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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4442

Senator McKIERNAN(5.06 p.m.) —This is an important report, not so much because of its content but because of its timing. It has a arrived in this chamber while the Senate is in the midst of a discussion on the workplace relations bill, a bill that turns on its head the current industrial relations system.

Why is debate not continuing on that bill? We have been through an extensive debate on the second reading and voted on it yesterday or the day before. But then the government, in its wisdom, refused to go on to the committee stage of the debate; hence the bill is in limbo for the moment.

Senator Crane —Not for long.

Senator McKIERNAN —That is not good enough, Senator Crane. Perhaps, with your enormous influence in the coalition parties and the government, you could give this chamber and the people of Australia an explanation for your priority piece of legislation being put to one side, because no valid explanation has been given to date.

I see Senator Calvert over there. I know of his influence within the government as well, but on this particular point he is silent. I will not invite the duty minister, Senator Herron, to come into the debate to give us some reasons. I think he deserves a bit of a rest at the end of the week because it has been a tough one. Nevertheless, I am making a very valid point in relation to the report before the chamber.

I want to make only one other point before I sit down and that goes to what the Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Reith) had to say during question time today in the House of Representatives. There is a simple reason for the minister wasting five minutes of question time denigrating trade unions, trade union officials, trade union members who happen to be members of parliament and senators—in turn, denigrating all members of all unions.

It is a great shame that the minister hates trade unions in the way that he does. It is not a great way to approach industrial relations in this country. The reason he wasted five minutes naming individuals who happen to be members of parliament was to filibuster, to stop the members of the opposition asking very valid questions about the financial affairs of ministers in the Howard government.

This week has seen an enormous change in the front bench of government, with the resignation of a minister and the resignation of a parliamentary secretary. We saw the near resignation of a number of others and one minister from this chamber apologising to the Senate for misleading the parliament through her invention of a fictitious family and for giving details of it in evidence to a Senate committee some four weeks ago.

The Senate committees come on again next week and, certainly, senators from this side of the chamber will be asking more questions about the affairs of government, as we are quite entitled to. The Minister for Industrial Relations might have been able to filibuster for five minutes today in the House of Representatives at question time but it will be that much more difficult for the ministers facing the estimates committees to filibuster during that process. I put them on notice now that they will not be able to get away with inventing families in order to hide the incompetence and ineptitude of some of the ministers in this government.

Debate (on motion by Senator Calvert) adjourned.