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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4061

Senator LEES (5:51 PM) —I was going to start by talking about some of the very strange comments Senator Ian Campbell made, but I find that Senator Faulkner has made such an extraordinary contribution that I must start there. I do not think anyone sitting in this place believed a word of it for a moment. But, unfortunately, today—as no doubt Senator Faulkner knows and probably why we had the performance in the first place—we are on broadcast, so for the benefit of those people out there I will reiterate where we are at in this debate. We are some seven hours ahead of where we should have been thanks to the deal that the opposition did with the government.

Senator Carr —What deal?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, stop shouting.

Senator LEES —Why you are working with them, I do not know, when you have made it so clear that you have no interest in improving this package. You have no interest in supporting amendments that actually improve the GST package. You have made it very clear that you are going to vote down our amendments, the government amendments and presumably any Senator Harradine—

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator LEES —The Labor Party has made it very clear that they have no interest in these bills. They intend to vote down any constructive amendment in the interests of their own political beliefs, political interests, that the best thing that can happen is that we give the government—

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator LEES —In the hope that they can force us to vote this down in the short term so that there we have the start of a double dissolution trigger. Their game is political. It has nothing to do with trying to work through what is a very complex package of 27 bills. It is very easy for a party to be ready to debate a committee stage when they have circulated no amendments, when there is nothing prepared. I had understood that you did have amendments. I still have none in front of me. Senator Margetts's amendments are ready. But there is nothing from the Labor Party, so of course they are ready to debate.

Senator Sherry —Where are yours?

Senator LEES —That is where I was going to begin, but after the extraordinary contribution from Senator Faulkner I wanted to answer some of those statements first. Let us look at the decision that was made to force us to sit right through Tuesday morning and then through Tuesday night—some seven hours of speeches on the second reading that should have been continuing now through tomorrow and into Friday. We had always intended to circulate our amendments on Friday and we will keep to that deadline. The only possible delay would have been a matter of an hour or two, brought about by the fact that we have one staffer working on the final amendments who is also required up until Friday to work on our committee report to have it tabled on Monday. The other amendments are in draft form, but those final amendments relating to the last committee report are now being drafted.

I say this to Senator Campbell, knowing that you have no cooperation on this side: surely it would be in your own interests not to force the debate through, knowing how few staffing resources we have, in order to put us in a position where, unfortunately, we have to say to you that time simply does not allow us, given the tabling of the report on Monday and with one staffer working on our final amendments, to have them tabled in this place in sufficient time for you, Senator Harradine, Senator Margetts and Senator Brown to consider them. We know what the opposition are going to be doing with them, but all other senators need to consider them so that we can have a debate that does not take forever with amendments that people have had some chance to understand.

I have to say at this point that, when we discussed with the government and indeed reached an agreement on how we would manage the sitting hours, we started off with 16 bills. We now have so many bills in the package that we have yet another report to write Friday week, particularly dealing with the wine bills—a very important industry that is not at all happy with what the government is doing. There, hopefully, we will see the Labor Party prepared to play a constructive role.

As for the bills we are going to begin dealing with, Labor have not indicated at any stage that they are actually interested in doing anything in the committee besides standing up and making a lot of hot-air speeches. Labor have moved what I take it are their amendments to the second reading. But, even if those pious amendments had passed, they would have achieved nothing. They would not see us with any improvements to this country's tax system.

A final message for Labor: if you do not want to be part of the committee stage, please let us get on with the job of doing the work we have to do in a reasonable time.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Labor senators will cease shouting.

Senator LEES —And to the government I say: you have circulated 128 amendments today, and we also plan to consider those. We go back to the situation with our economics researcher who will again have that job to do.

Senator Faulkner interjecting

Senator LEES —I know it does not bother you, Senator Faulkner, because I understand you are going to vote against them—please correct me if I am wrong. But we need to look through your amendments as well and to deal with those one by one as they merit. My final comment to Senator Campbell is that we are attempting to cooperate, but you are making it extremely difficult by working with the group that have no interest in cooperating.