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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 414


Senator WALTERS (11.37 a.m.) —We have the situation where yesterday Senator Evans, down in the members' hall, had a bit of a dig at the Senate for not yet having got any Bills through. We are now debating procedural motions. I do not think anybody today—even the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Faulkner)—has said that this motion is urgent and that we must look at it today. We have two and a half weeks left of this sitting. We have not had a Bill presented to us. We have the Government looking for things to put before the Senate to keep us occupied, and one of the things is this procedural motion for debate.

  We must not let the Government come to the Senate at the end of May and ask for the guillotine to get Bills through. We on this side of the chamber would not assist in any way—and I would be surprised if the Democrats would. Senator Coulter has not said in his speech that this is urgent; that we must debate it today; that this is something so important that government Bills will be set aside to make time for this debate. So I hope at the end of May, when, no doubt, the Government will be trying to make us go through umpteen Bills in a day, that the Democrats will not support the Government in trying to gag debate on the Bills coming before the Senate. That would be a complete and utter injustice.


Senator Campbell —What if they want to go home?


Senator WALTERS —We will not go into that one. Let us have a look at what this is all about, and deal first with what the Government has said. The Government has said that 30 minutes is too long. The Government also has said that an hour is too long. It has cut speeches from an hour down to half an hour. The Government then said that half an hour is too long, that we ought to be able to say all we have to say in 20 minutes and that there is no reason for a speech in a second reading debate to take half an hour.

  Let us have a look how the Government treats its own members. Look at them over there: not one of them has stood in this place and supported the Minister. Not one backbench government member has stood and supported the Government. When we were in government we matched them speaker for speaker.


Senator Schacht —That was a long time ago now, Shirley.


Senator WALTERS —That was a long time ago, but we conducted the Senate in true democratic fashion. We believed in the debate in this place. The government members and the Democrats do not believe in the debate in the Senate. As I said, the Minister stood up and said what the Government is going to do, and nobody was permitted to speak to support him. All government members are there for, all they are sitting in their seats for, is the vote.


Senator Schacht —Because we are the Government.


Senator WALTERS —That is not true, and it is not the way that government members should approach debate in the Senate. As I said, when we were in government we kept matching them speaker for speaker on every occasion on every Bill and on every procedural motion that came up before us. There was none of this, `You don't talk. You sit back. Don't debate it in the Senate. You are only there to vote and nothing else'. It is typical of how the Government believes democracy works.

  We have had lots of experience of the Labor Party form of government. We know how the Labor Party conducts its Caucus meetings. I know that the students in the gallery will understand that a secret ballot is meant to be that. You are meant to be able to vote and that vote is meant to have nothing do with anyone else. It is your decision alone. Your ballot is secret. But when the Labor Party Caucus has a secret ballot, what do Caucus members have to do? Immediately they make their ballot they have to show it to one of their factional members. Good democracy! The way this Government conducts democracy is to have a so-called secret ballot, where a member voting must show his vote to another factional member—because they do not trust each other—who will check up on him and make sure that he is doing the right thing. That is the way the Government believes democracy ought to be run.

  Let us come to the second reason why the Government is indulging in this proposal. For years and years the policy of the Government, the policy of the Labor Party, was to abolish the Senate. That was written into its policy.


Senator Schacht —It wasn't.


Senator WALTERS —It is no use Senator Schacht saying that it was not. It was written into Labor Party policy, into its platform. We all knew about it—it was front page in the newspapers—when Senator Evans came in here and said, `Look, it's not good public relations to have it written into the policy. Let us take it out of the written part of the policy. I am going in there and I will white-ant it from within'. He said so unashamedly. His maiden speech denigrated the Senate. Senator Coates is another good example; he has always said that the Senate should not be here.

  What does the Leader of the Labor Party call us? The Prime Minister, Mr Keating, called the Senate `unrepresentative swill'. That is the true opinion of the Government regarding the Senate. So, naturally, the way it carries out its policy is to downgrade on every occasion possible the rights of senators in this place. Government senators have already done it in regard to the allocation of time for speeches and, with the Democrats' support, they will do it again.

  The Government has whittled away the rights of the estimates committees, so we had the shameful debacle last night of Senator Collins refusing to allow his bureaucrats to answer the questions rightfully put by the Opposition senators. In other committees the Government would not allow senators to ask questions except on a particular line of expenditure. Last night we had a most shameful situation in the estimates committees, another attempt to undermine the powers of the Senate estimates committees. I do not understand the Democrats, frankly. The Senate is the only place the Democrats have any say. They do not have any members in the House of Representatives. Yet they are supporting the Government in gradually whittling away the powers of the individual senators.

  Straight after the debate on the downgrading of the time allocated for speeches from half an hour to 20 minutes was adjourned, Senator Bell got up on the adjournment debate and spoke for 29 minutes—nearly 30 minutes. He had previously said—and you say, Mr Acting Deputy President—that anyone who cannot make a speech in only 20 minutes should not be allowed to make a speech. He got up and could not use 20 minutes; he took just on 30 minutes. The hypocrisy of that is unbelievable. If Senator Bell, who is a Democrat and who believes that he should have been able to fit his speech into 20 minutes, found that he could not and took just on 30 minutes, then surely to heavens the vote in that situation would be nothing but hypocrisy.

  As Senator Harradine said, some time in the next couple of years—in this next three-year period no doubt—the Senate will have debates on the Constitution, perhaps on the referendum the Prime Minister is proposing on whether we retain the monarchy or become a republic. I believe that everyone in the Senate will have personal views on that. Of course, Labor Party members will not speak; the Minister will, but no-one else will be allowed. On this side of the chamber we will be wanting to speak. I am sure that the Democrats will be wanting to speak. Therefore, I believe that they will be wanting at least 30 minutes each. Senator Coulter has said that the Democrats will not deny any senator who wants an extension of time so long as the Democrats believe that it is just for that to happen.


Senator Crichton-Browne —But you do not need leave from the whole Senate. One person can stop you.


Senator WALTERS —As Senator Crichton-Browne said, it really does not matter what the Democrats want, any senator can stop a speaker having additional time. But is that the whole point of it? Is it not, as Senator MacGibbon said, the right of all senators to make that speech, be heard, represent their State and take the full 30 minutes because they believe that what they are saying is important? It does not really matter what Senator Coulter believes is important, as far as other senators are concerned. They believe they have something to say that represents their particular State and is important for their State. It does not matter a fig what the Democrats think, the Labor Party thinks or, indeed—vice versa—what we think if one of the Democrats wants to get up and speak for half an hour. It is, and has been, the right of every senator to be able to do that.

  The Government realises that it will no longer have the numbers in the new Parliament. It has lost an additional two seats in the Senate. After 30 June the Labor Party will have only 30 senators in this place; the coalition will have 36; the Democrats will have seven; and there will be Senator Harradine and two Greens. The Senate will be a very interesting spot—a very sensible spot. It will be very interesting to see the Government making deals with the Greens that it has not had to do in the past; it has only had to do deals with the Democrats. The Government will be offering the Greens all sorts of things, too, in compensation for their vote. It will be very interesting to see how the Government goes on that.

  We now have the Government attempting to downgrade the Senate to the same situation that is presently occurring in the House of Representatives. The rights of senators here are so much greater than those of members of the House of Representatives. Because the Government does not believe in the Senate, it is trying to downgrade the Senate to the same level as the House of Representatives so that it can control the Senate.

  In the House of Representatives at the moment, Bills come in that never reach the committee stage. Members do not look at the committee stage; they are not allowed to because the Bills are guillotined. Everything is pushed through like a sausage machine. That cannot happen in the Senate unless the Government controls it, and we are far away from that situation. We rely on the Democrats who, in the past, have said that they will not apply the guillotine. Last year, in the lead-up to Christmas, to do them justice, they said, `No, we will not apply the guillotine in the same fashion'.

  A little chat will be going on now between the Minister and Senator Coulter. I am not quite sure where that will lead to, but we can guess. A vote will be taken in a little while after we have heard from a few more speakers on our side.

  Today Senator Coulter said that we supported the Government on pensioner investment. The Government and the Democrats know that the reason we did that was that it was included in a Bill in which the pensioners were to receive certain benefits which we believed they should receive. So we supported the Bill in total—bearing in mind, of course, that that Bill was put through with the guillotine in the House of Representatives—purely for that reason only. Even in the House of Representatives we said that we would review that in government. Because we are not in government, we are now saying we will review it and we are doing it, and Senator Patterson has already moved an amendment.

  For Senator Coulter to say that the Democrats convinced us and talked us into it is a lot of rubbish; absolute rot. In the House of Representatives before Christmas we said that we would review it in government, and because we are not in government we are reviewing it now. We put that Bill through originally because there were certain benefits that the pensioners needed, and we had to do that.


Senator Coulter —You supported the amendments; be honest about it.


Senator WALTERS —Senator Coulter did not listen because he was chatting to Senator Faulkner. What I said was that we decided that we would review it in government; we said that in the House of Representatives. We did not attain government at the election but we now have reviewed it and no doubt we will be putting it through this Senate later.

  I was absolutely staggered to hear Senator Coulter say that debate is not important in this chamber. Let me quote his exact words. He said, `All it is in this chamber is how the numbers fall'. Debate does not matter. We have had the Democrats saying to the public at large, `Our policy is that anyone who comes into the Parliament in our party has the right to vote as they think. They will not be caucused. We will listen to the debate and we will vote the way we believe we should'. That is what the Democrats told the Australian people; that is what they tell their constituents; and that is what they tell their party members. But today we have heard Senator Coulter say that debate is not important; it is how the numbers fall. That, I think, is a travesty of their whole credibility and we will see what happens as a result of it. The Democrats have always told this place and the Australian people that their senators are not caucused and that they are permitted to vote as they think.

  Once again, I am totally opposed to the whittling away of individual senators' powers in this place. We will certainly be voting against the Government's motion.