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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7204

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (17:43): Labor will not be supporting the suspension of standing orders or, indeed, the motion that the government has put in this place at this late hour on a Wednesday evening. I just pick up the point that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has raised in his address, which is the urgent nature of these bills. I would like to remind senators that these bills have been before this parliament for some 18 months now. They have been listed for debate on no less than 10 occasions. There is absolutely no merit at all to the argument that these are urgent and have to be dealt with tonight or, indeed, this sitting week.

Nothing has changed since the time it was listed for debate in the House and in the Senate. Indeed, this week it was listed for debate on Monday, when the government has several hours to debate government legislation, and then it was pulled off two minutes into the dinner break. There was an rearrangement, and other bills were put in its place. Indeed there were, I think, four other non-urgent bills dealt with by the Senate when we could have been dealing with this and allowing for a reasonable debate during normal sitting hours of this place.

This government is incapable of managing its program. Time and time again we find ourselves in a second sitting week, once last-minute negotiations have been held, deals done and money put on the table, with no scrutiny of those deals, and we are informed that we will be sitting until midnight or 11.00 pm—and who knows what will happen tomorrow if the government gets its way.

This is the sixth time this year that the government has had a motion to vary the hours of the Senate, with little or no notice to other senators. It's no way to run the Senate and no way to run the government. This bill, as I said, was first introduced in March 2016, 18 months ago. It's been listed for debate on no fewer than 10 occasions in this chamber, and now the minister wants us to change sitting hours to sit late into the night because the government's finally ready to debate it and have a vote on it.

An opposition senator interjecting

Senator GALLAGHER: Good point, in terms of the uncertainty for the people who work in this place, who are now being told at six o'clock at night that they will not be going home to their families until closer to midnight tonight. This shows disrespect for senators in this place. If we look at the role of the Nick Xenophon Team, in particular, hand in hand with the government, doing their deals, we have had: the building and construction legislation in February this year; the social services legislation and the childcare legislation in March; the business tax cuts in March; and the education bill in June—all followed the same path: deals, discussions behind closed doors and, at the last moment, scurrying in here and extending hours to finally debate the bill when the government is ready and on Nick Xenophon's terms. This is the sixth time that the Senate has been placed in this position, where a non-government party, the Nick Xenophon Team, and the government dictate how this Senate is to function for everybody else. It's not acceptable.

The government have lost control of their program. This bill has been sitting here for 18 months waiting to be debated. Indeed, on one occasion I remember we asked to debate this bill and the government refused to allow it to be dealt with. On Monday this week, it was on and off again. There was plenty of time this week to debate this bill in normal sitting hours and to deal with it in a reasonable fashion. But here we are, almost six o'clock at night, and the government are insisting that the rest of us stay here, including all of the staff in this place, without notice, so that the government can push through the deal that they've done with the Nick Xenophon Team. None of us have a say in that at all. We're just meant to suck it up. This is a pattern from this government. They can't manage their program. They rely on the Nick Xenophon Team to help them, and the rest of us are just pawns in the game. It's not a way to run the program.

Senator Brandis interjecting

Senator GALLAGHER: You're nodding at that, Senator Brandis. We are pawns in the game. That's how the Leader of the Government in the Senate sees this. Well, this is a lesson to all of us in this place. We shouldn't be treated like this by the government and we shouldn't be required to sit here— (Time expired)