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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1162

Senator MARTIN(7.05) —I have listened to Senator Crowley's contribution and since Ministers respond only to Opposition senators in this place, I just make the response that I am sure the comments she has put on the record will be fed into the computer and be widely at variance with the other results.

I rise today to raise a matter that I raised during Question Time yesterday and to put on the record my concern about the Government's intention in relation to one of the Bills listed for debate. Mr Deputy President, I hasten to assure you that I am not going to canvass the subject matter of the Bills but just outline the progress of them and indicate my concern about them. Yesterday in Question Time I asked the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Grimes, what the Government's intention was with respect to the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill 1984, and whether he would, on behalf of the Government, give an undertaking that the Senate will be given an opportunity to complete its debate and to vote on the Bill before the Parliament rises prior to the next Federal election. Senator Grimes replied:

The answer is yes. I hope that debate on the Bill will be resumed this week. It depends, of course, on what other activities-

I interjected and said:

It is not listed.

Which was true. It was not on our list of Bills for debate for this week. Senator Grimes then resumed:

I am sorry. I can give the honourable senator an absolute guarantee that, unless something catastrophic happens and a bomb falls on the place, the Bill will be debated. It is my intention at the moment that it will be debated this week.

The history of this Bill is that on 2 May 1984 it received its third reading in the House of Representatives. The Senate resumed the second reading debate on it on 9 May. We debated it for a couple of hours until the second reading debate was adjourned, as I recall, around five in the afternoon. Since I have a particular responsibility on behalf of the Opposition for that Bill I have had a very close interest in the resumption of debate on it. However, five months have now passed without any resumption of debate or any indication of a resumption of debate. Towards the end of the last parliamentary session I was constantly asking my Whip and scanning the lists of Bills to see whether it was one that was likely to come up. In the end it ended up with a bunch of Bills that were held over from the autumn session to the Budget session-a rather small list of Bills. I was personally disappointed because I thought it was a matter that we could resolve through debate that session because we were a bit light on business on more than one occasion.

My reason for asking that question yesterday was obviously to find out whether it was going to be debated because I have to spend some time in the Senate when it is debated, but also because I was interested in ascertaining what priority the Government gave to the passage of this Bill. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr West, has described the Bill in these terms:

It is the most significant piece of amending citizenship legislation since 1949 .

The process for amendment of this Bill was, of course, commenced in 1982. The Opposition agrees that it is a most significant Bill, but given that it is so significant, that raises further query on why there has been a delay.

I remind the Senate of Senator Grimes's reply to my question yesterday, that it was his intention that the debate should be resumed this week. This morning I received a document from my Whip. I believe quite a number of honourable senators now have this document which is headed 'Bills for Passage-Budget Sittings 1984 (not necessarily in order of consideration)'. There are four lists of Bills. There are Bills under the heading 'Essential Budget Legislation'. The second list is 'Essential Legislation'; the third is 'Highly Desirable Legislation'; and the fourth is 'Legislation for Passage if time permits', that is, the Bills that will slide away if Parliament is dissolved before they are debated. It is on that fourth list, the lowest priority list, that the Australia Citizenship Amendment Bill appears, together with the related Aliens Act Repeal Bill. So the Government in fact gives debate on this Bill no priority at all. That is in some contrast to the statement by the Manager of Government Business yesterday.

I inquired of our Whip when he received this document and he told me that it was today, 3 October, that he received it from the Parliamentary Liaison Officer . The document itself is dated 2 October, that is yesterday, so this list existed some time yesterday when Senator Grimes was saying that it was his firm intention, barring bomb attacks on Parliament House, to have the Bill debated. That is a very real mistake on the part of the Government, but that is its business.

I believe that there is no need for delay. The Bill is a major one and it makes very significant changes on the matter of Australian citizenship. There is major consensus on this Bill. The Opposition has only three points of difference with the Government relating to matters which I will not canvass now. However, I would point out that when we got some little way into the second reading debate on 9 May, Senator Chipp, speaking on behalf of the Australian Democrats, indicated that the Democrats would support one of the three Opposition amendments, the one which would prevent the removal of reference to the Queen from the oath or affirmation of allegiance. In other words, when we reach a vote in the Committee stage on that aspect, the Liberal, National Party and Democrat senators will defeat the Government's intention to remove from the oath or affirmation of allegiance reference to allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. I rest my case.