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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4225

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (16:10): I will speak briefly on this motion moved by Senator Whish-Wilson to suspend the standing orders only because there is a new Senate in place since the Senate last canvassed the issue of formality of foreign affairs motions, so there are a number of senators in the chamber who have not had the benefit of debates around the appropriateness of foreign affairs motions being dealt with as formal motions. For the benefit of those senators, I commend a statement I made to the Senate a very long time ago—in fact, on 27 May 1998—as the then Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. This statement arose out of the concerns that the opposition had at the time that treating general business notices of motion on foreign affairs matters as formal notices was an inappropriate and extremely blunt way to deal with very complex and often contentious matters. The then opposition proposed that such matters be declared not formal and any subsequent proposal to amend standing orders not be supported, if such a proposal was moved.

It was never suggested that such matters were not important. The motion standing in the name of Senator Whish-Wilson is on an important matter. I have no problem with that matter being debated at the appropriate time. I am sure the opposition—and I would hope the government and other senators—would have no problem with this important matter being debated in the Senate, but there is an issue with using such a blunt instrument. If a motion is declared formal the only option for senators is to vote for such a motion or against it; no senator in the chamber has the opportunity to debate the motion and no senator in the chamber has an opportunity to move an amendment to the motion. It is an unsatisfactory way to deal with controversial matters, particularly relating to international and foreign policy.

There are motions where there is no controversy and it is proper to deal with them as formal notices of motion. Regardless of the nature of the motion, even though they may be supported by a clear majority in the chamber, we have to be consistent. We should be consistent with the process that we adopt. We should ensure that our procedures are properly used in the chamber. I have commended for a long time the Procedure Committee dealing with this issue so everyone is clear. It is, frankly, not possible to suggest that such a blunt instrument is appropriate to deal with these matters of complexity and controversy. So I commend the statement I made back in 1998 and subsequent statements I have made and Senator Wong has made since then in relation to dealing with these matters, but I stress again: no-one should be under any illusions that this does not mean the matter is important and serious and warrants debate in this chamber. Let us do it in a way that works.