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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 31


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaActing Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (12:27): Thank you, Mr President. As I indicated, I was happy to deal with that issue as either a further clarification or, indeed, debating the motion. I'm happy to deal with my concerns about what's before us at the moment, which is essentially an amendment moved by the government instead of the amendment that the opposition circulated that was described by the minister—I'll be careful with my language here; we're all tired—in a way which was not full and frank in terms of the differences between the two positions that have been put forward.

Part (b) is a procedural mechanism that in the past has been agreed by the Senate to allow for more government business time if we finish non-controversial legislation. Again, with this debate which we've moved into, the 20 minutes that's allowable for senators to debate a motion in relation to business, the issue here is to highlight that there are a range of mechanisms by which this Senate works that involve cooperation and sleight of hand should not be part of it.

This is a message to CA as well: if we allow ministers to just introduce amendments without circulating them, to pretend they're the same as the ones that have been circulated by the opposition and for their own purposes remove one element—and I think it's pretty clear to all parties here that the way in which the opposition would ordinarily cooperate with the government of the day to facilitate business is a time that is passed—you will feel the burden of that in relation to pairing, in relation to procedure, in relation to how bills progress and in relation to routine issues around which bills are considered non-controversial. This is the territory that this government has taken us into today and this is the issue that CA in particular or, indeed, Pauline Hanson's One Nation should understand. This Senate usually functions effectively as a house of review, and this is a very important principle that they have compromised.

So we have a long list—indeed, a very long list—of non-controversial legislation that the government would like to be able to progress this week and next week. And, before yesterday and today, the opposition was happy to cooperate and ensure that that could occur. When Minister Birmingham referred to removing aged care, that was because it became apparent—and I think it was actually Senator Leyonhjelm, rather than the opposition, who had the issue on that one. And Senator Leyonhjelm has arranged for aged care not to proceed as non-controversial legislation. We then propose that it's a fairly lengthy list and that some of the critical bills that really do need to proceed here—the Veterans' Affairs Legislation Amendment (Veteran-centric Reforms No. 2) Bill 2018 and the Health Legislation Amendment (Improved Medicare Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2018—were really matters that we needed to guarantee be dealt with during non-controversial legislation. The rest of them, though—

Senator Bushby interjecting

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I'm sorry, Senator; what was that?

Senator Bushby: Sit down and allow us to get on with it.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I'm sorry, but, as I pointed out, I will not be told by you or anyone else in this chamber to just sit down and get on with it.

Senator Bushby: Well, you're going to have to.

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Oh, you're going to continue are you? Mr President, either deal with him—

The PRESIDENT: I just called order.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Good.

The PRESIDENT: Don't instruct me, Senator Collins.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I'm not instructing you. I am complaining that there is the government whip interjecting on my contributions.

The PRESIDENT: And I called him to order before.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Thank you.

The PRESIDENT: If you request the protection of the chair, I'm more than happy to grant it, but I would appreciate it not being an instruction. Senator Collins, continue.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Maybe I'll ask more politely so it will be clear to you that it wasn't an instruction, but let's just say the hours this Senate has worked so far this week do not facilitate the courtesy and goodwill that ordinarily all senators would function with. And, equally, it is quite provocative when the minister, unfortunately, continues with the pattern of behaviour he's demonstrated in a range of other policy areas where he is very, very selective with the information that he provides.

I can remind senators here, of course, of the complaints of people like Catholic Education. What have they said about this minister? 'He's not up-front.' How was he with this amendment? 'He was not up-front.' He was trying to con this chamber into a procedure where he knows that it's on the basis of cooperation that we move on to government business once we finish non-controversial legislation. And, indeed, Senators, the Procedure Committee didn't meet this week because it was diverted by this government's procedures. And, indeed, the Procedure Committee, if it was functioning effectively, would continue to deal with matters that complicate or compromise the efficiency of this chamber. I remember earlier this week we spent about, I think, an hour and 20 minutes in formal motions. I do have some sympathy and, indeed, empathy with the government that there are elements of the procedures in this chamber that make it very difficult to consider government business. But what this opposition will not do after the stunt performed yesterday and today is cooperate on that matter. You cannot expect the opposition to cooperate in processes to establish effective movement of legislation or government business when you perform stunts like that which just occurred.

So, we will move, after the veterans' affairs bill, to the list—it will be an even longer list, I suspect, next week—of non-controversial legislation. But senators should understand that this part of the program to deal with non-controversial legislation is one built around cooperation amongst senators and a process behind the scenes outside the chamber that lets us all understand those bills that we may or may not have an issue on. This section of the program coincides with when sensible senators are getting an opportunity to go and have something to eat in what will potentially be a very long day if we look at the rest of the sitting week so far—and indeed, Mr President, I think I'm still awaiting your advice on whether the government is equally bound by the approach on suspensions of standing orders in terms of their ability to rearrange the program. But it's a level of cooperation that is unlikely to continue. The government's capacity to rearrange the program and to rely on cooperation to deal with noncontroversial legislation will not automatically occur, and we will complain if the government seeks, in a somewhat shifty way, to replace the motion that we've circulated with another one which is materially different.

Mr President, I could insist that their amendment be circulated. I think it's quite inappropriate that it wasn't—oh, it has been? Very good. So senators can now see the difference I'm complaining about, can understand why, rather than proceeding with Senator Wong's motion, the government did it differently themselves, and can understand that the government's trying to pull the wool over the eyes of senators procedurally again and revert back to what Senator Birmingham just described as 'standard part (b)'. Well, we're not on board for standard part (b), Senator Birmingham, and we're not on board for a range of things in relation to how this Senate usually cooperates. We will not allow stunts like the ones that occurred yesterday and today to become the regular pattern and routine of this place.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Indeed, as I can hear now, we are still facing confusion about what really is before us and how we're going to proceed. Senator Birmingham said that, if we want to vote separately on part (b), we can do that. Indeed, I think we should. I think it's important to highlight that the government shouldn't be able to sneak in a mechanism that's generally done by cooperation across the chamber. I think we'll make that point on many, many things in the days ahead, because the opposition's cooperation, the things that ordinarily allow for this parliament to function, should not be taken for granted when we had, as I've said before, the Leader of the Government sitting here directing traffic, with five minutes here; I'm surprised he didn't go down to two minutes there and four minutes here. It was incredible.

So what did we see earlier about the brave new Senate? I'll be more polite than perhaps some of the interjections were at the time, but essentially what we saw was Pauline Hanson's One Nation coming to the Leader of the Government in the Senate and saying: 'What is it we do? How are we proceeding? What are we supposed to do?' We saw CA come over—in fact, I saw worse than that this morning. I saw the Leader of the Government in the Senate not even get out of his seat. Poor Senator Patrick was left bending over to him trying to clarify even what is meant to occur. The body language in this place has become unbelievable. I don't know why Senator Cormann doesn't even understand the civil courtesy of just getting up out of his seat to talk to one of his colleagues, particularly one he's really reliant upon, because it's these deals that determine traffic in this place now—these deals, as we saw, that they refused to outline. They refused to describe what is the arrangement about who's allowed to speak here—which senators are allowed to speak in this place. Senator Cormann refused to even clarify what the arrangement was, so party leaders had no idea. 'Do I have five minutes? Do I have 15? Oops, it was meant to have been 15.' Then Senator Cormann glibly tries to backtrack and says, 'Well, actually, we'll give you 15.' But it wasn't on the basis of what the arrangement was meant to be. He runs some glib line: 'Oh, Senator Wong was just so entertaining!' How patronising. That is extraordinarily patronising.

But, as I said, Senator Cormann now thinks he's in control. He now thinks that because he succeeded with his dummy spit he can do extraordinary things. We will take every opportunity to highlight each and every one of those extraordinary things. If that means highlighting that Senator Birmingham is once again practising sleight of hand, that the motion he's moving is actually materially different to what he's suggesting, we will force it to be circulated in the chamber. We will force him to concede, 'Oops, there is this difference that I didn't describe,' and we will force the Senate to deal with those issues separately. I'm not allowing the government to co-opt opposition motions. I'm not foolish enough to not identify that there is a material difference between them. And Senator Birmingham should know better. He thinks—

Senator O'Neill: He's contemptuous.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You're right, Senator O'Neill: he is contemptuous. He thinks that because to some extent he has, to date, gotten away with this sort of behaviour with very important policy sectors here in Australia, Catholic Education being the example—Mr President, you're aware of these issues in some detail; you're aware of how upset education stakeholders are at this minister's behaviour. And I don't need to revisit all those atrocities, because they are hotly felt. And even if Malcolm Turnbull is ultimately forced into new arrangements, they won't forget. They will not forget. Indeed, I know even from some of the suggestions that come forward about how the opposition should address issues in the school education space—they're still in that space, Senator Birmingham. They haven't moved on about how things might improve in the future—no: there is so much anger and resentment that I don't think they will forget what occurred here anytime soon. Catholic Education will be in the press—as they were yesterday, as they are today and as they will be tomorrow—highlighting how poorly you have conducted the policy discussions, or indeed nondiscussions, that should have occurred with the major education reforms you are attempting to move forward by sleight of hand.

This Senate knows this because we spent hour upon hour upon hour working through those issues. And probably a more effective crossbench at the time were able to achieve the revisiting of many issues and significant concessions and processes, some of which are still afoot. In fact, maybe this is today's sleight of hand that I should refer to, because this motion isn't the first one. The other one was the article in Fairfax today, in which it is suggested that a particular report about the School Resourcing Board and their consideration of matters—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Birmingham on a point of order.

Senator Birmingham: Just as a matter of interest for Senator Collins, it's important to be aware that there is a 12:45 hard marker, and if the opposition wishes to see the veteran-centric reforms dealt with today then the motion before the chair does need to be dealt with prior to then.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This motion needs to be dealt with before 12:45? Sure.

Senator Birmingham: If you want to support the veteran-centric—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Well, we will. Let's do it.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the motion moved by Senator Birmingham regarding the rearrangement of business be agreed to.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Sorry—in two parts.

The PRESIDENT: You would like (a) and (b) put separately?

Senator Jacinta Collins: Yes.

The PRESIDENT: I put the question that all parts of the motion other than part (b) be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

The PRESIDENT: I'll now put part (b) of the motion, that:

(b) government business be called on after consideration of the bills listed in paragraph (a) and considered till not later than 2 pm today.

The effect of that is that we would return to other government business if we conclude the veterans' affairs bill and a number of other bills. The question is that part (b) of the motion be agreed to.

Question agreed to.