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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26171

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (3:43 PM) —I rise to support Senator Carr on this particular issue. The Australian Democrats think it is a matter of good business of the Senate to ensure that bills that require scrutiny, especially bills that are introduced with such short notice, should be allowed to go to a committee for inquiry. However, unlike the date originally put forward by the opposition—that is, 9 September—the Democrats believe that the Higher Education Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 3) 2004 could be dealt with a little more expeditiously.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —No, not because it is my birthday, thank you, Senator Bartlett. We thought 2 September would be a more realistic date. That way we would not eat into that second week of the parliamentary session—if, of course, we are back in September for that sitting fortnight. We believe that, with a minimum of fuss, we could have a public hearing, if required, and also have time to allow the sector to provide submissions to the committee to investigate the issues in this bill. Senator Carr has made it very clear to the chamber—and I agree with him—that this bill is not a light-handed, simple bill as some would have us believe. It does canvass up to 20 separate matters that deserve some scrutiny.

Many of these matters arise as a consequence of a flawed and hasty debate that we were part of in December last year. It is ironic that amendments moved by me at the time, on behalf of the Democrats, and others were not supported—in fact, in some cases not even debated—and yet we might not have had to deal with the same need to introduce legislation to correct mistakes had we actually had a proper debate and not one of those hasty late night sessions such as we had in December last year as a consequence of a flawed and dodgy deal between four Independent senators and the government.

That aside, there are also quite substantial matters contained in this legislation. I think it is important to note for the record, before the government suggests that we have had adequate time to analyse or assess this legislation, that I found out about this particular bill from the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee last week. They were the ones informing me that such legislation was going to find its way onto the Notice Paper. It was not on the forward sitting program. It certainly was not scheduled for either of the two weeks that we have just had. My suggestion was that they should encourage the minister's office to get onto my office immediately to let us know whether this legislation was going to take place. So we have had a minimum of time.

The Democrats do not seek to postpone this process unnecessarily, but we do seek to exercise the democratic and proper right of this parliament and the Senate in particular to allow us to refer a bill to committee as required. It is required in this case, and I look forward to majority support of the Senate on this occasion to ensure that it can be done. As I have said to Senator Carr, I suggest a compromise date of 2 September. I hope that is agreeable to the chamber.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —To clarify, I understand that the amendment that is before the chair relates to 2 September.