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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 549

Senator BUTTON (Leader of the Government in the Senate)(9.48) —I want to contribute very briefly to this debate. The contributions that have been made so far have been very fulsome, reflecting the gravitas with which this House and the Parliament are regarded by the people of Australia. The Standing Orders Committee has met interminably over the last two or three years. The expressed wish of the Committee is to facilitate the getting through of the business in the Senate. We are all agreed about that.

Senator Walters —It depends who has the majority.

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator does not know what she is talking about. She was not there. I am telling the Senate what the feeling of the Standing Orders Committee is.

Senator Chaney —We are getting a bit of the gravitas, aren't we?

Senator BUTTON —Yes. The purpose has always been described as getting through the business as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible. So far, we have been able to come up only with these proposals in the fourth report for the sixty-second session of the Standing Orders Committee.

There are only two issues that I want to address. I must say that I think these things have to be seen in the context of the current account and the national debt. We should be disciplined and stringent in our approaches to these things, particularly in the way that we spend the Senate's time. The first proposal that I want to talk about relates to notices of motion and provides for a change that the Senate has already made in another form in relation to petitions, ultimately by agreement. The proposal from the Standing Orders Committee is for a device to prevent notices of motion being turned into speeches. There are always complaints about Ministers giving speeches in answers to questions; sometimes legitimate complaints, sometimes not. But there can be legitimate complaints about very lengthy notices of motion with comments made on a party political basis. These could be summarised by the Clerks and dealt with in the manner suggested in the proposed amendment to the Standing Orders.

The second matter relates to the limitation on time in debates to 20 minutes. In my view, Senator Chaney made the case in a sense by saying that senators do not use 20 minutes, except the dreadful Senator Gareth Evans who once used a hour, which Senator Chaney did not like. Nothing in the proposed Standing Orders would prevent granting an extension of time. That would still be available to the Senate, if required. Indeed, there is a provision in the proposed Standing Orders to provide for an extension of time.

Senator Peter Baume —But only 10 minutes.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, only 10 minutes. If I might conclude on this note: The view I take about this is that if senators, in the sorts of debates we have here in the chamber, cannot say what they have to say in 20 minutes, I think we have a real problem.

Senator Crichton-Browne —But that is what Government senators do.

Senator BUTTON —I concede that we have a number of real problems. Brevity is the soul of wit, something which has eluded many of us, I suppose.

Senator Crichton-Browne —This is not a chamber of humour; it is a chamber of deliberation.

Senator BUTTON —I think deliberation is a different thing from discursiveness. Seriously, if a senator cannot make a contribution to a debate in 20 minutes, I think it is a very serious situation. Senator Chaney's figures indicate that all senators can make a contribution to a debate in 20 minutes.

Senator Peter Baume —That is without the Standing Orders being changed. Under the present Standing Orders they do it in less than 20 minutes.

Senator BUTTON —I understand that, but the point I am seeking to make is that in those circumstances the change should not be objectionable, because a law which is not used falls into disrepute, just as a standing order does. People ought to be able to say things in 20 minutes-with the exception of Senator Puplick, who I understand has a particular problem. But we would always be prepared to grant Senator Puplick an extension.

Senator Puplick —Put that in writing.

Senator BUTTON —If Senator Puplick votes for this amendment to the Standing Orders, I will move what I would call the Puplick concession which would enable him to talk as he usually does-ad infinitum. I would be happy for there to be that sort of provision for Senator Puplick if we could get this amendment to the Standing Orders which is sought by the Standing Orders Committee.