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Friday, 8 November 1985
Page: 1820


Senator LEWIS(10.28) —I want to refer to the reason for the debate taking place today. It arises out of your contingent notice of motion, Mr Deputy President. Before I do that I have to correct something I said earlier. When this matter was debated on Wednesday I referred to vehicles thundering along the Hume Highway, apparently with 26 wheels. I have been advised that that is not right, that they normally have 22 wheels not 26, and that they do not cart 40 tonnes but gross 38 tonnes in the eastern States and 41.9 tonnes in South Australia. I apologise for those errors in what I said on Wednesday night. Nevertheless, I can assure you that if one is passed by a 22-wheeler grossing 38 tonnes, travelling at about 75 miles an hour, it is quite a frightening experience.

I do not wish to debate the issue of the referral of the interstate road transport Bills to a Senate committee and the merits of that because I really believe that it has been proved beyond any shadow of doubt by my colleagues that this legislation is in such a shambles that it ought to be referred to a Senate committee. I want to raise the higher ground. As you know, Mr Deputy President, this all arises out of a notice of motion which has been sitting on the books since 10 May this year. It is notice of motion No. 25, given by Senator Chaney, and it seeks to install forever the legislative purpose of this chamber. I honestly direct my remarks to the back benchers of the Australian Labor Party. I want them to think about the Senate chamber and its purpose. This is clearly the legislative House. This is where legislation gets looked at in some detail and where it is amended. The legislation cannot be amended in the House of Representatives unless something sudden and drastic happens to the Government, in which case there would probably be an election. But it can be amended, whether we are in government or the Australian Labor Party is in government, by the Senate, which is the House which amends legislation. For that reason the Senate has set up a number of standing committees to look at various pieces of legislation. The first such committee it set up in 1932. It is the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, which considers how subordinate legislation should be dealt with. It then set up the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills to look at the same sorts of things as are considered by the Regulations and Ordinances Committee and to report on those matters to the Senate.

Senator Chaney has put down this notice of motion which, if passed, would enable Bills such as these Bills to go to a Senate committee for proper examination. It is well known that when legislation goes to a bipartisan Senate committee it comes out with proper and adequate amendments, usually unanimously supported by the members of the committee. I know that it was your idea, Mr Deputy President, when you put down your contingent notice of motion that, where there is legislation which ought to be referred to a Senate committee, a motion could be moved that would enable a Senate committee to give proper and adequate consideration to it. If ever legislation needed proper and adequate consideration by a Senate standing committee, it is this legislation.

As my colleague Senator Messner has mentioned, Senator Vigor of the Australian Democrats has already indicated that there ought to be a Senate committee on transport and communications to consider the very sorts of things that are raised by these Bills. I cannot understand why the Democrats are being so blockheaded about supporting this proposal. It has not yet been accepted by the States. Even the Federal Government is operating on the basis that the earliest this legislation could operate by is 1 July next year. There is therefore all the time in the world for a bipartisan Senate committee to give this legislation adequate and proper consideration and report to the Senate as to whether it adequately fullfils the tasks which the Government is suggesting in the second reading speech it should. I hope that the Democrats have had second thoughts about this matter and are prepared to support the Opposition on it.

As to the general question, I hope that back bench Labor senators will apply their minds to the enormous benefits to the nation of Senator Chaney's proposal. It is a bipartisan and impartial proposal. There are no party politics in notice of motion No. 25 because it is anticipated that one of these days we will be back in government and the situation will continue; in other words, that legislation from the Liberal and National parties will be able to be referred to a Senate standing committee for proper examination. I can assure Government senators that when we were in government a number of our back benchers tried to persuade our Government to adopt this idea but they were unsuccessful. I am hoping that the people opposite who in those days would have supported such a proposition might, as the ALP is in government, support it. This will be to the benefit of all Australians for many years.

This is not in any way an attack on the Government. As I have said, if we can make sure that the legislation which is passed by the Australian Parliament is proper and adequate legislation which fulfils the ideals which the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) expects of it and which are indicated in his second reading speech, it will benefit all Australians. Of course, the Government will not support this proposal because it never wants ordinary senators and members of parliament to have a good look at its legislation as they always find out there is something wrong with it. The Ministers always adopt the Yes Minister principle and say that whatever they and their public servants have drawn up has to be accepted by the Parliament. I suggest the back bench members of the ALP have a good look at notice of motion No. 25 put down by Senator Chaney and realise the benefits in it. I also ask the Democrats to have second thoughts about this matter.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Hamer's) be agreed to.