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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26286

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (10:28 AM) —I would like to respond to some of the issues that have been raised. We had this sort of furphy of saying, `Let's have a leaders and whips meeting.' The leaders and whips meeting is something that we initiated so that we could—particularly in the closing weeks, usually the closing fortnight of a session, which we are not in at the moment—negotiate the sorts of bills to be finished before what is normally a five- or six-week adjournment. We are not in that situation. We are in a two-week on, two-week off session, and of course there is speculation about when the election will be so there is a heightened atmosphere that we are at the end of the session.

Where are we today? I will explain so that people can understand this. We put out a legislative program, as we always do, at the beginning of the session. Some time, usually a week or two, before the session we put out what is called the public list. That lists, for the whole world to see—I think we publish it on the Internet—all of the bills that the government seek to enact or have debated and considered by the Senate during that session of sittings. We then put out a program for the sitting fortnight. That program listed, back on Monday, 3 August, as item No. 1 the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and an associated bill. Then it listed the surveillance devices legislation; the crimes legislation amendment bill; the telecommunications interception bill; the customs tariff amendment bill; an industrial relations bill; the tax laws amendment bill relating to reform of the WET, as it is known out there in wine producer land; the Indirect Tax Legislation Amendment (Small Business Measures) Bill 2004; an anti-terrorism bill; and a trade practices legislation bill. That was the program for last week.

Last week the Senate, for probably the first time in many years—it may be the first time ever and was certainly the first time in my memory—passed no legislation at all, not one bill. It passed nothing at lunchtime on Thursday and nothing for the rest of the week from that publicly available program for last week. That meant that the Senate sat here and debated. We had an important debate. We had, and are still having, one of the most important debates in Australian history, about the free trade agreement. It is a fantastic debate about Australia's future. Do we engage with the world? Do we engage with the strongest economy in the world? Can we do it on our own terms? Can Australians negotiate an agreement with the greatest economy and one of the greatest democracies in world history and pull off an agreement that is good for Australia? It is good for the world, in fact, because when you get two strong democracies and strong economies working together it is good for a whole range of other reasons. It is, in fact, terrific for the environment. So it is a very important debate, but we thought that we could spend a few days on this debate on the US free trade agreement and then get to all of these other bills like customs bills and tax reform bills.

This week we came in having not passed any legislation last week from the list that is put out to the world—even the Democrats can look it up on the Internet and read it. This week we put out the next list, on Monday, 9 August—a week later. We listed the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and one related bill. We listed the Marriage Amendment Bill, the telecommunications interception bill, the surveillance devices bill, the trade practices bill, the schools assistance bill, the states grants bill, the family and community services bill, the Indigenous education bill, occupational health and safety measures, crimes legislation amendments and higher education legislation. We listed the tax laws amendments to the WET, which industry has been screaming for for years and we want to do this week. But, no, a couple of people at the other end of the chamber have decided that it is in their political interest to have an endless debate about the free trade agreement—not a long debate but an extraordinarily long debate.

What did we do in this place yesterday? We said: `Let's have a long debate about the free trade agreement. Let's sit and talk about it all night.' So yesterday we spent two hours debating because Senator Brown wanted to oppose the proposition that we had a longer debate about the FTA bills. We spent two hours of yesterday because Senator Brown wanted to have the night off. He did not want to debate the free trade agreement bill; he wanted to go out to dinner. What an absolute farce! One day he says he wants to have a debate about the free trade agreement but when we say, `Let's have it,' he says: `Not on a Wednesday night; they're sacrosanct. I want to go out to dinner. I want to sip some chardonnay and have a latte afterwards.' What a joke! We say, `Let's have a debate,' and he says, `No, I want to go out to dinner.'

Why are we in the situation we are in at the moment? Because the program the government put out and published to the world said that we wanted to deal with all this. We can deal with the free trade agreement. We can have a long and important debate about it, we can discuss amendments and we can come to a vote—because ultimately that is what democracies are about. Let us have a vote and deal with all these other measures. What do I do, as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate? I am faced, at the end of a fortnight of sittings—and it is costing taxpayers millions of dollars to run this place—with the fact that we have not done a single bill in two weeks.

That is what Senator Brown wants. He does not want the free trade bill. The Democrats do not want the bill. Let us be honest about this. They have made it clear that they do not like this bill and they do not want it and so they will talk about it till Christmas if they can. We want the bill and Labor, to their credit, want the bill. Labor have been constructive. We have sought to negotiate an amendment, and it has been a constructive process. But the Greens and the Democrats have decided to be destructive. They do not want a democratic outcome here; they want to filibuster this out. They do not want a long debate; they want to filibuster. They do not want to vote or debate; they just want to talk endlessly about everything else. But we want to deal with the bill and with a whole range of other bills.

At the end of a fortnight's sitting here am I with, as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, the job of trying to get the government's program before the Senate and have some votes on it. So I thought yesterday, `Perhaps we will sit the Senate, pick bills off the list that we published three weeks ago and put to the Senate a list of bills that we might seek to do this week.' It became clear to me that not even that forlorn hope is likely to occur, so we are saying to the Senate: `Let's sit today. Let's try to do what we can do.' I have been very honest and open by going to the other end of the chamber and saying to all of the Independent senators, the minor party senators, the Greens and the Democrats that this is our intention. We have effectively given up on all of the other bills we listed three weeks ago. We have given up on any hope of getting the public list up, because two or three senators have wanted to talk endlessly and repetitively about the free trade agreement. That is their right, but please do not criticise me for having some secret agenda, not having leaders and whips meetings and not having negotiations.

I went down to the end of the chamber to say: `Perhaps we could do the electoral bill at lunchtime. There is only one bill that is uncontested, so perhaps we could use the spare hour we have at lunchtime to discuss the electoral reform bill.' That is the negotiation I was seeking to have, and I am getting criticised for it. All I am trying to do is allow the Senate to debate some bills—and important bills they are, for schools assistance packages, grants to the states for primary and secondary education assistance, family and community services and veterans' affairs legislation, Indigenous education—

Senator Allison —Put them on instead of marriage.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —That was an inane interjection from the Democrat Whip. They are on the list. They have been on the list for two weeks.

Senator Ludwig —Let's get on with it.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —Yes, let's get on with it. I am not taking them off the list. The Democrats and the Greens, through their actions, have made it impossible to deal with them. They are on the list, they are on the Notice Paper and we are ready to deal with them; so let us get on with the legislation and stop this absolutely mindless time wasting that the Democrats and the Greens seem to take inordinate pleasure in.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Ian Campbell's) be agreed to.