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Thursday, 13 May 1993
Page: 616

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (8.59 p.m.) —I move:

  Subparagraph (1)(b), omit "3", substitute "5".

The history of this matter is the abuse of Question Time during the last government when Ministers used the occasion of Question Time to abuse the Opposition for its policies in particular rather than to provide serious answers on public interest matters relating to their portfolio. During Question Time there is no opportunity for the Opposition to respond to such attacks. Therefore, more often than we had in the past, we used the practice of seeking leave to move a motion after Question Time to take note of a Minister's answer and to respond in order to correct the record.

  That practice was only second best because now, in the days of television, members of the public have access to a Minister's answer through the direct television coverage, but of course they do not have access to the response of the Opposition after Question Time. Even though it was second best, we thought that it was a better practice than not pursuing such matters at all. At least it meant that within the chamber there was contemporaneous debate on issues that had disturbed the Opposition which had been raised by Ministers in answer to questions.

  For some time the Government adopted the practice of refusing leave. That led to various suspensions and attempted suspensions. It was decided—I think by the former Manager of Government Business—that that was too much trouble, so the Government started giving leave almost as a matter of course. The Government, however, wanted some restraint on the maximum time for such debates. That led to the development of a sessional order such as the proposed one before the Senate now, setting aside a 30-minute period with designated timeslots for each speaker to deal with such matters.

  We are pleased that this motion is before the Senate again, because we think that the practice of dealing immediately thereafter with matters of a controversial nature that arise in Question Time is the Senate operating in a useful form. Some might say that it has led to more informative debates than some of the debates on matters of public importance which in the past tended to take up a great deal of this time.

  There can be an argument as to how much time should be applied for this purpose. Some honourable senators on this side of the chamber would obviously argue, from an opposition perspective, that a half an hour is too limited. Nevertheless, that is the figure before the chamber at the moment and we will not seek to vary it at this time. The only variation that I will seek to make is to amend it so there is a maximum of five minutes per speaker, which is in accordance with the notice of motion I gave on the first day of this sittings.

  We would also have liked the motion to be in a form that provided that, in a technical sense, leave was no longer necessary. As I read it, technically speaking, leave is still necessary, but because the Government is prepared to move this motion, I take it that it is recognising it as a practice it will respect in future, as it has in recent times. Therefore, we will support the motion, with the amendment—for which I seek the support of the Senate—that an honourable senator may speak for no more than five minutes on such a motion, rather than what the Government has provided in its form, which is that an honourable senator shall speak for no more than three minutes on such a motion.