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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4382


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (6:04 PM) —The Australian Greens support this legislation. One matter I draw the Senate’s attention to is the second reading amendment that I have circulated. It is about the recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration in its report on additional estimates 2008-09 that the government respond as a matter of priority to reports of the Senate Appropriations and Staffing Committee on the ordinary annual services of government. The amendment calls upon the Minister for Finance and Deregulation to respond immediately to the longstanding correspondence of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee on the matter. I wish to amend my amendment by replacing the word ‘immediately’ with the words ‘by 12 August’. In respect of Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2009-10, I move the motion as amended:

At the end of the motion, add:

, and the Senate

(1)   again endorses recommendation 1 of the Finance and Public Administration Committee in its report on the additional estimates 2008-09, that the government respond to the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing reports on the ordinary annual services of the government as a matter of priority and

(2)   calls upon the Minister for Finance and Deregulation to respond by 12 August to the longstanding correspondence of the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing on the matter.

I refer members to my speech on 12 March in this place on the same matter. It is a hugely important issue. This move is to prevent the drift we have seen with recent governments to include in the appropriation bills enormous spending matters that should not be there, therefore taking away the ability of parliament to debate them. For example, the multimillion dollar bill for tsunami assistance to Indonesia was put into appropriations and therefore was taken out of range of debate. The Northern Territory emergency response package of bills was put into appropriations, whereas it should have been separate legislation and brought before the parliament and accounted for in the usual way.

The tendency for this has been increasing since there was a compact in 1965 to not allow that procedure, but the 1965 compact did not really list clearly enough what governments ought not to be able to put into appropriations legislation. My amendment in March had the support of the opposition, and I hope that this amendment—which now gives the Minister for Finance and Deregulation a specific date, 12 August, to respond to the Senate on the correspondence from the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing—gets support.

While I am on my feet, I note that earlier today I sought advice from the President on the matter of Senator Abetz’s pairing in the vote on the No. 1 matter on the Notice Paper, a motion by Senator Ludwig on matters being referred to the Standing Committee of Privileges. Senator Abetz himself, in his submission to the chamber before question time, said:

Given that the motion related to me personally, I thought that I should not be casting a vote …

However, the question I asked of the President was whether, in getting paired, Senator Abetz was in fact casting a vote. If that was the case, I submit to the Senate that the intention of the Senate was not properly reflected in the outcome and that there would have been a reference to the privileges committee had Senator Abetz absented himself from that vote. He, in his own words, said he should not be casting a vote. This is an important matter. I hope, and I have asked of the President, that there will be a ruling on it before we rise this evening so that, if the President makes the ruling that Senator Abetz did cast a vote, there will be the opportunity to correct this morning’s vote wherein the Senate—that is, the coalition and Senator Fielding—blocked the reference to the committee.