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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6247


Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:53 PM) —by leave—Without going into the long history of cut-off motions, which I am sure all senators would be aware of each time we debate matters like this, the purpose of this motion is to allow the Senate to debate the workplace relations so-called fair dismissal bill No. 2 before the end of the year. The so-called cut-off motion, which was initiated by Democrat senator and my predecessor from Queensland, Michael Macklin, back in the 1980s and subsequently modified down the track, was introduced for two reasons: firstly, to make it harder for governments to push through legislation without adequate time for consideration and, secondly, to enable the Senate to have more control when determining what are urgent or important matters and which ones can be put off for later. This bill fits very squarely in the second category. In fact, it would be hard to find a better definition of a bill that we do not need to debate before the end of the year.

I know Senator Ian Campbell does a fabulous job, with as much difficulty getting cooperation from his own colleagues as from the rest of us, in trying to manage all the business of this chamber to get through the important issues that the government believes it needs to get through in the time frame available. As I have said many times on behalf of the Democrats, I believe the Senate should be sitting more days than it does. I acknowledge that that is not Senator Campbell's decision, but the Democrats believe that, with the legislative workload these days, the historic levels of Senate sittings that we might have had in the past are now inadequate and we really need to be sitting an extra few weeks. Apart from that, most of us like each other's company so much that I think we should hang out with each other a bit more often!

The reality is that we have only a certain number of days—only 12 sitting days before the end of the year, roughly—to consider a large number of bills; I am sure Senator Campbell knows the number off by heart. We are going to struggle to deal with all of those. We will be having late sitting hours and curtailed debates, people will be making shorter speeches than usual and incorporating remarks, we will be sitting on Fridays and we will be getting tired and grumpy and angry and less able to make considered decisions. The last thing we need is another bill that we do not need to debate.

The Democrats' view is that we all know what the outcome of this bill will be. We could all give our speeches now or we could incorporate them. They are the same speeches that we made last time the bill came up—or the time before, the time before that or the time before that. But we will not do that. We will all make our speeches, we will all vote the same way and the outcome will be the same. In one sense, it is the government's prerogative to put forward what it wants to debate, but I believe that the Senate should not simply sit back and say, `We will debate whatever bill the government wants us to in whatever order it wants us to.' I believe that the Senate, as the primary house of legislative consideration in the parliament and in the country, should be more assertive in determining what order of business it wants and what bills it gives priority to. This bill is not a high priority.

The Democrats are not opposing this motion because we are trying to put off its ever being voted on. We are opposing it because we have only a small number of days left in the year, we have a large legislative program and we should not be chewing up that time on a bill that will not even get through. We can easily deal with it next year and vote it down then. I think that in many ways Senator Ian Campbell would agree that the Democrats would be doing him a favour if the Senate were to oppose this motion in that his program would be just that little bit less cluttered as we move through this busy period towards the end of the year.