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Wednesday, 1 September 1993
Page: 733

Senator SPINDLER (10.33 a.m.) —There are two issues involved in this particular debate on the suspension of standing orders. The first issue relates to the substance of the matter which has been adverted to. Although I appreciate Senator Harradine's intervention, I do believe that that is part of the debate that needs to be addressed.

  The second issue relates to the political embarrassment that could result for the government if drafting instructions were to be released and publicised. The Democrats take the view that in this particular instance such a course is not warranted. Already this morning the government, through Senator Gareth Evans, has advised in so many words what its intention was. Quite clearly, it did want to make it more difficult for amendments to this particular bill to be undertaken by this House. That is quite clear.

Senator Gareth Evans —No.

Senator SPINDLER —Senator Evans may not have said it in those words, but I believe that what he said very clearly leads to that implication.

Senator Gareth Evans —Not technically more difficult; just politically more difficult. It is a subtle but important distinction.

Senator SPINDLER —I believe that we are engaged in a political debate on the budget and how it should be addressed, and whether the legislation that has been introduced by the government should be amended and in what form it should be.

  We have supported the coalition in the reference to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs because we believe that that is the proper forum in which to address this matter. This will be done. The committee will receive opinions. Indeed, some opinions have already been placed on public record in this chamber. We have the power to have before us further opinions. After all, the matter to be decided is whether this bill is a bill imposing taxation or is not a bill imposing taxation. When that question is clear, I trust that the government will see the sense in splitting the bill and enabling the Senate to go about its business to amend it, as it rightfully should.

  I believe that the question of whether we should force the disclosure of drafting instructions is irrelevant to this consideration. I also believe that it harbours some degree of danger for future instances of this type. I believe that in this particular instance it would not add very much to the government's embarrassment, which I believe it is already suffering; nor would it add very much in terms of substantive information or a substantive argument.

  To some extent, however, I do accept that there could be situations in which the government has exchanged opinions with its legal advisers which should not be, as a matter of public policy, disclosed to the public at large. I am a little uncomfortable about that because essentially I do believe in transparency of government processes. I do accept, though, that there might be occasions when public policy considerations demand that drafting instructions and other confidential legal advice are not published at large. In a sense, it is a side issue, but we do not wish to contribute to creating a press precedent.

  I repeat: we believe that the proper avenue for this parliament to decide whether this bill is a bill imposing taxation is the committee. The committee will be meeting shortly. It will determine its procedures and it will determine dates for public hearings. It will be able to have before it all the information it requires to make that decision. Therefore, the Democrats will not be supporting this motion for a suspension of standing orders.