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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2033

Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (11.51 a.m.) —The government is concerned about the way in which this matter has been raised. The correspondence from the Clerk of the Senate was made available to us at 7 o'clock last night.

Senator Watson —That is all the more reason to defer.

Senator SHERRY —Senator Watson might say, `All the more reason' but there is some $5 billion in revenue at risk if this matter is not dealt with this week. We do not, as of now, have on hand the advice Senator Watson seeks.

Senator Watson —I am prepared to wait.

Senator SHERRY —Well, we are not accepting the premise that we can obtain that advice in the necessary form this week. I am not in a position to give that commitment.

Senator O'Chee —Oh! That's nonsense.

Senator SHERRY —Senator O'Chee should just wait until I have finished. He has not been involved in negotiations on this matter. Let us deal with Senator Watson first. I do not want to give commitments where they might not be able to be met. That is my concern. If I were to enter into a commitment and mislead the Senate that would be the wrong approach on the provisional advice.

  The amendments are going to take some time—that is obvious. There are two sets of amendments that are related to the constitutional issue. There is no constitutional question about the other amendments. I suggest we leave those related to the constitutional issue to the end of the amendments and see where we are at that time. Without giving a guarantee, I suggest that we may then have the legal advice on this issue. Just because we get some legal advice, I am not, frankly, that confident that the opposition would accept it anyway or, based on past experience, that it would mean we could avoid a lengthy debate. I suspect we will still have a lengthy debate about the issue anyway, regardless of the advice in the correspondence.

  I suggest that we proceed with all the other matters. I suspect we will still be going after lunch, but by then we may be able to respond on the two critical sets of amendments that are being referred to.