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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4855


Senator BROWN(10.52 a.m.) —There are two matters to be brought up here. The first is that the chamber will be aware that the Greens are not in favour of the rush to the committee stage in the voting on the industrial relations legislation, because we believe that the community should have at least a couple of weeks to digest what is an enormously important piece of legislation and to feed back, and for this Senate to then have a debate based on that feedback. Senator Margetts's proposal, that we hold off until 18 November so that the community can have input, was not accepted by the chamber a couple of days ago.

That aside, I just wanted to flag the business of this Thursday contribution to affairs of the Senate. There is an informal agreement which allows for the 2½ or three hours to be given across to the non-government benches to discuss matters which are important to them. In the ordinary course of events, opposition, Labor Party, Democrat, Green and Independent matters are discussed in that time. I am concerned that here we have the opposition effectively giving the government that period of what I see as very important private members' time to discuss matters which I think are very important to us. If we give up that time to the government—which has control, essentially, over all the other hours of business in this chamber—we lose the ability to discuss matters which are important to us.

I have, for example, on the Notice Paper a bill to alter the Electoral Act which I think is very important. It is a Democrat innovation and I think we ought to be discussing it this year. Jointly with Senator Lees there is another bill on the Notice Paper for the phasing out of export woodchipping from our native forests. That is a highly contentious issue, but it is very important for many Australians. If the Greens simply accede to the process in hand, there is no hope of that bill being discussed this year and I would submit there is little hope of it being discussed next year. In the meantime, many of the forests that we are concerned about will have been chomped.

So there is a certain urgency concerned with the legislation I have before the Senate, and it would be remiss of me not to promote the interests of that legislation being dealt with before Christmas. I do not believe that that legislation should be making way for an extra few hours debate on the industrial relations legislation which is being rushed through this place. I do not think that is good process. I do not agree with it, and I do not agree with the priorities. Having said that, I can inform the Senate that this morning I have had a word with the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Faulkner). I hope we have in hand a process for reviewing what happens with general business, with all components of the Senate being involved.

If we look at the 20 or so Thursdays which come up in a year and if we look at the make-up of the non-government benches, there ought to be two periods in the year which are allocated to the Greens and Independents. There will be some 14 periods given across to the Labor Party and 3½ of those periods will be given to the Democrats. Senator Margetts has informed me that the Greens had not had, before a week or two ago, a Thursday afternoon component for a long time. But we now have important legislation before the Senate and I would like to see those two bills that I have cited dealt with between now and Christmas. I recognise that we do not have the power to force the issue, and I do not want to delay debate. That is not in our interests, and it is not in the interests of the opposition or the government. But I do want to flag this matter because it is very important.

Pursuing a conclusion on legislation brought before the Senate by the non-government parties is a critical component of the Senate's contribution to democratic discourse in this nation of ours. So it is not a light matter; it is a very important matter indeed. To simply give over that period to rushed government debate—and I think it is unseemly rushed government debate—on industrial relations is not a thing I would do lightly.

I do not want to take it any further, except to say I do not support this move. I think that period this afternoon should be given to the important matters that the opposition and people on the non-government benches have. The government should, of course, be pursuing its industrial relations debate outside that time.