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Wednesday, 13 February 2002
Page: 139


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:27 AM) —I congratulate Senator Brown and Senator Bartlett for achieving their aim of speaking for their full 20 minutes. For Senator Brown it was not much of a struggle, but Senator Bartlett was clearly struggling after about nine minutes of trying. We should understand, and those hundreds of thousands of people across Australia tuning in to the Parliamentary News Network should understand—


Senator Forshaw —They're switched off.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Senator Bartlett probably was not too good for the ratings, I have to say. It is only 7.30 a.m. in Perth, where it really counts. We have probably lost all the listeners. I say sorry to PNN—


Senator Brown —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Besides the snide remarks about Senator Bartlett, the parliamentary secretary on his feet took a number of points of order about straying from the subject, and I would ask you to bring him back to it. This is an urgency debate.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—I ask the parliamentary secretary to confine his remarks to the question before the chair. I am sure that he will, as I previously asked Senator Brown.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —That is quite right. I certainly would not want to be referred to as the pot calling the kettle black. There are a number of things that Senator Brown and Senator Bartlett said during the debate that were either misleading or just plain wrong. The issue about the legislation has been dealt with by Senator Harradine— that is, that the legislation has been around for some years. In fact, I think the Tasmanian RFA is actually up for review now. This legislation has been around for so long that the Commonwealth has not been able to pass the legislation to uphold the Commonwealth's commitments to the RFA process for a period of years, basically because we could not get it through the Senate.


Senator Forshaw —You should have introduced it then.


Senator IAN CAMPBELL —We have introduced it more times than I have had hot breakfasts in the last year. It is a matter of record that the review of one of the RFAs is coming up before we can actually get the legislation through the Commonwealth parliament. To use Senator Brown's words, this is far from fast-tracking legislation. It is more like Bob Dylan's famous album Slow Train Coming. This has been a very long and slow and tortuous process. The government did make a commitment on the second last sitting day, two sitting days ago, on 26 September. Senator Hill gave an undertaking to this chamber and to the people of Australia that we would introduce this legislation on the first sitting day, which we are doing. It is the first day of government business today. We are upholding that. I think that is the appropriate thing to do. Certainly I, as the manager, made commitments publicly and in this place to do exactly what we are doing now. So I think it is quite appropriate that we do that.

Could I go to the point about this being some sort of affront to the forms of the Senate. The reality of the sitting schedule for this week and the reality of the standing orders is that if Senator Bartlett had his way the Senate would not actually be able to deal with any legislation at all this week. The Senate regularly decides whether or not bills can be exempted from the cut-off order and makes those decisions. What we are talking about here is not spending two back to back speeches of 20 minutes explaining why a couple of senators and their parties do not want to deal with something. What we are trying to do—and I am grateful for the Labor Party's support in this issue—is to allow the bill to be debated. I am sure it is just an idealistic pipedream from my point of view, Mr Acting Deputy President—and you would probably agree with me—but it would be very good if the Senate could ensure that important legislation was debated.

We will have, I am sure, the first significant filibuster of the 2002 parliamentary term, the 40th Parliament of Australia, on this bill because any time you have a bill with anything to do with an RFA Senator Brown finds as many opportunities as possible to get up and speak for his full allotted time. It is the great art of filibuster. The trouble is we will spend a couple of weeks doing the RFA Bill. It will not be an informative debate because it will be tedious repetition. It will be filibustering. He will do whatever he can to slow the passage of the legislation, and at the end of the sitting periods leading into the Easter recess we will have a backlog of 20 other bills which will not get proper consideration.

Senator Bartlett makes some fair points about the parliament's consideration of bills. It has got to be within the hands of the Senate to ensure that all of the bills get an adequate time for debate. I have been the manager here for a long time, and I know the reality in this place is that in a normal sitting week we do one or two major bills during the government business period. The statistics will bear this out. I would be happy for Senator Bartlett to look at these statistics. We tend to do one or two major bills during Monday through to Thursday and they usually get very thorough debate. In the Thursday lunchtime period, we have what is called the non-controversial timeslot when pieces of legislation which are fairly rudimentary and, as we have come to call them, non-controversial—where every single senator in the place has said, `Yes, we have no objection to that; put it through'—are dealt with. Most of those bills go through in two or three minutes on what we call a tick and a flick, which is probably very unparliamentary language and not a great description of the process, but they get through all of their stages in a short period because they are non-controversial. When you look at the statistics that Senator Bartlett refers to, on the face of them they can look like the parliament is not giving things proper scrutiny. I do not think Senator Bartlett set out to cause affront to members of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee or other senators who do spend enormous amounts of time looking at legislation. Not only do the Senate committees spend a lot of time looking at every piece of legislation or regulations of any interest to them but there are backbench committees. I am sure the Democrats themselves have committees in their own party processes. I am sure the caucus has subcommittees that deal with any issue that comes before them.

I think that Australians are very well served by the process. I think the weight of legislation, although it is heavy, is dealt with very effectively by the committee structure and by the Senate as a whole. This Senate is very accessible to the people of Australia. It is one of the great benefits of the structure of our federation. There are 12 senators from each state. They all make themselves accessible. They are spread throughout the states and, if anyone has any concern with any proposed piece of legislation, one of us usually hears about it. I think we have a lot to be proud of. I do not think the statistics that Senator Bartlett puts forward in relation to all these hundreds of pieces of legislation paint a fair picture.

I should point out that in this particular piece of legislation there are two relatively small changes. The first is a change to the commencement provisions, which one would expect, the bill having been in and out for the last four years. It includes a new form which will be used in all bills introduced into the parliament from the autumn sittings in 2002. It is a technical matter; it does not go to the substance of the legislation at all. The other is some minor amendments which relate to the interaction between the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which has come into force since the RFA was first drawn up. Of course, those two pieces of legislation need to work together. These changes are minor and technical. Otherwise the bill really has not changed very much at all. To be able to deal with it we do need this motion to pass. It is very appropriate that the Senate does this. But I remind you, as I started off, that what we are doing here is trying to pass a motion so the bill and its provisions can be debated. I say: let the debate begin.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ian Campbell's) be agreed to.