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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1847

Senator TATE(8.22) —I will be moderate in my response to Senator Harradine but I believe that he has been guilty of a very ungracious and ill-founded attack on the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills, of which I am proud to be the Chairman and have been since the Australian Labor Party came to government in 1983. In particular, his charge which amounted to the Scrutiny of Bills Committee being part of some conspiracy to pre-empt reasonable, deliberative discussion of the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill 1985 is completely wrong, as I will show by outlining the sequence of the history of this matter. The truth is precisely to the contrary. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee has bent over backwards to expedite matters in the most courteous way possible in order to enable the Senate to get hold of material as soon as possible to enable that reasoned, deliberate consideration of the matters of great principle which need to be discussed and which form the substantive matter of Senator Harradine's Bill, on which policy matter the Committee had nothing to say. It was concerned only with its own strict terms of reference which are to ensure that nothing slips into the Senate in a way which disables it from properly considering the clauses of a Bill which might infringe on civil liberties whilst achieving some good ends. Quite often it happens that so much concentration is focused on the end to be achieved that some clauses of a Bill are badly drafted, too broadly drafted, or impose burdens of proof on those who are to be subject to its penalties in a way which is not acceptable in a democratic society which values the civil liberties of those subject to its penal legislation.

When I say that the attack has been ill-founded I think it will emerge as such when honourable senators consider the following history. Senator Harradine talks about the late introduction of the report. As he said in reply to Senator Chipp, he knows that there are certain moments in the parliamentary day when things are appropriately done. Senator Harradine introduced this Bill into the Senate 10 minutes short of the close of business on 7 May, a Tuesday night when we were about to get up to go home for Anzac Day and the subsequent week of recess. It was introduced at the last moment in the sitting period on 7 May. The first opportunity the Scrutiny of Bills Committee had to consider the Bill, therefore, was on 8 May, at its regular meeting. Certain draft comments had been prepared by the secretary and they were discussed by the Committee. We found that they needed some extension. Clauses needed to be thought about and in the course of that discussion Senator Missen brought forward some points which he had distilled from some reading he had done, including a submission from the Queen Victoria Medical Centre and some draft comments which had been privately circulated by Senator Puplick. We referred all this material to the Committee's legal adviser.

I indicated to the Committee at this Wednesday morning meeting of 8 May that some days earlier I had had a discussion with Senator Harradine in a corridor during which he stressed his desire to get his Bill debated as a matter of some urgency and in as short a time as possible in the very near future. I indicated my desire that no committee that I chaired should stand in the way of an early, reasonable debate on the issues about which he was concerned. I chair two relevant committees: One is the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the other is the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, which is considering a reference relating to the legal status of children derived from in vitro fertilisation techniques. I said that I had no desire-I am sure that my committees had no desire-to do anything which would impede the progress of the Bill if Senator Harradine could make other arrangements to have the matter brought on. I had no idea what timetable he might be able to arrange in his discussions with the Whips and leaders of the various parties.

Mindful of his desire that the matter be brought into the Senate as soon as possible, and not being quite sure when that might be conveniently brought about, I asked Committee members to meet especially last Friday morning at 8.30, instead of at our regular meeting on Wednesday this week, in order to do nothing other than to look at Senator Harradine's Bill in the light of the legal adviser's response to the matters raised by Senator Missen in reliance on certain material and his own thoughts. In other words, I asked Committee members to give up their normal, civilised breakfast time on a Friday morning, at the end of a hard week in this place, to come to Senate Committee Room 5 to discuss Senator Harradine's Bill. They did; they met and deliberated.

Earlier in the week the Committee had decided in relation to certain Customs Bills that when a matter was fostered or promoted in the Senate by an honourable senator or the Government-as a private member's Bill or as a Government measure-we would present a report to the Senate as soon as possible in case the matter came on.

Senator Chaney —I am grateful that you did on that occasion.

Senator TATE —The report was very useful to the Senate in relation to the Customs debates we had earlier in the week. The Committee prepared a report on Senator Harradine's Bill. In the course of doing that we discarded much of the material which had come from the legal adviser-material which he thought should be put forward to the Senate. We tried to confine ourselves as strictly as possible to our terms of reference so that we did not intrude into questions of policy. I then had a discussion with members of the Committee. I asked: 'Wouldn't it be the decent thing to do to circulate privately to Senator Harradine all the material that we had before us so that he could make it available to his legal advisers as soon as possible?' The Committee said: 'That would be a good idea but you would have to consult with Senator Puplick because, obviously, he had not made the material available to Senator Missen with that understanding'. I spoke to Senator Chris Puplick of New South Wales and he said: 'So long as you make it clear to Senator Harradine that my document is, as is indicated on the heading, a draft and that any views on the Bill are not my concluded views on it but represent a preliminary analysis, I would be happy for you to make it available to Senator Harradine so that he can take it to his advisers and have it as part of his fuller understanding of what lay behind the Committee report'. I wrote to Senator Harradine in the following terms:

Dear Brian, I enclose a copy of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee Report on the Human Embryo Experimentation Bill 1985 which you introduced into the Senate on 23 April 1985.

The Committee met this morning, out of its usual sequence, in order to get a Report before the Senate as soon as possible, given your desire to have the matter brought on for debate in the next week or so.

I have also thought it proper that you should have access to Senator Puplick's and Senator Missen's draft comments on your Bill together with the letter from our legal adviser which advises on some points which the Senators raised. Some mention is made of a document circulated by the Queen Victoria Medical Centre and I enclose that also.

I do this so that you have as much information before you as did the Committee.

I would emphasise, however, that the Committee in making its 'internal working documents' available to you does so on the basis that Senator Puplick's paper and Senator Missen's letter do not represent their concluded analyses of the Bill and should not be attributed to them as their views.

I think this is an important paragraph:

The Committee would be happy to consider any response or amendments you may care to make and, as is its custom, would include these in any further report to the Senate on your Bill. The Committee meets on Wednesdays during sitting weeks and any response received by noon on the preceding Tuesday will be circulated to members of the Committee prior to that meeting.

Yours sincerely Michael Tate Chairman

Senator Harradine —Why didn't you show it to me beforehand?

Senator TATE —The material was considered as internal private material by the Committee. It was sent to our legal adviser. We made a report on the basis of some of it. We discarded much of the comment in it. Nevertheless, we decided that Senator Harradine should have the benefit of that fuller understanding of what led to our report.

Senator Harradine —Afterwards.

Senator TATE —Wait there. I then had a problem on the Friday because I could not find Senator Harradine. I do not believe Senator Harradine was available for consultation that day in the Senate. Nevertheless, I gave instructions to the secretary of the Committee--

Senator Chipp —Where was he?

Senator TATE —He just was not available at the time I was seeking him. I gave instructions to the secretary of the Committee to prepare the letter that I have read to the Senate, the various documents which had to be xeroxed and the report which had been put together by the Committee that morning as speedily as possible. In fact, as one knows, that process took the greater part of the day, given the problems of reproduction, in the printing sense, downstairs. The report, the letters and the accompanying documents did not come into my hands until approximately 3.30. I signed the letter to Senator Harradine at approximately twenty to four. I had the letter and the enclosures delivered to Senator Harradine's office at ten to four. I presented the report to the Senate at about five past four and I asked the secretary to deliver a copy, it then being in the possession of the Senate, to Senator Harradine's office. In fact, Senator Harradine's office, in receiving the document before the Senate adjourned, was in a better position than any honourable senator including the honourable senators who were members of the Committee, who I believe did not receive the report until it was delivered in the ordinary circulation system this morning.

Senator Harradine —That's after the event.

Senator TATE —I could not give Senator Harradine the report before it was presented to the Senate because I have no doubt I would have breached some sort of privilege. I believe I have outlined to the Senate a course of behaviour on the part of its Committee which I thought was courteous and as useful as it possibly could be to Senator Harradine, in order to put as much material in his hands as early as possible and to enable thereby, I thought, his legal advisers to work on the matter over the weekend, which indeed they did, as evidenced by the documents which Senator Harradine sought to table. It was advantageous to him to have those materials. Despite the virtually defamatory remarks Senator Harradine has made about the Committee this evening, the Committee would be pleased to receive those documents which he has in his possession, will consider them at its meeting on Wednesday morning, will seek advice, if necessary, from its legal adviser to help the Committee in its deliberations, and will bring to the Senate, as it normally does, a report incorporating the response of the Minister, the private member or the Australian Democrats spokesman who has sponsored a Bill in this place in relation to our first analysis of the Bill and giving our final thoughts on it. In any case, the first analysis of a Bill by the Committee is not an absolutely conclusive damnation or applauding of the Bill. It is what amounts to an alerting of the Senate to the issues involved so that the Senate's debate can continue and be enhanced by having before it in relation to our terms of reference information of use not going to the actual core policy of the Bill.

I believe I have demonstrated that the Committee has bent over backwards to ensure that Senate debate occurred in a proper, full and decent way. I believe that Senator Harradine has no cause for complaint and I hope that the Senate will reject the motion, not perhaps because of its content but because it is presented in a way to mask what amounted to an attack on one of the Senate's committees which I believe was quite undeserved.