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Monday, 20 December 1993
Page: 5229

Senator ALSTON (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) —Mr Chairman, I wish to make a personal explanation.

The CHAIRMAN —Are you claiming to be misrepresented?

Senator ALSTON —Yes, I am.

The CHAIRMAN —The honourable senator may proceed.

  Senator Kernot interjecting—

Senator ALSTON —By way of quick introduction, can I say that I am constantly appalled at the way in which Senator Kernot thinks that discussion in this chamber is superfluous and that the real action is outside. If she thinks that, in the context of a three or four day discussion, we should not move to a personal explanation for a couple of minutes I am even more appalled than I was a moment ago.

  We are not in the business of promoting a filibuster. That has always been our position. We have therefore taken steps over a period of days to try to organise our program and our response in a considered and orderly way. We have nominated a number of people with special areas of responsibility to ensure that there is not unnecessary duplication and to make sure everyone contributes in a constructive way. I have a list here which I could show Senator Evans to give him an indication of that. It has the government's amendments grouped by subject matter, and we have allocated them to a number of individual senators.

  We have made every attempt to ensure that the debate takes place in a constructive manner. I would have thought even Senator Evans would have the grace to concede that—even though Senator Kernot apparently does not think anything ought to be taking place in this chamber. I heard Senator Evans give credit to Senator Ellison the other day. We have raised matters which I think have led to a much higher standard of debate than is often the case in the committee stage.

  We know that there is often the temptation for people on both sides of the chamber to just rabbit on; to wander in and make a contribution which covers precisely the same ground as others. Therefore, in terms of our position, I make it perfectly clear that we have never indicated that we expected or wanted the debate to be concluded by a particular point. We certainly did not want to truncate the debate. But we did want to ensure that no-one could accuse us of filibustering and that any contributions that were made, were made after proper consideration in particular specialised areas. That is what we have done to date.

  I think the calibre of the contributions has been extraordinarily high, which reflects the seriousness of our attitude toward this bill. That is why I am absolutely appalled to think that Senator Kernot's view seems to be that to do as little as possible is the way to proceed.

  Even the minister has generally managed to control his infamous temper on most occasions to the point where he has acknowledged that there have been some very valid questions raised that deserve proper and considered answers. He has got those answers and at no stage has he ever said, `This is a filibuster. You blokes are just playing games. You have said one thing in private and another in public'.

Senator Gareth Evans —I sense one coming on. If you are giving us an assurance now, that is excellent. Thank you very much; I am indebted.

Senator ALSTON —We do not want people on the High Court who will jump to conclusions and make assumptions about what they think the arguments might be or what they think the parties might intend. We prefer people occupying high judicial office to be careful and considered in their responses at all times. The last thing we would ever want from an aspiring judicial officer to the highest court in the land is to make unwarranted and unjustified assumptions and aspersions about the integrity of any member of this parliament. I hope that if Senator Evans gets this job and has finally given away his ambitions to go to the UN, he will start behaving himself and not reflect adversely on those who in good faith want to contribute to the debate in a sensible manner. We will have Senator Evans's personal explanation and apology right now.