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Wednesday, 18 August 1993
Page: 240


Senator CHAMARETTE (5.32 p.m.) —in reply—Mr President, I apologise to those senators who are waiting to make their first speeches. I have several pages of notes which I will attempt to go through briefly because I believe that it is important to maintain a right of reply to this debate. Senator Evans raised three problems. As I go through, some of these problems may be dealt with. Firstly, he said that imposing a cut-off of 1 October was impossible. I simply say that it is an opportunity to prioritise, to defer less important bills and to address the problem in a constructive manner. I realise that it is a pressure. It will not be such a pressure on another occasion.

  The problem needs to be addressed in a constructive way. Some government senators have indicated that they recognise the problem and are prepared to address it. Senator Faulkner has assured us that he intends to address it. I would urge all senators to do the same because of the difficulty the legislative program may present to those who are drafting legislation based on budget bills.

  Senator Evans's second problem was that he felt that the fail-safe aspects of the motion, contained in paragraph (3), would not be adequate. He demonstrated quite a considerable lack of faith—in which he was joined by several of his colleagues—in the credibility of the opposition. I believe that the credibility of the opposition will be at stake if it maintains an oppositional stance after having so clearly stated its intentions in support of this motion. I would much rather give opposition members the benefit of the doubt and allow them to show that to the community than to make allegations against them ahead of time.

  Thirdly, Senator Evans stated that for the Senate to seek to directly determine how the House of Representatives acts is unconscionable and direct proscription. That is nonsense. If it were true, it should apply much more to the amendment that was put forward by the Australian Democrats, for which the Government signified its support. Throughout that amendment there were references to how the House of Representatives should maintain its approach to the legislation, whereas my motion simply refers to the way the Senate will conduct itself. It allows the option of being totally open about how the House of Representatives will respond. I feel that is perfectly appropriate.

  I appreciated the incongruity, the paradox, that was presented by the Greens both being `extraordinarily naive' and `terribly misguided'—linked in many ways with all sorts of qualities. Whatever our motives are, a positive solution can be such providing we exercise our political will and work towards it. We have an opportunity to do that with this motion.

  If the Government acceded to the requests within this motion, all of us in the chamber would have much less to filibuster about. We would have more notice of, and more genuine issues to raise in regard to, the legislation than to be bothered with any filibustering, which I must confess I have done on occasions. I did it in most notable form in relation to the Migration Amendment Act—an immoral and scandalous piece of legislation which was pushed through parliament within one day, legislation which pre-empted an appeal to the High Court by the boat people at Port Hedland. So that is the primary motivation by which I came to look at the procedures of the Senate and tried to make some constructive responses.

  As well as having less to filibuster about if this motion succeeded, there would be community credibility. If the government cooperates with this motion, and the opposition prevents it working in an effective manner, we are accountable to the community. That is essentially the accountability that we should be concerned about in our debate in this chamber. The House of Representatives should demonstrate more concern for accountability to the people, which the submission to the parliamentary process allows.

  I acknowledge Senator Faulkner's attempt to deal with the program difficulties that the legislative program presents to all senators, but to the Greens in particular. I commend the government for giving us earlier notification of programs and assuring us of briefings. Those ministerial briefings have commenced. This full communication is very worthwhile. It shows the good faith of the government. It is an opportunity for a new era in the Senate, a chance for us to debate in a new way the legislation ahead of us.

   We all know that there is a problem. Others who have far more experience than I have expressed it. This motion is an experiment. It may not be effective in achieving its goals. It will take all senators and all members of the House of Representatives to cooperate with the spirit of the motion to achieve those goals. If improvements are forthcoming I am more than willing to accept them. This issue transcends party politics. It is of concern to all members of parliament who value their responsibility to due parliamentary process.

  I have looked at Senator Kernot's amendment. I would have given a critique of it, but we have already made that decision and so I will leave it out. I would like to talk about Senator Harradine's contribution. It was Senator Harradine who put forward for discussion the use of the word `urgent' and the way in which it could possibly lead to some problem. I would like to say why I put paragraph (3) in my motion.

  Senator Faulkner quite correctly pointed out that it was his concern that `budget' and `urgent'—meaning crucial—legislation may be impeded by my motion. I took that from him with due sincerity and I tried to make allowances for it through my paragraph (3). However, my paragraph (3) does not actually state anything more than the obvious, which is that, by leave, at any point in any sittings material can be introduced for good reason, and it relies on the good faith of the Senate to pass that.

  Paragraph (3) in my motion was, therefore, superfluous. I did not put it in, because it was superfluous, but when the motion began to receive publicity from Minister Beazley regarding what I considered to be disinformation that it might actually prevent some of the budget legislation getting through to the Senate, I placed it in so that any media who were looking at the motion would be in no doubt that that practice was available. Every honourable senator knows that that practice is available and still remains available for good reason. Therefore, I am happy to accept the amendment foreshadowed by Senator Harradine in which he states that paragraph (3) should stop at the full stop after `orders' and that the words `in relation to bills arising from the budget statements or urgent bills' should be omitted. That does not mean that we cannot deal with packages of bills by leave.

  I support the challenge—I cannot remember for the moment who made that challenge to us; I think it was Senator Robert Ray—that we should take this motion on board and use it for constructive purposes only. That means that, if the government comes to us with genuine needs because it is being pushed by time pressures, we ought to also demonstrate our willingness to cooperate in the interests of making good government decisions and assisting the government in what it is doing by good parliamentary decision making. Senator Ray challenged the Greens mandate. I would love to reply to that, but I will spare honourable senators that response and give it to them at another time.


Senator McKiernan —Why?


Senator Schacht —No. We would like to hear it.


Senator CHAMARETTE —Would honourable senators like that one? Another day; I think there are more important matters to face when we greet our new senators. I assure the Senate that I have it here. Senator Richardson raised a matter which I think is important and would like to deal with. He mentioned an offer of staff to the Greens (WA). I welcome the opportunity this affords to place once and for all on the public record the matter of requests for staff and offers by the government. It is accurate that, as soon as the Greens (WA) senators realised that due to the numbers in the Senate we would be in the invidious position of giving scrutiny to every piece of legislation, we set out our minimal requirements and made a request to the government. I seek leave to table the correspondence that has passed between us.

  Leave not granted.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Teague)—I will defer the asking of leave as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Sherry), who is at the table, and an opposition senator would like to see it. At the end of your speech, I will seek leave again.


Senator Harradine —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I understood Senator Chamarette to say that she wanted to table the documents. Is she not entitled to table the documents without leave?


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Harradine, she needs leave to table documents. At the conclusion of Senator Chamarette's speech, I will ask whether the Senate gives leave. In the meantime, it may be possible for those papers to be seen by a representative of senators who wish to see them.


Senator Schacht —How many did you ask for—10, 15?


Senator CHAMARETTE —I have been asked for information about that, which is available in the letters that will be tabled. I would like to add that the government failed to comply to our request for a review of its first response. What we requested was what we believed to be the minimal requirement to do the work that the balance of power position would place us in. That was a legislative adviser, a Treasury adviser, three general researchers—

  Honourable senators interjecting


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Chamarette has the call from the chair and I ask that interjections cease.


Senator CHAMARETTE —Because people have expressed concern, I have been willing to say that, but they can certainly read the correspondence. We did not obtain a response to our request for a review of the initial decision by the government, which was to give us one extra staff member each to deal with our parliamentary load, in contrast to the 14 staff that are available to the Democrats and the 61 that are available to the Liberal Party.


Senator Kernot —We actually have party status.


Senator CHAMARETTE —That is quite correct, but we assumed that there was also a workload involved in the amount of work that parties do. Senator Margetts and I are members of the same party. Because we did not receive a response, except for a public outburst of disinformation from Senator McMullan very similar to the one that is coming from the Democrats and from the government bench—


Senator Schacht —How many positions did you ask for?


Senator CHAMARETTE —I said five. I have stated those.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I ask that interjections cease.


Senator CHAMARETTE —I assure Senator Schacht that he can make his own analysis of the reasonableness of that request at his own leisure. I do not wish to detain the Senate. What I do wish to say is that we decided not to accept any offer of staff for two reasons. Firstly, Senator McMullan offered a lower number of staff than we felt was a minimal requirement and linked it in a defamatory way to this procedural motion. We have not taken up the very inadequate offer because we made the request in good faith in relation to our minimal needs, not as an ambit claim. We felt that either it was a legitimate entitlement or it was not, in which case a partial response was inappropriate. Secondly, we refused the offer because of the way in which it was made and the allegations that it was connected in any way with this motion, as it is not.

  There is, however, a connection in the sense of the workload that we have here. I know that every honourable senator in this place is aware of the load that the parliamentary legislation involves. I challenge each one of them to be able to look at every single vote and every single piece of legislation as a single senator and not as a member of a party or as a backbencher. It is the same position as that Senator Harradine is in. When the government asked me what I would do about Senator Harradine, I said, `I believe he is entitled to the minimal requirement, too, and it is up to him'.

  That is the position. It bears no relationship whatsoever to this motion. But, seeing as it was raised, I do welcome the opportunity to table it. The Greens are planning to enter this debate in the Senate with a straight bat at all times. We are not interested in deals. What we are interested in is democracy, the democratic process. If there are any questions about the way in which we vote, we are happy to let the Senate know the answers.

  We are also very happy to try to support anything that will open this parliamentary process to community scrutiny and consultation. That is why we present this motion. That is the link. We believe this Senate is responsible for reviewing in a responsible way the legislation that comes through from the House of Representatives. If we do not do our job, we do not deserve to be here, and the people of Australia suffer.

  I urge honourable senators to follow this motion. I also urge members of the government to consider the attitude with which they approach it. If they have been true to their assurances of good faith, they will also address themselves to the result of this motion.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I note that Senator Chamarette's speech in reply is the final contribution to the debate, but Senator Harradine has foreshadowed a motion, which has been circulated, and I now call Senator Harradine to move it.