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Thursday, 12 February 2015
Page: 587


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (11:54): I speak to Senator Moore's amendment. It is the government's position that the recommendation in the Selection of Bills Committee report should stand as adopted by the Selection of Bills Committee. Of course, as all members would appreciate, the Selection of Bills Committee operates on a consensus basis. It is my understanding that when that committee met last night there was consensus between all the parties and party whips participating in that process to accept this proposal.

This, of course, is the normal type of handling of legislation before this place. We need to appreciate that the higher education bills have been before the Senate previously and that they have been subject to Senate inquiry previously, but that the government has adopted some amendments to them. We have brought them back in an amended form and therefore we welcome scrutiny. We are open to scrutiny and we are open to having appropriate inquiries into this legislation.

We are so open to scrutiny that the government yesterday was quite happy to support and see passed through the very broad terms of reference for a references inquiry that were put forward by the opposition and other senators. We are quite happy to see those inquiries take place, but the Senate needs to recognise that that is a broad references inquiry with quite wide terms of reference. This is, as proposed in the Selection of Bills Committee, the normal process for handling legislation before this Senate: the legislation is referred to a legislation committee and it is considered in a timely manner through that legislation committee.

Of course, this is a timely approach; 12 March gives ample opportunity for the exploration of evidence and reporting. We are simply talking about five days difference at the end reporting date between what Senator Moore is proposing and what the Selection of Bills Committee has adopted. But, notably, that means that of the remaining sitting days through this session there are only six sitting days after Senator Moore's date left for the carriage or dealing with of this legislation, whereas if the government's date of 12 March is adopted there are eight sitting days through which debate can happen.

And we all know that higher education debate in this place attracts an awful lot of speakers! It attracts an awful lot of participants. The second readers list tends to be extraordinarily long, and so the government, in wanting to manage properly its legislative agenda through this place, thinks that having eight days available to it is appropriate and is a sensible way to make sure that everybody who wants to give a second reading speech will have ample opportunity to do so and that everybody who then wants to participate in a committee stage should, hopefully, have ample opportunity to do so.

Of course, during the course of debate—whenever it might be instigated in those eight days, if that occurs—the references committee is due to report back, assuming it reports back on time and on the terms agreed to by the Senate yesterday. But we think it is proper that there is certainty and that the legislation itself—as against and distinct from the broader issues encompassed in the terms of reference that were adopted yesterday—is properly examined, goes through the normal processes and comes back to the Senate before that final sitting fortnight so that it can be considered through that. My understanding is that Senator McKenzie, as chair of that legislation committee, is quite happy to cooperate with the references committee to minimise any difficulties for witnesses in the lodging of submissions and appearance at hearings, to ensure that it is as seamless and smooth for participants and senators as possible. All the government is seeking to do is manage its program and its legislation in a sensible way whilst ensuring that we can have the scrutiny that all senators want for this important reform.

So I would urge the Senate to accept the Selection of Bills Committee report as presented, as agreed to at its meeting last night.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Moore be agreed to.