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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2754


Senator DURACK(11.28) —I want to raise another matter in relation to the whole question of the debate about the Bill of Rights. The Government is now moving that further consideration of the Australian Bill of Rights Bill be postponed preparatory to moving for its withdrawal. I welcome the fact that at the end of the short debate we had last night, which was rather boisterous as a result of the impatience of Senator Gareth Evans throughout the 10 minutes or even less that I was speaking, rather than at the beginning of it, he gave notice with our leave-it may have been unjustified in the circumstances-of his intention to discharge the Australian Bill of Rights Bill from the Notice Paper in the course of the present debate. That is a welcome move. It will certainly be supported by the Opposition.

However, before we finally leave the Bill of Rights and the intention of this Committee, I do want to refer to one matter which did receive a great deal of publicity and which I believe needs to be corrected. I want to refer to a statement that Senator Gareth Evans made on 11 June 1986 when I asked him a question about the Government's intentions in relation to the Bill of Rights. He answered by saying that the Government had every intention of proceeding with the Bill. We know now, of course, that within two months the Government announced that it was going to withdraw the Bill. I do not want to go back over that, but in the course of answering my question Senator Gareth Evans said:

If the Opposition has not engaged in what has been clearly the most extravagant, self-indulgent and destructive filibuster in the history of this Parliament, in a debate that has so far occupied some 36 hours of parliamentary time-the longest debate in our history since Federation, or at least since records have been kept-

it would be interesting to know at what stage we did not keep records of our parliamentary proceedings-

it would have been possible for the Bill to have passed this House by now.

I ask Senator Gareth Evans why he so recklessly and grossly misled the Senate in that answer and why he unfortunately seems to have misled the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) because I notice that on 13 August, in an interview on the AM program, the Attorney-General said:

You've got all sorts of views expressed about an international covenant which surprises me. You've got an issue that you can't guillotine in the Senate. They don't have the opportunity to finalise the base there.

This is all a very interesting example of the knowledge of the Attorney-General about the procedures of the Senate, but I will let that pass. He further said:

Well it's been as I say it's been running-

I am quoting, actually-

on in debating times for about a month in the Senate, it's the longest Bill since Federation. So to that extent we do have a difficulty.

He was preparing the ground for the withdrawal that was announced a few days later. I have asked Senator Gareth Evans why he has misled the Senate, the Attorney-General and, indeed, the Australian public. I have had some work done by the Clerks of the Senate in relation to times taken on consideration of Bills over the period 1950 to 1986. They have not yet completed a consideration of times taken on Bills prior to 1950. It may surprise Senator Gareth Evans to know that records have been kept of the proceedings of this Parliament from 1901 to 1950. It will be interesting to see what those statistics reveal. In relation to the period from 1950, the Australian Bill of Rights package, which took 35 hours and 2 minutes of debating time, was alleged by Senator Gareth Evans and the Attorney-General to be the longest debate since Federation, but it is only the fourth longest debate that has occupied the time of this Senate. In fact, the longest time was 69 hours and 48 minutes, which was occupied by the Communist Party Dissolution Bill in 1950. Next was the Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950, which occupied 55 hours and 47 minutes, and next came the Social Services Consolidation Bill 1950, which took 37 hours and 48 minutes. Then came the Human Rights Bill, which took 35 hours and 2 minutes, and the National Health Bill 1970, which took 31 hours and 49 minutes, which is not so very much less than the Bill of Rights package took. There are a number of others in the table. It is of some interest, so I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard this table prepared by the Senate Table Office and dated 12 November 1986.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

CONSIDERATION OF BILLS 1950-86

Summary of Time Taken

Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950...

51 hrs 20 mins

Communist Party Dissolution Bill 1950 [No. 2] ...

18 hrs 28 mins

69 hrs 48 mins

Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950...

36 hrs 30 mins

Commonwealth Bank Bill 1950 [No. 2]...

19 hrs 17 mins

55 hrs 47 mins

Social Services Consolidation Bill 1950...

37 hrs 48 mins

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Bill 1985

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 1985

Australian Bill of Rights Bill 1985

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Amendment Bill 1985...

35 hrs 2 mins

National Health Bill 1970...

31 hrs 49 mins

Constitution Alteration (Prices) Bill 1950 (Private Senator's Bill)...

29 hrs 51 mins

Family Law Bill 1974...

28 hrs 29 mins

Australian Security Intelligence Organization Bill 1979

Telecommunications (Interception) Bill 1979

Telecommunications Amendment Bill 1979

Customs Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1979...

27 hrs 57 mins

Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Bill 1971...

21 hrs 38 mins

Human Rights Commission Bill 1979

Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 1979...

20 hrs 55 mins

National Crime Authority Bill 1983

National Crime Authority (Consequential Amendments) Bill 1983...

13 hrs 43 mins

Freedom of Information Bill 1981...

13 hrs 22 mins

Sex Discrimination Bill (No. 2) 1983...

12 hrs 8 mins

Sex Discrimination Bill 1983...

4 hrs 55 mins


Senator DURACK —I raise this simply because the Government made a total welter of this misrepresentation, commencing with Senator Gareth Evans in the Senate on 11 June and repeated by the Attorney-General, no doubt on the totally misleading advice given to him by Senator Gareth Evans. He might have had his own research. But I do not believe any research was done at all. His statement was so totally reckless and totally wrong that any research would have turned up this information. It will be very interesting to see the statistics from the first 50 years of parliamentary history. My guess is that many longer debates will be turned up in relation to the early period of the Parliament. As a result of this total misinformation the Government has run strongly and abused the Opposition in a most unjustified way and has made a welter of public statements about this matter. This was done recklessly, without any basis of fact and, apparently, without any serious attempt to find out the facts. I believe that this legislation is not only one of the most gross incidents of misleading the Committee that I have ever seen in this place but also a gross misleading of the Australian public in what was a very major debate over a period. I want Senator Evans here and now to explain why he misled the Senate and to apologise for it.