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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 48

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (3:42 PM) —I spoke on this briefly this morning so I will not go into it at length again. I simply want to draw attention to the fact that this Selection of Bills Committee report and what we are debating now, which is to adopt it, recommends sending off the Copyright Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 to a Senate committee for inquiry. I think that is good. I complained this morning that it was being rushed through. There are some technical matters that need proper examination. The concern I have is that it has a possible hearing date listed of 6 December, which is today, and a reporting date of 7 December. So for all of the people that are listed as possibly giving submissions or evidence—Internet service providers, copyright owners and users, the Attorney-General's Department et cetera—it is a pretty tight time frame, to put it politely.

It may be that the committee could defer and the Senate Legal and Constitutional References and Legislation Committee could decide separately to give itself an extra day or two. The bottom line is that even if there is another day or two—I support it going to a committee, as any sort of examination separately from the chamber is obviously better than nothing—it is fairly farcical to refer a bill which, from memory, only saw the light of day in the whole world last week. For people to have absorbed an incredibly complex area—copyright law—particularly in the international arena and in areas like the Internet, and to provide information for us as a Senate to make an informed decision on that legislation via a committee, even one as talented as the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, is fairly implausible. In some ways, having such a massively rushed referral of a matter brings the committee system into disrepute. After proper examination, maybe we will look at the details and look at the submissions from the experts and decide: `Okay, it is all right. It is not that big a drama; it is just minor and technical amendments, as the minister says'.

I would be more confident and comfortable if we had the opportunity to do those examinations and hear from the experts after proper consideration rather than this overnight inquiry. Whilst this is a decision of the committee and I am probably not likely to succeed in amending the motion, I thought it appropriate to speak to it and to highlight precisely what is being proposed, which is basically that we refer a matter overnight. Doing that is really stretching the credibility of our Senate committee processes past breaking point. It is not a good precedent to set, although it has probably happened before—so it is not a good precedent to follow—and the inquiry is into an issue that I think is sufficiently complex and sufficiently technical to need greater examination than the committee could possibly give it, even with the best will in the world and the greatest expertise in the world.

The key value of Senate committees in my view and in my experience is that you get to hear from people in the community who are affected, such as some of those who are listed in the committee's report as possibly giving submissions or evidence. I do not think those people, even if they have been lined up to give verbal evidence at a hearing tonight—as may well be the case—can really have had the opportunity to consider sufficiently all of the ramifications. I may be wrong there, but I think it is improbable that it can be done as thoroughly as is necessary.