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Wednesday, 18 August 1993
Page: 173


Senator CHAMARETTE (10.49 a.m.) —I move:

  (1)That where a bill:

      (a)is first introduced in the House of Representatives after 1 October 1993; or

      (b)is received by the Senate from the House of Representatives after 29 October 1993; or

      (c)is first introduced in the Senate by a minister after 29 October 1993,

  and a motion is moved for the second reading of the bill, debate on that motion shall be taken to be adjourned upon the conclusion of the speech of the Senator moving the motion, and the resumption of the debate shall be made an order of the day for the first day of sitting in 1994, without any question being put.

  (2)That, immediately after debate on a motion for the second reading of a bill is adjourned in accordance with paragraph (1), or following the giving of notices on a subsequent day, a motion may be moved without notice to refer that bill to a standing committee for inquiry and report by a day not later than the first day of sitting in 1994.

  (3)That this order may be suspended by notice of motion, subject to the time limits on debate on motions to suspend standing and other orders, in relation to bills arising from the budget statements or urgent bills.

  (4)That this order cease to have effect at the commencement of the first day of sitting in 1994.

I rise to speak regarding the procedural motion which I have just moved. First, I give a brief statement as to why I foreshadowed this motion on 27 May and why I think it is of great significance for the consideration of the Senate.

  For years the government, whether of one party or the other, has been in a position of having a logjam of bills within the House of Representatives which then come through to the Senate without proper notice and the chance for proper debate. I have some statistics, which I will provide to the Senate, about the way in which those bills have been processed through the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives does not have the chance to give consideration to the bills that come through to it; and time pressures in that house make it almost impossible for us in this place to have the chance to consider such legislation before it arrives in this chamber.

  Previously, a deadline was imposed by the Senate to try to prevent the logjam of bills, but it failed because of the rush that occurs. The double deadline motion that I am presenting today is intended to streamline routine legislation and allow sufficient time for public scrutiny and proper consideration. It will not prevent the exemption of financial and urgent bills which can be presented by leave or notice of motion within a half a day or one day. Bills which do not make the deadline or exemption can be referred to committees, with debate adjourned until the first sitting day of the next session. Basically that is a statement of the motion before us today.

  All senators have been present in the chamber—some for many years longer than I—when we have been forced to sit to late hours to push through legislation that has not received our proper consideration. We have had no notice of its coming through; we have had no opportunity to consider it; and on occasions when the guillotine has been applied we have not even had a chance to listen to debate on it, particularly in the last weeks of the session. The comments that have been made on this situation both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate are well known and I will not repeat them. However, I seek leave to table some statistics on the way in which these bills have entered the chamber.

  Leave granted.


Senator CHAMARETTE —They are tables of the introduction of bills and the bills that have been passed and the graphs relating to them. These figures illustrate the intent of the motion that we have before us. If I can refer honourable senators to the graph of bills introduced from the time of the autumn 1989 sitting to the present time, they will notice that the percentage of bills that have been introduced in the first, second and third thirds of the sitting are noted there. The motion before us today takes that into account in setting the dates of its operation. My motion begins:

That where a bill:

  (a)is first introduced in the House of Representatives after 1 October 1993; . . .

That date of 1 October takes into account that there are seven weeks between yesterday, the budget day, and the deadline of 1 October and there are 13 sitting days. The second section of my motion specifies the situation where a bill:

  (b)is received by the Senate from the House of Representatives after 29 October 1993; . . .

That date marks another third of the sittings, which is 10 sitting days. The final third of the sittings, the period after 29 October, has 14 sitting days.

  The rationale behind my motion is this: the 1 October deadline for introduction in the House of representatives is not a deadline to the House; it is simply an indication that if a bill is introduced before that time it will be dealt with in the Senate in a particular way but that if it is introduced after that time it will be dealt with in a different way. Therefore it is not an instruction to the House of Representatives; it is simply an indication that, if senators have advance notice of legislation because it has been introduced in the other place, the Senate is free to debate it and pass it in the remaining two-thirds of the sittings. If the Senate does not have notice of it at that time, it can be referred to a committee for consideration, but otherwise it will be deferred to the first day of the following sitting period for consideration.

  The purpose of this adjournment is to allow due consideration to be given and to allow for community consultation and scrutiny before we actually debate and pass a bill. We are not failing to pass; adjourning is not failure to pass. It simply enables the Senate to devote proper time for scrutiny and considered judgment on legislation.

  I might add that the first third simply relates to introduction, so there is no commitment to the House of Representatives to pass a bill within that first third of the sitting. It has the remainder of the sittings to pass it. It simply provides advance notice that a bill is actually under consideration in the House.

  In the second third, a deadline is set which is very similar to the Macklin motion in that, if we receive bills that have been passed in the other place or if they are introduced in the Senate by 29 October, they will be given consideration, debated, passed and sent back to the House. However, if a bill arrives after that time—that is, in the last third of the sittings, which represents 14 sitting days—it may be referred or adjourned for further consideration during the next session.

  As honourable senators will be able to see if they have had time to scrutinise the statistical information in front of them, we have a heavy workload in the chamber, but it is not an even workload. I refer honourable senators to the graphs; firstly to that for the bills introduced during each third of the sittings. These are the averages; honourable senators can deduce from the individual statistics they have which were the good years and which were the bad years. The graphs represent the composite pattern: in the first third of the sittings we usually introduce 33 per cent of the legislation, in the second third 54 per cent is introduced, and in the final third 22 per cent is introduced. This does not take into consideration the fact that the Macklin motion has sometimes operated in the last four, three or two weeks and sometimes has not operated.

  The second graph illustrates the percentage of bills that have been passed during each third of the sittings. The pattern is: 16 per cent in the first third, 28 per cent in the second third, and 55 per cent in the last third of the sitting. The obvious problem is that a great burden of legislation accumulates towards the middle and end of the sittings.

  The intention of my motion is summarised in the third graph, where the first two graphs are superimposed on each other. They do not bear a relationship to each other, I might add, because bills that are introduced and bills that are passed may be different. But they do represent the amount of legislation being considered within the chamber at that point in time. What we have is a relatively light load in the first third, a large load in the second third and a large load in the last third. If we removed the introduction of bills from the third section of the sittings—which is in black—and put it into the first section, it would graphically represent the purpose of my motion, which is simply to ensure that the introduction of bills comes at the beginning of the sittings and that the consideration and passage of the bills come at the end.

  It is an extremely logical motion. It may sound complicated. Some people have given it adverse publicity, and there has been a lot of inaccuracy about it. I am very grateful to certain newspapers for being able to see the logic in the motion. I will discuss the press comments later.

  I precede that by expressing my disappointment at the way the government has reacted, and the way the motion has been taken by the Leader of the House in the House of Representatives, Mr Beazley. He made some statements which I consider personally offensive, not just to me but also to the motivation of other people in relation to what I am doing. In particular, I would like to record here my extreme disappointment that the Office of the Clerk of the Senate has been criticised and used in a way that I consider to be totally unparliamentary and to show a sheer disrespect for the democratic process.

  There has been an arrogance behind the demands and comments that have been made that fails to recognise that there are two processes of accountability available to the people of Australia. The first process is through elections, and the mandate that is given to the government in the House of Representatives to the government. There is nothing within my procedural motion that should challenge the mandate that the government received at the election in any way, shape or form. However, in between elections there is an accountability factor for any elected government: to give consideration to the due process of parliament. That is the second aspect of true democracy and it is the Senate that holds that responsibility.

  Our election is a different one, our task is a different one. We have a mandate that deserves as much respect as the mandate which the House of Representatives claims so loudly and fiercely. Our mandate does not interfere with or obstruct the government; it keeps the government, in its legislation, accountable to the will of the people, and it involves doing our job in such a way that the Senate constitutes a house of review. The motion that I present is a way of improving the way we do that.

  The help that I received from the Clerk of the Senate, which is quite openly stated, is help that he has given in the past to other senators who are present in the chamber. When I first approached him and mentioned my grave concerns about what was happening in the Senate chamber and asked whether there were any procedural reforms that could be undertaken, the Clerk replied that he had previously written some pages for others and that he would provide me with this information. I did not know to whom this information and suggested notice of motion had been given. I was informed by a member of the Democrats later on that the suggested wording had been prepared for them at the end of 1992 and that they had decided not to present them. I am very grateful for the assistance provided by the Clerk of the Senate. I would like to apologise for any inadvertent slur on him that has been caused through my revealing how helpful he had been in response to my request for assistance.

  I also believe that the opposition's motivations have been called into question. I call on members of the opposition to defend themselves as I know I do not have to defend them. I believe that their credibility is on the line as well, because comments have been made by the government regarding the use of the two Greens in the chamber as a patsy or as part of some sort of manoeuvring.


Senator Kemp —No-one would ever believe that.


Senator CHAMARETTE —I am glad that they did not believe it. I think that any opposition would consider this motion very carefully because it is helpful in allowing due consideration to be given to the work of this chamber. I challenge the government by asking whether, if it were in opposition, it would not want a similar motion. I encourage government members to consider their secondary responsibility when they are actually in the Senate.

  I believe that editorials in the Canberra Times, the Australian and the Hobart Mercury conveyed the true motivation behind this motion. If the same attention had been given to the procedural motion by some of the other media representatives, there would have been far less concern in the community about the very rash words stated and the furore that was created over what unfortunately looks very like bullying tactics and a lack of respect by the government for the due process of parliament within the Senate.

   At this point I would like to say that I have no particular investment in the form of this motion. I put a lot of effort into devising it. I wanted it to be helpful for both the House of Representatives and the Senate, not because it imposes anything on the House of Representatives but because it lets the House of Representatives know the way in which the Senate wants to conduct its business. That will obviously have an impact, and that is not improper. But the House of Representatives is free to respond to this in whatever way it chooses. If it responds in such a way that we are able to get early notification and also the members of the House of Representatives are able to give due consideration to legislation and avoid the rush that they have always had to contend with, even when the Macklin motion operated, that will be a very beneficial outcome.

  I have explained in my motion to the Senate by using graphs the form and the dates involved. I have been open to negotiation on all matters. In particular, when the government supporters expressed their distress that the government could not deal with budget legislation in time and pointed out that they did not consider that seven weeks, or 45 days, are sufficient for the estimated 30 pieces of legislation that may emanate from yesterday, I assured them that the opposition is supporting this motion, paragraph (3) of which says that bills arising from the budget statements or urgent bills can be introduced by leave or by notice of motion given the day before, right up until the last day of the sittings.

  I might add that there have always been exemptions to the deadline imposed under the Macklin motion. I expect there to be exemptions under this motion. Those exemptions will not be difficult. The government will be able to let us know what bills or package of bills will be really difficult for it to produce by the dates that we have set in the Senate. I think there is an opportunity for the good faith of the Senate to be reflected. This is the first time that such a motion has been introduced here. So, in one sense the phrasing of my motion is a trial.

  I would like to foreshadow that if this motion is accepted by the Senate I will reframe it in the form of a standing order. The standing order will not have fixed dates but will refer to the first third, the second third and the third third of the sittings, because of the logic that I have presented to the Senate.

  At some time in these sittings I will be giving a notice of motion proposing a standing order to that effect. I will do it towards the end of these sittings after we see whether this trial is effective. I believe that the Opposition's continued support will remove any excuse for the government to say that the opposition is simply obstructing its work on a hit and miss basis. The Greens will put forward this further motion which will show that the opposition has the opportunity to show a commitment to engage in considered debate during the passage of legislation.

  I also put forward this motion because I think it represents a challenge to government supporters. If they see this as simply a trial period, they may not give their best endeavours to accommodating it; and, if the intent of the motion is sabotaged, they may think it will not ever be introduced again. So I foreshadow that at the end of these sittings I will introduce a motion for the next sittings which, although more general, will be in substantially the same form as the motion that I have defended and presented to the Senate today.