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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7820

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (9:51 AM) —by leave—The motion that I moved on behalf of the Democrats acknowledges some of the problems that people have mentioned. It does not go to the issue of estimates hearings, which is another issue.

Senator Ferguson —You guys hardly ever go, so it doesn't matter.

Senator BARTLETT —We cannot get any space. But the fact is that the number of days that the Senate sits as a full chamber to consider legislation and other matters is very low by historical standards, and the number of pieces of legislation from the government we have to consider, let alone the number of regulations and other instruments, is increasing.

On top of that there is the other business—what you might call general business or private senators' bills that also do not get adequate time for consideration. In the Democrats' view, whilst historically the government may be the one that sets the days, we need to acknowledge that the Senate is not the government; the Senate is separate from the government and, indeed, the Senate is probably the only opportunity the people of Australia have to oversee and actually constrain some of the actions of government, and we should be more independent in determining our business and how we deal with it.

The other point—this is what Senator Ludwig was saying—is that I agree that that is the way things work, but that tends to mean what we are going to get tonight: when we are in difficulties we sit late. From the Democrats' point of view it is far better to make the time available in the first place rather than do the inevitable sitting through till midnight. I think we all recognise that apart from it being unpleasant, unhealthy and generally undesirable to have lots of late night sittings, it means that the degree of consideration that should occur for legislation does not occur. We do not consider the issues as fully as we should at 12 o'clock at night. From the Democrats' point of view the Senate has an important role. It is not the only work we do, obviously, but our legislative role is an important one. Frankly, we believe that the number of days being put forward is not adequate to do that role properly. We think there should be more days set in advance for us to do that part of our job more effectively and more adequately than we are doing.