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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 186

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(3.55) —I congratulate Senator Haines for achieving the apparently impossible. In one speech she has managed to get Senator Withers to ask for Senator Mason back. I would have been prepared to stake my political life that that would never have occurred. I do think that was a notable contribution to the Senate. I thank the Government for putting down a statement on its legislative program, a practice which I think is very worth while. I note that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) has told us that the legislative program for the Budget sittings is a reasonably heavy and complicated one. I welcome the statement of intention on the part of the Australian Democrats that they will, in their consideration of legislation, be prepared to vote for amendments to legislation even though the House of Representatives may have gone away. I agree with them that the idea that the Senate should be restrained in its treatment of legislation by the fact that the legislation cannot be dealt with by the other place is not appropriate. I believe we should maintain the stance which we adopted during the last session of the Parliament whereby the Senate will deal with legislation on its merits and, if the Government wishes to bring back the House of Representatives, it can do so, as indeed it did with respect to one Bill.

Senator Chipp —Didn't you say in May that it was the fault of the Democrats that the Representatives were recalled?

Senator CHANEY —Of course it was. The point about which I am concerned is that a heavy and complicated program faces us and we should not find ourselves in the position in which we found ourselves in May when we sat for four weeks in a row, four days a week. I ask the Government to consider the potentially damaging effect of that on honourable senators and on the health of honourable senators. It may seem a trite point to make, but there are many senators here who were senators in the period of the Whitlam Government. At that time a series of Government Ministers had heart attacks. In fact, one Government Minister was unwell during the May sittings. I think it is highly undesirable that we should get into that pattern. I ask the Government to consider now what pattern it would propose if there were a hangover of business so that we can avoid what occurred in May. I do not think it is at all desirable from the point of view of the Government itself, the Opposition, the Australian Democrats or anybody else to have as prolonged a period of sitting as we had at that time. Unless we plan now for the eventuality, which is very likely to occur, we will be forced into that position and I think that it would be very unfortunate.

As to the point that was raised by Senator Haines about the processing of legislation, I think that the only way we will achieve change is if the Parliament itself says that it will not deal with legislation other than on an orderly basis with enough time to consider it properly. Often there are Bills which are relatively trite and which can be dealt with quickly and easily at the end of a session, but when we have proposals such as human rights legislation, which is a matter of very great interest to many, changes to major areas of the law and matters dealing with atomic energy, which I am sure will attract a great deal of attention in the Senate, I think it is highly desirable that we should establish that we will require adequate time for debate. It is quite true that all governments have faced the same problem. The point has been made on each occasion this matter has been raised. It is not a problem which afflicts Labor governments; it is a problem which afflicts governments. I believe we will get a change in the way the bureaucrats behave in terms of getting legislation up only when it is clear that the Parliament will not allow itself to be treated as a sausage machine. That is in the hands of the Parliament. I think it is only when we make a decision that we will not legislate in that way that the system will eventually change.

Often there is not very much urgency in the Bills which are stuffed through the Parliament at the dying stages. Many Bills were stuffed through the House of Representatives which remained on the Senate's Notice Paper at the end of the session. Clearly, that need not have been done. The legislation could have been dealt with early in the Budget session. I would simply indicate that I would like to have some discussions with the Leader of the Government, the Leader of the Australian Democrats (Senator Chipp) and indeed with any independents in the Senate about the program in the course of the sittings so that we can, if possible, deal with things on an agreed basis. I express my complete dissatisfaction with the way we traditionally do things in the Senate so far as its program is concerned. I indicate on behalf of the Opposition that we would be very happy to co-operate with the Australian Democrats, the Government and the Independents to achieve a more satisfactory outcome.

Later today when discussing General Business we will have an opportunity to consider a proposal for a slightly different approach to considering legislation in this place. Again I hope that that can be approached in a spirit of co-operation. It is in the Government's interest to have better consideration of legislation. We need to pay some attention to the legislative role of the Parliament as against the political role which occupies most of our time. In making comments on the Government's legislative program I accept the very real difficulties the Government faces but I also assert that we need to have proper parliamentary consideration of legislation which often has a very great influence on the people whom we represent.