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Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Page: 4608


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:49): Mr Deputy President—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator Chris Evans interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Evans, you pointed out that the chamber was disorderly. You are contributing to that now. Senator Macdonald, please do not interject.

Senator BRANDIS: Mr Deputy President, may I say through you to the Leader of the Government in the Senate: let not your heart be troubled, Senator Evans. The opposition's attitude, as I understand, has been set out by Senator Fifield, but, to make assurance doubly sure, as the shadow minister with responsibility for this bill let me indicate to the chamber what the opposition's attitude is. As I said to the Attorney-General yesterday, the opposition will agree to expedite the passage of this bill through the parliament this week.

The opposition has concerns about the bill. We have both concerns as to its legal validity and concerns about the process which the government and, in particular, the Attorney-General have adopted. Our willingness to cooperate in expediting the passage of the bill this week reflects merely the fact that we are in uncertain constitu­tional territory at the moment, and we the opposition certainly do not want to stand in the way of the government's attempts to seek to regularise or validate the position following last week's High Court decision.

Nevertheless, as I said a moment ago, I do have serious concerns about the legal method, as it were, chosen by the govern¬≠ment to validate these payments. For that reason, the opposition will be moving an amendment to propose a short sunset clause on the bill which would sunset the operation of the bill to 31 December this year. I would hope that particularly crossbench members of the Senate would see the point in this. The reality is that we had, last Wednesday, a very complex High Court decision. I do not know how many senators have had the opportunity to study it. I have. I think it is not controversial to say that the High Court decision casts a great deal of doubt over a very large range of Commonwealth programs. Most, but not all, of those programs are programs that have the support of the opposition—and I dare say that many of them would have the support of all senators. The opposition's willingness to expedite the passage of the bill, subject to a short sunset clause, is merely to hold the situation in statu quo so that the High Court's decision can be properly considered, particularly by the Attorney-General's Department and by those who advise the government. A more thorough and effective statutory response to the High Court decision can be considered in the six months that the sunset provision allows. With that very significant reservation of the opposition's position, that is the reason we are prepared to expedite the passage of this bill this week, and I have told the Attorney-General that. Finally, I should indicate that, when we have the second reading debate, I will be the only speaker from the opposition.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I could not hear the speaker because the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Manager of Government Business in the Senate were chatting among themselves. What Senator Brandis is saying was particularly important, and I think the Manager of Government Business would benefit if he actually listened to what Senator Brandis is saying.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Fifield be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Collins, as amended, be agreed to.