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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26456

Senator MURRAY (10:17 AM) —I think this conspiracy we are facing whereby a process is manipulated—

Senator Boswell —You have been voting with Senator Harris too much. You are getting caught up with conspiracy theories.

Senator MURRAY —I will take the interjection. The reason the word `conspiracy' exists is that now and again they do exist.

Senator Boswell —You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Senator MURRAY —And I should be ashamed of myself—you are quite right. The fact is that the majors have decided how things are going to be, without coming clean in advance through whips and leaders in determining the process. There is a real point at issue here which was very well made by Senator Bartlett: in the pursuit of our national security and the pursuit of our concern about the national threat to our country, there is this constant need for us to balance the freedoms which are being assailed and the issues of protection, and that does require these matters to be contested and debated on the floor. It is a very serious matter to us that you will suddenly put together two bills and suddenly advance a change in the program which makes it difficult for members of the Senate who are not tied to their caucus or to their party room by the iron discipline of knuckling under—which, as we know, the Left of the Labor Party have just done on the FTA. I do not condemn you for obeying discipline, but that is the reality of it: you have to obey discipline. We are not beholden in that sense; nor are we beholden in the sense that the National Party or the Liberal Party are. We the crossbenches—and particularly the Democrats—carry the flag of having to represent the views of those who are concerned about an assault on freedoms and liberties in the pursuit of the very important issue of our national security. So we resent, oppose, are dismayed by and are disgruntled about this idea that you want to rush through these matters.

Then there is the question of other priorities. Frankly, I have never understood this marriage bill and I am going to refrain from speaking on it if I can, because reading the stuff I have to read in the committees that I sit through has brought me to a fairly prejudiced view about some of the behaviours of some of those who claim to have strong spiritual leanings. But it does seem odd to me that an antimarriage bill or a marriage bill—whatever you want to refer to it as—would come before other matters. It was designed as a wedge issue—you know it was—and the Labor Party have agreed with the Liberal Party, so no wedge exists. Who cares? Put the thing back to No. 20 or No. 25 and get on with the stuff that really matters. Or, if you really want to care, let us have a proper debate and allow us to have this week and then the next sitting on it. We do not object to you debating it—make no mistake about that; what we object to is the prioritisation.

If, however, there is this question of urgency—that you think an election is around the corner—there are things which matter to people: improving the Trade Practices Act for small business in my portfolio and ensuring that small business tax measures which advance their needs are attended to. As I see it, taking our parliament, every party, as I understand it, has now signed up to trying to make sure that our children and those who are to be educated get some advancement. No. 11 is the Schools Assistance (Learning Together—Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Bill 2004. Why would something else come before dealing with an issue for our children? I see numbers of bills before us which have much more worth than is shown in the way in which this program is being manipulated. But my most important point really comes back to the first choice you are making, that you want to run concurrently two bills which should be dealt with separately because they deal with issues of our freedoms, our democracy, the protections that we have fought for as a country. They need to be dealt with in full in detail and be properly examined by the Senate with sufficient time to do so. (Time expired)