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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 555


Senator MacGIBBON(10.23) —There is a case to be made for saying that we are tackling this matter the wrong way around. There is a real feeling in the Opposition-which I hope we will be shed of shortly when we assume government in a month or two, or whenever the Government has the courage to go to the polls-that we do not get enough time to debate important issues. If one looks at the statistics for the Australian Parliament and compares them with the statistics for the parliaments of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, one sees that we do not sit for enough days or weeks during the year. Reports which come before this Parliament, which have been put forward with a great deal of thought, care and deliberation, simply are not given the courtesy they demand. Every year hundreds of reports never get fully debated in this Parliament. There is really no point in having committees set up to make these reports because they suffer the same fate as petitions which come before the Parliament.

There is a very real case to be made for increasing the sitting time of the Senate by at least 25 or 30 per cent in the first instance. I am not concerned with the House of Representatives. It operates like a rugby league grand final, with the Whips using their numbers to gag debates the whole time and I do not think the House of Representatives needs more time for the business it has before it. I believe that this chamber, as the States House and the House of review, has a legitimate claim for more sitting time.

With respect to the reduction of speaking time to 20 minutes, that is fine for most Bills. I have great sympathy for what Senator Cooney said. When we have long speaking lists inevitably all the ground has been covered and there is not really much point in speakers getting up and rehashing the arguments which have been run. But what do we do if people feel strongly about something? If people feel that they need to make a position clear on the public record, we cannot very well deny them the right to do so. I do not really know what we should do about that. My personal view is that both sides of the chamber could put up two or three speakers in rotation and the rest of the time could be spent on the Committee stage. I have had a note passed to me that the Government needs to introduce a Bill, but before I sit down I would like to say that Senator Robert Ray-I am sorry that he has gone-has a real point in claiming that there is some validity in reducing the speaking time to 10 minutes at the Committee stage. I see no point in having 15 minutes. My personal view is that, like the Magic Pudding, we can have multiple cracks at speaking on the Committee stage, and 10 minutes is sufficient. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.

Progress reported.