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Monday, 20 December 1993
Page: 5223

Senator VANSTONE (10.46 a.m.) —I support the motion moved by Senator Alston that the remaining amendments to the Native Title Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. This farce really does need to be stopped. Senator Boswell thought that the cost of this farce is $500,000 a day. Regardless of the cost, it is a waste of taxpayers' money if we do not get it right.

  The government, the Greens and the Australian Democrats believe that Mabo No. 2 is the appropriate response. Surely the government has the confidence, through the balance of numbers here, to have the bill passed any time it wants. It would be in the interests of the government's integrity to get the bill right.

  I noticed newspapers this morning quoting Senator Kernot that the bill must have integrity. How can it possibly have integrity when amendments were shoved through here on a Saturday and when more amendments have been foreshadowed here today? When we tried dealing with amendments on Saturday, on four or five occasions, Senator Gareth Evans and others said, `There is a problem; we need a bit of time to fix it'. So these matters are postponed and postponed because the government does not realise the consequences of this legislation.

  The only way the government will comprehend the consequences is by giving these amendments some decent consideration. I noticed that Senator Gareth Evans has provided himself with an escape clause, which all other government members might like to consider giving themselves. Senator Gareth Evans has covered his own back and left all other honourable senators who have spoken in favour of the bill to wear it.

  Senator Gareth Evans covered his own back by adding at the end of his speech a little clause, `save and except any unforeseen consequences'. So he has been the good guy, saying, `It's all okay, except for what we can't see is wrong'. He has admitted the existence of that escape door and, despite acknowledging problems, he has left his colleagues to come out and say, `This bill is right'. Senator Gareth Evans sat here on Friday and Saturday. Time and time again, he wanted to say, `This is just a filibuster, this is an excuse to delay the bill', but he found himself dealing with substantive problems on the bill that need to be properly addressed.

  If those on the other side are not a pack of gutless wonders, if they really believe that this is the proper approach to Mabo No. 2, then they should have the stomach to wear the public debate over January and come back in February and get it right. The government will not fall in January: it will have the numbers in the House of Representatives. Labor members would not dare do anything other than what their leader told them. Their leader talks about forelock tugging. There is a lot of forelock tugging going on now with government members competing for the position of Treasurer. They all want to be Treasurer. So we know they will come back in February to support this bill. Presumably Senator Kernot's leadership is safe and her lot will all come back in February.

Senator Ian Macdonald —I would not bet on that.

Senator VANSTONE —Maybe not; I do not know. I would have thought her position was safe. The Australian Democrats will come back in February and support this bill, as will the Greens. So what is the problem with getting it right this time?

  Senator Gareth Evans says, `There are only three government amendments left'—a typical narrow focus, as though all this place needs to debate is his amendments, forgetting all the amendments of the Greens and the Democrats that are yet to be dealt with. He is trying to pretend to the media that we are now dealing with a simple problem of only three government amendments. What a lot of rubbish! We have buckets and buckets of amendments left.

  Senator Gareth Evans has not told us how many of the Democrat or Green amendments the government will support. We do not know how much time we need to give to their amendments because we have no idea which of those the government is to support. Senator Evans, in trying to say that this is a simple situation, is avoiding the issue of the wide range of amendments put forward by the Greens and the Democrats that deserve to be dealt with.

  Last but not least, Senator Evans raised the intellectual capacity of people on this side. For a man who was weeping on Saturday about people being condescending to him and who was saying how ungracious it was, yet again his condescension comes out, yet again political correctness comes out, that unless we agree with him we must be dumb. We obviously got it wrong if we do not agree with Senator Evans.

  This is no way to deal with this bill. If those opposite have any stomach, if they are not a pack of gutless wonders, they should at least get the remainder of this bill right and send it off to a committee to get the detailed consideration of the amendments. The government's own Premiers agree that they now do not know what this bill means. The mining industry does not want it; the farmers that it conned do not want it. The government should at least get it right.