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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7818

Senator LUDWIG (9:42 AM) —by leave—I do not want to take up too much of the Senate's time. I only wish to express the position of the opposition in relation to this motion. We understand that the import of the motion is effectively to seek to add a couple of weeks to the sitting pattern. We find it is always difficult to say to the government in such an instance, `We want you to do something.' If they are agreeable to it then I suspect they will do it, but if you have to pass a motion to gain their agreement one wonders whether in fact you have actually got their agreement. The opposition looks at it from this perspective: the government usually sets the sitting pattern. However, if they require additional days or additional time, they usually, if not always, put it to us in one of two forms: one form is to ask for additional weeks; the other form is to ask for additional hours. We would, as in past practice, usually grant that, so we would end up with either additional hours or additional weeks to provide sufficient time for the Senate to deal with the various business that is put before it.

If you look at the last year—and I think it is instructive to examine it for this issue to be borne out—there have been about 60 additional hours. If you take an average week in the Senate—that is, a week where 55 per cent of the work of the Senate is government business—you have something in the order of 15 hours of government business. If you then examine last year, when there were effectively 60 hours of government business, you see that four additional weeks were utilised by the government anyway—four weeks that were agreed to by this house to allow the business of the Senate to be dealt with. With regard to adding two weeks at this early stage—in other words, before we actually know what the business of next year is going to be—we say that it is far better to see how the work is going to progress. If the time is required then the government will make the request and we will consider it, depending on the program that is before us, and we will deal with it accordingly.