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Thursday, 28 June 2001
Page: 25356

Senator CARR (12:37 PM) —I move:

Omit paragraph (e), substitute:

(e) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 12 midnight.

The government has just outlined its view as to what the legislative program shall be for the day. From my reading of the government's motion, the government has effectively suggested to us that we need to consider 16 bills today.

I suppose you could argue that this inevitably happens on the last day of a parliamentary session; that is, that we are asked to consider a very heavy workload in so far as the legislative program—in this case, 16 separate pieces of legislation to be considered in one day. But, on top of that, we have a situation where a considerable amount of the day's business is to be allocated to consideration of the government's legislation on broadcasting and the proposition that was before the Senate chamber with regard to Internet gaming. We have to ask ourselves why it is that we find ourselves in this situation. This is in the context whereby this opposition has agreed to an additional 150 hours of government business time over the course of the parliament. I again draw to your attention that, if we assume that is 15 hours a week, that it is the equivalent of 10 parliamentary sitting weeks to consider government business. That is an extraordinary amount of time in anyone's language.

This matter comes up every time we come to this period, and it was addressed by the opposition in discussions with the government earlier this week. We actually asked how we were going with the legislative program and, in particular, what was happening to the money bills and other bills that have start-up dates at the beginning of the financial year. The opposition has been mindful of the responsibilities of an opposition and we have been particularly mindful of the responsibilities of the government to ensure that there is reasonable consideration of the legislative program in such a way that money bills with this particular starting date are not held up. I think the opposition has been extraordinarily generous in the way in which it has approached this. It has been very reasonable and very responsible. But now we are asked to agree to a proposition to essentially sit, as the government suggests, to all hours tonight. We are told that the government understands this to mean that, come 12 o`clock tonight, we will have a bit of a discussion about whether or not we extend, and it was then said that, if that does not meet the agreement of the chamber, we will sit again tomorrow and presumably next week.

One presumes that, at some point, there has to be consideration of when we finish, but the point I am trying to raise is: is it not appropriate that the disciplines of the chamber be applied to all senators? Is it not reasonable that all senators be mindful of their responsibilities with regard to consideration of government business and opportunities being made available to express your views on pieces of legislation? I take the view that it is a principle that applies on both sides of the chamber. That is why I am suggesting that there needs to be a definite cut-off point for consideration of the legislative program, and that 12 o'clock tonight is not an unreasonable point at which to say that enough is enough. We all understand that, within that context, if a majority is available on the floor of this chamber, then of course the hours can be extended. No-one is denying that basic fact of legislative life.

What I am suggesting is that, if Senator Alston feels it necessary to attack opposition senators and, in the most provocative manner, seeks to ridicule and abuse members of the opposition, those disciplines that apply to me or any other senator should apply to Senator Alston. We have seen a quite extraordinary lack of discipline by this government when it comes to consideration of its own legislation. I think there are double standards here. We have been told that the opposition has to give and give in terms of additional hours, but the government does not seem to be able to discipline its own members as to their responsibilities in being mindful of the limited hours that are available. We in this place know that there is a capacity for the Senate to fill whatever time is available if discipline is not imposed. And year after year we see this government get worse in its capacity to manage the program—that the more time you give the government the more time it takes.

We put to the Democrats—and I understand that they may well be committed to support the government on this issue—that there has to be consideration at some point about how much time is actually given to the government. My view is that if at 12 o'clock the government still needs more time, then it is reasonable to consider it at that stage. But there has to be a limit. I think you will find that there is a great deal more attention paid to the clock if there is a limit imposed now. The problem we have is that the government says, `Trust us'—

Senator O'Brien —What did they do last time?

Senator CARR —In the last parliamentary session we sat around until 4 o'clock in the morning cooling our heels because the government was wanting to get messages backwards and forwards between the chambers and did not have the wit and wisdom to organise its program in such a manner that the legislative program was dealt with in a reasonable way. My proposition to the Senate is this: the opposition has bent over backwards to facilitate a reasonable consideration of government business. What we are now saying is that there has to be a measure put on this government to enforce discipline on both sides of the chamber. To date, that has been lacking.