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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4358

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(10.13 a.m.) —by leave—The opposition has indicated to the government that it will be supporting the government's proposals in relation to sitting days. It is an unusual circumstance to have the parliament sit for four straight weeks. The opposition have waited until this week, until the government finalised its proposals to the Senate on what sitting weeks were appropriate for this calendar year. The opposition, in order to assist the government with the facilitation of its legislative program, has proposed that two sitting Fridays be added to the government's announced program, and that a further two Fridays—29 November and 13 December—also be agreed to as a result of this particular motion standing in the name of Senator Campbell.

I also indicate that the opposition proposed to the government, and the government accepted, that, because of the number of speakers on the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 1996, the Senate sit through to midnight on the Tuesday of the past sitting week. The government agreed that that was a sensible course of action, given the interest in the workplace relations bill second reading debate—a debate which concluded yesterday.

I might say that, for the opposition's part, we did indicate that we would support the government's proposal. Originally the government had suggested three sitting weeks to conclude our sittings for this year. I think it is fair to say that the government wanted to review this situation, given that the visit of the President of the United States has been confirmed and there is a proposal for a joint sitting of the houses of parliament on 20 November.

The government has come back with this proposition that the parliament sit from Monday, 18 November right through to Friday, 13 December. The opposition does not oppose this. I am pleased to see that Senator Hill, in his brief contribution, acknowledged that that was the case.

I want to place on record that it is rather a unique situation in recent years in this parliament to have an opposition agreeing to such lengthy parliamentary sittings. I think this does reflect the fact that this opposition always accepts that we are not only an opposition but also an alternative government. We do understand that there are significant responsibilities in the Senate to allow a government's reasonable legislative program to be presented and dealt with by the parliament.

It is unusual to see the opposition in the Senate take this course of action, because over the last few years the coalition, in opposition, at every turn tried to stymie and obstruct the former Labor administration in its attempts to see its legislative program dealt with in a proper way. I do appreciate that the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill, has acknowledged that the opposition has been very cooperative in this regard. We will continue to ensure that we fulfil our responsibilities to the parliament while we are progressing issues of ministerial accountability and other issues of great importance in this chamber.

We will also be ensuring that the government does have an opportunity to see its legislative program dealt with. To that end, the Leader of the Government in the Senate has indicated that the government will be taking a more realistic approach to those bills that are on the Senate Notice Paper. I acknowledge that sensible efforts have been made to try and reduce the Senate's workload for this calendar year.

I said in a meeting that was convened by Senator Hill earlier in the week that I thought that the government's latest proposals were far more realistic. We argue in the Labor Party that one of the real values of motions like this is to give all senators some certainty about what the sitting times of the Senate are going to be. While this is going to be a long, hard road—particularly the four straight sitting weeks—at least we now have a situation where senators can plan outside those sitting weeks and do have an understanding of what the constraints are going to be on their time.

I am looking forward to all the question times that this involves. As I add them up, there is a total of 15 question times over that four-week period. On the rate of ministerial and parliamentary secretary resignations we have had in question time this week, that means that there will probably be a further eight scalps hanging off the opposition's belt.

Motion (by Senator Campbell) agreed to:

(1)   That the Senate shall sit on the following days:

   Monday, 18 November to Thursday, 21 November 1996

   Monday, 9 December to Thursday, 12 December 1996

   Friday, 29 November 1996

   Friday, 13 December 1996.

(2)   That on Friday, 29 November 1996 and Friday, 13 December 1996:

   (a)   the hours of meeting shall be:

         9 am to 1 pm

         2 pm to 3.45 pm;

   (b)   the routine business shall be:

      (i)   Government business

      (ii)   At 3.45 pm, adjournment.

(3)   That the procedures for the adjournment specified in the sessional order of 2 February 1994 relating to the times of sitting and routine of business shall apply in respect of this order.