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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6729

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (3:12 PM) —I am told that Senator Allison's office contacted Minister Kemp's office about 15 minutes ago on this matter. So Senator Allison comes in here claiming to be interested in this issue and she has had the whole year to raise it with me and she has not raised it even once. I wonder why, suddenly, it has become of concern. I will tell you why. It is because the Democrats are embarrassed that they have again joined with the Australian Labor Party to avoid debate on an important environmental and heritage matter. That important matter is the government's determination to reform heritage laws at the Commonwealth level in order to give the Commonwealth for the first time some real powers to ensure that matters of major heritage importance in this country are properly protected.

I would have thought that the Australian Democrats, with all the troubles that they are facing, would have jumped at that opportunity to join with the government to put in place better heritage legislation for this country. But did they do that? No, they did not. Why didn't they do it? They did not do it because the Labor Party said that they did not want to debate the matters. This is supposed to be the chamber of debate. It is not as if these matters are new. They have been floating backwards and forwards through the environment groups and through the parliament for years. Finally they have passed through the House of Representatives and we bring them to this chamber to be debated and what do the Australian Democrats say? They say, `We have no interest in these matters. We are not prepared to even consider them until next year.'

I know it requires a little bit of work; it requires reading the legislation and developing some views on the legislation. But the Democrats have plenty of time. They need not debate it this week; we will be up for a couple of weeks and back in a fortnight. They would be able to debate the matter then. The government would like to see the heritage legislation debated in this session of parliament so that by Christmas we have a chance to put into effect better heritage laws in this country. The Democrats have a choice: they can either be part of wanting to achieve better heritage laws or they can jump as demanded by the Australian Labor Party and put it off again until next year. It is obvious that the Australian Democrats have jumped as demanded by the Australian Labor Party but they feel a little embarrassed by it, so what have they done? They found some questions they put on notice about a year ago that have not been answered and they suddenly get up and they demand answers.

The Australian Democrats cannot have it both ways. Either they are interested in heritage matters, in which case they come in here and debate the government's bill and contribute constructively to an improvement in heritage laws in this country, or they do not. They disappoint again all the environmental and heritage groups out there in the community that want to see the proposed law debated and that would actually like to see an improvement in heritage laws in this country. What is the purpose of the Australian Democrats in this place if it is not to contribute to better environmental and better heritage outcomes? What is the purpose of the Australian Democrats in those circumstances? I would have thought that Senator Allison of all people would at least have enough intestinal fortitude to say to the Australian Labor Party, `You've got a couple of weeks to consider this legislation; let's bring it on in the last two weeks of the session and get the debate before the chamber.'

Senator Sherry —What's this got to do with not answering questions in over a year?

Senator HILL —As for the Australian Labor Party, we know they have no interest whatsoever. They do not even put questions on notice on the subject, let alone debate the government's legislation on the subject. It is disappointing that after a year Senator Allison has finally brought this to the attention of the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. I will raise it with the environment minister and see if I can get an early response. I take the opportunity to say to Senator Allison and the Australian Democrats: use this chamber as it is supposed to be used—as a chamber of debate. Allow the government's legislation to be debated. Join with the government in putting into effect better heritage laws in this country. Join with the government to provide some real power and authority in relation to preserving the best of Australia's heritage. If the Australian Democrats did that, at least they would be doing something relevant and useful.

Question agreed to.