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Wednesday, 24 March 2004
Page: 21756


Senator BROWN (9:34 AM) —The Greens oppose the motion.

Government senators interjecting


Senator BROWN —No, it is not a surprise, as one of the government senators points out. There is no urgency with this legislation—in fact, quite the reverse. It is so important and it will have ramifications for so many years to come for the relationship between Australia and Timor Leste that we should be giving maximum consideration to this legislation. That means that we should have the opportunity to, in the fullest sense, understand Timor Leste's position on this. We should be able to communicate with government, parliamentary and community representatives of our small and very impoverished neighbour, as well as with community groups—including, of course, the oil companies involved, such as Woodside—in particular those community groups representing Timor Leste's position here in Australia.

The truncated nature of this process, whereby we effectively drop standing order 111, which is meant to facilitate senators to do exactly those things, is wrong. I have yet to hear from the government why this matter is so urgent that we must ignore the cut-off—that we must ignore the parliamentary norm that there be time for consultation. As I said, this legislation will have ramifications for decades. It involves the theft from East Timor of its gas and oil resources by the Australian government, with the involvement of the oil companies. Billions of dollars are involved here. It is a matter that concerns the major resource for the funding of the future welfare of the poorest neighbour in our region, namely Timor Leste. We should be giving this maximum consideration.

On Monday night there was a committee hearing with two witnesses: the conjoint departmental representatives representing the Australian government and one very presentable—but nevertheless one only—non-government organisation from Australia doing the best it could to represent the alternative point of view. That is manifestly inadequate. We are not proceeding with this legislation on the basis of information that is appropriate to its importance. If ever there was a need for us to observe the rules of the Senate—in particular standing order 111—which provide that there should be some time between the introduction of a piece of legislation and the Senate's consideration in voting on that legislation, this is it. So, no, the Greens do not accept that this bill should be exempted from standing order 111. Standing order 111 is precisely there to ensure and to cater for the adequate informing of the Senate before it proceeds on complex pieces of legislation like this one, which does have major ramifications for our relationship with not just East Timor but also the neighbourhood. We object. We do not accept that there should be a cut-off here.