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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1263

Senator KEMP (Manager of Government Business in the Senate)(11.36 a.m.) —I thank senators for their contributions. I will be responding to some of the issues which have been raised. Let me just make a couple of general comments which I probably would not have bothered to make except for the somewhat provocative comments of Senator Carr. A response to a couple of issues he raised probably needs to go on record. If his comments were unchallenged, people might feel that Senator Carr was revealing truths.

In relation to the sessional orders, you and I, Senator Carr—and I think everyone involved—know of the extensive negotiations which have occurred. I would have hoped in your discussion about consultations you would have mentioned that there has been a great deal of consultation, more than existed under the previous government. We were not playing Labor Party rules, we have had regular meetings to consult and discuss.

For the record, Senator Carr, there is just about complete agreement on the sitting times and the routine of business. You have attempted to load a couple of other issues into that agreement, as is the wont of the socialist left, which is all right. You can play your games, that is fair enough, but we should not let the public or the press gallery be deluded into thinking that the sessional orders are not ready and that there is not universal agreement, including your agreement, for the sitting times and the routine of business.

The opposition wants to load a number of other things onto that agreement, in particular question time, and negotiations have been continuing. So the new sessional orders have not come in and we are operating under the old sessional orders, Senator Carr, quite simply because of your blocking exercise. We are hopeful, Senator Carr, because we are people who like to consult and who like to bring people on side, as we have been doing. As I said, I think the record will show that the consultation carried out by this government in order to change things, such as sessional orders, has been far more extensive than was practised by the previous government. So let us get the record straight on that issue.

Senator Carr attempted to argue that the opposition has been hugely cooperative. Eight bills so far is certainly not a magnificent record; it is a very poor record, to be quite frank. Senator Carr, after the 1993 election—and it has to be said that we probably felt as bad about losing then as you undoubtedly felt about your dreadful loss at the last election—over 10 sittings days, which is less than the number of sitting days which we have had to date, 22 bills were passed in 18 packages. This contrasts with eight bills.

So let us not believe that your performance has been any good. It might be good by your standards, but it is bad by the standards which the public would wish to apply to this chamber. I regret that and I regret that you have chosen to act in this manner. I hope that, as the weeks and months go on, a more cooperative approach will occur as you get over having been trounced in the last election. We are well used to the politics of the payback and we understand that that is part of the socialist left culture. It would be certainly helpful if we could see a more cooperative spirit taking place on your part.

The next point I wish to make—and thank you, Senator Woodley, for that useful help—is that there is a recognition by us all that the cut-off motion did not recognise what happens when a new government comes in. There have been some constructive discussions again on how we deal with that issue. In general—with a couple of exceptions, Senator Chamarette—I think there is the belief that we have to amend those standing orders to reflect what happens when a new government comes into office. Again we were pretty close to reaching agreement but, at the end of the day, because of the front-end loading practices which you have applied, that was not possible.

The fourth general point I wish to make is this. The government went to an election with specific promises and we are seeing in the Senate an attempt at times to make us break those promises and at times to frustrate the keeping of those promises. We only have to think of the Senate's reaction to the Telstra bill, to the workplace reform bill and to the export licensing arrangements. I think the Senate has adopted a process which will be condemned by the public. Where we have gone to the election with specific promises, I would think that the Australian public believe that a government should be allowed to govern and be allowed to put into effect the policies with which it got clear approval at the last election.

That applies to the three bills before the chamber—the airport bills and the bill relating to the migration waiting times. They relate to issues which were very extensively canvassed during the election which the government won handsomely. If Senator Carr and other speakers had issues, they could have been very easily dealt with in the normal course of debate and consultation.

These bills are urgent bills. They are bills that the government needs. They are bills which had endorsement at the election. We went to the election with our airports policy and the migration waiting periods so I think we are seeing here something which is out of kilter, Senator Carr. We went to the election seeking an endorsement, we won that election and then the Senate—some times through spite and some times through misunderstanding—seeks to overturn that mandate and the policies for which we had specific endorsement.

It is worth recalling that Senator Gareth Evans, not a man who is loath to make any concessions to an opposition, made very clear in statements in the Senate before the 1983 election that the Labor Party would not frustrate a bill where the government could point to a mandate it had received at an election no matter how obnoxious the Labor Party regarded such a bill to its own interests. That was a responsible statement. The Labor Party has overturned that and set a precedent which it may ultimately rue in the years ahead.

With those general comments, I now wish to turn briefly to some of the issues which have been raised in the debate. First of all, in relation to the Indigenous Education (Supplementary Assistance) Amendment Bill, the bill does contain additional funding. Once this bill is passed, the states and territories can sensibly work together on strategic initiatives to advance the education of indigenous Australians. Any delay, Senator Chamarette, will postpone work on this very high priority, a priority hopefully shared by everyone in this place.

The Social Security Legislation Amendment (Newly Arrived Resident's Waiting Periods and Other Measures Bill) 1996, as I have stated, does require early passage. Budget savings can be maximised in this manner. Of course, the department needs to have sufficient lead time to have computer systems developed and new migrants properly informed. I am advised that the bill is not retrospective. The provisions only apply from the date of royal assent for new measures to be covered. Government has given sufficient warning to newly arrived migrants in election commitments and other actions to advertise.

We believe that this bill is an important bill; it is an urgent bill. It was a bill widely canvassed and discussed during the election. The Australian people have voted in favour of the government's policy. I put it to you that to refuse to exempt this bill, to delay and to frustrate and ultimately possibly—we hope this is not the case—to prevent the government from filling an election commitment, for which we specifically sought a mandate, means this Senate is acting in a dangerous way. It is, Senator Carr, quite contrary to the policies that the Labor Party has espoused for a long period of time. Senator Carr and Senator Faulkner may live to rue the day that they decided to act in this particular manner.

In relation to the two airport bills, the bills are similar to ones considered by the Senate in November last year. There was no concern about the provisions of the bills themselves last year. The Senate amended those bills to reflect the coalition's view that noise issues at Sydney West needed to be addressed. The government has indicated that Sydney and Sydney West are off the table for the time being. The government has decided to remove restrictions.

The issue of cross-ownership was raised, Senator Carr. On cross-ownership, which would have prevented Sydney, Sydney West and Brisbane, and Sydney, Sydney West and Melbourne from being owned by the one operator, removal of these restrictions allows time for the government to properly address concerns about noise issues at Sydney without creating unwarranted uncertainty about the sales processes. I conclude my remarks—

Senator Carr —Did you hear Jeffrey Kennett's comments?

Senator KEMP —I have always tried not to be provoked by you, Senator Carr, because I have been advised by many members of your party not to worry about you. For you to be standing up and defending Melbourne and Victoria is a great change. I certainly welcome that. For five or six years in this place—even during the time you were the key senior adviser to the Cain and Kirner governments when Victoria was stripped of its assets and went broke—we were imploring you to act in a more responsible way. Senator Carr, we are anxious to move the program along. I hope that the Senate will give exemptions to these bills. I ask that the questions be divided in respect of each of these bills, except for the two airport bills, which could be taken together.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles) —I seek your clarification, Senator Kemp, that you are seeking four votes.

Senator Kemp —We are seeking three votes.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Three votes. Thank you. The question is that Senator Kemp's motion relating to the Indigenous Education (Supplementary Assistance) Amendment Bill be agreed to.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The question is that Senator Kemp's motion relating to the Airports Bill 1996 and the Airports (Transitional) Bill 1996 be agreed to.

   Question put.