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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4056


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (5:25 PM) —I move:

That consideration of the following bills in committee of the whole be made an order of the day for 23 April 1999:

A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax Imposition—Excise) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax Imposition—Customs) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax Imposition—General) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax Administration) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax Transition) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Australian Business Number) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Australian Business Number Consequential Amendments) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (End of Sales Tax) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Personal Income Tax Cuts) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Compensation Measures Legislation Amendment) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Bonuses for Older Australians) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Income Tax Laws Amendment) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Aged Care Compensation Measures Legislation Amendment) Bill 1998

A New Tax System (Trade Practices Amendment) Bill 1999.

It was the government's hope that the committee stage would commence immediately after the vote for the second reading. We are, of course, very pleased that the Senate has supported the second reading of these important bills. We had expectations, particularly having negotiated and had the support of the majority of the Senate to sit during this special and extraordinary fortnight, that this fortnight would be devoted to debating these `a new tax system' bills. We were informed early yesterday afternoon, via the Parliamentary Liaison Office, via the whip of the Democrats, that the Democrats would not be able to commence debate on the committee stage for another week, because their amendments were not ready. We were informed yesterday afternoon—that is Tuesday afternoon—that they would not be able to commence the debate until next Tuesday afternoon. That is one week from yesterday afternoon.

We were flabbergasted. We were disappointed. We thought there was a clear understanding that this week would be made available for the debate of these bills. To be told, less than a day into that debate, that the Democrats would not be available to proceed with this debate for at least a week was an incredible announcement to us. In the time since we were told that news—that we consider extremely bad news—we have sought from the Democrats an undertaking that those amendments would be ready to go to the committee stage perhaps tomorrow or Friday. In fact the Democrats had—


Senator Carr —Perhaps Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Who would know, Senator Carr?


Senator Carr —That is the point. You know.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I do not know. I have asked the Democrats when they will be ready. I was given an indication yesterday afternoon that they might be ready on Friday but they could not be sure. Somehow the length of the second reading debate, because in the eyes of the Democrats it had apparently gone fast, had stopped them from being able to do the committee stage on Friday. I am not exactly sure how. In fact, the second reading debate is one of the longest second reading debates in the history of this great parliament. It was longer than the native title debates on all occasions, longer than the second reading debate on workplace relations, longer than the second reading debate on all three tries at the Telstra bills, and it was just about as long as the infamous or famous, important debate that Senator Bolkus would remember on the political advertising and broadcasting bill, at about 14 hours or so. I am sure Senator Bolkus remembers it well.

So it has been an extraordinarily long debate on the second reading. It has not been a quick debate, as some people seem to imply. Indeed, these bills have been before the parliament since December last year, so the Democrats have had four months to prepare their amendments and to have drafting instructions prepared. We would have hoped this delay was not going to take place.

I have moved that debate on the committee stage of this bill not commence now until Friday. This gives the Democrats the rest of today and all of tomorrow to try and get their amendments in order. We would have preferred to have started the debate today. We would have preferred to start it tomorrow. We are not at all happy with the concept of having to wait till Friday. It is fair to say, however, from my own bitter experience, that if you do seek to start a committee stage debate when major players in the debate are not ready with their amendments and there is not a comprehensive running sheet available, then the debate bogs down and time is wasted and the time is not productive.

So I have moved this motion. I have asked the Democrats if they will be ready on Friday, but they cannot give me any assurance. In fact, all indications are that the Democrats will not be ready on Friday. I hope they will feel some obligation to be ready on Friday.

I have also sought from the Democrats—and I have informed the opposition of this very candidly, and I do not expect them to support what I am proposing—since we were working on the assumption that this fortnight would be available for debating the tax bills, their support for extending sitting hours next week to make up for the time the Senate chamber will lose this week to consider these bills in the committee stage. I am still hopeful that the Democrats will see that there is some sort of obligation upon them to agree to that proposition. I have been assured by Senator Lees, and I accept her assurance at face value, that she is not seeking to delay these bills. But I have to say that assurance is undermined somewhat by their performance and behaviour.

Democrats senators interjecting—


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —You cannot come to us and say, `Sorry, you can't have extra hours to deal with the committee stage of these bills next week, even though we are costing you something like nine or a dozen hours this week. So if we need it, we will give it to you later, some time down the track.' One could only expect that, with four months to prepare their amendments, their bona fides have to be brought into question. They can resolve the question of their bona fides on this matter if they agree to the proposition that we sit for longer hours to make up the hours that will be lost this week. So, with great reluctance, I have moved this motion which would defer consideration of the committee stage of these bills until Friday 23 April.