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Wednesday, 8 December 1993
Page: 4187


Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (6.02 p.m.) —Pursuant to contingent notice of motion, I move:

  That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Hill moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to refer back to the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training the Industrial Relations Reform Bill 1993 and amendments circulated in respect of the bill.

It is absolutely disgraceful what the government has done in relation to this Industrial Relations Reform Bill. Mr President, in an effort to expedite handling of this particular piece of legislation, you will remember that we had it referred to the Senate committee early—in fact, before it had reached this place. We thought that that would enable greater time for the committee to do its job.

  What we failed to appreciate was that the government was going to move over 200 amendments to its own piece of legislation, including the introduction of a totally new part. So the work of the committee has been thwarted. The committee did a good job, I might say, under impossible time constraints and brought down a report, particularly a dissenting report, that was very informative. That was useful for the Senate in its debate. Presumably, senators on all sides of this chamber would like to see a well-informed debate. But that process has now been totally defeated by this current abuse—that is, since consideration by the committee, the government has moved what must be a unique number of over 200 amendments to its own piece of legislation. We are not talking about all the amendments of the Democrats, or some of our amendments, or those of the Greens; this is the government amending its own piece of legislation even before it goes through the final legislative process. What a shambles. What an unprecedented shambles.

  We have known occasions when government members have sought to amend their own bills before they have been debated in this place, but never have I come across a situation where they have sought to move 200 amendments to their own bill. It is an embarrassment. They should be humiliated by this. It is a total abuse of process that they now expect this Senate to debate a bill with over 200 amendments when the committee was not given the opportunity to consider even one of those amendments.

  As I said, the worst part of it is that they have the nerve at 11 o'clock today—and bear in mind that they wanted this debated last night—to bring in an amendment which introduces a totally new part to the bill headed `Paid Rates Awards'. There are pages and pages that list the objects of it. There is the heading, `Paid rates functions and powers' that sets out all the rates and powers. There is the heading, `Certain disputes to be referred to Bargaining Division'. There is the heading, `Certain disputes to be referred back to relevant Presidential Member'. There is a new division 3 entitled, `Making, varying and cancelling paid rates awards'. It has a heading, `Commission to consider whether paid rates disputes should be settled by an agreement under Part VIB'. Nobody had seen any of this until today. There is the heading, `Making or varying paid rates awards'. I go over page after page. Other headings are `Commission to maintain existing paid rates awards', `Party acting inconsistently with award's status as a paid rates award' and `Paid rates awards to be identified as such'. One could go on. This is a total abuse of process. As this debate is about to start in this chamber, government members bring down such a substantial change to their own legislation. They ought to be embarrassed by that.

  I have no doubt that the Greens, the Democrats and Senator Harradine are not going to tolerate this process. They know that this chamber is a house of review. They know that it has a responsibility to do its job properly. They know that it is not going to be abused by this sort of cheap shot. They want this chamber to be able to consider legislation after due thought and due consideration. I say confidently that they will join with us and send this back to the committee in order that it might be properly dealt with and the Senate can then conduct a properly informed debate. Therefore, I have moved for the suspension of standing orders in order that I might move that substantive motion in the hope that the legislation can go back to the committee, the committee can do its job and then we can have a proper debate on the legislation in this place.