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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1894

Senator MASON(10.16) —This is probably a well meaning attempt by the Opposition to bring its point of view, or perhaps a public point of view, to a matter which, as the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Chaney, has said, has had a great deal of debate already. It is still in the transitional stage in the sense that I have moved a motion for disallowance of ordinances, which has been adjourned, and there have been various other motions, including one from Senator Harradine, to resolve this very complex matter. It is a complex matter. It is one of great difficulty which requires a good deal of thought and input from the community. We are getting that kind of input now. We would oppose immediately the suspension of Standing Orders, although we might be inclined, perhaps, to look at this later in the day. There may be an opportunity then to look at the motion, if it could be adjourned for that amount of time. I have not had time yet to consult the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, and the Committee's Chairman, Senator Coates, is not in the chamber. I do not know what his view is. It would be a grave lack of courtesy on the part of the Senate to visit a busy committee with a reference such as this, which must be an urgent one. As Senator Chaney has said, it will have to be looked at during the next two weeks.

The other point is that it is not an easy matter. There is no way the Australian Democrats could agree with Senator Chaney that what is required of the Committee is something that it could knock off in an afternoon. What is required is a matter which could result in weeks of work. The Committee could receive responses from the public-as we know, many members of the public have strong views on this subject-which might occupy it for months. I am speaking to the question of suspension of Standing Orders because I think whether or not we have been able to consult the Committee bears directly, I suggest, on the question of suspension.

Senator Chipp —Has the Committee been consulted?

Senator Gareth Evans —Yes. The Chairman has rejected it.

Senator MASON —That is the point. The Attorney-General says that the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Coates, has been consulted and that he has rejected the idea.

Honourable senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! It is becoming difficult from the Chair's point of view, to hear Senator Mason. I ask Senator Mason and those senators who are interjecting to restrict their remarks to the reason for the suspension.

Senator MASON —I suggest to you, Mr President, with regard to the suspension, that it is to the point that the Attorney-General has interjected that the Chairman of the Committee has been consulted and that he has rejected the idea.

Senator Messner —What right has he to reject it?

Senator Harradine —What right has he to say that?

Senator MASON —Senator Harradine and members of the Opposition say: 'What right has he to say that'. I think it is a good idea for those remarks to be placed on the record. If honourable senators do not have sufficient respect for the Chairman of the Committee to place a reasonable workload on the Committee, we will create a precedent in this place.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I take a point of order. Under the Standing Orders of the Senate the references taken by committees is a matter for decision by the Senate. I remind the Senate that Senator Tate voted against the reference to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the National Crimes Authority Bill. There are ample precedents for Caucus members of the Australian Labor Party to do their party's bidding on these matters. It is not a matter which under the Standing Orders lies within the province of the Chairman of a committee. It is a matter which lies within the province of the Senate.

The PRESIDENT —The matter that is before the Chair now is the simple question of the suspension of Standing Orders to enable Senator Chaney to move a motion. The Senate now has to determine whether there will be a suspension of Standing Orders in the first instance. If it so agrees, Senator Chaney will be allowed to move a motion. That motion can then be debated. At this stage, I ask all honourable senators simply to keep to the question of the suspension of Standing Orders.

Senator MASON —Thank you for that ruling, Mr President. The points you have made bear directly on the comments I will now make. Of course, they relate to the comments that Senator Chaney has made. Certainly, it is the Senate's authority and right to refer matters to committees. But surely there is an obligation on all honourable senators in this place to accommodate those committees as reasonably as we can and not to make unreasonable demands on them. I suggest to you, Mr President, that that bears directly on whether or not we agree to the suspension of Standing Orders at this stage and allow this matter to come on at this point. I make the point again that this matter has been dropped on the Senate at short notice. I cannot see why it could not have been done earlier yesterday--

Senator Archer —Would it have made any difference?

Senator MASON —That is a matter I do not think we have to debate. Senator Archer can study his own conscience on that one. It does not matter whether it would have made any difference or not. The facts are that that did not happen. That is what we have to examine. If we get to the stage here where we study airy-fairy suggestions such as Senator Archer has made, we will never get any work done. I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition, if he feels strongly on this matter , might agree to adjourn this matter until later in the day. That would at least give everybody time to look at the motion to suspend Standing Orders. Then we could perhaps decide what we were going to do. If we cannot do that, I do not see how the Democrats can in conscience support it.