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House of Representatives sittings suspended for 40 minutes during the pre-break rush to pass legislation

JENNY HUTCHISON: I used an analogy earlier of the parliamentary processing of Bills at this tail end of a sitting period being akin to a factory production line which occasionally goes berserk. On Thursday evening, the Leader of the House, Kim Beazley, had to admit that the line had come to a halt and the exact timing of a start-up was unknown.

KIM BEAZLEY: The position is, at this stage, that we have no business back from the Senate and that one of the Bills that we particularly were concerned to see is the Broadcasting Act and the amendments to it. The House is probably aware by now that the Government is not accepting the amendments that have been moved in the Senate - I think that was made amply clear at Question Time.

Oh, it was pretty good evidence, I would have thought, at Question Time, as to what the attitude of the Prime Minister was on that subject.

So there is going to be a period of time when the House won't have any business and, of course, depending on how we choose to handle that business, it will go back into the Senate and it's quite conceivable that the Senate may not find what we've suggested to them to their taste. In which case, later on tonight, we're going to have to make some decisions, either about how late we sit or whether or not we reconvene tomorrow at some later date.

So in moving this motion, I am going to - after it's passed - I'm going to seek to have the House adjourned until the ringing of the bells. Now, that will probably be around about 8.30 given the last report I've had of the location of the Broadcasting Act and the extent to which it is adjacent to a signature, a pen with the hand near that pen of the President of the Senate. So when that's done, then the moment it comes in here, we will reconvene the House. But then I hope that we will be in a position to deal with it in whatever way we see fit, expeditiously - bearing in mind the inordinate amount of time it takes to print these darn things - get it back into the Senate in the hope that we may be able to conclude this business, tonight, and people's plans, tomorrow, won't be disrupted.

JENNY HUTCHISON: So the sittings of the House of Representatives were suspended, but not adjourned, for nearly 40 minutes, until the Broadcasting Services Bill arrived from the Senate. Because the Government wasn't going to accept certain clauses relating to the ABC's participation in pay TV, it was decided - to use Mr Beazley's words - 'to belt this legislation through, quickly, and get it back to the Senate', where he hoped - but in vain - that the Senate might drop the clauses.

By this time, it was after 9.30 in the evening and confusion was rife. Here's an excerpt, including the voice of ABC commentator, Erroll Silver.

UNIDENTIFIED: .... the Committee to proceed with clauses 1 to 92. One to 92.

UNIDENTIFIED: Well, all I've got on mine is that this clause 1 ....

UNIDENTIFIED: .... give Mr Smith a copy of that schedule.

ERROLL SILVER: The clerks are exchanging some information with the Chairman, the Acting Chairman, and shortly, we'll proceed.

UNIDENTIFIED: .... to proceed along those - deal with clause 1 to 92 together?

UNIDENTIFIED: If that's the course the Committee wishes to follow, we'll proceed.

UNIDENTIFIED: Okay. The question is the clause be agreed to. All those of that opinion say `aye', to the contrary `no'. I think the `aye's' have it. Clause 93. The honourable Minister.

KIM BEAZLEY: I move government amendment No.1. For the sake of getting this through as quickly as possible, I've already outlined what that is proposed to do and so I make no further comment on it.

ERROLL SILVER: Mr Beazley moving that amendment.

UNIDENTIFIED: The question is the amendment be agreed to? All those of that opinion say `aye', to the contrary `no'. I think the `ayes' have it. Clause 94. The honourable Minister.

KIM BEAZLEY: My intention is simply to oppose this clause ....

UNIDENTIFIED: Just one moment. We need to put - the clause is amended a bit. The question now is the clause, as amended, be agreed to? All those of that opinion say `aye', to the contrary `no'. I think the `ayes' have it. Clause 94. The honourable Minister.

KIM BEAZLEY: Do I actually have to move a proposal to omit - I just oppose the things I understand. All right. I oppose ....

UNIDENTIFIED: The question is the clause be agreed to.

UNIDENTIFIED: The honourable member for Bass.

UNIDENTIFIED: This is clauses 94 and 95.


UNIDENTIFIED: 94 - all right. Well, on 94. You're seeking to omit those clauses and withdraw them from the Act, and the Senate's decision was for those clauses to be included, and this is the basis of the ..... service for the ABC, so we would oppose the removal of that clause, in which case we will seek to divide on that matter.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Just before 1 a.m. on Friday, the Senate returned to the Broadcasting Services Bill and Senator Alston proposed opposition to the clauses on pay TV. Minister Bob Collins, termed this `utterly irresponsible', `an outrageous, disgraceful decision'. After further acrimonious debate, the Australian Democrats and the Opposition voted together to refer the clauses to a new Senate Select Committee on Subscription Television Broadcasting Services which will report by 10 September. With what he termed very great reluctance and disappointment, Minister Beazley accepted that deferral.

However, there was still some good-hearted humour across the table.

KIM BEAZLEY: By and large, I think it is a tribute to the capacity of my former department to marshal enormous intellectual resources in an effective manner, and I think everybody else believed, initially, to be an impossible task, given the dog's breakfast - the current Broadcasting Act. The dog which is, without question, a loose, rabid Doberman pinscher has been shot between the eyes, and it has been replaced by a sleek, greyhound legislation which we will see carry here, today. Even dog-lovers would agree with shooting rabid, Doberman pinschers - I'm absolutely sure about - and dog-lovers would be relatively pleased with the advent of a greyhound of a Bill which is that which we're considering here, today.

DEPUTY SPEAKER: I call the honourable member for Bass.

WARWICK SMITH: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I think I'll just start on a positive note and thank the Minister for his complimentary remarks, and I think it's probably a mark of the complexity of broadcasting legislation that we end up the Minister's remarks talking about dogs. But this has been - and I would acknowledge and have done on many occasions - that the existing broadcasting legislation could probably be correctly described as a dog's breakfast. It really is a complicated piece of legislation.

JENNY HUTCHISON: The House was able to rise at 3.18 on Friday morning. Senators had got off an hour earlier. And so ended yet another protracted sitting period.

By the way, you may be surprised that amongst the last minute bickering on such legislation, the Government also introduced 15 brand new Bills on Thursday.

Well, for obvious reasons, we've concentrated on legislation in this edition of The Parliament Program, but there were many reports from parliamentary committees, government responses to past reports and new references to committees which we'll be able to catch up on in the weeks to come. The Auditor-General presented no less than 15 reports this week, some of which didn't please the Government.

There were ministerial statements on the Privacy Commissioner's adverse findings on the pursuit by the Department of Social Security of AIDEX demonstrators, and on the second stage of the Government's response to the report from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal deaths in custody. And the Opposition spokesman, Dr Wooldridge, launched a Coalition Green Paper on the administration of Aboriginal Affairs.

Finally, on Thursday, the Government supported Dr Coulter's motion requesting the working group to develop a code of conduct for Senators and Members to consider, as a matter of priority, the development of a code of conduct for Ministers. There were lots of speeches marking next week's 60th birthday of the ABC and the imminent retirement of the ABC's well-known parliamentary broadcaster, Bruce Webster. Bruce was the original presenter of this program and we'll bring you an interview with him next week. Till then, it's goodbye from Jim Trail and Jenny Hutchison.