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Monday, 19 April 1999
Page: 3736

Senator FAULKNER (4:19 PM) —I have heard the debate and I want to set the record straight about some of the issues that have been raised. Let me say something, first, about the way the opposition does business in this place. We have indicated to the government—albeit through a convoluted process that I now understand not all were engaged in, even though, as I understand it, minor party senators had the same level of courtesy, whether adequate or inadequate, that was extended to the opposition—that we would vote for the motion before the chair. We gave our commitment on that. We gave our word, and I intend for the opposition to honour that commitment. We are not a political party that indicates either publicly or privately that we will take a certain course of action and fails to honour that in difficult circumstances.

Let me say this: the problem we have with the matter before the chamber is that it has not been raised before now by the Democrats. It was not raised in the whips meeting this morning by the Democrats. It was not raised in the whips meeting, as I understand it, by the representatives of the Greens. It was, to be fair, raised with me by Senator Brown, and I acknowledge the fact that Senator Brown had the courtesy to ring me today and outline what was going to be his course of action on this issue. We had a discussion on the telephone about this very matter when he indicated he would be refusing leave. I told him what the general approach of the opposition would be, although we did not canvass respective views of other political parties at that time.

But our difficulty is that it has taken until now—until this point in the Senate's consideration of its business—to deal with this matter. There are things called telephones. There is a capacity for people to communicate much better than has occurred on this occasion. If I had known the full circumstances in relation to the Democrats, I would have extended the principle I spoke of in my earlier contribution today which went to senators returning on the morning of Tuesday, 27 April from a public holiday and giving very serious consideration to the question of a Democrats party room meeting.

What is unique about the circumstances we have here is that, in relation to Senate only sitting weeks—as I have explained before—the major political parties that also have representation in the House of Representatives do have scheduled party meetings, ordinarily on a Tuesday morning. But there was no communication here from the Democrats to the opposition, and I reject and repudiate what Senator Lees said earlier in this chamber. I now hear that there is a proposal for the Democrats—who seem to have had extraordinary difficulty today in getting their act into gear—not to proceed with a matter of public importance on East Timor that they placed on the Senate's agenda and to defer it until tomorrow.

Senator Bourne —There is not.

Senator FAULKNER —That is what we have been told. Are you going to proceed with it?

Senator Bourne —After the GST.

Senator FAULKNER —They want to change the order. They do want to proceed with it, but after the GST report is brought down. It is a bit hard to keep up with what is happening.

Senator Robert Ray —Bring back Robert Hill.

Senator FAULKNER —It was working better when Hilly was here, and that is incredible enough. But it is a bit hard to know what is happening. We are happy to cooperate. I say to the Democrats, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: the opposition are happy to cooperate in this with you, as I have indicated privately to the Leader of the Democrats and the Democrats themselves. We are happy to cooperate and try to ensure, if that is your new position—

Senator Bourne —It is the original position.

Senator FAULKNER —It was not raised at the whips meeting, was it, Senator Bourne?

Senator Bourne interjecting

Senator FAULKNER —No, it was not, as she says; it was not raised at the whips meeting. Here we all are, being treated like mushrooms by the Democrats. They are engaged in a civil war in their party room over all these things, and it is a bit hard for us to know what they are doing.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator FAULKNER —As I have always said, we are here to help. If we can assist you by facilitating the bringing down of the report before the MPI, we will do so, Senator Bourne. All you have to do in these circumstances is pick up the telephone and tell us. Old Alexander Graham Bell had the right idea; it is a good invention and I encourage you to use it.

Let me say this seriously to the Senate chamber: while I am not willing to go back on the commitment that I made in relation to the sitting of the Senate tomorrow morning, I do hear what the Democrats now say and I do take it seriously. I do think there is a way of at least ameliorating what has become a difficult situation in this chamber. Regardless of who is responsible for it—and all we know is that it is not the opposition—as I say, we are here to help, so let's fix it up.

Senator Robert Ray —Top patronising, John.

Senator FAULKNER —I heard Senator Ray's interjection; it will now be recorded in Hansard . I will foreshadow the moving of amendment 2(a), which I hope will assist in this situation. It will say that the routine of business from 9.30 a.m to 12.45 p.m. shall be the government business order of the day relating to A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Bill 1998 and 26 associated bills, second reading speeches only. I hope that, if we do that and also have discussions between the whips and those who are responsible for the good management of business in the chamber, we might be able to have some sort of understanding in relation not only to divisions but to quorums as well.

I commend to all senators in the chamber the amendment that I shall be moving in difficult circumstances. I say again that I do not want to delay this debate. Having not been fully apprised of minor parties' positions by the minor parties—apart from Senator Brown, as I have acknowledged, who rang me directly, which I appreciated—that is the best we can do in the circumstances. I will tell you one thing: having given our word, we will not back down. But I am willing to try to ensure that, firstly, this does not occur again—and I hope that all parties can cooperate in that—and, secondly, no-one is disadvantaged by a second reading debate occurring at that time. I commend to the chamber the foreshadowed amendment that I will progress at the appropriate time.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Watson) —Senator Ian Campbell has moved a motion to which Senator Woodley has moved amendments. The question is that Senator Woodley's amendments be agreed to.

Question resolved in the negative.