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Monday, 27 September 1993
Page: 1213

Senator McMULLAN (Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services) (9.54 p.m.) —I apologise for taking up a very brief amount of the Senate's time on a matter that has already wasted a substantial amount of it. I am not talking about the debate on the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. That was a legitimate report, debated by all the members of the committee. I am talking about Senator Hill's amendment and Senator Alston's speech in support of it. If people have a powerful view about whether or not this bill should be proceeded with, the matter will be brought in here and it can be debated then. All these points will be made and rehashed. In this instance, the words `ad nauseam' are quite appropriate.

  We have a situation in which the government received advice from a very reputable Australian whose integrity is genuinely well regarded and who is considered respectable by Senator Alston, in his honest moments, and by most people. But suddenly, because he does not agree with Senator Alston, he is obviously just a hired gun and his opinion has to be denigrated and his integrity has to be denigrated. Every public servant who provides advice that the opposition does not like is in that situation at the moment. This is the first time I have heard Senator Alston stooping to that level. Some of his colleagues do it more often, but this is the first time I have heard him do it, and I regret it.

  The government has the view that the initial proposal was valid but that if we were to proceed along that course, where there would undoubtedly be a challenge about matters which have immediate revenue implications, there would be a significant risk to the revenue. There are no immediate revenue implications with regard to the test bill. That is why those two proposals have been put in that bill. It provides the opportunity for it to be adequately tested without any of the risks.

Senator Hill —Why won't you divide it and avoid the issue?

Senator McMULLAN —Why is Senator Hill so desperate to avoid the High Court?

Senator Hill —So you will not answer the question.

Senator McMULLAN —I am trying to tell Senator Hill, if he will listen.

Senator Alston —It is not a High Court issue.

Senator McMULLAN —Senator Alston really is thick.

  Senator Alston interjecting

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Calvert)—Order! There has been too much chitchat across the chamber tonight.

Senator McMULLAN —You are absolutely correct, Mr Acting Deputy President, but I enjoyed that interjection because it proved that Senator Alston does not at all understand the point that I was making previously, which is quite clear. If the original bill were to be challenged, that would lead to delay and uncertainty about matters with immediate revenue implications, but the test bill does not have any.

Senator Alston —So it does not matter, even if it is invalid, because it doesn't cost money? Is that what you are saying?

Senator McMULLAN —No. I am saying that the opportunity to test it exists without—

Senator Alston —Why does it have to be tested?

Senator McMULLAN —I know that Senator Alston is the world's most eminent authority and that, if he disagrees with us then we have to abandon it, but we do not share his view. It is still a democracy and we are entitled to disagree with him.

Senator Alston —You can do whatever you like, mate. You have the right to think for yourself.

Senator McMULLAN —We are proceeding to act accordingly, despite this childish attempt to wave around silly amendments. Lots of bills will come into this place—they have and there will be plenty more—and people will express profound views about the constitutionality or otherwise of those bills. I hate to say it, but sometimes some honourable senators are wrong about the views they express. Historically, right through the Whitlam government period, the opposition has asserted that bills were unconstitutional.

Senator Alston —We are not just asserting it. We have three of the most eminent constitutional lawyers in the country.

Senator McMULLAN —And they often did then, and they were often wrong. And sometimes they were right. There is no harm in allowing the High Court to establish this principle. It does no harm. It does substantial good—at no risk to the revenue and with no generation of uncertainty about the passage of legislation. It seems to me to be a very reasonable course of action. It seems to me to be understood by the overwhelming majority of Australians. I actually think that the opposition understands it, too. It is a terrible waste of time to debate this stupid amendment. We will debate it when the bill comes up. That is when we will deal with it. Obviously, no sensible person could agree with the amendment.

  Amendment agreed to.

  Motion, as amended, agreed to.