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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1545

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.00) —I had not intended to participate in this debate and I am not sure how many of my colleagues intend to do so, but I was in my office and I heard Senator Tate asking questions about the state of the list. I find that fairly extraordinary when the Government at this stage is unable to tell us what the parliamentary program is. At the mo- ment we are being told that it is not known whether we will have Estimates committees this week--

Senator Gareth Evans —But you do know that you have Estimates committees today and that there are hundreds of public servants out there waiting for you to stop rabbiting.

Senator CHANEY —The Manager of Government Business in the Senate might think that he speeds things up in the Senate by accusing me of rabbiting, but he actually slows them down. Perhaps when he is 93 he will wake up to that. At present the Government is unable to tell us what we are doing in the Senate after today. We might have Estimates committees on Thursday and we might not. We were not to sit on Friday, but we are now told that we might sit on Friday. All I can say is that I am not prepared to have lectures read to the Opposition about the debates we have in this place when the Government cannot make up its mind about what it is doing. In fact, the Opposition is being left in a position where the plans of senators, which have been made in the faith of the program that has been announced for some months, are all apparently to be changed. The reality is that the Government indicated on 5 February that it wished to amend the identity card legislation. The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) issued a Press release saying that the Government would amend the legislation. We are now to have a debate on the identity card legislation which is not in an amended form. It is as plain as the nose on anybody's face that the Government is playing politics with this legislation in order to try to hide the economic crisis, its May mini-Budget and its difficulties in trying to ensure that this country goes anywhere.

Senator Gareth Evans —On a point of order, Mr President: That has absolutely nothing to do with the matter at issue raised by Senator Tate to which Senator Chaney is purporting to reply.

Senator CHANEY —The point raised by Senator Tate concerned uncertainty about the program. The point that I am making in response is that there is complete uncertainty about the Senate's program because the Government is unable to advise us what the program will be until after it has had a meeting at 9.30 tomorrow morning. When I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button)-not the Manager of Government Business-what meeting would determine the sittings of the Senate, he said that he could not tell me. As usual we are being subjected to a whole lot of nonsense by the Government. For a reason that I do not understand the Government has chosen a day when the program showed that we would rise at 3.15 p.m. to consider Estimates to bring three ministerial statements into this place-one on the status of women and matters related to that, one on electoral reform and I am not quite sure about the third one. If the Manager of Government Business is going to persist in antics such as the one we had yesterday when we had the tabling of the Government's response to a Senate committee report in Question Time-a most unusual procedure which sparked off a fairly lengthy debate in this place-if he is going to bring major statements into the House on a day when the Senate is supposed to rise at 3.15 p.m. to consider Estimates, all that I can say is that the Government is asking for everything that it has got. It is an absurd way to run this place and it would be treating the Opposition with contempt to bring in these statements and then say that senators are not to have an opportunity to deal with them. The Opposition will have no part of or truck with that approach to the management of this place.

The PRESIDENT —On the point of order: Senator Chaney is quite entitled to make those remarks. I do not know whether he has finished his remarks, but from what I can discover, having just come into the Chair, Senator Tate did not seek leave to make a statement and neither did Senator Chaney. Therefore, as far as I am concerned we are still dealing with the ministerial statement. I call the next speaker, Senator Newman.