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Monday, 27 September 1993
Page: 1193

Senator COONEY —I would like to say something about the people who have given opinions in this matter. I think it might reasonably be said that depending on what view a particular lawyer took, he or she was taken to task by the other side. I suppose lawyers come in for a good deal of stick and no doubt at times it is earned, but in my view in this case all the lawyers gave what they considered to be an honest and well-researched opinion about the matter.

  The question is asked, `Why can't lawyers agree on a question like this?'. The reality is that they cannot agree on this because the High Court itself would not at this point know what it is going to decide, and that is properly so. Argument has not been delivered. There are arguments that can be put on both sides. The argument that the Treasurer relied on, I think very properly, was the argument put forward by Mr Dennis Rose QC, a person who has vast experience in arguing constitutional cases.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator COONEY —Before dinner I was speaking about the lawyers in this case and, prior to that, lawyers generally. In contrast to what is often said about them, I think that, by and large, they do a job of work conscientiously and honestly and that they are of great use to the community. In this case I declare all the lawyers to have been dedicated to the task of giving opinions that they thought were correct. Even though those opinions differed, it was a reasonable issue upon which to differ.

  The system itself is a troublesome one. Nobody knows what is going to happen until the High Court makes a decision. That is the nature of judicial decision making. The court itself has handed down decisions in a number of cases, including the matters of Munro, Dymond, Air Caledonie International, Mutual Pools, and Northern Suburbs General Cemetery Reserve Trust, which would suggest that it was open and reasonable for the government to do what it did. Other suggestions have been made which are to the contrary. With the standard of advice that the Treasurer had, which was of the highest calibre, it was reasonable for him to take the course that he did.

  This is an issue that must be treated politically, given the sort of chamber that this is and given the institution of parliament, which is a political body. It has been handled politically on all sides, except for the four government senators who contributed to this report, on the face of it. I think that is borne out by the report. I am not too sure that when Senator Chris Evans has his say we will be able to say that he has handled it in a non-political way, because it has now become a political issue.

  In the circumstances in which this report has been brought to the chamber and with the issues surrounding it, the ultimate issue is the budget. Although we are all engaged in political exercises in this chamber, it does not mean that we are—or should be—engaged in irresponsible exercises. This budget must be put through for the good of Australia. This is a budget that comes from the government, as the constitution intended.

Senator Brownhill —It has come from the government, the ACTU, the caucus and half a dozen other people.

Senator COONEY —That is one of the problems we have in this case: it does not come from those bodies within the terms of the constitution; it comes from the government, as the constitution required. It is open to scrutiny—but to good and responsible scrutiny. The fact remains that we are charged with governing this country in the interests of all Australians, and that means that it ought to be done responsibly and that the budget ought to be put through.