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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 2148

Senator LUDWIG (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (6:25 PM) —I seek leave to move a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for today.

Leave not granted.

Senator LUDWIG —I move pursuant to contingent notice of motion No. 2, on behalf of Senator Evans:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Evans moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for today.

The government is keen to ensure that the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 is progressed. A number of speeches on the second reading of this bill have been delivered today, and the bill has been in committee for some time now. Given that we are now at the end of a sitting period, after which we will go into recess for Christmas, it is imperative that we allow sufficient time for this bill to be dealt with. It is clear that there are a number of amendments that still need to be dealt with, and this motion will give us an opportunity to allow the bill to be considered by the Committee of the Whole.

In support of the motion, and in explanation for the urgency of dealing with this bill tonight, I say that in previous periods before the expiration of a sitting period additional hours have usually been provided for to ensure that the business of the Senate is completed before we go to a Christmas break; however, this time the opposition have unfortunately taken a view that favours not providing additional hours. That is no criticism of the opposition; I am merely pointing out that the opposition have maintained that position. That means that, unless we take every opportunity to ensure that we deal with this bill in a sensible way, we will not have sufficient time to allow proper debate on the bill.

The motion for the rearrangement of the hours of the Senate will ensure that all senators can participate in the debate this evening. It is proposed that we have a 30-minute meal break between seven and 7.30 and then continue until 10.30 to allow the committee stage of the bill to be progressed. If this business is not concluded by then, we can return tomorrow and consider seeking additional hours and, hopefully, the opposition will allow us additional hours for the matter to be concluded. However, we remain hopeful that consideration of the bill will be concluded tonight within the hours that I have outlined.

Overall this year, 45 per cent to 53 per cent of the Senate’s time has been taken up by government business, whereas in this sitting period it has dropped significantly to 40 per cent. Additional time has been taken up by the opposition in considering a range of urgency motions and matters of public importance, meaning that proper time for consideration of bills has been curtailed by the actions of the opposition, who have not allowed sufficient time for bills to be debated. Therefore, it is necessary to take this step—which is not unusual at this time—to allow additional hours to be provided for.

What we also detect from those opposite is an unwillingness to sit the additional time to ensure that there is proper debate in relation to these bills. The opposition have taken a position which seems to be one of—I will not say filibuster but it borders on filibustering the Senate to ensure that legislation that this government does want dealt with is not with dealt with. Be that as it may, it is important that we do allow sufficient time this evening for this debate to be progressed.

In drawing to the conclusion of the available time that I have to argue this—I draw the Senate’s attention to the reality that we have had a debate nearly every day on a matter of public importance. It has moved from something of the order of five to 13 per cent of the sitting period to something of the order of 38 per cent. The opposition have taken a view, it appears, to reduce the amount of government time available for debate. They argue about insufficient weeks and at the same time they reduce the number of hours available for government time to deal with debates within that. It is a poor—