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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6662

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (6:03 PM) —The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Digital Television) Bill 2010, which we are now finalising in the House, was introduced in March. The second reading debate was on 13 March. It began that day and concluded that day by agreement between the opposition and the government so that the bill could be before the Senate at the earliest opportunity. In fact, the coalition agreed to reduce our speakers’ list and our speaking times in order for the bill to be through the House on 13 May.

Last week, the government produced more than 40 pages of amendments. On Tuesday of this week, the government sought our assistance to have the bill debated in the Senate on the Wednesday—that is, the following day. We agreed to this because there are, as you would appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, a number of very critical elements to this bill, with the switch-over beginning in Mildura in just a few days time. There are 40 pages of amendments. The shadow minister is right that many of them do pick up recommendations of the Senate committee, but many others pick up other aspects. We feel that this has been an unsatisfactory process. The bill itself should have been introduced much earlier. The amendments should have been produced earlier and there should have been full debate on them in the Senate.

As I said, on Tuesday evening the government requested that the debate occur on the Wednesday, to which we agreed. Unfortunately, overnight, the government itself decided to list the bill so low in the order of business in the Senate that debate during the time for government business was simply not possible. However, given the critical nature of some aspects of this bill, it was agreed that it would be dealt with in the Senate today on a non-controversial basis. The government did agree not to proceed with some amendments which it, by its own admission, said were not time critical—that is, they can be dealt with in the coming weeks and months when at least they can have some proper parliamentary scrutiny, given the importance of the issues. There are many amendments to the bill. In addition to that, given the process and given the government’s track record, we say here on behalf of the opposition that it is likely that there will be more things to fix up down the track.

In order for those important provisions which are time critical to proceed through the parliament before 30 June and for those other regions facing the switch-over in the coming months, the coalition agreed for the matter to be dealt with in the non-controversial business in the Senate today. We point out, as I have said, that the process the government has chosen has been rather chaotic with such an important issue, but it was important that the critical time nature aspects of the legislation that the government highlighted were able to proceed. It was agreed that those aspects that were not time critical and in fact not really part of the Senate committee inquiry process could be dealt with another day. On that basis, it is incumbent on the government to ensure the proper implementation of these amendments. Given the rush and the government’s own listing of the legislation in the Senate which it had had for a few weeks, and given the government’s own decision to list the legislation so low that it could not considered in its own government business, there has not been the normal scrutiny you would expect on such important legislation. Nonetheless, my friend and colleague and representative in the Senate Senator Cormann has expressed in greater detail all of these concerns. But, as I said, we are supporting it. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.