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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2325

Senator DURACK(10.40) —The Opposition would thoroughly agree with many things that Senator Chipp has said. There is no doubt whatsoever that there has been continued mismanagement of the Senate by the Government, particularly during this session. I do not know why, and I certainly do not want to point the finger at anybody, any more than Senator Chipp wants to, but one reason could be that the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Grimes) was overseas for some period during the session. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that the program for this session, both in this chamber and in the House of Representatives, is a real mess. The Government started off with a program for the Budget sitting beginning in August and running through with the two Houses more or less sitting in tandem for that period, but the Senate sat on its own for one week without the House of Representatives and the House of Representatives then sat on its own without the Senate last week. It is quite clear, with the House of Representatives absolutely determined to get up at the end of this week, that the Senate will be sitting for another week at least, probably two, and, if Senator Chipp's amendment is moved and passed, probably three weeks after the House of Representatives gets up. The Government is responsible for the incredible mess that has occurred in the running of this Parliament this session.

The House of Representatives last week guillotined a number of important Bills. I do not know whether Senator Chipp is aware of what happened last week but there was hardly any time allowed for debate on a major Bill to amend the Companies Act. There were 200 clauses in the Bill and honourable members had less than three-quarters of an hour to debate the Bill. Clearly the Government cannot expect such cavalier treatment by the Senate as it will want to spend a good deal of time debating a Bill of that magnitude. There are also a number of other Bills of that magnitude on the list of Bills which are to be dealt with.

The Government has, at a very late stage, made what the Opposition considers to be a genuine attempt to rationalise its legislative program. We now have a list of Bills which, once the Appropriation Bills are disposed of, will total in effect 40, with the possibility of there being only two or three weeks in which to deal with them. That should not have happened, and I agree with Senator Chipp about that. But there is at this late stage-at the eleventh hour-some realisation by the Government of the mess it has got both itself and the Senate into. We applaud that effort and we hope not only that it will be continued in the future but also that it will be done at a much earlier stage of any sitting. One of the most striking things about this list is that the Australian Bill of Rights Bill, which the Government has given great credence to, has been taken off it. That is no doubt a sensible move. Nevertheless, it indicates how little belief or concern the Government has about its so-called Bill of Rights, which I hope it will realise should be abandoned altogether. I instance that as an example of a genuine effort by the Government to cut down the debate that would otherwise have been required during this session before we rise for Christmas.

The immediate question that Senator Chipp raises concerns the Appropriation Bills. These most important Bills, both for the Government and for the country, were not introduced into the Senate until 5 November. They have been introduced in the House of Representatives on Budget night, on 20 August, and did not get into this chamber until 5 November. We have not had any lengthy debate on the Appropriation Bills. They used to be the centrepiece of debate in this chamber during the Budget session. The Appropriation Bills are the Budget Bills.

Senator Chipp —Eighteen hours of debate on them so far.

Senator DURACK —That is very little debate for such important measures. They are the centrepiece of the Government's financial program. These Bills are vital for the Government. They were not introduced into the Senate until 5 November. They demand far more debate than 18 hours. If anybody listening to this debate heard that we were giving only 18 hours of debate to legislation which is passing $50 billion or $60 billion to be spent by the Government I am sure he would think that it demands much more debate than that.

The Government has at no stage said to the Opposition, or I think to the Australian Democrats, but they can speak for themselves-it certainly has never said it publicly-that there is any urgent necessity for the Appropriation Bills to be passed yesterday or today. They are listed for passage this week along with several other Bills. This week extends until 4.15 on Friday afternoon. The Government's list of Bills that have been programmed for this week is relatively modest. Clearly the Opposition will co-operate in achieving what the Government wants passed this week. The fact is that the Appropriation Bills are still to be debated in this chamber this morning. There would be more sense in our spending less time talking about these sorts of things now and getting on with the Appropriation Bills.

Senator Chipp has raised a spectre of the Government running out of money. That is obviously typically designed to get some headlines and attention from the Press. The Government has never indicated that sense of urgency to the Opposition or to the Senate. I do not think we can take much notice of some rumour that Senator Chipp has heard. The fact of the matter is that the Opposition will co-operate with the Government in getting the passage of the legislation it needs this week. I do not think that the Government is very worried about that, even though Senator Chipp may be.

The Opposition agrees with the other points Senator Chipp has made, but we are certainly not going to curtail senators' rights and duty to speak on the appropriation Bills. There are a number of matters which do arise on these Bills which are not dealt with in Estimates committees. For one thing, the Estimates committees were sitting about two months ago. Questions were asked then which have not been answered even now by the Government, as we found last night. Other matters arise over a period of two months that need to be attended to. Senators have a right to comment on information that is obtained from Estimates committees. Senator Chipp does not seem really to understand what Senate Estimates committees do. They ask questions and get information, and senators have a duty to comment and debate the information that they obtain.

Senator Robert Ray —Garbage! If that was what you were doing we would not mind.

Senator DURACK —Senator Ray would not be interested in the subject at all. All he wants to do is comment on a few political issues that arise from time to time. He is not interested in the business of government. We are interested in the business of government. We are interested in the Budget appropriations and we intend to debate them as required.