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Thursday, 19 September 1985
Page: 759

Senator CHIPP (Leader of the Australian Democrats) —by leave-I thank the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) for his courtesy in putting this matter down at this stage. Being a Party that is represented in only one House, the Australian Democrats have sympathy with the point of view that Senator Chaney has put forward. We see that there are very good reasons why the Liberal Party would want the Senate to meet when the House of Representatives meets. However, the arrangement proposed is far better than that which obtained last year, provided that we get through the business. I want to sound a note of warning: I do not think we have a bolter's chance of getting the business through, even with this schedule. We have passed virtually only one Bill plus some rural Bills so far. The progress we have made is minimal, in view of the Government's legislative schedule. That is nobody's fault.

The problems arise from debates on matters of public importance and papers. I do not begrudge the Opposition the opportunity to bring up matters of public importance. It is the Opposition's duty to do so and I am 100 per cent in favour of that. However, I have taken particular notice of the matters of public importance that have been brought forward on non- broadcast days. For example, on the first day we came back Senator Messner brought forward a matter of public importance-I cannot remember what it was about; I could not really understand it anyway-

Senator Kilgariff —It was about interest rates.

Senator CHIPP —Yes. I got my staff to check afterwards and it did not get one line in any newspaper in the country. That is a very important point. I suggest that there might be a gentleperson's agreement between all parties in this chamber that we have two matters of public importance on a Wednesday, on broadcast day, or on the other broadcast day that we get sometimes. This would at least ensure that proceedings of the Senate are being heard by somebody. The gentleperson's agreement would be not to call matters of public importance on other days. At the moment the way in which the Opposition or the Australian Democrats can call matters of public importance on non-broadcast days means that there are only eight hours a week in four days in which government business can be dealt with. We have six sitting weeks left, so that means we have 48 hours of government business left before 6 December. It is crazy to think that we can get through the legislative program that was put forward by Senator Button earlier in the session, even if the Government knocks a few things off the list, which it always does near the end of a session. I see a recurrence of the situation in which intolerable strain is put on members of this Parliament by sitting for perhaps four or more weeks straight before Christmas. That is a situation to which we should not subject people. I do not have a cut and dried answer to the problem, but at least I have put forward one suggestion which I would ask honourable senators to consider.