia about the wonderful region of Canberra. I would hide from that and from the Sunday Times article exposing your horrible past with the left-wing Democrats. Senator Murray, why didn't you tell me he was a member of the left wing of the Democrats in Western Australia? Why did I have to read about it in the Sunday Times ? Senator Campbell, do not divert me, because this is going to be a very brief contribution.

One of the things we feel a bit annoyed about is that we were approached to sit on Tuesday to conclude second readings. You are proposing now apparently to not start second readings until Tuesday night.


Senator Ian Campbell —We didn't approach you.


Senator ROBERT RAY —Are you sure of that?


Senator Faulkner —We offered it up, in fact.


Senator Ian Campbell —You offered it.


Senator ROBERT RAY —And you accepted it. I see; you do not have to keep your word when you accept an offer, only when you make one. That has established a new principle in managing this particular system. Nevertheless, it is unrealistic on your current program to finish second readings on Tuesday. One wonders, given the fact that you have other government business on Wednesday, when exactly you will finish the second readings on this particular matter.

But I suppose what irritated me the most was reading in the press the grandstanding by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) on the Senate and Wik. The implication of what he was saying is, `Nasty old Senate won't deal with Wik. Why don't they get on with the job? Why doesn't the Senate address this legislation and dispose of it?' We have had the answer today. We will not do that, because these opportunists opposite want to use Wik as leverage to get other legislation through.

The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Faulkner, has made a very valid point. We will not deal with it now, but we at least expect Senator Hill to come in and outline to the Senate when in fact the government intend to deal with Wik and how they intend to deal with it. That would be useful for the process and progressing of the Native Title Amendment Bill 1997 . But it is disappointing, as Senator Faulkner has pointed out, to find that the Prime Minister so lacks authority these days that even the humble Manager of Government Business can snub his nose at him while the Prime Minister is in Vancouver and not bring this on for debate.

I want to make only two other points. I thought we had been relatively cooperative in the government's legislative program. The opposition has not moved any urgency motions or MPIs for two or three weeks. We agreed to sit later on Tuesday and later on Wednesday night and to give up Wednesday general matters of public interest across the non-controversial legislation. So, having done that, we have tried to get this particular program going.

But it raises one other question. Normally, before today's performance, we would have been willing to give up our general business on Thursday night or make arrangements to take government business through to a certain point and start general business a lot later, on the same sort of no divisions no quorums basis. We are going to have to revisit that, because we do have at least one important item that we want considered this year. Rather than give that up, we may have to reconsider that. If you want to get cooperation on these particular matters, you should be fairly transparent with us on exactly what you intend to do. The questions for Senator Hill to come down and answer are when is he going to start Wik, when does he anticipate the second readings to be completed by and when is the committee stage to start.