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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 684


Senator GARETH EVANS (Manager of Government Business in the Senate)(12.45) —I move:

That, unless otherwise ordered, till 2 p.m. this day, matters of public interest may be discussed by senators, provided no senator shall speak for more than 15 minutes and provided further that should a division be called for, the sitting of the Senate shall be suspended forthwith till 2 p.m. and the division, if still desired, proceeded with at a later hour of the day.

Might I just add, Mr Deputy President, that this motion is in a form which is somewhat different from the form that we have become accustomed to using at 12.45 p.m. in that it provides specifically for a division, should the Senate wish to proceed to one, being postponed until a later hour. We have been operating on the basis that the Chairman or the President controlling such a debate might, if the occasion arose, simply exercise his power to suspend the Senate. But it was felt that in order to institutionalise, as it were, our desire to keep these periods non-contentious we ought to make some specific provision for the lifting of the Senate and the adjournment of any matter that should arise until honourable senators could normally be expected to be present. This has been the subject of discussion between the party leaders and also, I presume, in the party rooms. Certainly it has been considered at the leadership level and the motion is offered by agreement. It is simply designed to formalise a situation which, at the moment, is somewhat unsatisfactory. The President's or the Chairman's power to suspend the Senate has only been exercised in circumstances where either the Senate has been disorderly or it has been desired to lift the sitting for some ceremonial reason--


Senator Colston —Or if there has been a blackout.


Senator GARETH EVANS —Or if there has been a blackout, as I am reminded by Senator Colston. What is desired, of course, is a situation where if things blow up-if someone wants to move dissent from a ruling of the Chair, or some other procedural motion is sought to be avoided-rather than the presiding officer's having to exercise a power to suspend the proceeding, we will have institutionalised in the motion that is moved each day a rule whereby when anything occurs which requires a division of any kind that officer will exercise the power conferred by the motion to adjourn and have the division at a later hour. This is a prelude, I would hope, to an ever greater usage of this non-contentious business period than has been the case hitherto in order that, as the session proceeds, we might from time to time perhaps even deal with legislation of a totally non-contentious kind while reserving the right of anyone wishing to call a division to do so without that destroying the character of the period as one at which people need not be present. I hope that with that explanation of this new form of motion, we can proceed to the discussion.