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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26666


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4:02 PM) —As I understand it, the Senate at the moment is debating a motion for the suspension of standing orders to give urgency or priority to establishing a select committee to examine the so-called Scrafton matters. That is something the Democrats are on the record as supporting. Clearly it is an urgent matter. Therefore, we will support the suspension of the standing orders to allow consideration of that question by the Senate. I do believe that the Senate is in fairly extraordinary and unique circumstances. The Prime Minister's decision to announce the election campaign early and not have the House of Representatives sit but have the Senate sit on its own does, no doubt quite deliberately, leave the Senate in a fairly absurd situation.

There is one thing the Prime Minister has said in this election campaign that I do agree with—I am not sure there are too many more so far, but there is certainly one—and that is that the government does not control the Senate. The Democrats believe that it is absolutely essential that that remains the case. That is a key matter for the election campaign. Even though the government does not control the Senate, it has obviously made a farce of these sittings by not having the House of Representatives sit. There is no point in amending legislation, which is a key part of the Senate's role and value, because the House of Representatives is not there to consider the amendments. Therefore a lot of what we are dealing with, separate from this matter, is basically a farce and another example of the Prime Minister's contempt for the parliament, contempt for the Senate and contempt for democracy. Those are themes we can expand on and engage on during the election campaign itself. Not surprisingly, given our party's name, the Democrats are in favour of strengthening democracy, and I think most of the electorate are as well. We will see how that goes on polling day.

The matter before us, to suspend standing orders to decide whether or not to establish a committee, is obviously urgent. It is one of the few substantive matters left on the Senate agenda that can effectively be dealt with and that would have any significant value to it. Therefore it should certainly be given urgency. For the government to try and suggest that it should not even be put to a vote is just another example of them dodging scrutiny. To try and prevent the matter even coming to a question—as they are doing by opposing this motion for suspension—is a clear example of them trying to avoid scrutiny, despite all of their protestations that they are not. We certainly support the motion. We will listen to further arguments about any improvements to the motion. Clearly we are in favour of having an opportunity for the truth to be put more clearly on the record and for those claims to be tested—obviously not just by the Labor Party but by any government members. The forensic, incisive examination that relevant government members may try to bring to the inquiry—and obviously the independent approach that the Democrats will bring—will enable those matters to get tested, and that is important. It is a matter for the public, then, to choose what to make of that extra information rather than for the committee to decide. I certainly support the suspension motion to allow us to debate the substantive motion.