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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2036

Senator SHORT (12.09 p.m.) —I want to say a few words on this matter. It will be recalled that I first raised this matter in my remarks last night at the second reading stage. I am very pleased that Senator Watson and others have pursued the matter today. I will make a couple of points to reinforce what others have said. My friend Senator Watson is absolutely right. This whole question of administrative process is much more than that; we are talking about a critically important constitutional issue. The requests for amendments that have become the focus of the matter are not crucial in their own right, as Senator Watson said. They are important, but they are not overwhelming.

  The particular requests for amendments have become the focus of it but they are not crucial in their own right. They are important, but they are not overwhelming. This debate is all about whether this bill with the proposed amendments is in fact constitutional. It is a problem that is entirely of the government's own making. None of this would have arisen had the bill originated in the House of Representatives. Had the government wanted it to originate in the Senate it could have used a simple mechanism to escape the present problem; it could have brought in another bill in relation to these particular requests. The bill could have introduced in the House of Representatives and it could have put it through in the normal way. Until recent times that always happened, and it should happen now.

  Last year the government embarked upon this ill-fated venture of the classification of bills with the so-called omnibus tax bill, and that has led to this whole impasse. It is a very important issue indeed because it goes to the whole core of the constitutional rights of this Senate in relation to taxation. For that reason I would be amazed if the government was reluctant to produce the supporting evidence that it says it has to back the view that Senator Sherry is now expressing.

  When summing up on the second reading debate, Senator Sherry said that he had advice from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel that what he was doing was right. I cannot believe that that advice is not in writing. If it is in writing, I ask Senator Sherry to table it here and now. What is the reason for not doing so? If by any chance it is not in writing, I am absolutely amazed. I think the government stands indicted for taking such a step without having formal written advice on the legalities of what it is doing.

  I stress the seriousness of this matter. I totally support the views put by Senator Watson and Senator O'Chee, which I think were basically supported by Senator Coulter. It would be a dereliction of our duty and our responsibilities for us to proceed too much further with this—certainly to finality of the bill—without receiving the advice that Senator Sherry said the government has and without there being a full opportunity for the Senate to consider it. I hope Senator Sherry will respond to that.

  Could I put another question to Senator Sherry so he may pick it up in his response? Should this bill not be passed this week but passed in the session commencing in May and concluding before 30 June, what would be the financial impact?