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Thursday, 9 July 1998
Page: 5416


Senator LEES (9:25 PM) —I would like to pick up roughly where Senator Hill has left off, on his claim that he has always wanted this debate. If he had always wanted this debate, then I suggest that the bill should not have been taken off on Wednesday while quiet negotiations or whatever machinations were going on between the Liberal Party and the National Party at that stage. I do not see why we, now, in this place, should wear responsibility for that, nor should we suffer for that, nor should our families suffer for that.


Senator Crowley —Madam President, I raise a point of order. I have heard any number of interjections from comrades opposite and very few of them are in their own seats. If they do want to contribute to this noisiness, can they please go back there.


The PRESIDENT —If I find anybody interjecting out of their seat, they will be dealt with.


Senator LEES —Senator Campbell has made a number of allegations that basically suggest that this place has not been earning its keep. I suggest to the government that it chose to bring the Wik bill back before us on three occasions. We, after all, dealt with it to the satisfaction of the Senate on the first occasion. They then chose—and it is obviously the government's prerogative to do so—to send it back again. We cannot fit that and everything else in simultaneously, nor can we be expected to do so.

If you look at the total number of hours that this Senate has sat for this government, you will find that it is more than satisfactory, and, indeed, more than is regularly done. I also point out to the government that they chose to put the euthanasia debate on—yes, it is some time ago now, but that was again their decision to shuffle that up the list. While Telstra and Wik may not have been affected by that, certainly some of these other bills that we are dealing with have been around a while because they have been continuously shuffled down the list while the government shuffle up other priorities.

Senator Herron interjecting


Senator Robert Ray —You hypocrite! Drag out your old speeches on long hours. Double standard Herron!

Senator Herron interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Herron, you are out of your seat, and, in any event, it is out of order to shout across the chamber. Senator Ray, you are at least in your seat. Senator Lees, I am interested in what you have to say.


Senator LEES —Thank you, Madam President, I am pleased that somebody is listening. If we do go back and look at the choices that this government has made, we would see that—we are gradually losing an audience, things will no doubt get quieter now—we have worked with the bills in the order that the government has presented them to us.


Senator Carr —Good on you, Boris!


The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, if you shout across the chamber once more, you will be warned.


Senator LEES —For the minister to comment that some of the debates—and on this instance, he is certainly right—have been longer than usual, I ask him: what is more important than the Wik bill that we have been dealing with? Did the government expect that that was a bill of minor consequence that we could rush through in a couple of days? I would suspect not. I do not think anyone ever thought that. We have dealt with it, as we have been required to do, on three occasions by the government.

I pick up another point that both Senator Faulkner and Senator Campbell touched on, and that is the relationship between the whips. I just remind you that there are more than two whips in this place. I can speak on behalf of my whip, who is not here at the moment. As far as I know, she has not been involved in any discussions in the last 48 hours or more. I certainly have not been to a leaders and whips meeting for at least a fortnight. Minister, all you have been saying to Senator Bourne is, `This is the latest proposal.' You have not been involving her in any discussions. There is a big difference. I would like your definition of `discussion' because it is always, `This is what you are doing—end.' If you go back to a dictionary, that has got no bearing on the word `discussion'.

The usual process is that, at leaders and whips meetings, we have a genuine opportunity for discussion—and for that I thank the government. I thought they were working reasonably well. Obviously, a directive has come from on high that, regardless of how the senators on my left or my right feel about it, the Telstra bill is important to the government's election strategy. Off go any leaders and whips discussions—it has just landed on our desks.

I do not know how some of the senators on my left feel, but I know that some of us have families. This comes during the school holi days. As a single parent, I have enough trouble seeing my kids as it is with this job. I look at the pressures on our staff, the pressures on the attendants and the pressures on those who drive us. (Time expired)