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Friday, 25 November 2011
Page: 9635

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (10:23): I will make a short contribution to this matter of variation to sitting days. It is fair to say that we as a chamber have not covered ourselves in glory in the last few days. I say this without rancour and without seeking to make any political points. I believe it is completely unsatisfactory that we had a situation where many bills went through without any debate, without any positions being put and—particularly for controversial pieces of legislation such as amendments to the Family Law Act, which will literally affect hundreds of thousands of people in this country in the years to come—without a committee stage. There was no consideration given to fundamental amendĀ­ments, no opportunity to ask the government key questions about how the new act will operate, no opportunity to properly scrutinise that piece of legislation and no opportunity to deal with a whole range of other legislation relating to issues of crime, corruption, air cargo, air security and pollution of Antarctica—just to name a few. That is unsatisfactory.

I would like to foreshadow—and I will consult with my colleagues, with the government, with the opposition, with the Australian Greens and with the DLP—a reference to the Procedure Committee of the Senate so we do not repeat what occurred. We are meant to be the house of review. We are meant to be the premier legislative body in this country when it comes to reviewing legislation to ensure there is appropriate scrutiny of the laws put up by the executive arm of government. We have not done that. The fact that the coalition may have guillotined debates in previous years when they were in government, to me, is not an excuse for what has occurred this week.

Senator Abetz: We were not as bad!

Senator XENOPHON: That may be the case.

Senator Bernardi interjecting

Senator XENOPHON: Helpful as always, Senator Bernardi said, 'We were ethical guillotiners.' Maybe there is a line there about Madam Defarge but I won't go there. I am not sure there is such a thing as an ethical guillotine. I cannot imagine Senator Bernardi knitting while the guillotine is being applied.

What has occurred in the last week is completely unsatisfactory. We need to do better as a chamber. We owe it to the people of Australia. I will be putting a reference to the Procedure Committee, but before I do that I will consult with my colleagues from all sides so that we get this right. Let us not repeat the debacle of the last week. I look forward to debating some legislation this morning and asking a series of questions about competition and consumer law.