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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17225


Senator BROWN (10:06 AM) —by leave—I agree with the sentiments that are being expressed here. We live in an increasingly complex world, and the Senate has to deal with that complexity. It is not just changes in the Senate we are looking at; it is the complexity of the international framework within which the parliament works these days. When it comes to debate on the Constitution, and the Senate being asked to express an opinion, the Senate cannot make a determination in the matter—that would have to go to the people through a referendum. But I agree that there needs to be debate on important matters like this, and I wish the Procedure Committee well.

It may be that we have to set aside—and this would be my suggestion—an afternoon or a morning in Senate sitting weeks in which debate on those matters can be progressed with new debating rules. It may be that we have a five-minute limit on the contributions made by members. On most of those matters that is far better than nothing at all. I do not think we need the 20 minutes that is allowed in general debate. But it would allow people to contribute and there may be some allocation of debating time within the framework of new rules.

With the plurality of the membership of the Senate as it is evolving, and I do not think that is ever going to change now, it is important that there be opportunity to debate those matters. The Procedure Committee might look at, first, the allocation of time for debating motions. It may mean we sit an extra week or two during the year, but I think that is healthy. Secondly, the committee should look at what rules should apply to debate of those motions and how you prioritise motions according to their importance and complexity. On the complexity issue, it may mean that there has to be a substantive point which is incorporated in the motion and which is voted upon rather than multiple points being introduced through a motion on which we find ourselves divided as to what we support and what we do not and end up having to vote against the ones we support in order to make sure the ones we do not do not get up. I will certainly be looking forward to reading the Clerk's paper, as Senator Faulkner indicated, and to hearing what the Procedure Committee comes up with.