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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7675


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (9:38 AM) —I want to make a few remarks because I think it is unfair to say that the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (Special Benefit Activity Test) Bill 2002 is being rushed or that we are in some way not allowing the Senate to fully consider it. In fact, the bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 26 September this year, so it has been available for public comment and scrutiny since that day. It was referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee on 16 October. I think that committee was to have reported originally by 11 November but it sought an extension and reported on 2 December. So the legislation was before that committee for a lengthy period.

For the benefit of the community, it is fair to say that when bills go to a Senate committee the terms of reference are usually advertised and the committee writes to all of the relevant stakeholders and seeks their views. Senate committees consider those views and they call witnesses before the committee to test their evidence and elicit further evidence. It is a very diligent process and it is a process that, on many occasions, improves the bills from the government's perspective as well as the parliament's perspective. Of course from time to time the government gets frustrated when its bills are referred to committees, thus delaying the legislation, because we always tend to think that our legislation is a perfect creation when it comes off the draftsman's pen. But that is not always the case and bills can be improved by committees.

This bill has already been subject to Senate committee scrutiny for more than a couple of months. The process is that, when we seek to exempt a bill from the so-called cut-off order, or standing order 111, we distribute and publish to the world the reasons why we want it exempted from that standing order. We do so in what is called `a statement of reasons'. This statement of reasons gives one very good reason, and that is the initiatives contained in this bill commence on 1 January 2003. To consider the legislation after 1 January 2003 would make it impossible for that bill to commence on the date that we require it to, so there are very good reasons to exempt it. Some people in the Senate would prefer to see the bill not come into law and see it delayed. Some senators would argue that virtually any bill on the Notice Paper could be delayed on the basis: why do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

I have to say that the Ian Campbell attitude to household maintenance tasks should not be applied to Senate legislative tasks. I think that the Senate should deal with legislation in a timely and diligent matter. Legislation should not be rushed, nor should it be unnecessarily delayed. We seek to ensure that the government's legislative program is prioritised and dealt with in a way that ensures the community can have some certainty about the laws that affect this land. Quite frankly, we have a greater responsibility to the community than some of the senators on the crossbenches who have little responsibility in terms of the clarity and certainty of the law of this land, particularly as it applies to people who rely on the government for income assistance. It is very important that these matters are put beyond doubt and that they are put beyond doubt before the start-up date of 1 January 2003.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ian Campbell's) be agreed to.