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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 666

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (5:06 PM) —I seek leave to move that question time be extended to the full allocated time.

Leave not granted.

Senator BOB BROWN —Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion that question time be extended until the remaining allocated time is expended.

I do this because there is the important principle here that question time in the Senate is private senators’ time, is the time for questioning the government and ought to run its full one hour regardless of what other procedural matters intervene. Today a failed motion of censure of the government interrupted question time, but the return to question time is the priority, from where the Greens sit, in the further deliberations of this house. There is on the slate an urgency motion which is going to traverse exactly the same ground that we have heard in the recent debate. It is more important, in our view, that the provision of question time in the Senate be upheld.

You know, Mr President, that I and the Greens have moved on a number of occasions in the past to ensure that question time be provided for when we sit extra days and question time is not provided for. It is the Greens’ view that question time, where the government is put under scrutiny, is absolutely central to the proceedings of parliament. It ought to be allocated on any day on which parliament sits, and I would expect that the coalition in opposition will support this motion to ensure that the government is put under the scrutiny that is required.

We sit far too little. We have a very sparse sitting schedule for this year, in particular for this part of the year. There is very little opportunity to put the government under scrutiny, and I expect that this coalition will want to ensure that that opportunity is not truncated at the behest of a government which does not want to have more question time. Of course we should. The matter has to be debated now because, if it is not, the opportunity is lost, so the urgency is very apparent. I put to the opposition that question time be extended and that it is very important. The government will not like it. I know that. The government does not want it. But it is not our job to protect the government from question time; it is our job to search the government in question time.

If we proceed, the next question will be from my colleague the honourable Deputy Leader of the Greens, Senator Milne, then there are a series of question opportunities for the coalition and other senators, including government senators acting as private senators, so it is very important that this proceed. Only a half hour is involved, and the Senate ought to insist that the government not escape from questioning under the unusual circumstances which have occurred today.