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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 650

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (4.07 p.m.) —We oppose the motion for the suspension of standing orders. We oppose Senator Macdonald's assertion that the provision in the standing orders to take note of question time is available only to opposition senators. That is an extraordinary proposition for him to make. When he rose on the point of order, he said that was the principle behind the change to the standing order to allow the taking note of answers at question time. He said it was a principle that existed for opposition senators only. In my seven years in the Senate, which may not be long enough to know all the ins and outs of standing orders, never before have I heard anyone assert that standing orders are written for only one section of the Senate. Standing orders are written evenly for all of us to comply with.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Why don't we get four minutes to ask a question?

Senator SCHACHT —Because you are not the government, you fool. That is the real difference, and you cannot recognise it.

Senator Panizza —On a point of order, Mr Deputy President: I think Senator Schacht should withdraw the remark that my colleague is a fool. I think it is unparliamentary and, what is more, the standing orders say so.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Yes. I think it was an unhelpful comment, Senator Schacht. I would be grateful if you would withdraw it.

Senator SCHACHT —I withdraw, Mr Deputy President. The reason we have four minutes may not yet have come to Senator Macdonald's attention, despite the years he has been here. We are the government; we answer the questions. It would be astonishing for the opposition to have a longer time to ask a question than we are allowed to answer it. That would be an astonishing principle to put. I assert that the standing orders are very clear. With today's example, they work very well.

  Most of the speeches taking note of answers given today were from the opposition. Senator Coulter was fully entitled to use the standing orders to get up to make his five-minute speech. I, as the minister representing the government here at that time, was fully entitled to respond to the number of points he made on that particular issue. Senator Harradine was fully entitled to speak for the three or four minutes he did on a similar issue that Senator Campbell raised. Are those opposite saying that an Independent senator cannot comment on the audit issue that Senator Campbell raised? That is a preposterous suggestion. We did not filibuster today. We seldom—

Senator Ian Macdonald —You did.

Senator SCHACHT —I did not filibuster. I answered the points made, which is what I thought, from the debate, that Senator Coulter was happy for me to do. So we as a government have not, as those opposite suggest, perverted the use of the standing orders, but it is a perversion now to say that ad infinitum the opposition can go on extending the half hour to take note of answers into the business of the Senate elsewhere.

  I want to make this clear: what we did say is that if Senator Crane sought leave at the end of the tabling of documents, which do not number many today, to comment for five minutes the government would grant it for him to speak on something he apparently felt very strongly about, but would not extend the provision in the standing orders for half an hour at the end of question time to take note of answers when everybody had more than a fair chance.

  I have been in the chamber before when many senators on both sides have not been able to get up and move a motion to take note of an answer because time has run out. People have had to cop it. They have sat down and used either the adjournment debate or some other debate to make their point, or have probably waited two or three days to take note when they are given an opportunity after question time. I think the opposition's tactic is just to waste time and be destructive about the procedures in the Senate. We have made on offer to Senator Crane that after the tabling of documents he can speak for five minutes on the matter that he feels strongly about. At the moment we do not know what it is, but we are willing to give him that five minutes. Therefore, I ask the Senate to reject the suspension of standing orders as moved by Senator Macdonald.