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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3029

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.05) —I move:

Leave out all words after '(1) That, unless otherwise ordered-', insert:

'(a) the Senate meet on Friday, 15 June 1984, as follows:

9.00 a.m. to 12.45 p.m.

2.00 p.m. to 4.15 p.m.; and

(b) the Sessional Order relating to the adjournment of the Senate have effect at 4.15 p.m. on that day.'.

I move that amendment because it has been the understanding for some time that, in sitting the extended weeks-and the Opposition has no objection to sitting extended weeks while the Government has business to put before the Senate-we could rely upon a schedule of sittings which was exposed to us early in this month. That schedule of sittings showed a completion of sittings at 4.15 p.m. on Friday. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) has indicated that people will have to break commitments if the Senate sits next week. It is equally true that if the Senate sits on Friday night, senators will have to break commitments which have been made on the faith of the Government's indication of intention given some weeks ago. There are a number of Opposition senators, to my knowledge, who are committed in distant parts of Australia. Those commitments certainly will not be able to be met.

Government senators interjecting-

Senator CHANEY —The caterwauling on the other side is a little hard to explain. It is the Government, after all, which has changed course yet again.

Senator Tate —It is you who are filibustering.

Senator CHANEY —Senator Tate, in his rather excited manner-which, I suppose, is typical of senators at this late stage of sitting-is now accusing the Opposition of filibustering. I remind the Senate that in the three days of sitting so far this week, we have had so far one and a half hours of non-government business. A foreshortened motion of urgency was brought by the Opposition. A motion is being put down today which will involve no more than two speakers from the Opposition. So I think any talk of filibuster is absolutely absurd.

Senator Gareth Evans —We have two hours of rubbish to follow this.

Senator CHANEY —So long as the Attorney-General carries on with his usual rudeness, I shall certainly remain on my feet and speak to this matter. I point out that this week the Senate has dealt with a vast number of Bills. We have dealt with two lots of income tax Bills; the Cocos (Keeling) Islands self- determination legislation; four pieces of legislation relating to education; three pieces of legislation relating to the Public Service; an Excise Tariff Amendment Bill; legislation relating to liquefied petroleum gas; a further income tax assessment amendment Bill; half a dozen Bills affecting rural industry--

Senator Martin —Eight.

Senator CHANEY —I am sorry; I am corrected by Senator Martin. We have dealt with eight Bills relating to rural industry; three Bills which relate to air navigation; a couple of Bills relating to State tax sharing, and a Bounty (Two- Stroke Engines) Bill. Any suggestion that the Opposition is not doing its part to facilitate the proper working of the Senate is absurd. This suggestion comes at the end of a session in which there have been several periods when there has not even been a Minister in the chamber and when remarkably little Government attention has been given to the program that is required of this Senate.

The fact of the matter is that we have been given a forward indication of a program which has enabled us to make some sort of arrangements to fit in with the Government's requirements. Now, at the eleventh hour, the Leader of the Government suggests that we sit on Friday night and possibly on Saturday. I stress again that the Opposition has no objection to sitting in order to deal with legislation. The point I am making is that the Government is totally incapable of doing any forward planning with respect to the program and of giving senators any indication of when they will be required in this place. I have no intention of allowing the Government simply to treat the Senate as something which is of no regard and as something which does not have to be taken into account. I suggest to the Government, when it gives us an indication, as it did in the Senate on 6 June, that we can rely on a certain program, it should leave it to us. I understand the Australian Democrats may be--

Senator Mason —We will speak for ourselves, Senator.

Senator CHANEY —I would hesitate to speak for the Democrats, who change their position so frequently. But let me quote from Hansard what Senator Chipp said about this matter when it was last before the Senate. Senator Chipp has continuously lectured this Senate in terms with which I agree on the damage which is done to this place by having unnecessarily extended sittings and on the dangers to senators' health. The last time that Senator Chipp drew that to the Senate's attention was on 6 June. He made the point then that he would not inject any heat into the debate, and that is a very good thing. But he said:

I am deeply distressed at the thought that we are going to pass a motion which makes the Senate sit three nights next week . . .

So last week Senator Chipp said that he was deeply distressed that there should be a suggestion that the Senate should sit for three nights this week. Of course , the Leader of the Government has now moved a motion that we should sit four nights and five days this week. Senator Chipp went on to say:

. . . with no guarantee that the Senate will complete its business for this session. I have expressed on repeated occasions in this place my concern about the health of senators, and I just seek clarification now. We have a frightening list of legislation before us.

He went on to deal with the business as it was a week ago. He said:

. . . as far as I am concerned, no hope in the world of completing all the business of the Senate next week--

that is, this week-

even if we sit three nights. I cannot see the value of taking a vote on it at this time.

This motion is brought forward on the basis that the Government is determined to have the Senate adjourn by Saturday, if not by Friday. We find that we are still to deal with a large number of Bills. On the list which has been given to us by the Government we are still to deal with a Bill concerning remuneration and allowances; the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; the vexed unpaid company tax legislation which has been debated before, but which will have to be debated again in this place; two Bills relating to tertiary education; two Bills relating to life insurance; a Commonwealth Banks Amendment Bill; repatriation and social security legislation; rural legislation in the form of the Loan ( Income Equalization Deposits) Amendment Bill and its related Bill; patents amendment and weights and measures legislation. In addition, and that in itself is a mouthful--

Senator Mason —We have an MPI on today, too.

Senator CHANEY —In addition we have a Bill which is of major importance; that is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage (Interim Protection) Bill. That Bill will obviously attract a great deal of debate from both sides of the chamber. Certainly there are a large number of Opposition senators who believe they have something to say with respect to that legislation. It is legislation which has attracted hostile comment from a wide cross-section within Australia, including the State Government of Western Australia, which has said that it does not regard the legislation as necessary. That legislation alone will demand a good deal of time. I heard an interjection from Senator Mason, saying: 'We will have an MPI'. We have a four-day sitting week and Senator Mason seems to resent the fact that we spend a couple of hours on non-government business. It is an absolute absurdity that this Senate should sit for a four-day week without any time being allowed for Opposition business. I say simply that the Democrats may regard the Senate as a creature of the Government. I am surprised if that is their view. But we believe the Opposition is entitled to bring forward matters for consideration, too. In fact, we have shown enormous restraint in the amount of time which we have spent on such matters.

Senator Cook —Let's get on with it.

Senator CHANEY —What we have is an attempt to pressurise the Senate. We have a call from Senator Cook: 'Let's get on with it'. I suggest to Senator Cook that he should keep quiet and go away and talk his Leader into sitting sensible hours in this Senate instead of suggesting that we sit five-day weeks, including Saturdays, which is an absurdity. The fact of the matter is that the Government has been unable to make up its mind about when we will sit. It is now, at the last minute, suggesting that we sit on Friday night and Saturday. That will cause massive inconvenience with respect to arrangements which have been made by senators in their constituencies. For those reasons we oppose the motion as it has been moved by the Leader of the Government and I put the amendment which I moved a moment ago.

This Senate has something of a reputation for treating its legislative role seriously. I suggest that if we are to have some element of the Parliament which seriously examines legislation-I pick this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage (Interim Protection) Bill as a classic case of legislation which deserves proper parliamentary examination-we must not rush through debate. I remind the Senate that in the other place the Aboriginal heritage legislation was guillotined through without an opportunity for proper debate. Even the amendments which were put by the Government were put through by guillotine without proper debate in the House of Representatives. I say to this Senate that if we reduce this Senate to the point where we do not have proper and sensible debate on the legislation which the Government is putting before this country, we are effectively destroying the role of Parliament. I suggest to the Senate that we go back to the program which the Government itself last week indicated it would follow; that is, we should sit four day weeks and three evenings a week , but we should at least deal with the legislation in an orderly and sensible manner.