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Monday, 16 September 1996
Page: 3495


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.38 p.m.) —by leave—It really is a little hard to believe that these particular documents were overlooked in what, in fact, has turned out to be a two-month long search—


Senator West —Two months!


Senator FAULKNER —A two-month long search from this government in response to the return to order. The original return to order was agreed to on 27 June with a deadline for later that day, after the matter had been placed on the Notice Paper . It was not until some two months later, on 21 August, that the documents were tabled. I think, by any measure that any senator cares to make, that is a simply unacceptable delay. It is absolutely unacceptable. I think it demonstrates a complete contempt for the resolution of the Senate of 27 June.

We have a right in this chamber to expect that, if the government agrees to formality for a return to order, the government will respect the deadline for that return to order. What I believe has been shown here again are a lack of administrative capacity on the part of this minister and this government and complete carelessness and tardiness in terms of their approach. That is the way this matter has been dealt with right from the beginning.

We have a right to expect that the government will provide detailed reasons to the Senate why documents that are subject to a return to order are withheld from tabling.


Senator Short —I have done that.


Senator FAULKNER —You have done that? I say through you, Mr Deputy President, that Senator Short did not provide that explanation in his original tabling statement.


Senator Short —I did so.


Senator FAULKNER —You did not.


Senator Short —I did so. On 21 August I gave you the reasons for the non-tabling of certain documents. Go back and read it.


Senator FAULKNER —It required a further decision of this chamber to extract finally the description of these documents, the originator of these documents and the reason that they had been withheld from tabling. I can assure Senator Short that I and the opposition will look at that explanation very closely.

I do think it is worth saying here and recalling that when the government was in opposition, when Senator Short and his colleagues were on this side of the chamber, they used to rail against the then Labor administration for missing deadlines and not complying with returns to order, even if it was only a matter of hours. Those senators who were in this chamber during the life of the previous government would know that that is the case. It is incumbent on the coalition, now that it finds itself in government, to explain why these deadlines are no longer important.

I would want to see the government lift its game on this particular matter. This has been an extraordinarily sloppy and unimpressive performance on this return to order. The government did not comply with it when asked to by the Senate, took two months to organise itself and then, of course, failed to comply with all aspects of the return to order. Time and time again, Senator Short has to come in with even more threadbare and world weary excuses for not complying with these orders of the Senate.

I think we need an undertaking from the government that this approach to returns to order will not be repeated. As I have said previously in relation to these matters, the opposition intends to be very vigilant to ensure that the government does comply with the reasonable returns to order that are determined by this chamber.