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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2127

Senator VANSTONE (7.54 p.m.) —I note Senator Spindler's restatement of his position with respect to natural justice. I ask Senator Spindler: if he were sitting on the other side of this chamber with the focus of attention entirely on him and someone asked him what he had done at 3 o'clock last Thursday or asked him when was the first time he saw these amendments, would he be in a position to competently answer those questions or would he feel under stress because he was not sure of the consequences of his answer? If someone asked me when was the first day I saw certain amendments in this place, I could not answer for sure and I would want to know the consequences of guessing at the answer.

  The sorts of matters that would go before this panel are far more complex than the simple questions I have just put by way of example, yet, as Senator Spindler puts it, it is just a matter of people being asked to put their case about what happened. Before I came here, I did a number of crash-bangs as a junior barrister and I can say that even months after an accident people will argue about what happened. But the sort of detail involved in those sorts of cases is kids' stuff compared with the detail people are trying to sort out in these hearings—the consequences are more important, the facts are more complicated, and much more detailed presentation is required.

  Since normal citizens cannot handle the simpler sorts of matters that I have referred to, it is a bit rich for Senator Spindler to suggest that people should be able to go before this panel without an agent to speak on their behalf or without a specialist advocate to put their views in the best way possible. That does not mean that people could lie or tell another story; it simply means that they will have someone to put their case in its best light. Since the Democrats feel that natural justice can be obtained in another forum I look forward to the time—it will come—when the Democrats are wanting natural justice to be provided to someone because I will remember this debate.

  At the end of his contribution Senator Spindler asked whether this amendment represented a change. I can tell him that it is. As I understood it, although there was some hesitation or reluctance or concern, he was happy to take the government's word about these regulations. He is shaking his head. I thought that is what he said.

Senator Spindler —I asked a simple question: if these amendments fail, is the Senate still able to disallow the regulations that the government would bring in?

Senator VANSTONE —That is the question I was answering; he just did not like the form of it. Senator Spindler is right: if these amendments fail, the Senate will still have the opportunity to disallow the regulations. Perhaps when I conclude Senator Spindler will be kind enough to tell me the consequences of that—whether that will neuter the capacity of the tribunal to operate.

  We advocate a position where the principles of natural justice would be emphatically enshrined. If Senator Spindler will not come at that and if he wants to accept the government's view that the regulations will equate with that, the very least he could do—it is in the power of the Senate to do it—is amend the regular situation. I understand that Senator Spindler is saying that he will take the government's word for that. We are simply providing an opportunity in the event that the government does not do that.

  If the Democrats do not want that opportunity, if they are happy to take the government's word and to disallow the regulations if they are wrong—regarding any inconvenience that creates as a suitable penalty—they will vote against these amendments. On the other hand, if they want to ensure that schedule 4 operates in the way that it should, they will vote for the amendments. It is as simple as that.