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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 459

Senator GARETH EVANS (Manager of Government Business in the Senate)(8.23) —I do not want to prolong this debate, but let me put a few things accurately for the record. The way in which this matter would be handled has been the subject of quite a deal of discussion with a number of the relevant parties--

Senator Harradine —I take a point of order, Mr President. Is Senator Evans closing this debate?

The PRESIDENT —Not if he is speaking just to the amendment, and that is what I take it he is doing at the moment. I see that there are other people who also want to speak to the amendment.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The conduct of this matter has been the subject of quite a deal of consultation and discussion around the chamber as part of an effort that I have been making over the last week to communicate quite openly about the problems that the Government and this chamber will confront with the legislative program and other timetables this session, bearing in mind that we have not only a major legislative program but also debates that people want to have about Standing Orders, pecuniary interests, privilege matters and so on, all of which are enormously time consuming.

Senator Durack said that there is nothing of great urgency around at the moment. That fails to appreciate that, if we are going to have sensible timetabling with an opportunity for everybody to speak on issues that are dear to their heart over the course of the session, it is important right from the outset of the session that business be programmed in such a way as to enable a rational distribution of time. Quite a number of discussions are taking place on a very constructive and amicable basis between all parties in this chamber to try to get some greater predictability into our programming.

There has been very extensive debate in the House of Representatives. But it is not normal or usual for every statement that is the subject of an extensive debate in one chamber to be replicated with an equally extensive debate in the other. It is very often a subject of agreement between the parties that the debate be confined in some way. If a debate is brought in by a Minister in this place, naturally one expects there to be a major debate in this place. A further relevant consideration was that the major defence White Paper will be brought down by the Minister for Defence, Mr Beazley, in the next sitting period. There is no question of there being anything other than an absolutely full debate on that. If people want to treat that matter cognately with the present one and want the opportunity to speak specifically on this matter in the context of the White Paper, there will be no difficulty in scheduling the debates together. The debate on the White Paper will be a full one as befits the importance of the subject matter. I am certainly happy to undertake to do that. Deliberately, the arrangements made today were such that there would be two Opposition speakers.

Senator MacGibbon —We never agreed to that.

Senator GARETH EVANS —That may not have been a subject of agreement. I do not pretend there was an agreement. I thought there was an understanding. There was not an agreement and I do not claim that there was an agreement. But I made it clear that there would be no question of the motion being moved to adjourn the debate until at least two Opposition speakers and a Democrat had spoken. There was ample opportunity under those circumstances for those speakers to take their full half-hour. Senator Durack and Senator Newman had so little to say about this policy statement, about which they are waxing so indignant at the moment, that they used nothing like their full entitlement. That is a demonstration of just how synthetic the indignation is on this occasion. I want there to be proper and full debate on these matters. I am happy to engage in as much consultation as is possible to produce that result. But please do not let us have the kind of quite synthetic outrage that has been demonstrated on this occasion. Let us just have a sensible debate about these matters. Time will be made available to do that.