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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 548


Senator PETER BAUME(9.42) —It is not necessary to repeat all the arguments put forward by Senator Macklin and Senator Chaney but I wish to raise a couple of matters. It is quite clear that sooner or later the government of the day will become the opposition of the day and that the opposition of the day will sooner or later be in government. The only question is when. Certain people, now Ministers, will become part of the opposition again and certain people will go into the Executive. So this is not really a debate about the rights of us as Opposition senators but about the way in which the Senate could operate most effectively. I am not sure that these proposals would operate to the benefit of government Ministers, individual government senators or non-government senators.

Senator Macklin made some important points. First, it may be that the average length of time that people take in second reading debates is less than 20 minutes. But that provides absolutely no logical reason to change the Standing Orders to enshrine that as a standing order of the Senate. The fact is that the practice in the Senate is that people tend to speak for less than 20 minutes. Senator Chaney has adverted to a theme that a lot of us would like to follow, which is that senators are sent here to do a job. It may not be thought that they do it very well, but they do it according to the way they see that the job should be done. That involves their speaking at all stages of debate on Bills. It involves Ministers responding, sometimes after long and difficult debates. This proposed new set of Standing Orders would abridge those rights in several ways.

It may be that on a difficult or complicated matter senators may need or wish to speak for longer than 20 minutes. I cannot see any real reason for changing that standing order as proposed in (a). The proposal regarding the right of reply is likely to impinge most upon Ministers responding at the end of second reading debates, although they are not the only ones who wind up debates. I cannot see why a Minister should not be permitted to take 30 minutes to reply after a complicated debate on a difficult matter. After all, Ministers have a job that they want to carry out to the best of their ability.

As for propositions (c) and (d), proposition (c), which relates to first readings, goes to the right of honourable senators to exercise, as it were, a capacity to raise grievances. No real reason has been given why senators should be limited to 10 minutes in first reading debates. On Thursdays, when the debate on matters of public interest takes place, and which by agreement now takes the place of most first reading debates, we are allowed 15 minutes. There is no proposal that that should be reduced. In raising grievances, honourable senators often require 15 minutes. No case has been made out to show that the constituencies we serve could be served as well if proposal (c) were agreed to. The last clause of proposal (d) states:

. . . the Senator so interrupted may speak for a further 10 minutes but no longer on a question.

If that clause were not in that proposition (d), I would find the proposal inoffensive. If it were proposed to vary our present standing order so that, instead of being able to speak in committee for 15 minutes, we could speak for only 10 minutes at a time but for any number of 10 minutes for as long as we needed, I would find that inoffensive. If I could not finish my speech in 10 minutes and someone else intervened, I could finish what I had to say some time later. But the proposition is that we could speak for 10 minutes, then another 10 minutes, but no longer on a question. I want to know what the words `no longer on a question' mean. Does that mean that one can have two 10-minute interventions only? I see that the Chairman is indicating that it does not mean that. If it does not mean that, I submit that the proposed standing order is not clearly written.

If what is proposed is that we merely reduce the time from 15 to 10 minutes and that we can proceed as we do now-that is, if there is an intervening speaker, one can come back and speak again and, if there is no intervening speaker, one can carry on-I do not find that inappropriate. But, if those last couple of lines serve the purpose of limiting honourable senators in Committee to only two interventions of 10 minutes, I do not want to have a bar of it. Perhaps we can get that clarified. As it is written, that is the way that I read it as operating.