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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5662

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (9:49 AM) —I will try to be brief in relation to this question but, given the debate that has occurred, it is important to put the Democrats' views on the record and to explain perhaps a little more clearly the purpose of standing order 111(5) to (7). The motion, I believe, has its genesis in the activities of one of my Queensland Democrat predecessors, former Senator Michael Macklin. The reason behind it was basically to prevent, at such a time during a parliamentary session, having legislation introduced and railroaded through without proper scrutiny. We all know that the risk of that happening increases as we get towards the end of the year. Nonetheless, that motivation, which is one that the Democrats strongly stand by, needs to be balanced against the responsibility of the Senate, which is the key chamber in terms of considering legislation, to make sure that there are no unnecessary hold-ups. Broadly speaking, the Senate has mostly not insisted on preventing bills from being exempted from this cut-off motion under standing order 111, as long as there was a case for their being put through in the specified time. The key aspect is that, as legislators, we ensure that we are across the legislation before us.

The bill that Senator Ludwig outlined, the Inspector-General of Taxation Bill 2002, which I think is going to be referred to a committee, is one that the Democrats agree needs further consideration. Therefore, it should not be subject to time pressures to try to get it back to the Senate before the end of the year. The Egg Industry Service Provision Bill 2002 has already been examined by a committee, and the report is expected to be released today. I do not think that any of the bills on the list is likely to be debated today, so we will have a full fortnight to consider them. Agreeing to Senator Ian Campbell's motion will not mean that the bills do not receive adequate scrutiny. We obviously will have the opportunity to debate them fully in the chamber, to ask the sorts of questions that Senator Brown has raised and to move or vote against amendments if necessary.

Given that these bills will not be debated today and there is still a full two weeks available, from the Democrats' view of things, we are aware of the details of the legislation and what they are trying to do. We do not wish to hold up the bills unnecessarily where there is a case that it is beneficial for them to have the opportunity of being passed this year, and that case can be made and it is justified that there has been adequate opportunity to examine them. The Senate needs to balance its responsibilities and it needs to utilise its powers responsibly and not hold things up unnecessarily. We also have a duty to follow legislation, to attend committee hearings and to listen to the evidence to get our heads around the issues. In the case of these bills, with the exception of the Inspector-General of Taxation Bill 2002, that is the case. The Democrats are certainly across them all and we believe that there is no compelling case why they should not be allowed to proceed or at least given the opportunity to proceed, if the government so wishes.

There will, of course, no doubt be increased arm wrestling between us about which bills get priority in the shrinking number of weeks we have left this year. We have slightly less than four full sitting weeks to go. That is a separate debate. Allowing them through at this stage is not the same as saying that we support the bills or saying that they should have priority over other more important legislation but it at least leaves them in the mix for the Senate to determine those that are non-controversial, beneficial or have time issues involved.

Senator Brown was a little bit harsh in his view of some of these things. While I agree with some of his comments in relation to legislation being delayed more than is necessary, I know from experience that legislation like the family and community services legislation takes a lot of time to get together. The Social Security Act is incredibly complex and the IT systems used to administer it are also complex, so there is a long lead time to get legislation together and a long lead time to implement it. In that context, the reasons for it not appearing the night after budget night are fairly justifiable. The same thing applies to a few of the other areas which I will not go into.

It is not quite as black and white as the previous speaker suggested. We have to act responsibly where a credible case is made for urgency. The contrary also applies, of course, particularly given the end of session logjam that often happens. Where there is no case for urgency, we should not allow bills in there, because they simply take up time needed for other more important legislation. That is probably a relevant comment for the next government notice of motion, which I will speak to when we get to it.