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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6248


Senator LUDWIG (3:57 PM) —by leave—It is worth while putting the opposition's position before the Senate. The opposition support the Democrats on this motion. We stand, however, ready to debate the Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2002 [No. 2] today. We have said that if the government did want to consider this as a trigger for a double dissolution then our position would be as has been stated by our leader, Mr Crean: you can bring it on. We will put our arguments whenever the bill comes on for debate. We note that the Democrats, however, are not in a position to debate the bill, and on that basis we agree to support their position on the matter.

What might also be worth while saying, if the government has some doubt about it, is that already the opposition have agreed to the cut-off in respect of 34 bills. Given that to date we have had only 45 sitting days this year—this is provided by the general statistics for 2002—when you look at the 2002 program, I do not think the government should consider putting any blame on either the Democrats or Labor for adopting a position on this bill. When you look at the time that was provided during the last sitting day, you find it was inadequate. When you look at the number of bills that we have already agreed to have exempted from the cut-off—a total of 34—you see that we have been generous to a fault in terms of our position.

When you examine the legislative program to date as shown in the statistics on the ParlInfo site—and this is a telling statistic in itself—you find that, from 1 January to 24 October, 10 government bills were introduced into the Senate, plus another 134 bills have come through to be dealt with. That is a total of 144 bills. Up to 24 October, there were still 32 bills to be dealt with; more have been put through and we have not opposed their exemption from the cut-off. On my understanding, there are a few more to be dealt with before the end of the year. We all know—Senator Ian Campbell knows it quite well—that the cut-off is a measure that is designed to avoid the end of year rush. I have gone to the trouble in this instance to go to Odgers' Australian Senate Practice. I do know there is a 10th edition, but the ninth will do. It outlines an amendment moved by Senator Hill, his leader in the Senate, that:

... had the effect of making a permanent order of the Senate to the effect that a bill introduced in any period of sittings will be automatically adjourned to the following period of sittings unless the Senate makes a deliberate decision to exempt the bill.

That was done on 29 November 1994. Senator Campbell's leader agreed at that time, and I am sure he is still of the same view, that each bill stands on its merits as to whether it should be exempt from the cut-off—whether the government has been able to convince the Senate as to whether a particular bill is urgent, whether it deserves exemption from the cut-off and should be dealt with or whether it should fall by that particular rule and not be dealt with. The Workplace Relations Amendment (Fair Dismissal) Bill 2002 [No. 2] is a bill we are ready to deal with. The Democrats tell us they are not. On that basis, given the Democrats' position, it is not a bill that the government has been able to demonstrate clearly is urgent enough to be dealt with.

It is also worth reiterating what an exemption from the cut-off is. We often seem to have this debate about this time of year. It is about the third time, from my recollection, that we have had it. The government knows why it does it. The government does not have to seek exemption from the cut-off in relation to this bill if it already understands the position of the parties. It could simply choose not to introduce it and let it lie. But of course it brings it on. Why does it bring it on? Because it wants to make a point.

I am not too sure whether Senator Alston or Senator Ian Campbell will get up to make the point, but I remind them—and this is perhaps to help people who are listening to this debate—that when a bill is introduced by a minister or received from the House of Representatives, it is deferred for the next period of sitting, unless it was introduced after the expiration of two-thirds of the total number of sitting days, in which case it fails and requires approval of this house to be introduced and dealt with. This was designed to avoid the great haste which this government might want legislation to be dealt with. Each piece of legislation should be dealt with properly and appropriately and without due haste. One wonders in this instance whether the government's purpose is to bring it on and rush it through.