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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26178

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (4:16 PM) —I move:

That, on Wednesday, 11 August 2004:

(a) the hours of meeting shall be 9.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., and 7.30 p.m. to 12.40 a.m.;

(b) the routine of business from 7.30 p.m. shall be the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and a related bill; and

(c) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at midnight.

There has been some attention paid to an attack on the process here. I asked the Parliamentary Liaison Officer to inform all minor parties, Independent senators and the Labor Party of the proposal to sit late tonight. I am informed that all parties were communicated with on that. It is absolutely standard practice, if we need to extend hours, to inform other parties and bring it into this place.

Senator Brown —Have a meeting about it—that's standard practice!

Senator IAN CAMPBELL —We do not always have leaders' and whips' meetings. Having a meeting to discuss something that is so blindingly obvious to most people would be a farce. We are into our seventh day of debate on the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Bill 2004 and the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation (Customs Tariff) Bill 2004, and tomorrow will be our eighth day on what are obviously very important bills that are taking a long time. We have made it quite clear as a government that we would like to see the passage of this legislation during this fortnight, and the opposition, I think, have made it clear as an opposition that they would like to see the passage of this legislation during this fortnight as well. Sitting around a table and having a meeting would, of course, be a farce. We are not into having meetings for meetings' sakes; we are into trying to run a successful legislative chamber and program.

It is well known to everybody in Australia who shows any remote interest in what is happening in the parliament that the Australian parliament is debating the US-Australia free trade agreement, and it is now clear that some senators are seeking to have a filibuster. Senator Brown makes the point that he thinks we should facilitate an expanded debate. I put it to all senators that, by seeking to expand the hours of sitting, we are in fact expanding the hours available to debate this legislation. So we are actually proposing to do exactly what Senator Brown would have us do. We want to have more time available to enable senators who have an interest to discuss this legislation. The motion says, `Let's have an expanded time. We've had seven days; let's have a long night. Let's keep talking about it, but let's bring it to a vote.' It is not a democratic representation of the people of Australia to endlessly—and mindlessly, in some cases—filibuster a bill. At some stage, having a vote on a bill is in fact a democratic representation of the people of Australia. So, at some stage after a debate—and this is already a very long debate—it needs to be brought to a vote. As a rebuttal of the accusation that we in some way have abused a process or done things without consultation, we informed all of the minor parties and Independents that it was our intention this afternoon to move that we sit late tonight. I have had no feedback, requests or discussion from the minor parties. We are doing it in the normal way—the way we do very regularly.