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Wednesday, 18 August 1993
Page: 233

Senator COULTER (5.09 p.m.) —I oppose the original motion put by Senator Chamarette and support the amendment put by my leader, Senator Kernot. In doing so, I would like to pick up on a few of the points that have been made in the debate so far.

  First of all, it ill behoves Senator Robert Ray to accuse the Greens as to whether or not they have a mandate in relation to this particular question. In fact, the government, which now presumably has a mandate in relation to not raising taxes, moved before the last election to bring in legislated tax cuts which it has failed to do. I think it is not a particularly good argument on Senator Ray's part to raise the issue of mandates with respect to the Greens.

  But equally I think Senator Alston accused the government of putting forward an alternative proposal that would have to be taken on faith. He said that he was not prepared to take the government on faith with respect to those proposals when Senator Kernot's amendment gives effect precisely to the undertakings which Senator Gareth Evans gave in this chamber this afternoon. So there is an opportunity for Senator Alston to check the bona fides of the government by supporting the amendment moved by Senator Kernot.

  Indeed, the government is very much on the line. If that amendment is accepted, the government, as the amendment says, will have to produce by Monday, 30 August, a list of all bills which it intends to introduce in a particular session and to provide a brief description summary of the contents of those bills. It then must have 50 per cent of the total number of bills introduced in either the Senate or the House of Representatives by 21 October. So I think the government has in this instance shown its good faith with respect to those undertakings by saying that it will support the amendment.

  In support of the position I take on this issue, I would simply point to the fact that although Senator Macklin introduced a cut-off motion all those years ago which seemed to work quite well for a number of sessions, I think everybody who has been in this chamber for a while is aware of the fact that increasingly it has been working less well. That is shown quite clearly by the table which was put before us earlier today in this debate.

  Looking at that table, we see that in the 1972 budget 63 per cent of that session's bills were passed in the last four weeks; and that in the 1992 budget, a figure of 74 per cent were passed—not all that different. So if we look at the budget session of 1991, for instance, when only 44 per cent of those bills were passed in the last four weeks, we see that while the Macklin cut-off motion worked for a while and did seem to move legislation into the earlier part of the session, increasingly it has been frustrated. I would have to agree that the government has been frustrated substantially by the efforts of the opposition filibustering earlier in the session, particularly over the appropriation bills in the last session which caused the bank-up of legislation to occur later.

  We want to put before the government a number of proposals which will address this whole problem in a much broader way. Let me, without too much cynicism, suggest that perhaps this government could save a great deal of money if it guillotined all bills through the House of Representatives. Matters in that chamber are decided simply on the numbers, bills could be dealt with in a minute or less, it could sit for a day and then its members could all go home. The one thing on which the Democrats and the opposition certainly agree is that this chamber works extremely well precisely because no party in this chamber has the numbers simply to ram legislation through. It is in this chamber where legislation is dealt with properly.

  The issue of giving adequate time for legislation is an important one. We have established an excellent committee system which allows legislation, simply on the call of a single senator, to be sent off to a committee to be reviewed. As Senator Baume himself indicated earlier, legislation had been rammed through the House of Representatives, with no amendment being dealt with in this place over several months, and resulting in a number of amendments. In one case I dealt with, there were 87 amendments in a package of legislation; in another case Senator Lees dealt with, there were 106 amendments in another package of legislation. We in this chamber properly carry out the democratic function of this Parliament. Contrary to what Senator Robert Ray said, that function is not carried out in the other place because of the method of election.

  In connection with the order in which legislation is introduced, everybody would be aware that we normally sit for a week or a fortnight longer than the House of Representatives because legislation is normally introduced first in the House of Representatives. Perhaps the House of Representatives could begin its sittings earlier than the Senate so that there would be some legislation available for us when we begin.

  It is for those sorts of reasons that I believe the amendment which has been put up by Senator Kernot is a much better way of proceeding. We have an undertaking from the government that it will support that amendment; it will seek to meet the terms of that amendment. I simply give notice that that amendment is part of a much broader policy which needs to be looked at that will further reform the way in which legislation is dealt with in this chamber. In that way it will be properly reviewed, and properly amended when amendment is needed. Such a process will ensure that the very best legislation is moved and passed in this place for the people of Australia.