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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26172

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (3:46 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. That last clarification is of interest to the government because the problem we were faced with was that we had a bill that had an early start date. I want to correct a couple of things. Firstly, the bill was on the forward program. I think Senator Stott Despoja said it was not; but it was on the forward program.

Senator Stott Despoja —No, it wasn't last week.

Senator Carr —It was not distributed last week.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I am told by my adviser who puts out the forward program that it was on the forward program. I am happy to have that dispute somewhere else. Can I also say that the proposition—Senator Carr did not make this point, because it clearly did not suit him to do so—that was put to the Senate Selection of Bills Committee was a request, signed by him, for a report at the end of the next sitting fortnight. I congratulate Senator Stott Despoja, because it has become clear from the interchange that has just taken place that she has successfully negotiated a reporting date that will in fact allow the government and the parliament to deal with the bill in the next fortnight. Senator Carr's proposal would have ensured that the legislation could not have been dealt with until 27 September. I congratulate the Australian Democrats for playing a constructive role. One of the prime reasons we said that we did not want to have this inquiry was that putting it off until the very end of September would have upset the legislative program and the policy outcomes that the government sought. Senator Carr did not want to compromise, and we were told that the 9th was going to be the reporting date.

Senator Carr —You did not approach us; you just rejected it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, you have had your say.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —I also make the point that the Senate Selection of Bills Committee always tries to work by consensus, but there are occasions where it is quite clear that there will not be a consensus and there will not be an agreement. What happens time and time again when that takes place is that these matters come to the floor of the chamber, they get worked out and the majority prevails. Today we will have a better outcome because it has come to the floor of the chamber, because Senator Stott Despoja has brought sense to the matter and said, `Let's have the hearings in the non-sitting fortnight and deal with it in the next sitting fortnight.' A resolution that cannot get an agreement in the committee comes to the floor of the Senate. It may not suit Senator Carr, but that is actually a democratic outcome. He would prefer not to have this put on the record either, but we actually left that meeting and said—

Senator Mackay —We didn't refuse a compromise on the date.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —No, we left that meeting and said we would get the Minister for Education, Science and Training to talk to the shadow minister and try to find a way forward and a compromise. That is what we sought to do. Clearly, that was not possible. We were going to talk about briefings and try to provide information to interested senators, so we were trying constructively to find a way forward. We know that this legislation came in late—Senator Carr and Senator Stott Despoja were right with that reference—but we are trying to get the legislation dealt with and trying to ensure that senators who were not informed enough about the contents of the legislation could get that. What really troubled us was that, if Senator Carr's initial proposition for a reference to report to the chamber on the 9th were in place, that would mean that the Senate could not deal with it until the 27th, the next sitting day after the 9th. I think the compromise that has been worked out is a constructive one, and I thank all senators who have contributed to finding a constructive way forward.

Question agreed to.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.