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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1078


Senator LUNDY (Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (3:47 PM) —Today I am not intending to address the substance of the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010. I stand in my capacity as the representative minister in the chamber. Instead, I will make some points about how the Senate might choose to consider important legislation such as this bill. In its simplest form the senate is a meeting. As with all meetings we have rules for operating, agendas to be followed and time limits to be adhered to. As with many rules in life the rules are here to maintain order. These rules are now being revisited in light of the new political paradigm that has been bestowed upon the parliament by the voters. Currently the Senate has only sat within this new paradigm for a short period. If we consider that the first week of sitting for the new parliament was mainly ceremonial, we have only been sitting for one week.

In the past week of sitting the Senate and the other place have given significant time to the debate over Australia’s involvement with Afghanistan, and quite rightly so. Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan is clearly an issue that the Australian public has significant interest in. Similarly, the euthanasia debate is one that has polarised the electorate and it is a debate in which all senators should be given time to consider their views and those of the electorate. And time should be given for party processes to be dealt with. Senators should also be given reasonable time to participate in the debate and present their views on the issue.

In 1996, when the original bill was introduced, the Senate spent six days debating this issue between December 1996 and March 1997. The House of Representatives also debated this issue for nine days during September to December 1996. Perhaps the Senate will not require the same amount of time for this bill and my point is not solely on an issue of time. Important bills can often be given relatively brief debate in the chamber and that does not undermine their significance. However, I do request the Senate give consideration for this bill to be debated to the extent that it is the will of the Senate. Often bills have also had considerable examination by a Senate committee. I know that this bill has not been examined by a committee though a related bill has. It is possible that a committee referral is also appropriate for this bill given that it is likely to be voted on.

A parliament like this one Australia has not experienced for over 70 years. As I mentioned previously it is a new paradigm. Private members’ bills will now carry more interest than in recent memory and will continue to help members of this place to inform the parliament about issues that are important to their electorates. Unlike other bills discussed under general business, Senator Bob Brown has announced his intention that this bill should be voted on by the Senate. A notice of motion from Senator Bob Brown seeking to have this bill considered and voted on by the Senate initiated a procedure committee report tabled earlier today. At this stage the Senate is yet to agree to regular processes for consideration of a private senator’s bill that will be voted on. I anticipate that these procedures will be adopted shortly—probably as soon as our next sitting week.

These new procedures should allow for a variety of checks and balances and party processes. The timing of the debate on this bill today has not allowed these to incur. Without any doubt, the bill we are discussing today is a significant bill. It seeks to reverse an act that passed the parliament in 1996. It raises a plethora of issues: territory versus state rights, individual rights and issues of profound religious conviction for some. These issues deserve respectful and full consideration. These are issues that the debate today can only touch upon. All senators should have received more advanced notification that this bill would be debated today. As I understand it most senators received advice that this bill would be listed today on Tuesday of this week. This is a bill that requires extensive debate in the chamber. Senators should have had time to consider their position on the bill and to prepare their contribution. The Senate should also provide time for these contributions to be delivered. That will not be possible today. Today we will just begin the debate on this matter.

It is also difficult to accommodate a debate on the issue in the two sitting weeks scheduled before we rise for the year. Like the debate on Afghanistan that we had this week, important matters should not be rushed through the Senate. They take time. They also take the cooperation of senators to ensure that regular Senate business can accommodate an important debate. Senator Bob Brown knows that the government is prepared to ensure that there is time to debate this bill in the Senate, and there have been discussions with him about how this bill could be accommodated. There is an agreement between the Australian Greens and the Australian Labor Party to allow debate on private senators’ bills. We have every intention of honouring that agreement. I can only hope that this can be done in a way that allows senators to give the issue the consideration and exposure that it deserves. Given that I am a senator of the Australian Capital Territory, I look forward to another opportunity to present my views on this bill in a suitable context in this place.