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Friday, 22 February 1985
Page: 45

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(10.20) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

The Opposition welcomes the practice of announcing the legislative program at the start of each period of sittings. There was a traditional illusion that this was done by the Governor-General when he sat in this place, but the politicisation of the Governor-General's Speech gave us very little guidance of what specifically the Government has in mind for this session. The Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) has now told us that we can expect a range of legislation to meet the rhetoric. I must say that the statement is rather more like one which the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) would make because it smacks of very great self-congratulation, particularly in the early paragraphs.

I refer to Senator Button's comments about the Government's willingness to undertake urgent social reform resulting from years of neglect by the previous Government. I remember what George Orwell had to say about the use of English by politicians. I suppose I can put it very shortly by saying that when one sets out to bomb a village one calls it pacification. I suppose the 150,000 or more pensioners who have lost pensions under this Government-the people who were promised by the Government and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) that they would not lose dollars out of their pension cheques-might not regard that as a matter for urgent social reform. The superannuitants who are paying tax on their lump sum superannuation might not regard that as a matter for urgent social reform either. I might add that the many taxpayers who are paying 46c in the dollar on their marginal dollars probably do not regard that as a matter for urgent social reform. I think that an awful lot of Australians would regard that as a ludicrous statement, as the Opposition regards it.

I find it extraordinary that the Minister can stand in his place and talk about the determination of the Government to tackle the issues of economic management which have been placed for too long in the too-hard basket. The Minister used as his shield from criticism readiness to admit the difficulties that face the Australian economy. In the past I have welcomed that readiness. He is prepared to come into the Senate and say that one of the difficulties which exist in this country, in trying to advance the economy, concern some of the labour practices which inhibit efficiency and a trade union movement which is prepared to destroy the coal export industries of this country and to destroy many other industries. Over recent months there has been a series of strikes which have gone to the efficiency of Australia and which have reduced our efficiency, our competitiveness and our economy. There is not much evidence in the statement from the Minister-there was no evidence from the statement that was put down on the Government's behalf by the Governor-General yesterday-that there was any determination to tackle that fundamental issue of economic management which has certainly been placed for far too long in the too-hard basket. What we have here is a mishmash of mostly minor legislative initiatives and no indication that the Government intends to tackle the substantial problems which face Australia and which have been so evident over recent months.

I give notice that not all of the Government's proposed legislative initiatives are likely to receive the enthusiastic endorsement of the Opposition. Of course, the Opposition is delighted that the Government will introduce a retention lease to provide greater security of tenure over petroleum discoveries. As Senator Durack made clear in a statement yesterday, we are less pleased with the idea that the Government should introduce off-shore petroleum exploration permits on the basis of a cash bidding system. No doubt we will have a chance to debate that matter in this place and to examine it very carefully. But it is that initiative which is in line with most of the initiatives which occurred under Senator Evans's predecessor, the present Minister for Finance, Senator Walsh, which inevitably resulted in a larger tax take from the resource industries during a time when they were in a state of decline. That is a matter of concern to the Opposition. It is one of the areas which we will be examining with very great care.

It is interesting to see that we are to have a new tribunal to determine medical overservicing. It is good to see that the Government believes it can add yet another bureaucratic layer to the mess it has produced in the health care system to solve the problem of medical overservicing.

I notice too that the Government is going to tackle one tiny element of the very difficult and vexed issue of Aboriginal land. It is going to deal with the question of Ayers Rock by legislation. In light of the Government's commitment to undertake urgent social reform which has resulted from years of neglect one might wonder why the Government is not in a position during this session to come clean with the Australian people, particularly the Aboriginal people of Australia, on just what its stance is on land rights legislation, be it national or within a State.

I was somewhat shocked to find that yesterday the Governor-General could go no further on behalf of the Government than to say that the Government hoped to establish principles. We have sat here for years and listened to the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, lecture us on the principles which have been adopted. I welcome the fact that we have this notice of what the Government hopes to do during this session.

I make one point which I hope I can make in common with those non-Government senators who are in the Australian Democrats and the independent senator, Senator Harradine. Indeed I hope it might also be a point that the Government will acknowledge. The Leader of the Government in his speech said:

. . . time and resources may not enable all matters to come forward as soon as we would like.

On the history of legislative programs of this Government, and indeed previous governments, that is probably a very fair warning. I simply raise the point, which I have raised before, that I think it is utterly unsatisfactory for the Senate to have to deal with legislation which has a substantial policy content, legislation which might be of a particular technical nature, legislation which for one reason or another requires scrutiny, when we receive it too late within the current sittings to give it scrutiny and when we may have to deal with it when the House of Representatives has risen for the winter recess. I do not wish to make this point in a contentious or partisan way. I agree that the problem has arisen in the past and has been a consistent problem, but I also believe that if honourable senators look at the legislative record of the Senate it will be clear that when the opportunity is provided for proper examination it is certainly to the advantage of the Government and is to the advantage of the Australian community.

Thinking back to the legislation that was introduced by Senator Walsh when he was Minister for Resources and Energy and when I had the responsibility of responding to that legislation on behalf of the Opposition, it would be fair to say that when considering two of the three major items he brought in substantial amendments were made because of difficulties that were raised after the Bills had been introduced. Those changes were made eventually with government consent because the Government could see that improvements to the legislation could be made to good effect, without damaging the intent of the Government and with a view to ensuring that the legislation was made more effective.

The Senate must look to its legislative function in a very careful way. I again put the view that if the Government introduces legislation of a substantial nature, which does have substance which requires attention, we should not deal with it in a way which prevents our giving it proper attention. If that means that legislation needs to be left until the Budget session because it has been introduced too late, I believe so be it.

I think we would have common ground between the Government and the Opposition in that there is over-regulation in this country. That seems to have been embraced to some extent by the Government. Often bad legislation is a form of over-regulation and unnecessary regulation. I hope that the Senate will play its part in ensuring that the legislation which goes through this Parliament is in a satisfactory form. I say to both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Government that we want to play a positive role in the legislative program. To do that we need time. I put the Government on notice that we will resist the rushed consideration of major items of legislation close to the end of the session.