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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26246

Senator BROWN (11:01 PM) —Chair, why?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Ferguson)—Senator Brown, there is not much point asking me. I have a motion from Senator Conroy that opposition amendments be postponed.

Senator BROWN —I suspect that I might as well ask you, Chair. However, I will direct my question to the opposition. The question might be expanded from `why?' to `hasn't the Prime Minister yet tidied up your amendment?' We have heard from the government—the opposition have not been in on this yet—about the delay in the chamber. There has been an absolutely excellent debate coming from the crossbench despite very little information forthcoming from the government. If you are outside this place you would not know that. In the main, from the press gallery you would think that there are two amendments that are going to change the free trade agreement to make it amenable to Australia's interests. As Senator Ridgeway said, `No, that is not really true.' There are 42 amendments required and Labor has dabbled with two.

Those two amendments were announced not last week but the week before. The Prime Minister said, `I will take one of them on board but the other one'—and that is the one we are dealing with, pharmaceutical benefits—`I will have to look at.' He has been staring at it for a week. I noticed in one headline today that the Prime Minister had called Mr Latham in to deal with the matter. Whatever happened there, the fact is that the two parties—the government and the opposition—cannot get a single amendment into this chamber a week later. One Nation, the Democrats and the Greens, with our excellent but very small staff, have a raft of amendments before the chamber and are able to debate them. But Her Majesty's opposition and the government together cannot get a single amendment in here in time for it to be debated.

Senator Ridgeway —And it's the eleventh hour.

Senator BROWN —As Senator Ridgeway says, it is the eleventh hour and they are found wanting—all of them put together. What are Mr Howard and Mr Latham doing? They are sitting staring at each other across the table, and between the two of them they cannot get one amendment together. It is a charade. It is just silly. We are being kept here, by a vote of the Labor Party, late into Wednesday night to deal with this matter which is so important that it breaks all the rules of established sitting arrangements, which do not trespass on Wednesday night except in extraordinarily rare circumstances—before Christmas maybe.

We have had this pushed onto us by Labor saying: `Yes, we will vote with the government; we want to get this through. This is so important.' And when it gets to the one amendment that the government and opposition together have worked on in this emergency situation which keeps the chamber up on Wednesday night, unscheduled until this morning, between the 60 or so of them they cannot get the amendment together. And it is not just the 60 or so of them, it is the Prime Minister and all his horses and the Leader of the Opposition and all his men and women. They cannot get an amendment into this chamber. It is a farce. We are here tonight because of politics; it is not for the good of the nation. We are here because the opposition wants to help the government get to an election. They are busting their braces to get to an election to see what will turn up.

Senator Ferris —And you're not?

Senator BROWN —No, we have been ready for a long time. We got a three-word interjection out of the government. That is the best that we have got since I started this request on what has happened to the amendment. I might ask Senator Ferris if she can elaborate on it.

Senator Mackay —She probably can, actually.

Senator BROWN —She could, but she has a fairly hopeless look on her face, I have to say. Senators on both the government and opposition benches are shaking their heads. They are sitting there waiting for the phone to ring to get instructions from somewhere else.

Senator Greig —From America.

Senator BROWN —Thank you, Senator Greig, because I have a theory about this.

Senator Colbeck —Not another one.

Senator BROWN —Yes, and it is a pretty good one. It is called crossing the international time line. There is a time disjunction: it is night-time there when it is daytime here. I do not think the Prime Minister and the opposition leader together have quite worked that out. They cannot get the messages across to the Bush administration and back to here. They have not been able to get their amendment vetted properly yet. If you think it is the lawyers this side of the Pacific that are trying to work this out for Mr Howard and Mr Latham—wrong. It is the lawyers that side of the Pacific they have to wait on. There is this problem of time sync, or `dysynchronicity'.

We are here at the behest of the opposition—because it was the opposition who gave the government the numbers—to get a piece of legislation through. The smaller parties at this end of the chamber have been able to get all their amendments put and debated thoroughly and intelligently—they were well worked out—but the opposition could not do that. What credentials to be headed for an election! They cannot put their amendments up because they might get attacked by the government. They await the pleasure of the Prime Minister. They have got to get his nod before they can bring this amendment on. It says a lot, doesn't it?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Conroy has indicated that he does not intend to proceed at this stage with his amendments. So I am in the hands of the committee. There are other amendments foreshadowed on the list, but at this stage the question that I should put is that the bill stand as printed, because no-one is moving an amendment and there are other amendments on the schedule.