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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3469

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(9.38) —I thank Senator Childs for what I think was a much more constructive contribution to the debate than we had from the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, Senator Colston. Whilst I regret that, in the end, Senator Childs said that he would oppose the reference, I think he raised matters which are relevant to the request which has been made by Senator Hamer in his motion and I welcome what I think was a very sensible contribution to the debate. I wish to make it clear that the motion which was moved by Senator Hamer has the support of the Opposition. It is part of a series of attempts which have been made by the Opposition to increase the legislative capacity of this chamber. It is not a matter where we see ourselves as gaining a political advantage; we see it as an area where procedures need to be changed to improve the legislative functioning of this Parliament.

I accept that there will usually be a reluctance on the part of the Government to see legislation given greater scrutiny but it is my personal view that that is a mistake. I think the greater exposure of legislation might cost $14,000, or whatever was the estimate we got from the Chairman of the Committee on Education and the Arts, but I think the cost of effective legislation to the Australian community is much greater. I believe it is important that we should be trying to give legislation greater exposure and more careful consideration away from the political atmosphere of this chamber.

The difficulty the Opposition has is that, whatever way we approach this matter, there seems to be an objection. On this occasion we have chosen only three Bills which will not be delayed because they will not be dealt with until next year anyway. We have put this motion forward as a further attempt to experiment in an area in which we believe there has been insufficient experimentation in the past. I think Senator Hamer said that we have done no more than refer one or two Bills a year for consideration of this sort since these committees were established. Usually, that reference has been because of the high political content of the legislation and it has not been done as a legislative exercise.

Senator Colston described the first of the Bills before us as non-controversial although Senator Puplick indicated that there were some aspects of it that he thought warranted concern and consideration. There is a much greater degree of bipartisanship in the area of foreign takeovers than has existed in the past, but it is an important area and it would be interesting to see what the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade would make of it. I note the very constructive approach that the Industry and Trade Committee has taken on the question of manufacturing industry, which has been mentioned by the Chairman of that Committee in the debate today. I for one would think that we would get some value if that group were to look at foreign takeovers in a quiet, non-partisan way before we debate the Foreign Takeovers Amendment Bill in this place.

Aboriginal land rights is a much more different subject but, given the extraordinary changes of direction of the Government in this area over the last three years, I would have thought there was a very good argument for subjecting the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Bill to some examination away from the highly charged political atmosphere which tends to develop in this place when we discuss topics relating to Aboriginals.

I regret that this proposal has meant another hour virtually being taken out of a program that is very heavy. We have very important legislation such as the Australia Card Bill 1986 to debate later today, we hope. One of the reasons I wanted to speak is that the Australian Democrats, who in the end will have the opportunity to declare their position on this matter, might consider the series of attempts which have been made to get Bills to committees and reflect upon the fact that whatever approach is adopted there always seems to be a reason for not doing it, unless there is a political reason for taking a Bill at a particular time. I say very seriously to this chamber that I hope we will get sufficient support from the Independents to enable us to try this in a more--

Senator Georges —You cannot do it in isolation. You have got to do it within the sitting hours of the Senate.

Senator CHANEY —I do not wish to prolong the debate by picking up every interjection, but Senator Georges, like Senator Childs, has made a perfectly sensible point about the need to adjust the way we do our business if we are to get substantially into this area. I would agree with that, but I suggest that there is no point in doing a whole revision of the way we sit until we have done at least a few trial runs to see whether we can produce the sorts of results that many people on both sides of the chamber believe we could by these committee references. I for one would accept that if we did this on a broader scale we would need to relook at our sitting patterns. As Senator Childs said in his contribution to the debate, we had done that for Estimates committees. I assume that Government senators are totally bound to oppose this motion and I therefore do not want to waste time making appeals which are effectively meaningless. However, I say to the Australian Democrats that I--

Senator Haines —Don't bother with us either.

Senator CHANEY —The Leader of the Australian Democrats sadly says: `Don't bother with us either'. I can only rely on the non-caucus nature of the Democrats' vote and appeal to honourable senators other than the Leader of the Australian Democrats to show a bit of gumption in this matter and to demonstrate that they are interested in better legislation. I would hope that we will get from at least some of the Australian Democrats and the Independents a preparedness to give these references a try. Nothing will be lost except perhaps a number of days of the summer holidays which people have been talking about, I think to our very great disadvantage. The idea that we all go on holidays between now and February is a very misbegotten idea indeed and we should not be putting it abroad. I hope that the very limited number of references which have been put forward by Senator Hamer will receive the support of this chamber.