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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5486


Senator PARRY (7:45 PM) —I wish to raise a couple of matters not only concerning my particular role as Manager of Opposition Business but also defending the good work of the Senate. On Monday, 17 August, Mr Albanese, the Leader of the House, made some remarks in relation to adjusting the order of business for the House of Representatives. I will quote two comments he made, and I refer to the Hansard of 17 August. The first thing his said was:

I take the opportunity to make the point that, while the House of Representatives is engaged in discussion about legislation and also about issues of concern that members have in their electorates, I think the same, unfortunately, cannot always be said of the other place.

He was referring, obviously, to the Senate. Later on in that same extract from Hansard he said:

The fact that the Senate has not extended its sitting hours, unlike the House of Representatives in both this chamber and the Main Committee, is also an issue which needs to be given proper consideration by the Senate. I would certainly ask that they do so.

I appreciate that Mr Albanese is trying to facilitate the business of the House of Representatives but his ignorance of the Senate, I think, is quite poor for someone in such a senior position. I issued a statement, following Mr Albanese’s comments in the House of Representatives, indicating that the Senate does extend its hours and has done on numerous occasions this year.

Mr President, I know it will be of no surprise to you when I remind the chamber of the extra sitting hours of the opposition in this place—at the request of the government and sometimes on our own initiative to assist the government. We have had some extra sitting days: an extra sitting day on Friday, 13 February; an extension until 11.40 pm on Tuesday, 10 March; an extra sitting day on Friday, 20 March; an extension until 10 pm on Tuesday, 11 August; and there have been eight major extensions of hours for the consideration of business. In addition to this the opposition has willingly given up valuable time —as we have done this week to facilitate legislation—on countless occasions at the request of the government and to assist the government with its legislative program. In particular we have made available the time on a Thursday afternoon when the opposition has its only chance to really prosecute major items and important issues in this place on behalf of our constituents and also on behalf of senators. That is our time of opposition business each Thursday afternoon for about 2½ hours.

In addition the opposition has traditionally had matters of public importance raised on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and occasionally on some Thursdays. We have given up those on countless occasions to assist the government by giving them extra hours. Even this week there was the extra half-hour we facilitated because there were no government documents. Also after the period of non-controversial legislation that is put through in this place on a Thursday afternoon we have allowed the government to revert back to government business at the conclusion of that period, which in the past has not always been done. I just hope that Mr Albanese understands that the Senate does work hard and, contrary to his remarks, does extend hours.

Following the release of my statement with some of those facts, Mr Albanese then went back into the chamber and indicated that he disagreed with my remarks. He believed he was misrepresented. Mr Albanese then went to disguise some figures by indicating that the House of Repre-sentatives had sat for 534 hours and the Senate only 236 hours for the same period of time. He did declare though that there are two houses running simultaneously in the House of Representatives. They have the main chamber and the Main Committee where they can double up the number of hours, whereas we only have the one chamber operating here.

I think Mr Albanese needs to really reconsider his views about the Senate. The Senate works exceptionally hard and often sits longer. Whilst the Senate does not sit business hours, Mr Albanese did not take into account the 9 am to 11 pm sittings every day during estimates, sitting at the same time as the House of Representatives, which would probably give us an hour rating higher than the House of Representatives.

I would like Mr Albanese to talk to his Senate ministerial colleagues to understand the difficult nature of this place and how it works. We do not have the luxury—and certainly the government does not have the luxury—of being able to gag debates, so the legislation program is obviously going to be slower. Mr Albanese has had many occasions when the debate has been gagged, finished or cut-off so that the question on legislation can be put, but with a clear majority there is no choice or alternative.

Mr Albanese needs an education in the workings of the Senate and the valuable work that is conducted in this place. I know that some government members would be disappointed with his comments. I will be forwarding him a copy of the Hansard of this evening so that he is more aware of what the Senate does and of the fact that we do not take lightly some off-the-cuff remarks about how this chamber works, because this a great chamber and it works exceptionally well.