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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7013

Senator LUDWIG (Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (3:58 PM) —Having listened to the debate in relation to this issue, it is worth putting the position of the Labor Party. The Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002 is important. It has attracted considerable attention from all parties. The consideration of the bill does require, and has required, a significant number of hours, both during the second reading debate and in the committee stage.

To date, as I understand it, there have been some 32 hours set aside for this bill. I think it is worth mentioning that, of those 32 hours, the opposition has by and large conceded a significant amount of time to the government to allow the debate to be progressed—not only in the last period but also in other periods such as that relating to the understanding that we would not during estimates week, and particularly the Monday or the Tuesday, deal with the Research Involving Embryos Bill and that we would go on to other business. The opposition were required to concede a significant amount of time to allow for that to occur and also additional time to allow for second readings of other legislation of the government to be debated.

Wherever possible and wherever it has been able to, the opposition has met the requirements of this bill to allow significant time for it to be debated and thereby a considered approach to be taken. As it turns out, the opposition has allowed the debate to stretch over some time and not be compacted. The chamber has not been put in a position where it has had to run the debate over a very short timetable over a very long number of hours. In fact, this debate has gone on for some weeks. An intervening break was called for, as I recall, to allow parties to discuss amendments with the government and to come to positions on them. So there has been an intervening period of a week to allow parties to understand the amendments, for people to become familiar with the amendments and for discussions about those amendments to take place.

An additional three hours and 50 minutes was put forward for Monday, 2 December. We have already had a Friday where an additional six hours and 15 minutes was put forward. On Thursday, 14 November, the opposition agreed to an additional three hours and 13 minutes; on Wednesday, 13 November, an extra two hours and 46 minutes. So the opposition have allowed two things to occur: significant hours to be put forward for this bill to be debated fully and for the committee stage to be progressed, and sufficient time for the general business of this government to be dealt with—either with it or in addition to it—to allow those matters to be progressed.

The opposition have taken the view that this bill does need time to be debated. My understanding—and I am open to correction on this—is that we had agreed that if the committee stage of the bill was not completed on the Monday then Tuesday night would be needed. The opposition expressed the view that Wednesday night would not be granted but that certainly—at least to my mind—additional hours up to at least Monday and Tuesday, possibly more, might be requested to ensure that the debate on the bill has sufficient time, that no-one feels constrained, that we do not go beyond ordinary hours into what we would regard as excessive hours. The government's motion is still within those parameters, given that we have only had one late night in a fresh week. We are now looking for a second late night. To that extent, the opposition will oppose the amendment moved by Senator Harradine but will agree to the motion moved by the government.

It is also worth commenting that Senator Harradine did refer to Friday. That was an issue that the opposition had also considered. The last time we were here, it considered early in the week whether or not Friday of this week would be required. Because of airfares and a whole range of arrangements that people make, the opposition said, `If you are going to utilise Friday then let us know with sufficient time for people to make arrangements.' That was on the basis that Friday could be made available if the government so requested it to be utilised. The government made no request to the opposition for the use of Friday. The opposition, I suspect, was in a position, if the request was made last week or with sufficient time to allow people to make arrangements for that day, to consider that favourably. But no request was made by the government, and still no request has been made. However, today I heard Senator Ian Campbell say that Friday might be needed. I will consider that, depending on the progression of this debate. However, we would expect that, with the additional time given to the committee stage on Monday and Tuesday and all parties cooperating, the committee stage might be concluded tomorrow.