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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1229

Senator HILL(9.40) —As the Deputy Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs I welcome the reference and the challenge it presents. We saw the question debated last year in what I think can be described as somewhat emotive circumstances, which were not helped, I believe, by the then secret Bill of the former Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and the selective leaking of that Bill towards the end of last year. As the Senate is aware, a great volume of material was floating around but it was not being accumulated in any central way. It was not being analysed correctly and properly in a way that a Senate committee can treat such material. Therefore, I believe that the best forum within this Parliament to debate in a sane, rational and unemotive way a question that is of major significance and major importance is a committee of the Senate such as this Committee. On that basis, senators on my side of the Senate welcome the reference.

I support Senator Durack's amendment. It is a pity, I suppose, that it is necessary as one would think that the proper course of action would be for the Government first to introduce a Bill if it has a Bill in mind and, if it wishes to seek reference of the Bill to a committee, to do so. One might say we should not be suspicious on this side of the chamber. However, having read articles such as that which appeared in the Australian Financial Review yesterday, which alleged sniping between the former Attorney-General and the current Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) as to who had the better prospective Bill, and having heard the suggestion by some that the Government will attempt to use this Committee to legitimise one or other of those prospective Bills, I think that unfortunately an amendment of this kind is necessary to remind the Government of what we believe to be the correct course of action.

Senator Haines has said that the amendment is not foolproof. Very few motions, parts of motions or pieces of legislation that pass through the Parliament are foolproof. However, the sentiment of the amendment is absolutely clear. It is clear to those of us on the Committee, as I am sure it is clear to senators at large. What the amendment is saying, in effect, is that if the Government is of a mind to introduce a Bill it should not take the back door road, it should not attempt to take a short cut and seek a legitimisation by the Committee outside of the Parliament; it should be open and frank, put down its Bill in the Parliament and then do what it wishes to do with it. As I said, I support the reference. I look forward to the challenge it will provide. I support the amendment to ensure that the Government is reminded of its proper responsibility in relation to these matters.