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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 472

Senator HAINES (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(9.47) —Of all the things that the debate in the last hour or so has indicated, I think it has shown that under some circumstances we simply cannot trust members of the Opposition to honour agreements. We made an agreement--

Senator Durack —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I regard that as a most offensive remark that ought to be withdrawn on behalf not only of myself but also of my Whip, who has been in charge of this.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston) —I did not really find the remark offensive, but if Senator Durack finds it offensive, I ask Senator Haines whether she will consider withdrawing it.

Senator HAINES —In deference to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I will certainly--

Senator Durack —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I regard statements made by the Leader of the Australian Democrats, alleging breaches of agreements and that the Opposition leadership is not to be trusted, as highly offensive remarks under the Standing Orders, and I demand a complete withdrawal by the Leader.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I do not think the comment went quite as far as that but, Senator Haines, I ask you to withdraw.

Senator HAINES —I withdraw, Mr Acting Deputy President. However, I remind Opposition senators that on Friday the Australian Democrats agreed that we would support an Opposition motion to bring this paper before us for debate today.

Senator Durack —It wasn't an Opposition motion at all. It was brought on by the Government.

Senator HAINES —The Opposition wanted this paper brought on for debate today for reasons of its own, so that it would in fact disappear on Friday after being debated for a short space of time. That was the subject of the discussion on Friday in this chamber between Whips and Leaders. It was agreed that since there was not going to be sufficient time to debate this statement-which I would have thought nobody in here was arguing was not important for debate-given other ministerial statements on the Notice Paper, it should be given due deference and brought on for debate today for a specific period.

Senator Kilgariff —Not true.

Senator HAINES —My understanding, however limited the honourable senator's was, was that this paper would be coming on today for limited debate and not a free-for-all.

Senator Kilgariff —Not true.

Senator HAINES —Well, the honourable senator might not believe that, but everybody else in this chamber certainly believed that in exceeding--

Senator Puplick —Your Whip is not here.

Senator HAINES —The information was given to me by my Whip, and I trust him over a whole lot of other people in this chamber. I think it is fair enough to say--

Senator Walters —I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. Senator Evans said that there had been no agreement with the Opposition and therefore Senator Haines has no right to say that there has been.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is no point of order, and the honourable senator knows that.

Senator HAINES —Even Senator Walters would know that changes cannot be made to the Notice Paper without agreement between majority groups in this place. It was at the request of the Opposition that this came on for debate. Had the Opposition not wanted this on for debate, we were quite prepared to have the defence paper treated in the normal fashion.

Senator Hill —Why are you gagging the debate?

Senator HAINES —The honourable senator should go back to high school and start an English course all over again. If he cannot tell the difference between an adjournment, a gag or a guillotine, I suggest there is something seriously wrong with his intellect. As Senator Sanders has said, the honourable senator has an extremely limited understanding of parliamentary procedures.

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator HAINES —I suggest that there are some very sensitive people on the Opposition benches. They do not seem to want to acknowledge that it was at their request that this matter was debated today in the first place. That request was acceded to in what was intended to be a perfectly honourable sort of fashion. It might surprise some people to know that this is only a paper that we are having such an acrimonious debate about; it is not a piece of legislation that is urgent. We have something like 75 Bills to deal with this session. Perhaps the members of the Opposition do not think that those pieces of legislation are important. Perhaps they are quite happy to sit here all the way through to the Budget session to get these things off the Notice Paper.

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator HAINES —I am rather surprised that we did not hear these protestations about how we should have extensive debate on important papers when debates in the past have been adjourned-as the motion would have adjourned this debate-on such things as the entry of suspected war criminals into Australia; the International Year of Peace, although I know that that is not particularly dear to the hearts of most members of the Opposition, who are far more interested in things other than peace; or the paper on counter-terrorism in Australia. Were those papers not as important to debate, or are we faced with the fact that those things came up for discussion on a non-broadcast day and so Opposition senators were not given the opportunity to grandstand to the electorate?

Essentially, what has happened is that there has been a far longer debate on this paper than has been given to any other of the important issues that have been brought up by way of papers this year. More time has been given to this debate than to many-in fact I would suggest all-of the equally important papers that have come before this place. In fact, we have possibly given more attention to this paper than to some of the far-reaching legislation that has appeared before the Senate. I repeat that the intention last Friday was to bring this paper on for debate for a longer period of time than it would normally have been given. The fact that we were prepared to accede to the Opposition's desire that it be given a longer period for debate underscores the fact that we have no problem with debating this paper. In fact, my colleague made a perfectly good contribution to the debate. Why the Opposition is moving away from the understood arrangement on Friday-at least it seems to have been understood by everybody other than the Opposition-that the debate could come in today provided it was kept to a reasonable length of time, is a matter for speculation. I would have thought that we had plenty of pieces of legislation on the Notice Paper and plenty of other papers to debate not to require that this be given priority.

I remind the Senate, and anybody who has managed to listen through the garbage that has been dished out by some of the Opposition senators, that it is not a guillotine, it is not a gag, it is a normal adjournment procedure. This could just have easily been adjourned on Friday as today. It was only from the goodwill on all sides that it was even brought on today. So we certainly will not support any moves to continue the debate today when there are other far more important things on the Notice Paper. We stay with our support for the motion to adjourn the debate.