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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 861

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(10.18) —The Government opposes this rearrangement of business. Like Senator Chaney, I will speak briefly on this matter. I understand from hearing the scuttle-butt around this place that some arrangement has been made and that this motion will in fact succeed. But there is every reason in the world for the Government to oppose it. I am sure that Senator Chaney, if he were in government and an opposition tried something as outrageous as this, would oppose it too. The simple fact is that Bills are never debated in this place in the same week as they are introduced into the Parliament unless there is an agreement on all sides that that be done. Usually Bills that are debated under those circumstances are Bills of a non- controversial nature; otherwise they are not dealt with. The most recent examples we have had, of course, were the Sales Tax Amendment Bills (Nos. 1 to 9 ) 1984 which arose from this year's Budget and which, as they are Budget measures, we would have liked to get through in the first week because of the importance of them. But the Opposition, not unreasonably, said that it did not have time to look at them and put them through its shadow Cabinet or through its party room.

In this case, the Australian Waters (Nuclear-Powered Ships and Nuclear Weapons Prohibition) Bill was introduced only yesterday. No one in this place except the person who introduced the Bill, and I assume his colleagues, had seen the Bill until then. The Cabinet has not considered the measure; neither has the parliamentary Labor Party. I doubt whether it has been considered in the Liberal Party rooms or in the National Party rooms.

Other Bills have been introduced recently by individual senators. Senator Harradine introduced a Bill. He wrote to the Government and, I understand, to the Opposition about that Bill. He considers it a very important Bill. We made a decision that that Bill should be considered in the normal time in General Business. But he let us know what was going on and we responded. Senator Mason did the same thing with a Bill regarding the Chamberlain case. The Government responded to those requests. The responses may not have been welcomed by those who introduced the legislation, but we were approached and we responded.

I do not know whether Senator Chipp has made any formal approach concerning this legislation. Certainly there were rumours that he was to introduce this sort of legislation. As far as we are concerned, Senator Chaney's notice of motion is the only indication that this Bill would be treated with such urgency. These questions have to be asked: Whose Bill is it? Who has brought in the Bill and who has introduced it? Does the person who brought in the Bill think it should be treated with such urgency? Senator Chaney today said that the reason that this was a matter of urgency was that despite the fact that we had not seen the Bill until it was introduced and that neither the Party room nor the Cabinet could consider it, it was important that it did not lie around on the Notice Paper, because it was important that a declaration relating to the matters that Senator Chipp introduced be made on how Australia felt about the defence of this country.

Yet yesterday we debated a matter of urgency when much the same things were discussed. I dare say they will be discussed in the debate on this Bill, although I have not seen the Bill. Much the same things were discussed and much the same issues were gone over. I point out that the Government is willing to debate this Bill later in the current sittings. But the Bill should be considered properly by the Cabinet and by all parliamentary Party rooms. It is highly inappropriate and, I suggest, against all previous practice in this place to call on debate of a Bill like this only one day after its introduction into the Parliament.

The only reason for calling on the debate must be that the Liberals and the Leader of the Opposition consider that they will somehow get some political advantage out of it. I do not pretend that people do not try to get some political advantages out of the procedures in this place. To introduce legislation as important as this on one day and then for the Opposition to say that it is so urgent that we must debate it the very next day before any reasonable consideration can be given to it is an outrageous attempt to interfere with the order of business in this place. The Government and I therefore must oppose this attempt.

If a deal has been done to bring on this legislation, if there is a determination that this will be so, I believe that an irresponsible deal has been done. I cannot see any justification for going against normal procedures. I think Senator Chaney should realise that people who act in this way will end up on the wrong end some time in the future. There may well be some circumstances in the future when a government has the numbers in this place and will use those numbers to push legislation through in a way that is most undesirable. That will mean we will have legislation going through without consideration. If we are going to proceed in this way and if we are going to tear up the normal procedures in this place, I suppose in the future we will all have to consider whether any rules or conventions will operate at all.