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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8582


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (5:07 PM) —I have been in this chamber now for 16 years and there have been two occasions when attempts have been made to reorganise the program from the opposition benches—both of them by Senator Cormann. In those 16 years, what I have seen is the acceptance by all sides of this chamber that it is the government that takes responsibility for the production of the legislative program and the order of business for that legislative program. That is the position that has been held fast to through governments from both sides of this chamber. We have here an opposition that feels it is able to rip up the conventions of this Senate and of this parliament because it cannot get what it wants through the ballot box. We heard this before in 1975.


Senator Ronaldson —Mr Acting Deputy President, a point of order on relevance: I cannot believe, in light of the work program we have got this week, that this minister is being so completely irrelevant to the matter before the chamber.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bernardi)—There is no point of order.


Senator CARR —In 1975 we had a view being expressed by the Liberal-Country Party coalition, as they were known at the time, that they could run the government from the opposition benches in the Senate. They took the view that they were able to determine the direction of this country, in terms of the government’s program, from the opposition benches. We are seeing a repeat of that sort of reckless disregard for the conventions of our parliamentary democracy by this group of constitutional hooligans, who are seeking to avoid their responsibilities when it comes to fulfilling their functions in our bicameral system of government. It is the job of the opposition to criticise the government. It is the job of the opposition to evaluate legislation. It is not the job of the opposition to order the legislative program in the manner that they see fit. That was the position we took in opposition. Throughout the entire period in which I was Manager of Opposition Business, not once did we seek to determine the legislative program by order. That was the government’s prerogative.

The result of the opposition’s cavalier disregard for the conventions of this parliament and this chamber is that we are not able to discuss the question of whether or not 150,000 students will be able to receive scholarships next year. The government’s intention was to bring back a bill on the question of student scholarships. There are 150,000 Australian students whose welfare will be adversely affected if the dispute between this Senate and the House of Representatives is not resolved in the next three days. If that does not occur, then 150,000 students will not be able to access scholarships next year. The decision of this opposition to move on this stunt, to determine to flex their muscles in order to avoid the political problems within their coalition, means that 150,000 students will not get access to government money for scholarships next year.

The opposition are reckless. They are behaving in a completely irresponsible manner. They are contemptuous of the political conventions of this place. They have a complete disregard for the proper governance of this country. Why? Because there is a political and ideological problem inside the coalition, which means that they are not able to determine the direction of their own coalition yet are trying to determine the direction of the legislative program in this chamber so that they can get away with avoiding the contradiction that exists within their ranks. The government will expose them for what they have done. The government will seek at every possible opportunity to highlight the obstructionist nature of the political position they are taking in this chamber. They are reckless and they have a complete disregard for the political conventions of this chamber and it will weigh very heavily upon them when the public comes to understand the reckless nature of their attitudes and the cavalier disregard they have for the proper running of this chamber.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Cormann’s) be agreed to.