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Monday, 1 December 1986
Page: 3070

Senator ROBERT RAY(4.57) —This is not the first time the ordering of papers has come up for questioning. It happened when we were in opposition and it has happened on two or three occasions since we have been in government. It has been explained each time that the order in which papers are listed is the order in which they are received. This is not necessarily a satisfactory procedure to most senators, because quite often reports that we are not interested in come on first. Honourable senators should ask themselves why generally we do not get a chance to consider the more vital ones. The reason is that there are two or three gas-bags in this chamber who could talk under water and who, in order to get their name on the record, go away, type up a five-minute speech and then bore us all to death. As a result, honourable senators who come into the chamber once a session to debate an important paper are debarred from doing so because the 30 minutes allotted is used up.

I think it will be conceded by the more reasonable honourable senators opposite that it is a pure accident that the paper that the Opposition wants to debate today happens to be No. 20. I wonder why the Opposition did not approach us? I wonder why the Opposition moved its contingent notice of motion rather than approaching us and saying: `Look, would you just agree in advance to moving No. 20 up to No. 1?' No approach was made. Did Senator Sheil, someone who goes under the guise of a Whip in these matters, approach us and ask us to promote the paper up? No, of course he did not. The Opposition wanted to use Question Time to attack the Government on an issue that interested it; then it used the matter of public importance provision; then it thought: `What is another cunning little method we can adopt to give this issue a little more profile?' Of course, the answer was to suspend Sessional Orders so that it could get a 10-minute free hit. The normal tactic is to be relevant for the first five minutes, then become increasingly irrelevant until our very competent Deputy President pulls one up; then again become relevant, then stray and then again be pulled up. So far we have wasted 27 minutes and if I keep it going we might even make it 30 minutes, although I will have to defer to a couple of colleagues on the other side who want to make their views known on this subject.

The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), of course, pointed out a very reasonable way of getting to paper No. 20. He was willing to give an assurance that no one on this side would address papers. If no one on the other side addressed the first 19 papers, we would have had 25 minutes to debate this taxation report that so interests the Opposition. Of course, maybe, the Opposition is not able to control the ever proliferating minority group in the Senate. So I suggest to the Opposition, if it is not being insincere, that next time it might approach the Government and we can try to get an agreement that a particular paper is more important than another because it has created interest all of a sudden. Maybe then we will be able to make debate on papers a sensible debate. At the moment the debate is a farce, and I am the first to say that. We have 42 papers. I think-I am not too good at maths-that allows about 40 seconds debate on each paper and that is not good enough. However, it is not just a problem of this Government; it happened when Senator Sir John Carrick led the Government in this chamber and no doubt before him when Senator Withers, and before him Senator Wriedt and Lionel Murphy led the Government. Whenever, it was proposed that we debate papers we always had the problem of knowing how to give them relativity.

Senator Vanstone —It was your lot who did it.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Vanstone may think that the Australian Honey Board is very important. If the Government tried to tell senators that in its order of priority for the 42 papers it regarded the Honey Board as the forty-second, the Opposition would run to the rural Press saying: `Look at the Labor Government. It does not give the Honey Board proper priority'. The Opposition would abuse us. We do not adopt the tactic of trying to tell the Opposition what is the most important paper because, if we were to do that we would have constant debates in this chamber in which the Opposition would try to make political points off the Government and say: `This paper is more important than another paper'.

Senator Chaney has moved a motion in which he is so interested that, unfortunately, if I sit down now and no one else speaks he is not even here to reply to the debate. If this is such an important issue, where is he? Why is he not ready to sum up and reply to the devastating points made by me and Senator Gareth Evans? He is not here to sum up the debate because he adopted this tactic to give the issue another 10-minute run. It is a legitimate Opposition tactic, by the way, it is one of the weapons the Standing Orders give an Opposition to harry and needle a government. That is the reason why the matter was brought up today. It was not brought up because anyone really wanted to debate the Australian Taxation Office. Any of the points that honourable senators wanted to make could have been made in the debate on Senator Messner's rather pathetic matter of public importance today. They could have been made in Question Time; they could be made in the adjournment debate. There are ample opportunities to debate this issue. Let us face it, Senator Messner does not get into his stride until he has spoken for 20 minutes. How could he make a valid point in five minutes? However, with three minutes to go, I think I should defer to Senator Short.