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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 16446

Senator SHERRY (9:44 AM) —by leave—For the last three days my office and the Labor opposition had been informed that the three messages relating to the superannuation bills were to be considered this morning first thing. Senator Coonan has now given an explanation as to why we are not dealing with the three superannuation messages. She did not give an explanation when she moved to rearrange the business initially. It would have helped the chamber, I think, if she had explained why the government has had to seek a rearrangement of the legislative program at such short notice so that we can now deal with Communications Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2003. We now have the explanation but it would have been better if it had been given when the motion was moved. That in itself, given the very short notice, would have been satisfactory.

It is not just the Labor opposition that has to be considered here. There are other senators to be considered. We know the position of the Democrats—they are in an absolute mess at the moment. They cannot even meet in the same room on the same-sex couples superannuation bills. That is the guts of the problem they have got. But there are other senators in this chamber. There is Senator Murphy, there is Senator Harradine, there is Senator Brown and there is Senator Harris. There are other senators who are not members of the Australian Democrats or the Labor opposition.

Senator Lundy —And Senator Lees.

Senator SHERRY —Senator Lees, that is right—I forget what her party is called. I think it is a gross discourtesy to other senators in the chamber who were expecting the three surcharge bills and the attached messages to be dealt with. It is a gross discourtesy to them because the three messages relating to the superannuation bills are of interest and they may have a crucial say in the success of amendments that will be considered as part of the message. They may have a crucial say and they quite rightly deserve consideration in terms of notice given the crucial nature of the three bills we are to consider. I do not think it is reasonable.

Obviously, the government traditionally in this chamber lays out its program for the day, albeit it is at very short notice. I do not think it is reasonable though when the government has known for some time that the Australian Democrats are in a mess on the issue of same-sex couples and the superannuation bills we are to consider. As I understand it, the mess has got worse as the days have gone on. The minister well knows that the entire package that will be considered in the three messages could go down if the Australian Democrats are not clear in their position and are not going to vote for the government's package, as they have indicated apparently in writing.

The Labor opposition is ready and willing to deal with the business that we were told would be dealt with first. Apparently, that is not to be the case. An explanation should have been given when the business was re-ordered; it was not, but that explanation has now been given by Senator Coonan. But at the fundamental heart of all of this are the problems that the Democrats have got. They are huddled in meetings trying to work out how to deal with the messages relating to the superannuation bills. But Labor stands ready. Labor will also be standing firm on its position in respect of the bills and the messages that I have enunciated on previous occasions.