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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 648

  Senator Panizza—Mr Deputy President, as there is no MPI this afternoon, I seek leave to have the debate extended by five minutes to allow Senator Crane to take note of an answer.

  Leave not granted.

  Senator Ian Macdonald—Perhaps we might have to move for the suspension of standing orders if Senator Schacht is not prepared to reconsider the request for leave. I point out that this proposal for taking note was introduced particularly so that the opposition parties could have their fair say in response to the government's domination of question time. Today, how many opposition senators had a chance to speak? Not only does Senator Schacht get his chance in question time, but he wants to take away our opportunity to take note. Apart from that, the Democrats, who refused to agree with us to have unlimited taking note, always get up and take our opportunities. They would not heed the warnings we gave. I do not blame Senator Harradine, but he also took part in this debate. This half hour, which is specifically for opposition senators to have their say, is increasingly being taken up by the ultra-left wing of the Labor Party, the Australian Democrats, and by ministers responding. On that basis we are being locked out. Senator Crane is seeking leave. I would hope that Senator Schacht would grant leave for five minutes, rather than us having to move for the suspension of standing orders.

  Senator Schacht—On the point of order Senator Macdonald raised: as I understand it, the standing orders that allow questions to be taken note of are available to all senators.

  Senator Ian Macdonald—That was not the principle.

  Senator Schacht—I beg your pardon. I do not think we could ever say that we could write a standing order with the underlying principle that it be available only to some senators to use. That is not the principle of the standing orders. The standing orders are available and apply equally to all senators.

  Senator Ian Macdonald—Why did you and the Democrats restrict us to half an hour?

  Senator Schacht—Still on the point of order: the Senate voted after considerable debate and discussion to allow questions to be taken note of for half an hour. There was never any restriction placed on any senator from any side. We all voted knowing that we would all have an opportunity. Today Senator Harradine spoke for less than his five minutes. Senator Coulter spoke for his five minutes. I replied to Senator Coulter because he raised a number of issues on the funding of science in Australia and I thought he would like answers. The remainder of the half hour was taken up overwhelmingly by the opposition. I do not think it is unreasonable that, after half an hour which has been overwhelmingly taken up by the opposition, we stick with the standing orders. The half hour has now expired.

  Senator Panizza—On the point of order: I asked for a five-minute extension simply on a goodwill basis. This is the third sitting day this week, and this is the third hour this week that could have been used for an MPI. In the standing orders we have 60 minutes available each day for an MPI. We have chosen not to use those three available hours this week. There is one left tomorrow. Out of last week's three sitting days we used only one. I thought that, with good grace and cooperation, Senator Schacht might have given us leave for Senator Crane to speak for five minutes. I will ask Senator Schacht again if he is willing to grant leave. It will be up to him whether he does or not. Otherwise, we can make sure that we use that hour every day from now on.

  Senator Schacht—I will respond to that question through you, Mr Deputy President. The government will not accede to the request that the half hour for taking note of questions be extended, but we will not object, at the end of the tabling of documents, to Senator Crane seeking leave for five minutes to raise a point.

  Senator Ian Macdonald—Why won't you do it now?

  Senator Schacht—No; it is relevant to the principle. Half an hour is being used up and we have other business. To seek leave to speak for five minutes—

  Senator Ian Macdonald—We are going to move for the suspension of standing orders. If you want to get it through—

  Senator Schacht—I think we are being more than reasonable.

  Senator Panizza—It has been done before.

  Senator Schacht—Senator Panizza may say it has been done before. I am suggesting that we get on with the business and if, at the end of the five minutes—

  (Quorum formed)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time for consideration of that item has expired.