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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 27501


Senator McKIERNAN (12:07 PM) —I do not intend to take too much of the Senate's time in debating Senator Brown's motion to refer this legislation to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee. I am pleased, Senator Brown, that you did give that clarification as to which committee it is going to go to because it is important which hat I wear in joining this debate. It is a matter of whether I am chair of the references committee or deputy chair of the legislation committee. But, whichever hat I would be wearing, Senator Brown has not seen fit, since he put his motion in the chamber yesterday, to enter into any form of consultation or negotiations with me as chair or even as deputy chair of the committees. That is a breach of the normal practice and stands in stark contrast to what Senator Bartlett did during the last sittings when the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 6) 2001 was referred to the Legal and Constitutional References Committee and was subject to some debate in this place. There was consultation all the way around, but regrettably Senator Brown has not seen fit to engage in that consultation.

Senator Brown, in putting forward a motion and not consulting, has put me as an individual in somewhat of a difficult position because, were I to acquiesce to and go along with the proposition that Senator Brown is putting forward, I would have to breach every understanding that we have had in the period of time that I have been chair of that committee. I agree with all the propositions of contacting the public and having the public come along to a Senate committee and inform the committee—and, through the committee, the parliament—about their concerns over or support for particular pieces of legislation. In order to facilitate the public doing that, we advertise in our national newspapers for people to come along and give their views. Where we identify particular individuals or organisations, we also make contact with them for them to come along so we can ask them to give their particular views.

With the last bill that I referred to, which Senator Bartlett moved be referred to the committee, we were able to make informal arrangements. Even prior to the Senate passing the reference to the committee, we were able to make informal arrangements for advertising to take place. Were we to advertise in the national media on this particular set of bills, which are important bills, we would have had to have put the advertisement into the newspapers through the agency yesterday. If there were consultation, that might have been able to have been done, but regrettably there is absolutely no way in the world that it can be done now, at midday on Thursday, for the weekend's newspapers.


Senator Brown —What humbug.


Senator McKIERNAN —Well, it is an actual fact, and we were able to facilitate that other matter. Senator Bartlett is sitting very close to us, and I think Senator Bartlett will agree that the advertisement did appear and that the public have made submissions to the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee on the refugee determination bill. Tomorrow we will be having a public hearing on that piece of legislation here in the national capital, Canberra. We were able to do that through the processes of consultation. Senator Brown, if you do not want to engage in those processes, that is your decision, but it is your humbug, Senator Brown. It is your humbug that causes that not to happen.

The other thing that needs to be considered by the Senate in regard to this particular reference is: how does the public get to the hearing of the parliamentary committee and the committee get time to deliberate on the evidence taken, write up the report and present that report by Tuesday of next week? I do not know if any other colleagues are having the same difficulties as some others that I know in making travel arrangements at this particular point in time with only one of the major airlines of this country flying. It would be very, very difficult to move around this country at this moment in time, even if we were able to.

When will the committee have time to do the hearing? We cannot do it tomorrow because we are already engaged. On the instructions of the Senate, we already have a hearing on another very important bill, a bill so important that the person who was concerned about the content of the bill actually engaged in a consultation process with those of us that are also engaged in the committee, and we were able to facilitate that and support it. But, no, Senator Brown wants to do his own thing and go charging off on a steed to make a name for himself.

Well, Senator Brown, you are entitled to do that and you are doing that, but obviously you are not going to get your proposition up—but they are the breaks that you engage in, Senator Brown, entirely different from your actions in relation to the other inquiry that is before the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee. I refer to your contact with me in Burkina Faso just last week, I think it was or it may have been possibly the week before, and how circumstances have changed. You made contact with my office and made contact with me in the west of the continent of Africa, in Burkina Faso, to make alternative arrangements about a bill and a subject matter that was very dear to your heart. You were very able to do that while I was thousands and thousands of miles away, but while I sit four seats from you, you are not even able to come across—and we did talk about the other matter yesterday. If you fail on this particular occasion, Senator Brown, I think the first thing you should do is a bit of self-analysis of your own efforts in this. If you really wanted the bill to come through, you, the mover of the motion, would have at least engaged in some degree of consultation on it.


Senator Brown —What a comment for a chairman this is. This is disgraceful. It is just humbug.


Senator McKIERNAN —The only thing disgraceful in this, Senator Brown, is you; you have been the disgrace. But you have achieved your aim—you have made a name for yourself, but it is not a very good name, Senator Brown; it is not a very good argument at all.

Let me put one quick matter in regard to the bills. The bills, as I indicated and will be saying when we get into the second reading debate, are very important bills and are dramatically different from the bill we debated here three weeks ago. I have gone into the content of the legislation. One of the really important differences with the main bill is that we have actually seen it before it reached the chamber, whereas on the previous occasion we did not even see the bill prior to its entering the chamber. Indeed, the Australian Labor Party, the opposition party in this place, did not get a chance to look at the bill prior to it being introduced in the House of Representatives. Indeed, members of the government parties did not even get to see it.

When that bill was defeated in this place, we offered at the time to look at it and to work with the government on this very important matter of border control in this country. We offered to work with them on this occasion. On this occasion we have been given the opportunity to work with the government on it, and the government will see—by the introduction of this bill and what happened in the House of Representatives yesterday, where all the bills passed the House of Representatives with the support of the opposition—that legislation can be brought into this place and can be passed if it is good legislation. If it is bad legislation, we will oppose it, we will block it and we will not allow it to pass. We proved that some weeks ago, and we paid dearly, one would suggest, in the polls for that action.