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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1559


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.50) —I think I should support the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders moved by Senator Lewis. A very clear illustration of the importance of this debate is the attendance by honourable senators in the chamber. The alternatives for debate on offer today included major Customs administration legislation when there were at one stage no Labor senators in the chamber other than the Minister and very few, but at least some, members of the Opposition. When Government papers are brought on for debate a very large number of senators of both Labor and Opposition persuasion come into the chamber. When Government papers were called on and we got to the Trade Union Training Authority five Labor senators and a number from the Opposition leapt to their feet and sought the call. It was quite clear that we were not going to get to the report of the meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. Of course, this is the first time that the report from the Council has been available to the Senate.

The Government has asked: Why bring this on now? The simple fact is that the Government has given us the record of that Council meeting for the first time. Of course, that was a very important meeting in the development of the dairying issue. All of us will remember that the record contained in paper No. 5 is the record of the meeting which was thought to have solved the problem of the dairy industry. It was amazing how last September there seemed to be among Agricultural Council Ministers an extraordinary unanimity as to what ought to be done to ease the troubles of the dairy industry. We have seen some extraordinary changes of direction since that time, and those changes of direction have given rise to a great deal of publicity and even to a state of emergency in Victoria, a matter which was dealt with particularly ineptly in Question Time today by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button), who for once lost his customary cool and did not seem to know quite how to deal with it.

I mentioned that because it is a matter of very great importance which is causing enormous stress in the community, and now for the first time we have before us the record of one of the key meetings held to deal with this issue. Of course, this meeting discloses, I suppose, some rather duplicitous conduct on behalf of some of those who have been active in the political solutions to these problems and it is not surprising that a very large number of Opposition senators want to address themselves to the problems of the dairy industry on this occasion and to this report now that it has at last been brought before us.

If one measures the urgency of a matter by the interest in it shown by honourable senators I can only say that this measure passes the test with flying colours. As a matter of courtesy, Senator Lewis included in his motion paper No. 3 concerning the Australian Trade Union Training Authority. He made it quite clear that he did that because he wished those Labor senators who obviously regarded that as a highly important matter to have the same access to additional time that he was seeking for himself and for his colleagues. If Labor senators do not wish to avail themselves of that, they do not have to avail themselves of it; in other words, there is no obligation on them to speak further with respect to item No. 3. I would have thought that the individuals involved in the dairy industry, particularly in Victoria-perhaps those policemen who have had to escort trucks of milk and to worry about blockades, those public servants who have been called upon to administer state of emergency regulations, or even the politicians of Victoria who have seen fit to invoke emergency legislation-might regard this as a matter of some urgency. I think it is clearly a matter of much more interest to the Senate than the alternative available to us. I believe that we should support this motion and thus have the opportunity for sensible debate, in particular on paper No. 5.