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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7101

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:04 AM) —I accept much of what the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate said in terms of cooperation and additional hours. This year has been unusual in terms of the number of sitting days for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was the first year after an election. If you go back through the records, you will see that in the first year after a general election is held in the summer period the parliament has tended to sit late. I noticed that some almost pro-forma objections were lodged early in the year when we announced when the parliament would sit—

Senator Mackay —They were not pro forma; they were genuine.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I have got to say that I privately canvassed this with a range of parliamentarians from around the Senate and I did not receive one single objection from a single Labor senator about how late the Senate was resuming—

Senator Mackay —I raised it as the Whip, thank you.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —You would have been a lonely person in the Labor Party in saying, `Let's come back early; let's come back in January'—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Ferguson)—Order! Let us not have conversations across the chamber.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —The historic reality will record that parliaments generally resume slightly later; I think we resumed about a week later. The other event that occurred this year was CHOGM, which was delayed from last year due to the events of September 11 and which interrupted the normal sitting pattern. So certainly in the first half of this year we had fewer sitting days. I acknowledge and thank the opposition and all honourable senators for assisting the government in finding additional hours to deal with the busy program of a reformist government that has come back after the last election with a heavy number of reforms.

The one point that should be made is that the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits—Budget Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2] and the Trade Practices Amendment (Small Business Protection) Bill 2002 [No. 2] are two bills for which the arguments put—and, I think, quite reasonably—by Senator Brown and others are the fundamental case for the cut-off provision: that is, the Senate should have adequate time to review the provisions of bills, the community should have the time to put their views to the Senate, the processes of the Senate should be allowed to work and, therefore, bills should only be introduced in one session and debated in the next session. That is an entirely reasonable proposition that the Liberal Party supported in opposition; it is a proposition that we continue to support in government. That is why the democratic provisions of the Senate apply. You obviously need a majority of the Senate to say, `This is an exemption.' So you need to demonstrate to the Senate that this bill does not need to wait around for a few months and that it can be dealt with straightaway. Traditionally, the Senate has given us the exemption.

But I have to say, having agreed with all of those arguments, that I do not think it is logical to apply the same argument for bills that have already been dealt with by the Senate and which have come back here in exactly the same form. In fact, I pre-empt my referral of this matter to the Procedure Committee. I think it is something that should not be looked at in the light of a particular bill or a particular tactical situation at the time. I think the Senate should give due consideration as to whether bills that have been already dealt with by the Senate should still be subject to the provisions of standing order 111.

You cannot logically make the same argument for the cut-off—that the Senate has not had time to consider it—for a bill that has already been, potentially, through a legislative committee, through detailed consideration by the Senate and the Committee of the Whole, been voted on and been sent back here after insistence by members in the other house. Logically, the Senate has already given that legislation detailed consideration. So I will be referring that matter to the Procedure Committee for consideration as to whether bills that have already been dealt with by the Senate once should be considered subject to standing order 111.

Having said all of that, we would of course have liked to have dealt with the pharmaceutical benefits measures; they are key budget measures. They will of course have an impact on the federal budget. The Trade Practices Amendment (Small Business Protection) Bill 2002 [No. 2] is a key reform measure of the government to help small businesses. We would have liked to have had those bills passed into the law of the land prior to the adjournment at the end of next week. If the Senate votes to not allow that to happen, the government will of course respect the democratic processes of the Senate. But we would have preferred to have seen the measures in place, because they would have improved the Australian economy and improved things for small business.

Question agreed to.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.