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Monday, 20 December 1993
Page: 5250

Senator BISHOP (12.53 p.m.) —With regard to the minister's comment that this bill is designed to give certainty, on his own answers to questions this morning he has proven that this bill will not give certainty. Over the last few days of this debate, for instance, on the question of definition, he said that he personally does not understand the meaning of the word `lease' in the operation of subdivision B. Senator Vanstone pointed out to the minister that, to get a definition of permissible future acts, we had to look at clauses 220, 218, defining respectively, `Permissible future act' and `Future acts'; 219, `Low impact future act'; 211, `Act'; 212, `Act affecting native title'; and 227 being a `lease' as set out in clause 219, the meaning of a `low impact future act'.

  In his answers to Senator Alston's questions a day or two ago, Senator Evans indicated that he had no comprehension at all of what is meant by the term `lease'. He told Senator Alston that a low impact act dealing with the question of lease would perhaps be a licence or a permit so that it would still be a low impact future act. Senator Alston then pointed out to Senator Evans quite clearly that subclause 227(c) on page 106 specifically says that anything described as a lease is deemed to be a lease whether it is the legal effect of the lease or not. In saying that this act gives certainty, the minister in charge, has again misled us—I have a whole list of instances where he has misled us in his answers—and has indicated that he does not comprehend or understand the act itself. That is not surprising.

  We in this parliament are required to make laws for all Australians, and this will have an impact on all Australians. The legislation is highly complex; it is complicated. The nature of the drafting means that ordinary Australians do not have a hope in blazes of understanding it. When it comes to a small exploration company wanting to operate under subclause 25(2)—we are not talking about the BHPs or the huge multinationals; we are talking about small companies that may have a capital of $5 million or $10 million—they do not have the money or the ability to employ teams of lawyers to tell them what the provisions mean so that they can comply with this highly complex law. The minister—an aspirant for a seat on the High Court—does not understand what it means either. I withdraw the word `aspirant'—he said he was not aspiring; simply `willing to accept'. We will settle for that definition. Let us take a look at subclause 25(2).

Senator Gareth Evans —It would be a change if you got on to a matter of substance rather than vulgar posturing.

Senator BISHOP —The minister's rhetoric becomes tiresome, as does his attitude. When I have said on a previous occasion that from time to time I think he needs psychiatric help, I mean it.

Senator Gareth Evans —On a point of order: with the utmost respect, to say I `need psychiatric help' I think usually counts as an offensive remark. It might be a constructive contribution about my health, but I think it is intended offensively. I take it as such and ask for it to be withdrawn.

  The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator West)—Senator Bishop, would you please withdraw.

Senator Bishop —No, I will not withdraw it. But I will place it in context. I said it in response to when Senator Evans said he would garrotte me. Was that unparliamentary?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop, please let us not revisit something that is old history. The minister has taken offence at what you have said and has asked that you withdraw it, please.

Senator Bishop —Madam Chair, I took offence at his threat to garrotte me. Would he retrospectively withdraw that?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop, it is unparliamentary. Would you please withdraw.

Senator Bishop —Madam Chair, where is the precedent for someone requiring psychiatric help?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop, you are being asked to withdraw the comment that you just made to Senator Evans. We are not going to visit past history. You are asked to withdraw.

Senator Bishop —Madam Chair, perhaps you can tell me precisely what it is you want me to withdraw so that it can be clear.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop, I am sure you are aware of what you have said. Would you please withdraw that which is unparliamentary.

Senator Campbell —On the point of order, Madam Chair. I have no idea what you want Senator Bishop to withdraw. There has been a number of comments passed backwards and forwards and I think it is incumbent upon you to inform the chamber.

Senator Gareth Evans —On the point of order, I clarify the matter by saying that the particular reference of Senator Bishop's to which I take offence is the reference to my needing psychiatric assistance. I think that would be accepted reasonably objectively as being offensive. I acknowledge there may be competing views about this—there often are about matters that are offensive that are cast across the chamber. But, on balance, I do take offence and ask for it to be withdrawn.

Senator Bishop —On the point of order, Madam Chair. I have to seek your wise guidance, which I seek on this basis. When Senator Evans threatened to cross the floor and slowly garrotte me, I used the comment that he needed psychiatric help. He did not object at the time, so perhaps you could deliberate as to why it is offensive now and it was not then.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Senator Bishop, that is ancient history. Presumably, the President chose to ignore that because there was other unseemly behaviour happening at the time. I want this to be withdrawn now because it relates to what has been considered offensive by the minister. I ask you to withdraw.

Senator Panizza —On the point of order, Madam Chair. The taking of offence has gained a lot more importance in the last few weeks.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —What is your point of order, Senator Panizza?

Senator Panizza —My point of order is about the degree of offence being taken. I said last week that it all depends on the degree of offence taken. I could find a lot of things offensive, and so could Senator Evans. Of course, it is up to you to make a ruling, Madam Chair, but this degree of offence argument is getting thinner and thinner. I think this taking of offence caper is wearing pretty thin, especially at this time of the year when everyone's nerves are strung out. We might all need help from psychologists rather than psychiatrists. I think the taking offence excuse is wearing pretty thin.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —It is unparliamentary to accuse another member of parliament of being mad or insane, Senator Bishop, so would you please withdraw.

Senator Bishop —Madam Chair, on the basis of your definition of what I said about Senator Evans, I withdraw.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Unconditionally please, Senator; on no basis.

Senator Bishop —Unconditionally, Madam Chair. You did us all such a great service.

Sitting suspended from 1.00 to 2.00 p.m.