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Wednesday, 1 September 1993
Page: 741


Senator SPINDLER (11.15 a.m.) —I also spoke during the earlier debate on the motion to suspend standing orders and I do not propose to rehearse the substantial and substantive arguments that go to the legal question. This will be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and quite properly so. We believe that the issues involved are weighty. It is now on the table that the government did try to make it more difficult for this house to amend this legislation. Senator Evans is shaking his head, but I believe that is quite clear. The question is whether, in the attempt to do so, the government has acted in contravention of the important constitutional provisions on this issue.

  It is quite clear that this legislation, to the extent that it does impose taxation, shall deal with one subject only. I hope that the government will save a lot of this chamber's time and allow the process to proceed expeditiously by taking the proper action and splitting the bill. That is what the government should do. It is quite clear that the government itself is now considering amendments to the legislation. It will be a lot easier for all parties concerned if that process can be undertaken properly and without time-wasting arguments about whether the government did or did not act with constitutional propriety.

  Having said that, the Australian Democrats do not propose to support the motion as it stands. It seems to us that paragraph (b), the one that asks the government to provide drafting instructions, is the offending one. Tabling the drafting instructions is not going to add very much to the substance of the debate either in this chamber or in the committee. It will add to the government's embarrassment, but I wonder whether this chamber should buy that embarrassment of the government at the expense of several hours of time-wasting debate. The Australian Democrats, therefore, believe that paragraph (b), which refers to the drafting instructions, should be excised from Senator Hill's motion.

  On behalf of the Australian Democrats I call on the government to accede to the motion after it is amended. If paragraph (b) is removed, the material that remains and which the government will have to table is the opinions provided by the Solicitor-General, the Attorney-General's Department or the Office of Parliamentary Counsel concerning the drafting and validity of the taxation bill and the question relating to whether the kinds of provisions contained in the taxation bill, if enacted, may lawfully be combined in a single bill. I believe that the government is obliged to provide that information to the chamber and to the committee. If the Senate votes in favour of the amendment, the Australian Democrats will then vote in favour of the amended motion of Senator Hill's calling on the government to table those documents.

  Our concerns were primarily with the drafting instructions and the precedent which that would set for future instances. Indeed, the minister has advised us that this is his prime concern; that his concern is not so much with what is contained in these materials apart from the drafting instructions. I venture to say that this is really not a great issue, apart from the embarrassment to the government, because the motivation of the government is very clearly on the table for all to see. So we would be wasting the Senate's time and the committee's time to press for this issue, which seems to give the government so much heartache. However, I cannot see how the government can legitimately refuse to table the opinions it has received on the validity and the drafting of this legislation. I move:

  Paragraph (b), omit the paragraph.