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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2413

Senator HARRADINE (11.48 a.m.) —I agree entirely with Senator Chamarette and her concerns. We are here being asked to insert into the social security legislation a provision which nominates a penalty—namely, imprisonment for six months. That is what we are being told to do. What Senator Chamarette is attempting by her amendment is to change that to a pecuniary penalty. We have been told by the government that it has the option of charging persons under the Crimes Act or under the Social Security Act. Under the Social Security Act the government has said, in answer to a question by me, that imprisonment for six months could be read to mean a pecuniary penalty or a work order as an alternative to imprisonment.

  The government has the right at present under the Crimes Act to make out a charge for the purpose of a gaol sentence. In my view, that should not be an option with a charge that is made out under social security legislation. Presumably, if there were the penalty of a monetary fine under that legislation, community orders could be read down as well. I am not sure whether that would have the desired effect. But that is why the minister is here, to clarify these matters for the committee. We are being asked by the government to put in a provision which states `penalty: imprisonment for six months'. That is what we are being asked to do.

  I agree, as Senator Chamarette has said, that in the Social Security Act there ought not be stipulated a term of imprisonment for the purposes of this particular section with which we are dealing. Where there are serious crimes involved, surely we have the option of the Crimes Act. I am sorry I raise that again, but I remind Senator Patterson of what she said yesterday. It sticks in my mind. In the committee stage, she is recorded as saying:

  The community affairs committee has already conducted a hearing on this particular part of the bill. People had every opportunity to raise the sorts of questions they are raising now—

Why does Senator Patterson raise that issue? Let me say again: I will take every opportunity of denouncing that sort of statement because it implies that senators do not have the untrammelled right to—

Senator Patterson —It does not. That is your interpretation of it, Senator Harradine. It does not imply that.

Senator HARRADINE —I am sorry, I read it again—

Senator Patterson —It does not imply that.

Senator HARRADINE —All right, I accept that it does not imply that and I accept that—

Senator Patterson —You are reading between the lines. I am not saying that. It is absolutely outrageous.

Senator HARRADINE —No, I am talking about a right to have their amendments properly considered, without a person using the excuse that the matter had been referred to a committee and people had their opportunity to have their say there.

Senator Patterson —I did not say that you did not have the right to do it in here. I did not imply that at all.

Senator HARRADINE —I am stating that people have the right to have their particular amendments properly considered here, without persons using the excuse that it had been sent to a committee.

Senator Patterson —I disagree with you.

Senator HARRADINE —There we have it. Senator Patterson disagrees with that, and thus confirms what I have been saying.

Senator Patterson —You are illogical. I cannot be bothered with you.

Senator Crowley —Senator Harradine, can we just argue the point of the law and we will go to—

Senator HARRADINE —No, this is a very important issue. If we are to be faced with that sort of attitude in this particular chamber, it is a very serious threat to the processes of the committee of the whole, a very serious threat indeed. A particular senator may come into this chamber and say, `Well, this particular bill has been referred off to a committee; people have had their opportunity to have their say.'

  Individual senators have the opportunity of being present when committees meet. But, as honourable senators know, committees generally meet on Fridays and several of the committees meet simultaneously. It is not possible for individual senators to attend each of the committees. Indeed, it may well be that an individual senator might be completely, fully aware of all of the ramifications but not have the opportunity to vote or bring in a dissent. It is a very serious question indeed.

  If Senator Patterson is expressing the view—and I hope it is not being expressed on behalf of the opposition—that amendments in the committee of the whole should not be given full attention by individual senators and spokespersons on the matter, I believe that is undermining the rights of individual senators in the committee of the whole.