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Friday, 17 December 1993
Page: 5017

Senator ELLISON (5.43 p.m.) —My remarks will be brief; nonetheless, I believe they should be placed on the record. Firstly, I direct my criticism to the government and the responsible minister, Senator Gareth Evans. I see that on the running sheet there is a new clause 6A. I have yet to see a copy of that. An announcement was made nearly two hours ago that we would see a copy of it, but we have yet to see it. Senator Gareth Evans might tell us how long we will have to wait before we see that.

Senator Gareth Evans —About five minutes, I believe.

Senator ELLISON —That is an entirely unsatisfactory situation. I remind the chamber that in any civil court this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated. If a person amended his pleadings or changed his case at the door of the court, he would get a tongue-lashing from the judge and there would be grounds for adjournment by the other side. I realise that Senator Gareth Evans has not practised law for some time, but I wish to place on record that it is entirely inappropriate for the government, with a bill as important as this, to be dropping amendments on the opposition at this late stage. We still do not have one of them.

  As Senator Harradine correctly pointed out, the committee stage of this debate is very important. It is one which the High Court could well have regard to in any subsequent action. It is not a game; it is not a joke. It is very serious. We are here at great expense to the taxpayer. We are here to do a job, and that job is to make sure that the legislation is debated properly and that all aspects of it are aired adequately.

  I am only new here and some of the old hands might think this is a good trick. It might be established practice, but I am telling those senators that it is not on. It is not good practice and it is something which the people of Australia should not accept. I want to place on record my disgust at the way the government has handled that aspect of it.

  I was a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I was in a privileged position to travel across this country and hear the very many views that were put forward. I can say to the chamber that, as I previously stated, I believe it was done in a thoroughly civilised fashion. I do not in any way believe that a deferral of this matter to a select committee would engender any further division in the community. I reject that view and I wish to place that comment on record as well.

  I believe that this bill has many flaws. I believe that it has not been given adequate time to be drafted properly. In no way do I criticise the draftsmen because I believe that their instructions were vague and deficient. I also believe that they did not have sufficient time to put it together. So, to that extent, I say that in the time allotted they could not come up with a piece of workable legislation. Some time ago the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) was reported in the Australian as saying that the legislation had `long, clean lines of logic'. I fail to see where these long clean lines of logic are.

  If this matter had not been referred to a Senate standing committee—and I concur with Senator Spindler, because I believe he was party to that as well—we would not have these 74 government amendments. Do honourable senators know why? When the government read the report of the committee it realised the problems with the bill. Until then it thought it was hunky dory; it thought it was fine. After due inquiry, it saw its flaws. I say to Senator Evans that, if people had been properly consulted and due consideration had been given to this legislation, the government would find a good many more flaws.

  I believe that the government has a responsibility to the Australian people to draft efficient and competent legislation. I see that Senator Evans is leaving the chamber. Perhaps he does not like what I am saying. Nonetheless, it is true and I wish to place those comments on record. I think this whole process on the part of the government has been shabby.