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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 591

Senator ROBERT RAY (Minister for Defence) (5.15 p.m.) —It is a great tragedy that this debate is not on radio broadcast day because there would be someone sitting up there in Queensland having the greatest chuckle in history. Having baited the hook to tempt a few people, Mr Goss would be surprised at who he has caught today. What we have seen today is the Opposition parties raise this as their most important matter to be dealt with in the unique opportunity of private business.

  I should point out to the Senate that it has been some years since the Labor Party has had in its national platform the abolition of the Senate. It was only when I listened to the insipid speech from Senator Hill and the incoherent speech from Senator Boswell that I was tempted—and Senator Tate will stop me being tempted at the next national conference—to restore that issue to the national platform. Later I will go into the details of why I believe the Labor Party will not attempt to abolish the Senate, at least not in this decade.

  What I find passing strange is the fact that the Parliament has not met for four months and this is only the second opportunity for the Opposition to raise an important issue—this is its chance. What does it ignore in the process of putting this totally irrelevant proposition to the Senate? It does not put a motion to discuss, analyse, generally criticise and put forward alternative policies on unemployment; it does not raise great issues of health policy; and it does not raise any matters relating to health or social security. The Opposition does not raise the broad sweep of international issues, from Somalia to Bosnia and Cambodia.

  What the Opposition senators raise is the incestuous obsession of conservatives with the very institution they inhabit. Debate after debate in this chamber is always devoted most vigorously to their own self-interest, their own rights and their own self-image. Because they are senators, Senate issues and the Senate itself are the most important things in life. The rest of the issues out there they will take up another time. The Opposition designates the second opportunity to raise great national issues under private business to an off-handed remark by the Premier of Queensland who was probably only intending to tease them anyway.

  That remark has excited the Opposition very greatly. It has meant that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Leader of the National Party have had to make speeches and that every other crass right-winger in the Senate will line up to put his or her particular point of view. I think this debate is a waste of the Senate's time. It is just a matter of giving those opposite an opportunity to puff themselves up and think that they are important.

  I am sure Senator Tate knows why this motion has been raised today. It is because the Opposition has policies on no other issues. Following the last federal election every conservative coalition policy was thrown out the window. In fact we will have to go through a two-year waiting period to see what emerges next. The coalition senators have no other policy to put forward here today and the one issue they can unite on is their own self-interested occupation of this chamber.

  The reason they have raised this motion today is that they are so divided on everything else. After the last federal election every one had to get a job in the Opposition to make sure that Mr Hewson would be secure. Therefore, there are 34 shadow Ministers, nine parliamentary secretaries—

Senator Walters —How many have you got?

Senator ROBERT RAY —We have three or four fewer than that. The art of opposition—

Senator Walters —That is not true.

Senator ROBERT RAY —The Opposition has 34 shadow Ministers and we have 30 Ministers. If Senator Walters says that is not true go and look up—

Senator Walters —How many secretaries?

Senator ROBERT RAY —We have 10 secretaries, you have nine.

Senator Walters —So it is not considerably less. It is more.

Senator ROBERT RAY —When I went to school, 34 and nine equal 43 and 30 and 10 equal 40. Senator Walters might like to go back and check those maths in the last seven days—it will probably take her that long—but the figures are in fact right.

Senator Ian Macdonald —What about the chairmen of committees, the Speaker and the President?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Those are all offices which carry emoluments to which Senator Macdonald aspires. That is why we are discussing elsewhere his attempt to grab a bit of money. The Liberal Party, being so divided, has to bring red herrings into this chamber, has to devote itself to institutional matters.

  What a great spectacle we have seen in the last couple of months. We have seen someone offered a shadow Ministry that was not good enough for her. The real reason sits in the front row opposite. Senator Macdonald and Senator Boswell were going to be higher in seniority than that particular individual. Maybe on their performances they deserved to get it, but that just could not be copped. So we get a second round offer of a shadow ministry to Mr Connolly, and he accepts. Having been left out of the first 34, I would have had a little more pride than to accept and to come in off the interchange bench because someone did not want it.

  Look at all the other criticisms we have seen. The former member for Bass, Mr Warwick Smith, has been giving a full-blown analysis of what is wrong in the Opposition—and they have been very telling criticisms. The ex-Senator Puplick has been constantly in the press. Then there is the ex-Opposition staffer, Mr Gerard Henderson. We have their critiques to show how bankrupt are those opposite.

  Then we get that great backbencher, Mr Aldred, criticising Dr Hewson and all the rest of the Opposition. Mr Aldred is an experienced member, having served from 1975-1980, then from 1983-1993. He has never actually made the front bench, he has never even been considered for it, but he has become an important backbench critic. Now, in these circumstances, fancy giving that person any prominence at all, his having had such a mediocre and undistinguished career. But so divided are those opposite, every time Mr Aldred opens his mouth there he is on the front page criticising the Liberal Party.

  What about Senator Michael Baume? During the last election he was not even allowed to produce his arts and sports policy. We are still waiting on the release of that. We are well past 13 March and it is now 13 May. Where is the Opposition's arts and sports policy that was going to be produced? While the Opposition is at it, why does it not table the draft copy of its industrial relations policy which it hid during the election campaign?

  The greatest indication of the division amongst those opposite was the appointment of Mr Downer as shadow Treasurer. Here is a person who I am told—and maybe those opposite can confirm this; it came from very good sources over there—got one vote for the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party. That means no-one here voted for him.

Senator Walters —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I thought the debate before the chamber at the moment was on the abolition of the Senate. I did not believe it was anything to do with the Opposition front bench in the House of Representatives. I ask you to draw the Minister's attention to the relevant section in our Standing Orders and I ask you to require him to speak relevantly to the motion before the chamber.

Senator ROBERT RAY —On the point of order, before you rule, Madam Acting Deputy President, I am seeking to establish that this matter brought up in general business has been brought up for an ulterior motive. I am allowed to talk on that and to point out why this motion is here and why we are not discussing serious matters. My comments are totally relevant.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Giles)—Thank you for your assistance Senator Ray. I was about to comment that so far this had been a fairly wide ranging debate from speakers on both sides of the chamber. I am quite sure each person who has spoken has had a case to make. I am waiting to hear what Senator Ray says.

Senator ROBERT RAY —My case is that the reason we have this incestuous debate here today is that those opposite cannot agree on any other matter to bring up and debate. I found it totally incongruous that Mr Downer, having got only one vote in the coalition party room—no-one in this room voted for Mr Downer unless he voted informally himself and someone opposite might like to own up that he or she voted for him—suddenly, because of the internal divisions, became shadow Treasurer. I wish him good luck; I do not dislike the person. I just find it passing strange that was the case.

Senator Kemp —What does Paul Keating call you? And what do you call Paul Keating? How pathetic can you be?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Let us get on to leadership. I want to point out a couple of things on leadership and I thank Senator Kemp for reminding me. While we are discussing the deputy leader's position, I am sure everyone is interested to know which Victorian Liberal MP asked Mr Costello to run and said he would support him and then rung Mr David Jull and said, `I am right behind you with my votes', and finally switched to Mr Michael Wooldridge, who subsequently won. I think that potential ambassador to the United States has some explaining to do. We will not hear it here in the Senate; we will have to go over to the House of Representatives.

  I should at least be gracious and congratulate Mr Wooldridge for achieving the deputy leadership in the House of Representatives. That means that out of the eight leadership positions—four in the Labor Party and four in the Liberal Party—Collingwood supporters consist of exactly half of the leadership of this country, and so it should be. While I am in a gracious mood, may I congratulate Senator Boswell on being given a shadow portfolio. A three-year wait in the wilderness to be trusted has been truly rewarded and we look forward to a better performance from Senator Boswell than the one he gave today. I thought he was a little inhibited by the responsibilities of office from delivering a coherent speech. I look forward to the person we know with great affection as Boz making a great contribution in this chamber.

  Senator Hill referred in his speech to an article in the Bulletin by Mr David O'Reilly. I read it with some interest and agree with Senator Hill that it was an interesting article. It was not as interesting as the article—I think in the same copy of the Bulletin—that went into great detail about the future preselection changes in New South Wales. It was pointed out that seven of the eight lower house members—eight out of 50, in case anyone opposite did not know, which is only 16 per cent of representation by the Liberal Party in House of Representatives seats—were all going to get the chop. Mr Connolly, Mr Ruddock, Mr Cadman, Mr Dobie, Mr Howard were all for the chop. The list of those who were going to replace them was, quite frankly, very disappointing. I am sure anyone who read that list would have been monumentally disappointed that the recruiting ground for the Liberal Party was to be from these particular individuals. So I say to Senator Hill that Mr O'Reilly's article was interesting, but I do recommend he go back and read that other article.

  There are a variety of arguments advanced as to why the Senate should be retained. Every now and then a reference is made—and there was reference made again today—that the Senate is a States house. I am not a great student of history. I do not know when this ceased to be a States house but I suspect it was around about World War I. The reason it never became a States house is simply because of the block voting system that was instituted in 1901, apart from, I think, two States which used proportional representation. I think Senator Maguire's home State may have as well. Once we got into the block voting winner-take-all, it became very much a party house. If a party got a majority of the votes in a first past the post sense plus one, it took a clean sweep of the whole Senate. In fact, that was why, as we look back into history, we ran the four-As in New South Wales in about 1938. So we had the first four in a row on the ballot paper and we were able to get the majority of the votes because they were all grouped and the vote did not spray. So up until 1949 we had this block vote thing that basically returned a party with absolute control of this particular chamber. So it was never a States house, it is not a States house today, and never has been since after the First World War.

Senator Walters —Not on your side.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Walters says, `Not on your side'. She is one of the great Liberal Party loyalists in this chamber. The reason I admire her so much is that she never ever deviates in her loyalty. She is a hardworking member of the Liberal Party who has never once tried to stab it in the back. She is loyal to her party, she has a great affection for her State and she hopes the two coincide, but she is not here representing her State. She is here representing her party. That is her history from 1975 when she won a seat here—her party hoped she would not; it put her number six on the ticket.

  I say to Senator Walters that this has never been a States house. This place becomes a house of review when we have Labor governments with conservative control or influence in the Senate, never at any other time. Over the years we have listened to the conservatives saying, `Look at the Victorian Legislative Council. We are being totally responsible in reviewing Labor Government legislation'. Do honourable senators think there is any review of any legislation going on in the Victorian Legislative Council now that it has a majority? Absolutely not! Ride roughshod over everyone's rights when they get 50 per cent plus one! That is the philosophy of the conservatives—only use upper houses to prevent reform processes. That is their attitude to upper houses. That is why even up until 1960 Senator Kemp's party had property qualifications in the Legislative Council in Victoria.

  When the Opposition talks about the Senate being a house of review, it means that it is really a house of review when conservatives can cobble together a majority to stop any reforms going through. The reality is that today this House is basically a party house. It has party meetings to determine attitudes and people are expected to go along with the party line. I am not saying that no-one ever deviates from that, but it has been a long while since we have seen anyone deviate from the party line.

Senator O'Chee —What about Senator Georges?

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator O'Chee asks what we did to Senator Georges. I do not disagree that this should be a party house; I do not disagree with party discipline. But what I do not talk about in hypocritical terms is that we are all free, et cetera. If members of the Opposition reckon they are all free, they should go back to the Victorian example where Mr Francis and co, and Jennings, bucked the line. They were both expelled. Why were they expelled? Because they went against the Liberal Party line. What happened to George Hannaford, the Liberal senator from South Australia who opposed the Liberal line on Vietnam in this Senate? He disappeared from the party.

Senator Walters —What happened to me?

Senator ROBERT RAY —What happened to Senator Walters? I do not know why Senator Walters did not run again. I am sorry she will not be here after June. I withdraw that; all I will say is that I will miss her.

  This is a party house. It is not a house of review or a States rights house.

Senator Walters —I hope you'll stay and listen.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I am pretty slow these days, but when Senator Walters gets to her feet, I can break even time getting out of this chamber and I assure her that I will.

This chamber was dramatically changed in 1949 for good or bad. Proportional representation was introduced and it changed the whole nature of this chamber. I believe that proportional representation was brought in for all the wrong reasons, for crass political advantage, and so it has been proved on both sides. But now we have to live with the fact that this chamber will probably not have a majority party in it for many years to come. It is hard to imagine a double dissolution.

Senator Ian Macdonald —We're almost there.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Macdonald says that they are almost there.

Senator Ian Macdonald —When we get the five Democrat seats next time we will have the majority.

Senator ROBERT RAY —That is an interesting point that Senator Macdonald constantly raises. The Opposition received 42 per cent of the vote, aggregated, in the last two Federal elections. The Labor Party received a bit over 41 per cent. What will the representation in this chamber be after 30 June? It will be 47 1/2 per cent representation to the Liberal Party, 39 per cent to the Labor Party and 9.2 per cent to the Democrats. Why are we under-represented in that sense? Not through any conspiracy or intrinsic unfairness. The fact is that, like the House of Representatives, some parties can get an increased representation here simply because under proportional representation there is always a missing quota. The total votes are divided by seven. Therefore, 14 per cent is always missing.

Senator Walters —Come on Robert—bad luck.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Yes, certainly in 1990 and 1993 we got into a position where, through some bad luck, we are less represented than the Opposition. When we are talking about bad luck, I do not mind a bit of bad luck. I do not mind having 80 votes in the House of Representatives and only 30 here. I sleep well at night in that knowledge, but none of those opposite do. They would swap their 36 seats here after June and do anything to have 80 votes 150 metres across the hall in the House of Representatives. There is absolutely no doubt about that.

What we are debating today is an irrelevancy. The Labor Party does not intend to abolish the Senate. No way are we going to spend $40 million on a referendum that is sure to go down. I recognise that. When Senator Boswell makes the claim that the people out there will not abolish the Senate, I agree with him. In my view we would not get a majority in one State. If that is the case, why would we waste $40 million on such a referendum?

  We saw from Senator Boswell today the fact that this is a smokescreen to try to get the old republican debate up. If he wanted to debate it, why not put it here centrally? The reason he did not do so is that the Liberal federal council has not made up its mind. I am just suspicious that Senator Boswell may be a little smarter than I gave him credit for. Has he lured Senator Hill into the debate on the Senate simply so he could make a closet anti-republican speech? I suspect the answer is yes.

This is just one of many examples of hypocrisy we see from those opposite. It is very interesting to read the Hansards from 1975 to 1980. It is terrific to see how those embryonic democrats opposite, those power sharers, those people who opposed guillotines behaved in those years. Did they suggest once that committee chairmanship should be shared with those on this side of the chamber? No, they did not. Did they ever vote for the guillotine? Apart from about 20 occasions, no, they did not. They only voted for the guillotine at the end of each session of Parliament. They only did it about 10 times. Not only did they not vote for the guillotine, but they gagged the debate on the guillotine. They have learnt the lesson now. Ten sterile years in the Senate have brought out better qualities in these individuals. Now they are great supporters of the institution of parliament. Now they are great democrats. The bitter vetch of defeat is finally starting to make them better people. I am sure that if we waited another 20 years, we will get some very decent suggestions from those opposite.

Senator Ian Macdonald —I raise a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. I thought—and I ask your guidance on this; you may correct me—Senator Ray and his colleagues were saying that speeches should not go for more than 20 minutes. Could you let me know whether that applied to these sorts of debates or only second reading debates on Bills. I am sure that Senator Ray, having voted for that proposal with such gusto and dedication, will now curtail his speech to the 20 minutes that he says is so important.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Giles)—I do not believe there is a point of order. I will not go into the detail of it.

Senator ROBERT RAY —My contention is that if anyone goes beyond 20 minutes, they are basically stonewalling and playing for time. That is certainly my motive right now. Why should I give Opposition members the rest of private business to waffle on like they have in the past? I am glad to see Senator MacGibbon in the chamber because I did say that all we had on the other side waiting to speak were hopeless right-wingers. Everyone knows that Senator MacGibbon is progressive and he has changed the nature of those opposite.

In conclusion—because even I cannot invent enough insults across the chamber to go another seven minutes—I will simply sum up as follows. Mr Goss has tempted members of the Opposition into a very stupid move today. He has given them an off-handed flick and—come in spinner!—they have all fallen for it. They have wasted a unique opportunity to discuss serious issues with this sort of trash that they brought into the chamber today.

  As I said at the start of my speech, the Labor Party does not have in its platform the abolition of the Senate. The Labor Party will not spend $40 million of taxpayers' money on a useless referendum. But that does not mean that we are in love with every aspect of this institution. The anarchistic swamp in terms of legislation of this institution Mr Goss would be right in describing as a national disgrace. The fact that we spend so much time up irrelevant gullies and dry gulches and not spend enough time on legislation is a disgrace in this chamber and those opposite are responsible for that disgrace.

  I lament that we do not have time to go back to the great circumstances of the abolition of the Legislative Council in Queensland. Legislative councillors in Queensland got together one night and had a quick negotiation and abolished themselves when they got a free railway pass. It would take a lot more than a free railway pass to get any of these 76 senators to abolish themselves.

  This motion stands for the old agenda of the Queensland National Party—the old Bjelke-Petersen legacy. Maybe if we had had an upper house in Queensland we would not have seen the most corrupt regime in the history of this country. Maybe we would not have seen a situation where knighthoods were sold, contracts were rigged, the deduct box became the order of the day and the Liberal Party of Queensland could not even muster double figures in Queensland. Maybe that is the Opposition's agenda—to get an upper house to make sure that Bjelke-Petersen never reigns again in Queensland; the sort of Huey Long approach of Louisiana transferred into the late twentieth century. Fortunately, Mr Goss has put an end to all those things. Fortunately, they belong to a time in the past and will never be resurrected.

  As I said at the start, we have seen in this debate today a very insipid contribution from Senator Hill, a very incoherent one from Senator Boswell and a pretty irrelevant one from me.