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Wednesday, 1 September 1993
Page: 732

Senator ALSTON (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (10.28 a.m.) —This is a critically important motion and it would be entirely regrettable if the Australian Democrats or any other party in the Senate did not appreciate the fundamental significance of what the government is maintaining. A very important concession by Senator Gareth Evans this morning is that the government deliberately set out to lump together a whole range of taxes and tax increases with the One Nation tax cuts. That is precisely what was in mind when the founding fathers put in the prohibitions about tacking and tried to ensure that each taxation measure was dealt with separately.

  Senator Evans's admission today is a very stark revelation of our concerns. All that we have been provided with to date is essentially one in-house, after-the-event opinion. One understands that we are in the game of politics. Therefore, it is very much in the government's interest to have someone come along and validate its actions. It is an entirely different matter to explore what it had in mind originally when it engaged in this tacking, or indeed tacky, exercise to try to frustrate the express terms of the constitution. That is why it is critically important that we have some outside, independent advice. I note that we still do not have the opinion of the Solicitor-General to whom Senator Gareth Evans has always been able to resort very readily; it would be indeed surprising if that officer is not trotted out in the near future.

Senator Harradine —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I do not want to do this, but I believe that the issue, the policy surrounding the motion itself, motion 241, is being debated and not the suspension of standing orders. I would have thought that it is important to get to the general debate on the motion as soon as possible.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Harradine is right in that the merits or not of this case are being discussed. This is the problem we have always found ourselves with and I think it is one of the reasons that led to time limits on debate. Therefore, although Senator Harradine is correct, I will be lenient and allow Senator Alston to continue.

Senator ALSTON —My remarks really can be taken as those that would have been made later on. The point to be made—and Senator Evans has tried to make the opposite case—is that, unless we know what the government had in mind and address the underlying instructions, we do not know precisely the extent to which the government is trying to circumvent the constitution. Those documents become very relevant indeed. We do not have an opinion from the Attorney-General at this stage and, unless and until we have that, the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs will not be in a position to make an intelligent judgment about the constitutionality of the bills.

  I think it is very important indeed and very significant that the government is hiding in this manner, clearly embarrassed by what I would have thought was now a transparent ploy—as conceded by Senator Evans this morning. Therefore, unless we can have this matter dealt with today and passed prior to 2 September, the Senate will be complicit in frustrating that committee's activities and will not be able to properly get to the bottom of a very important issue that goes to the heart of the funding of the business of government.

  It is entirely regrettable that Senator Evans has had to resort to all the red herrings which he has. We are not talking here about commercial-in-confidence matters or inhibiting frankness and candour in discussions. Indeed, one would assume that in giving instructions the government does act in good faith. Judging by the way Senator Evans has portrayed the matter today, it is clear that there are some very real concerns on that count.

  Unless we have access to those original instructions and unless we know what the views held by those in positions of authority were before the legislation was drafted, we cannot make judgments that go to the heart of the matter. All we will have instead will be rationalisations after the event by those who are beholden to their political masters. That is why it is critically important to know what the facts were at the relevant time.