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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 474

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(9.57) —The Opposition's anger at being gagged on this debate-I emphasise the word `gagged'-is because, when the report of the Dibb Review of Australia's Defence Capabilities was brought into this chamber on 3 June last, only four speakers were allowed by the Government, of which only one came from the Opposition. That report, on which this paper is based, was the most important paper on defence presented by this Government to this chamber. Not only was it brought on immediately for debate without honourable senators being giving the opportunity to read it first; but that debate lasted for 44 minutes before the matter was-I use the words of Senator Haines in one of her most extraordinary speeches-only adjourned. It was only adjourned on 3 June 1986 and has never been brought back to this chamber for debate.

Senator MacGibbon —That is right.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —In fact, Senator MacGibbon, who has just quite properly interjected, was the only member of the Opposition who got the opportunity to speak. Many of us thought that defence was such an important issue, and that the Dibb report was such an important one, that we had not only a right but a duty to debate it before it was adjourned-as Senator Haines quite nonsensically says-into limbo. Senator Haines knows perfectly well that that is exactly the same technique that she is conspiring with the Government to bring about this time. Senator Haines's hypocrisy on this matter is incredible.

We are talking about a major matter of defence. Apart from anything else, it represents 10 per cent of total Government expenditure. It is an issue that Senator Haines thinks can be properly disposed of by allowing four people, only one of whom was a member of the Opposition, to speak about the Dibb report. The Manager of Government Business (Senator Gareth Evans) says that four speakers are enough to speak on this report as well. From June of last year that makes a total of eight speeches that we have been allowed on defence. Apart from its basic significance, the fact is that defence represents 10 per cent of total Government spending and yet we are not allowed to talk about it. This Government will not give us the opportunity to do so. It gags us on the very odd occasions when it brings up the matter of defence. As Senator MacGibbon said, he had to use the device of speaking in the adjournment debate to make any worthwhile contribution to the question of defence in Australia because this Government did not want to allow-again it has demonstrated its unwillingness-the question of defence to be properly examined in this chamber. Yet look at the hypocrisy of the Government when it brought in the Dibb report, then adjourned it and refused to bring it back, just as it seeks to adjourn this issue and refuse to bring it back. Its track record shows its hypocrisy on this matter. What did the Minister say in his concluding remarks when introducing the Dibb report? He said:

I now intend that there will be the opportunity for discussion and debate on Mr Dibb's work, both in the Parliament and outside.

What an immense amount of discussion we have had-one member of the Opposition. The Minister who introduced the Dibb report was Senator Gareth Evans. The man who is gagging the debate right now, when introducing the Dibb report, said:

I now intend that there will be the opportunity for discussion and debate on Mr Dibb's work, both in the Parliament and outside.

He then set forth to deny that very debate and to refuse us the opportunity to participate in the debate.

Senator Puplick —He misled us.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —As Senator Puplick says, he misled us. He is now putting on some kind of childish tantrum because we demand the right to do what he offered us in the first place on 3 June last year. The hypocrisy of the man and of the Government in this matter is just indefensible. He further said on 3 June:

Defence policy raises fundamental and serious issues for this country. Defence expenditure is now at the highest levels for peacetime, and constitutes a large financial burden for a nation facing some economic difficulties and many competing demands.

It is a major and terribly significant issue, but we are not allowed to talk about it. We have to be gagged and only four people allowed to speak, and only one of them from the Opposition. That demonstrates the disgraceful behaviour and the reason for the genuine anger of the Opposition because of the Government's refusal, with the connivance of, and in conspiracy with the Australian Democrats, to prevent the issue of defence being properly and thoroughly examined in this Senate. If the Minister is strangely genuine and if he is not going to repeat his disgraceful activities of last June, let him demonstrate this integrity by giving a total unequivocal commitment- -

Senator Puplick —In writing.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I think that is probably necessary, Senator Puplick-that this issue will be raised again on the next day of sitting and that a proper and full debate, along the lines that he said would be proper to be pursued, should be pursued. Let us have the full debate both inside and outside the Parliament that the Minister said should take place. Let us not hear any more from him about so-called adjournments unless he is genuine and is prepared to give that kind of unequivocal commitment.

As Senator Haines said, not only is this matter to be adjourned using the technique that the Government is using in this case to commit the debate to limbo to prevent us speaking, but it is used over and over again. I noticed that order of the day No. 39 on the Notice Paper, Invalidity Retirement from Commonwealth Employment-Ministerial Statement, was adjourned to the next day of sitting on 17 April last year.

Senator Puplick —Covering up a scandal, aren't they?

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —On that matter, as Senator Puplick quite rightly says, that was simply to cover up the scandal of more Commonwealth public servants retiring from invalidity than from reaching retirement age. Particularly in Victoria-Senator Gareth Evans's State-twice as many retire from invalidity than from reaching retirement age. It is clearly a scandalous situation which the Government has been very reluctant to do anything about. So in that situation the Government used the technique of adjourning the matter to the next day of sitting, and the next day of sitting from 17 April 1986 still has not arrived and now we are getting towards the end of February 1987. That is not the only matter of importance to receive that kind of treatment from this Government.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Senator Baume, would you just speak to the motion before the Chair.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I am outlining the improper nature of the technique being used in seeking to defer this debate and I am saying that we need to amend this motion to say that it will be adjourned to a later hour this day, because if we accept the proposition that it should be until the next day of sitting it will never come up. I am underlining the reality and the truth of the point I am making by drawing attention to all those other very significant matters which this Government has claimed it was adjourning to the next day of sitting but which it not only has not brought back for debate but which it never intended would resume. That is exactly the situation here. As Senator Sir John Carrick pointed out, not only is there a clear and mischievous attempt to defer this debate until after the visit of the Soviet Foreign Minister, but also there is no doubt in my mind that this matter will never be fully debated.

Senator Gareth Evans will say that another paper will be debated. Quite frankly, after his effort with the Dibb report where we required full and proper parliamentary discussion and only one member of the Opposition was allowed to speak, I would suggest that not many members of the Opposition would take Senator Gareth Evans's assurances terribly seriously. Let me dramatise the reason why the Opposition should not accept the proposition that the debate should be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting. We should deal with it today otherwise the same sort of fate will befall this paper on defence as befell the ministerial statement on economic and rural policy that was adjourned from 16 April 1986. That was adjourned to sweep it under the carpet because Senator Collard had moved a lot of sensible amendments in regard to that statement which were highly critical of the Government. So when the Government is embarrassed, unnerved, worried about an issue or it does not want it debated, the technique it uses is to have it adjourned to the next day of sitting.

We will not tolerate that with this vital paper on defence. The Minister and the Australian Democrats somehow suggest that `adjournment' really means what it says, that they are somehow trustworthy and that somehow the Government and the Australian Democrats together present a level of integrity. If `adjournment' does not mean gag, how come the ministerial statement on taxation system reform has not come back to this chamber, having been adjourned to the next day of sitting on 6 November 1985? One can understand why; there are many embarrassing matters relating to the Government's failure at that stage to proceed with the bulk of its so-called tax reform package. It was embarrassing. That is why exactly the same technique is being used now. Of course the Minister remembers the Taxation Summit. That was the occasion on which the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Baume, we are not debating the Notice Paper; we are debating an amendment before the Chair. You have made your point on this.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —In that case, I conclude by saying that the burden of the speech made by Senator Haines-that is really what I was replying to by pointing out these examples-was that somehow we in the Opposition did not understand what the word `adjourn' means. I am putting to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and to the Senate that the word `adjourn' can mean, as the Lewis Carroll characters would say, exactly what I choose it to mean. It means exactly what Senator Gareth Evans chooses it to mean. It means what Senator Haines, in conspiracy with Senator Gareth Evans, chooses it to mean. As a result, Mr Acting Deputy President, I am submitting to you that the point I am making about what the words `adjourned to the next day of sitting' really mean is totally different from the points made by the Australian Democrats in trying to justify their stifling and gagging of a debate on defence.

You know, Mr Acting Deputy President, and the Opposition knows that at this stage the issue of defence is of major moment to Australia, particularly when there is clear disagreement between the Government and Mr Dibb on whether or not, for example, the Pacific area is an area where our defence efforts should be concentrated. It is vital that we discuss the defence initiatives paper. The technique the Government is using prevents us from discussing this issue because the Government, by pretending that it is adjourning the matter to the next day of sitting, is committing it to limbo, in the way that all the matters that I have outlined tonight have been committed to limbo.

I am saying to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, that I wonder what the Government has to hide. I wonder what benefits there are for the Australian Democrats in going along with the Government in seeking to block this debate and to prevent these issues from being raised, to prevent the discussions that Senator Sir John Carrick was so properly keen to pursue and certainly to prevent discussion of all the defence issues that the Opposition regards as particularly significant, especially in the context of a clear disagreement between Mr Dibb and the Government on, for example, what the defence role in the Pacific really should be. I urge the Senate, and particularly the Australian Democrats, to support our amendment that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.