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Thursday, 9 July 1998
Page: 5418

Senator MARGETTS (9:34 PM) —We were first of all asked to consider that we needed to sit this week. If you recall, Madam President, the Wik bill was not actually on the Notice Paper for this sitting. So the extra time that the Senate was required to sit to deal with the Native Title Bill—or the anti-Native Title Bill—was something that was extra to the program. It was not on the program; it was extra to the program. We asked, and the Labor Party asked again and again, whether or not the program was going to be available, but it was not available.

I recall a number of examples in this chamber of Senator Harradine being asked to deal with a bill that he did not like. I am sure most honourable senators in the chamber can remember the times when Senator Harradine was asked, especially at the end of a session, to deal with a bill which he did not like. Some bills have gone off the agenda through this session—they have just disappeared.

I wonder whether the government wanting to put through a bill is the issue here. What is the issue here? It is certainly not urgency—that has clearly been shown. The issue is not urgency. No argument has been made here that the bill has to be passed by a certain date. The only potential argument is political self-interest. I am sure no senators could honourably say that this Senate should ask to keep back the staff—senators' staff and House of Representatives' staff. Potentially, the Senate cost alone would be: air fares, $81,000; Comcar, $75,000; senators' travelling allowance, $55,000; senators' staff travel, $66,000; allowances, $75,000; and Department of the Senate staffing allowances, notice papers and journals, $50,000. That is a total of $402,000 for a bill that is not urgent and which will not be proclaimed until after an election. This does not even count the fact that, if the government want a bill through, they have to have the House of Representatives back as well, so you can at least double that cost. We are talking about the scandal of $1 million or more being used for a bill that is not going to be proclaimed.

We had a huge scandal in Western Australia—the Dance scandal—involving a few hundred thousand dollars. That was important. That involved the government. But here we have a government, backed by Independent senators, that is prepared to spend a million dollars for nothing, not a single thing—all this for a bill that will not be proclaimed, has not got an urgent starting date and is not needed; a bill which the government said they were not going to deal with.

So we have got a financial scandal of a $1 million plus simply to provide a pork barrel. Now is that honourable? Is that fair? Is that just? I would say it is not. Why have certain bills come on the agenda and why have certain bills gone off? It has nothing to do with the government saying that they should be on the agenda.

I recall and agree that on occasions there have been migration bills which have been, I believe, unconscionable. I have joined with Senator Harradine in the past when governments—and it was the previous government—had certain migration bills at the end of a session and we believed that they were unconscionable and required extra debate within the community. I know that there have been occasions. We were all here on those occasions. I do recall Senator Harradine most lunch times coming in calling quorums every 15 minutes. People here will remember those occasions. I am not criticising that behaviour because I have also been involved in concern on bills that we believe should not have been rushed through at the end of the session.

So it is not a precedent—that whatever governments do at the end of a session, if they want it, they should get it—because we all know that there are occasions when unconscionable bills should not be debated in the rush of the end of a session. We all know that has been a way in which governments have done the wrong things. If we get to the full part of this debate, I will give you the full reasons why this bill should not be debated in this time frame. I am happy to give that full conscious. Basically, we are being asked whether this is urgent. I will not support the motion for urgency because it is not and because it has not been substantiated in this debate.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ian Campbell's ) be agreed to.