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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7034

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (5:52 PM) —I would like to respond—and I know that people may be getting a little indignant in this debate. In 1989 a family law bill took four days to pass through the Senate. Senator Durack was taking it through on behalf of the opposition and Senator Tate was taking it through on behalf of the government. This is a bit of a history lesson for people who have not been here as long as I have. It took a very long time for that bill to go through and, as a result, in a spirit of cooperation we set up the Senate committee system which then transmogrified into Senate legislation committees. They were joint committees in the beginning, I think, and then they split—somebody is frowning. I cannot remember the exact details, but we ended up with Senate legislation committees.

The purpose of those committees was that people who had a keen interest in a bill could go to the hearings, put questions on notice to the various groups and encourage other groups to come. The Senate used to sit on a Friday, and we changed so that we could have these committees. Then they grew and people travelled around the countryside. But the purpose of them was to have in-depth debates where technical questions could be asked of ministers with time for officers to get detailed answers. I have just checked with the chairman of that committee, and there are some senators here who have asked an inordinate number of questions who did not put questions on notice for that committee and who did not appear at committee hearings. They now come into this chamber and prolong the debate.

I want to put it on the public record that we had five committee hearings and there are some senators who are getting indignant now who failed to take the opportunity, which those committees were set up for, to go through issues in detail and to get considered responses. We did not necessarily have all the officers available, but questions could have been put on notice at the committee hearings and could have been answered. That is the proper way to approach a bill—to participate in the whole process, not the end stage of it. I just remind senators who are prolonging this debate that there was an opportunity to have these very detailed technical questions answered then. I have made my comments. They may not satisfy Senator Murphy, but I will be voting against his amendment.