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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6184


Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (10:36 AM) —Firstly, I would be very interested to know when the letters were received from Premier Bracks, Premier Carr and Premier Beattie in which it was urged that the legislation be passed without amendment. I think that is a very important point. Secondly, I would like to know whether those letters were received prior to the House of Representatives dividing the bill. If those letters were received prior to the House of Representatives dividing the bill, that was an amendment to the then legislation, and I note the Prime Minister voted for the separation of the bills. He, of course, is a member of COAG, which makes an interesting point. I would also like to know whether the letters were received from the three premiers prior to the Senate committee investigating and reporting on the bill.

If that is what is driving this legislation— that it was set in concrete way before, that nothing the Senate committee might have suggested and that no debate in this place would be allowed to be presented on its merits—then I have to say that I am disappointed. I think a lot of meritorious arguments have been put and simply knocked down because it is inconvenient and because a particular regime has been decided upon. If three people in COAG wrote, I would assume, quite some months ago saying, `Pass this legislation without amendment,' and if that is now the rationale for denying good commonsense amendments to get through, then it would be a matter of great concern, because, quite frankly, we should not be debating any amendments at all in that case; it ought to be a case of take it or leave it as a whole, as the bill has been presented. If that is the attitude—


Senator Chris Evans —That is how the Liberal government generally does it!


Senator ABETZ —Yes, I have been in opposition, Senator Evans, when that has happened on your side. But could I suggest that this is in fact not so much one of these Liberal-Labor debates. It is in fact a conscience vote. I would have thought that the exercising of individual consciences on matters as grave as this might at least lend themselves to the attention of Premiers Carr, Beattie and Bracks and that they would say, `We like the regime, but if anybody can come up with something to make it better or improve it then, of course, we would be in favour of that.' I would doubt that the letter could or should be interpreted as being so intransigent that, no matter what the overwhelming evidence might be, they do not want to know about it and they want to pass it as it is. That would be, for us, legislatively irresponsible.

In relation to the suggestions made that this legislation has sufficient clauses in it not to require possession and that other laws like aiding and abetting would also come into play, I would like to hear from those who actually believe that to be the case. Why on earth do we have offences of possession littered throughout a whole lot of legislation? It would be just as easy to argue that possession of a firearm does not need to be an offence, because, to get a firearm, you would have to have made it somewhere or bought it somewhere. By taking it off the maker or by receiving it from the maker or vendor, you are aiding and abetting the manufacture or sale of the firearm and therefore mere possession does not have to be a crime. That is the rationale. But nobody in this debate has knocked that down in relation to the suite of legislation that I have previously referred to.

It has been in the minds of legislators for decades now—if not centuries, indeed. It is like possession of stolen property. Mere possession of stolen property is also an offence. Why have the courts, the prosecutors and the legislators not said, `By receiving stolen property you are aiding and abetting stealing, therefore we do not need the crime of possession of stolen property'? It does not make sense. What is being asserted—that this regime covers it—is not logical, because if it were the case, as has been asserted, that you could overcome this or that possession is not needed, then why is it in all of the other pieces of legislation? Until that is answered, it seems to me that the response is a particularly soft one and that people are simply saying, `We do not want to make any changes, because our position was set in concrete months before the Senate even decided to look at this legislation.' Coming back to the very first point, I would be interested to know when those letters were received and the dates of those letters.

Question negatived.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Jacinta Collins)—Where does the committee wish to proceed to now? The running sheet has Senator Harradine moving an amendment next.


Senator Chris Evans —Madam Chair, I draw your attention to the state of the chamber.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Is a quorum required?


Senator Abetz —Madam Chair, to save us going through the difficulty of calling a quorum, can you just advise us as to which amendment we are up to at the moment?


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —The running sheet—which we have strayed from, as I understand it—shows Senator Harradine on amendment (R6) after the amendment just dealt with.


Senator Abetz —Thank you, that advice has been most helpful.