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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 649

Senator IAN MACDONALD (4.03 p.m.) —At the request of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Hill) and pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

  That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Hill moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion to take note of an answer to a question without notice for a period of five minutes.

I think it is important that we suspend standing orders in this particular matter. I feel very strongly about the matter, as do all of us in the Liberal-National parties. Mr Deputy President, you might recall that when these matters of rearrangement of the Senate schedules were debated some time ago, we specifically looked at this question of allowing the opposition sufficient time to respond to the enormous opportunity government ministers were given—four minutes per question for all government ministers and then one minute for a supplementary—to get up to bag the opposition. It was understood for that reason that the opposition should have the opportunity to respond to those usually baseless claims by government ministers.

  On that basis it was thought that there should be unlimited time for the opposition, and in fact that is the way we moved. Very rarely do motions to take note exceed half an hour. But should they do so as in today's instance, there was to be the opportunity for us to take the extra five minutes. In the debate the Labor Party and its left wing allies, the Greens—although I am not sure about the Greens; maybe they came across this time—but I am sure the far left in the Democrats voted with the government to restrict the opposition to 30 minutes. At the time they said, `Look, 30 minutes is plenty of time for the opposition. That gives the opportunity for six speakers to get up and have their say.' That was the principle, and the debate proceeded along that line. There were assurances from the government and assurances from left wing allies in the Democrats that that would be sufficient time. We pleaded with the Democrats: `Let us have an unlimited take note time.' History shows that rarely does it go past 30 minutes. We did all that because we wanted to avoid this sort of situation.

  Today we have a situation where Senator Schacht has filibustered for five minutes of what I would class as our time. Senator Coulter, one of those oh-so-holy people who said, `You don't need 30 minutes', always gets the call. I do not blame you for that, Mr Deputy President, although I will speak to you about it later. He got the call ahead of Senator Campbell and myself, but he was part of the group which wanted to restrict our right to speak in this chamber.

  It is typical of the Labor Party to try to restrict Liberal and National party senators when they wish to speak in this chamber. Everything that has happened in the name of Senate reform in recent times has been all about further restricting the speaking time of the Liberal and National parties. I know why the government has done it. In the other place it has run roughshod over everyone, but here in the Senate we are able to make points and they are telling. That is why our vote in the Senate is always so much better than that of the Labor party or the Democrats. The government knows this, and it wants to restrict us.

  Senator Schacht is filibustering and does so as often as he can. A couple of people on his side play the game properly, but he and a couple of others want to filibuster all the time to restrict the opposition. We are making the points, we are winning the arguments and we are getting on with it. Those opposite want to stop us. In this instance I think it is important for standing orders to be suspended so that Senator Crane is given the opportunity to speak for five minutes on a matter that I know is very important. I know it is a matter that the people of Australia will be very interested to listen to. For that reason I think it is important for the Senate to agree.