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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1544

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Acting Leader of the House)(10.08) —in reply-I welcome the support from the Opposition. I am just a bit surprised to think it had to be couched in such critical terms. One would think it is a surprise that we are having to sit next week. I remind honourable members that the program for this sitting was circulated last November and it included this week. It is just because the Sessional Orders are on a two-week basis that we have to make some provision for the third week, but notice was given as far back as last November. I would have thought the Manager of Opposition Business, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), would have been aware of that. The motion has nothing to do with the debate on the Australia Card. I might advert to that.

Mr Sinclair —It has, for the guillotine.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The guillotine was moved because there is no reason to have a Committee debate when this is the second time the Australia Card Bill has been introduced. There is no point in honourable members opposite groaning and moaning here because if they had any ideas they would have at least given notice of amendments to be moved at the Committee stage. The Bill was debated for 16 1/2 hours without any amendment at all. That is an extraordinary situation. Those opposite come in here today and worry about a debate being short circuited. This is one of the longest debates in history. The Bill will now go to the Senate. There is a clear understanding that some honourable members may cross the floor. The Government would like to know where the Opposition stands in respect of these matters. We know that there will be a meeting of the National Party of Australia this weekend.

Mr Sinclair —You are welcome to join us.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I am sure that if we went along we would improve the debate. Why did the right honourable member make a speech from the dock here this morning on the basis that he ought to continue as the Leader of the National Party? It is not our job to keep him elected. He whinges all the time about what happens in Question Time. We spent most of our life in opposition having to ask him questions. I think that we did a lot better in opposition than he will ever do-if he ever learns how to handle the business. If he wants any advice from us, he should come to see us; we will tell him how we did it for years. We were able to get into government because we were able to show the weakness in the then Government. Because those opposite are so bereft of ideas and talent they should not blame us. To come in here today to suggest, out of surprise, that we are sitting an extra week is utter nonsense. I do not know what the people in the gallery think about Opposition members suggesting that we suddenly sprung it on them when it was circulated last November. They wanted to debate the Australia Card in Committee but never moved any amendments. They have had about 50 speakers on it. We have discussed it for 16 hours and they are still bereft of amendments. How silly do they think they are when they get to that position? No wonder the public are disenchanted with them. They do not know who is leading the Opposition. They do not know whether it is the Premier of Queensland or the director of Elders or somebody in the National Farmers Federation. It is certainly somebody who is not here. That is the problem.

Those opposite should not come in here worrying us about a few sitting hours which they knew about last November, about a Bill which has been debated for 16 hours, and about a Committee stage when they never had any amendments. Is it any wonder that they are in trouble? We can give them many ideas, but it is not our job to do so. We just want to tell the Opposition this: The Australia Card Bill is a very important piece of legislation which has gone to the Senate. If it is not passed in the Senate, of course, it can create all sorts of problems for the Opposition, as it would for the nation. If not passed, it will allow cheats who are fraudulent in their nature to get revenue from other taxpayers to the extent of $800m or more. Opposition members acknowledge this even when they go on television every morning to tell us their latest troubles. They admit that the majority of Australians favour the Australia Card. The issue is that they favour it because they are having to subsidise crooks and cheats, and those opposite are in the same category when they say that they do not want to see the legislation passed.

I am just using these few minutes to try to educate my colleagues opposite. If they want understanding in Question Time, it is up to them to ask short, clear cut questions. It is up to them not to breach Standing Orders. As you know, Madam Speaker, the House has a duty to perform in a reasonable fashion and you have untold difficulty at times trying to control honourable members here simply because it is Question Time. If those opposite put forward worthwhile and intelligent matters for debate, we will welcome them. If they put forward amendments in Committee, we will deal with them. But they should not come in here on a Thursday morning because of something that suddenly crossed their minds the previous night-and bearing in mind the National Party will have a conference about leadership in the next three or four days and wants to grandstand on the issue-and say that the Government has denied them speaking time and passed a guillotine motion. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the issues are very clear cut. We are now debating sitting times for next week's sittings, of which notice was given last November.

Question resolved in the affirmative.