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Friday, 23 April 1999
Page: 4229

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (11:01 AM) —I will be brief. I would like to make a few points. I would like to thank Senator Faulkner, Senator Carr, Senator Ray, Senator Quirke and others for the advice they have given me on how to run the program.

Senator Carr —It has taken you an hour and a half to get it.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Indeed, Senator Carr, it has taken an hour and a half to debate this and it is indicative of the approach of the Labor Party in regard to the program. As Senator Carr said, the opposition has been constructive in providing many hours of additional sitting time for the Senate to deal with the legislative program. On the other hand, those hours have been chewed up by some of the longest debates in the history of this Senate.

Senator Carr —We give proper scrutiny.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I am sure you do give it proper scrutiny. In the last three years we have had seven of the longest debates in Australian history. Between 1901 and 1996—and I do not claim that these statistics are absolutely the last word on it; I may be out by a bill or two—on second reading debates, for example, there were roughly six bills debated prior to 1996 that extended for longer than ten hours and since 1996 there have been seven bills. In the last three years we have at least equalled or bettered the record for lengthy debates in this chamber.

For an opposition that has set out to delay debates and obstruct the government's program, that is some mark of achievement. In three short years they have equalled the record that the parliament was able to put together in the previous 95 years. That is undeniable. You might be able to argue over a bill here or there, but the Labor Party—with the assistance on some occasions of some of the minor parties—in three short years in opposition have been able to tally up more lengthy debates than all of the debates in the Senate in the period from 1901 to 1996, a period of 95 years.

To put that in context, honourable senators who sat in this place for most of that period after 1901 and up to the early 1990s were able to speak on second reading debates with no time limit whatsoever. So Labor as opposition have been acting under an enormous constraint in that their speeches during second reading debates are limited to 20 minutes, so they have to add people to the speakers' list ad nauseam.

I will respond to a couple of other points. The only points of any substance that were made in the last hour and a half were made by Senator Bob Brown in relation to the heavy sitting schedule. I am happy to table the record of parliamentary sitting patterns going back to 1977. This shows that the pattern for this year—when you exclude election years when obviously the Senate does not sit for as many weeks as in a non-election year—is relatively light. I am informed by the clerks and the people in the Table Office that the first half of this year is actually a relatively light sitting pattern.

Senator Lees —What about committee work?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Senator Lees is right. Part of the agreement reached in November last year was to give up some of the sitting weeks to allow the committees to sit. To respond directly to Senator Brown's point—

Senator Margetts —You are not. He talked about the autumn sittings. You are not directly addressing what he said. He said the autumn sitting. You are not actually addressing what he said.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I hope that by tabling attachment B of the document called `Parliamentary sitting patterns' showing the number of sitting days in the first half of this year and, indeed, for this year, it will be of assistance.

Senator Brown —No.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —If Senator Brown wants to have a discussion on Senate statistics with me, I am happy to have that, but it is not an overly busy sitting schedule.

Could I make one other point. We are seeking to sit at 12.30 p.m. on Tuesday. We normally sit at 12.30 p.m. on a Monday, which allows senators such as myself and Senator Murray to return from Western Australia. Unfortunately, as Senator Murray says, that does ensure that Western Australians have to travel the night before. Western Australians, Queenslanders and Northern Territorians have had to make extra sacrifices on their family lives ever since this parliament was formed, particularly since it was placed in Canberra. The parliament has been sitting here since 1924 and they have always had to travel extra hours and extra days. That is a particular strain, as Senator Murray has quite rightly said, on all of our families.

Senator Carr —Parliament should have been sitting in Melbourne.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —The point of substance that I am seeking to make—with the great assistance of Senator Carr—is that we would normally sit at 12.30 p.m. on a Monday. I put the proposition in the words of Johnny Farnham from his hit single in 1968 that, indeed, this may not be a Friday kind of Monday. To paraphrase John Farnham—as he is called now—in fact, next Tuesday will be a Tuesday kind of Monday. I suspect that, if you can get to parliament at 12.30 p.m. on a Monday when the Sunday is a holiday of course, then senators should be able to get to parliament at 12.30 p.m. on a Tuesday and pick up the hour and a half that we have now lost during this debate.

Senator Robert Ray accused me in an otherwise frivolous speech—if not enjoyable for most senators in this place—of not indicating our intentions about why we needed these extra sitting hours. He may have been misguided or misinformed, or he may not have listened to what was said by the government on only Tuesday this week, which was that if we could not commence the committee stage we would be seeking extra sitting hours. We are true to our advertised position in seeking extra sitting hours with this motion. We have made it clear to the Democrats that we would have to have achieved significant progress on these bills—the tax reform bills—during this sitting week. We lost all of yesterday to that, and we are simply trying to make up that time. That was the position we placed on Tuesday; it is our position today. Again, if we are to lose more time, we would seek to extend the hours.

Senator Margetts did make another very important point in the debate, one that I am very happy to respond to—and I think Sena tor Lees might also have made the point very starkly today—that is, the issue of having these agreements made at leaders and whips meetings. We did have the practice of having leaders and whips meetings that Senator Lees and Senator Vicki Bourne from the Democrats did engage in. Those meetings did prove productive on some occasions. I might suggest to some who were in those meetings that they did tend to become unproductive and were sometimes shouting matches towards the end of the last sittings.

The only problem with approaching senators on an individual basis is that you need very clear lines of communication. There was a breakdown in communications with the Democrats on Tuesday. We had been given one set of information by the whip which was different to an understanding that the leader had—that does happen from time to time—and that has been cleared up. But I reject any allegation that I have said one thing to one senator and one thing to another. I have never done that, I will never do that, and any assertion to the contrary is in conflict with the truth. I commend this motion to the Senate.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Faulkner's ) be agreed to.