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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6302

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:08 PM) —by leave— Senator Ludwig, a number of people and I have been working very hard to ensure that the debate on the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 and the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 was an informed debate, that all senators could make a contribution and that it was handled in an efficient, effective but ultimately fair manner. Senator Ludwig and I were told by all participants in the debate on the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill that it would be very short and that the committee stage would only last for a couple of hours. We have obviously been debating that for the best part of the last 24 hours now, with a short adjournment this afternoon for some other business.

I had hoped that we would have made a lot more progress on both of these bills. I think it is fair to say that Senator Ludwig and I have sought to manage this debate in a way that reflected the consensus of all senators involved in the debate. That was the only way I thought we could do this. The government cannot impose its will, the opposition cannot impose its will; you need to manage it in a way that basically reflects commonsense and goodwill amongst all senators and have respect for the fact that all senators hold views on these bills. They are not partisan views; they are views based on sets of beliefs that are deeply held by all senators.

We can only manage these bills on the basis of information provided by all senators, so Senator Ludwig and I convened a meeting a couple of days ago to ask all senators with an interest in the bills to bring forward amendments as soon as practically possible. So people like Senator Evans, who is managing this debate on behalf of the opposition—and who is doing a very good job on it—and, of course, Senator Patterson, on behalf of the government, who is doing a very tough job—

Senator Faulkner —As opposed to a good job?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —She is doing a good job, but I think everyone will recognise that it is a particularly tough job.

Senator Faulkner —I was wondering why you were using different adjectives.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I think they are doing very different jobs, and I think Senator Patterson probably has the toughest job.

Senator Faulkner —That's all right. I thought you needed to explain that.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I appreciate that. I think the job is very tough and is not an easy one to do, because it is not a simple debate where the government has a clear policy position—the position is not as clear as it is on normal legislation. We have sought information from all senators with a view on these issues. We convened a meeting and have had regular discussions on that. For example, I heard Senator Patterson earlier asking that people bring questions forward so that she could be briefed on them and actually respond to those questions. To some extent that was successful but to a great extent it was not.

We were also given clear information to the effect that the debate on the Prohibition of Human Cloning Bill 2002 would be a very short one and that the longest debate would be on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. As it turned out, the debate on the human cloning bill has taken an enormous amount of time. All parties were hoping that the debate on both bills would be concluded by lunchtime tomorrow.

Because a number of senators were travelling overseas, some on ministerial business and others on parliamentary business, with the agreement and cooperation of the Leader of the Opposition, the Manager of Opposition Business and all parties, we added extraordinary sitting hours to the program—I think these hours are possibly unprecedented: a very long night on Monday, a long night on Tuesday and a long night tonight— to enable those people who held strong views on these bills to travel overseas tomorrow afternoon for very important business. I thank the Leader of the Opposition, the opposition and all other senators for facilitating that. We facilitated the possible spillover of the debate onto 2 December, because those people would have travelled back from overseas by then. Enormous goodwill has been extended from all sides, from the major parties and from the minor parties as well, to facilitate the wishes of those people who were travelling overseas—to in fact delay the debate for another fortnight until those people came back from overseas.

The reason we suggested at that stage that third reading debates would be held over until 2 December was to allow those people to have a final vote on those bills. We have now got to the situation—within only a few hours of when all of us hoped that both bills would have been dealt with—where we have yet to conclude the debate on even one of the bills. As the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, where we have an enormous program, on which we are getting great assistance from the opposition, to deal with bills prior to the scheduled rising for the summer recess—we are looking between now and Christmas at some 40 bills—

Senator Faulkner —What is the real number?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —As Senator Faulkner would know as a former manager, it is a very large program. Of course, the point at which we are now puts that program at some risk. I would have preferred to spend the rest of this evening getting on with the committee stage of the next bill. I was told that there is no running sheet, but I now understand there is. If there is consensus around the chamber to keep going and move on to the next bill and at least make some progress, I will do that. Senator Ludwig is saying no and I think everyone probably wants to go home.

It is very important for all senators to ensure that all legislation gets proper consideration in this place. These are special bills and I have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure this is a well-informed debate with enormous amounts of time allocated to it. If all senators do not ensure that goodwill prevails, not only in the debate on the policy issues themselves but in the allocation of time for dealing with those issues, it will make it very difficult for all of us to consider the many other important bills the Senate needs to deal with over the remaining eight-odd sitting days we have. I will discuss with Senator Ludwig and others how we try to solve the situation that we are now in. It is really a very undesirable situation, where we have dealt with a bill we were told would not take very long at all, and it seems that the biggest challenge lies in the next bill. We will obviously need many, many hours. We have very few sitting days left to deal with those 40-odd other bills and yet another big bill in front of us. I think we are going to need a lot more goodwill than we have had already, and a lot of people are putting their heart and soul into managing this effectively. I would ask all honourable senators who are part of the management of this debate and part of the policy debate to help me, Senator Ludwig and the leadership and whips team to deal with the challenge the Senate faces as we move into the final couple of sitting weeks of this session. We cannot do it without that goodwill, and I ask all senators to help us achieve that. We need to do better than we have done already this week.