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Thursday, 19 September 1985
Page: 758


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave-I agree with the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) that there have been discussions about this matter. I would quibble with the point that there has been agreement about the change, but certainly there was agreement that some change was required. The Opposition put the view, which Senator Button was unable to accommodate, that we should seek to keep the Senate and House of Representatives sittings in tandem as much as possible. We would have preferred that the House of Representatives sit also in the week commencing 4 November. Senator Button told me that it was not the Government's intention to re-arrange the sittings of the House of Representatives. There was agreement that it was highly undesirable that the Senate should sit for four weeks in row. We did that during the last period of sittings and I believe that it was a good illustration of why we should not do it. I believe that the strain on senators was excessive and, therefore, I am strongly opposed to sitting four weeks in a row. I would prefer the pattern which the Government is putting forward to any suggestion that we should sit for four weeks in a row. To that extent, there is agreement.

The difficulty the Opposition sees in what is now being laid down by the Government is that for Government Ministers, Opposition shadow Ministers and many other senators it will be necessary to be in Canberra for the week shown as an up week, otherwise we will miss respectively our Caucus and Party meetings and meetings of the Cabinet and shadow Cabinet. Therefore, effectively, for most of us it will mean five continuous weeks in Canberra. To anyone who is not a part of this Parliament, it sounds a particularly weak objection. Why should people object to being five weeks in Canberra? It is a very pleasant place. The reality of the periods of sittings that we have now undertaken is that there is a very considerable personal strain and I believe that it is extremely unhealthy, both for the operations of this place and for the operations of the bodies of senators and members.

My other point is that there are mixed feelings within the Opposition about the two weeks on and two weeks off pattern. Personally I have always supported that as being a pattern which is in the interests of the Government, rather than those of the Opposition. As we plan to be in government more than in opposition, I therefore believe that although we are in opposition we should support the pattern. My concern is that while we retain significant breaks in both the winter and the summer, the two weeks on and two weeks off pattern does not work to full advantage. I wish to put on the record-not as an Opposition suggestion, but as one senator's suggestion-that if the two weeks on and two weeks off pattern is to work and if we are to avoid the sorts of extensions that we have seen since the Government instituted the pattern, we really need to sit more continuously through the year with relatively short breaks both at Christmas and in the middle of the year. I commend that for the Government's attention.

For my part, I will support sittings which may be in the interests of the Government in the sense that they give an opportunity for the more orderly use of time by Ministers and by the Cabinet-and I believe we should be ready to acknowledge the needs of the Cabinet and its Ministers-although I do believe that the Parliament itself is not getting a full advantage from the change because of the rush of legislation at the end of sessions, which is unsatisfactory to us all. I am sorry to take the time of the Senate when we wish to adjourn, but I wish to put those views on the record as matters which need consideration from the Government side as well as from the Opposition. I regret that we will be sitting without the House of Representatives. I think that it reduces the effectiveness of this Parliament.