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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4859

Senator CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Sport, Territories and Local Government)(11.11 a.m.) —I wanted to make a couple of points, mostly in response to Senator Brown in relation to the amount of time that non-government business has actually been dealt with this year to date. The clerks have very kindly provided me with an analysis of that. It shows that 64 per cent of the Senate's time has been devoted to non-government business and government business has taken up 36 per cent of that time. The total amount of time devoted to government legislation is 26 per cent.

To put those figures in some context for other honourable senators, the average amount of time in 1994 that non-government business was dealt with was down to around 58 per cent to 59 per cent and the amount of time spent on government business was up to around 42 per cent to 41 per cent. The differential has changed quite significantly. In terms of the actual hours devoted to debating government legislation, which is some measure of time, it is worth while putting these figures on the Hansard record. In 1984 the then government was achieving about 11 hours and 10 minutes per week. In 1995 it was about the same figure. In the 1996 year to date this government has been achieving about seven hours of government business a week. We have a problem there.

We genuinely appreciate the attempts of the opposition and other senators to recognise that the government should have its program debated. The government also recognises that there will be a number of very contentious issues, and the workplace relations bill is one of them. It has obviously been a very contentious issue throughout the history of Austral ian federation. It was a contentious issue when the founding fathers debated the arbitration powers in the constitution, and it will continue to be. There are very genuine heart-felt disagreements over those matters.

For Senator Brown to say that this debate is being rushed also belies the fact that, to date, this chamber has spent 16 hours and 25 minutes debating the legislation. Four hours has been spent on the committee stage this week. If you do a rough calculation based on some of the previous strong, heartfelt debates in this chamber on things such as native title and the land fund, at the rate that we are progressing at the moment on the committee stage—I am not making this point to be churlish in any way—we will spend about 150 hours on the committee stage. I am not saying that that is the rate at which we will proceed. I think it is fair to say to honourable senators that the objects stage of the committee debate clearly gives senators a time to range far and wide over many issues. I did listen to the debate very carefully yesterday. It looks more like a repeat of a second reading debate. I respect the contributions that have been made.

To say, Senator Brown, that we are rushing that debate is far from the truth. The government obviously would not intend to spend this amount of time but, on the current rate of progress—and I hope other honourable senators do not intend that we spend this much time on it—we would spend 150 or 200 hours on the committee stage debate, based on previous experience with things like the Native Title Act, which is the best example you can base it on.

At that rate, we will actually spend 20 weeks debating the committee stage, so that is not a rush. We do want to ensure that all of the issues are canvassed. I am sure that anyone in Australia who has an interest in industrial relations will be tuning in to the parliamentary network and speaking to senators and lobbying them. Obviously, our friends in the gallery will focus on the content of the debate. It is a packed gallery today. It is good to see that AAP are still up there, and to see our friends in the public galleries. There will be a focus on it and the debate will allow that focus, Senator Brown.

I do hope that you will take this opportunity. The opposition and the government have both made it quite clear that private members business is, of course, an important part of the Senate chamber, and we respect that fact. I hope that those figures will reinforce the dilemma and the challenge that the government faces and we do genuinely appreciate the cooperation that senators on the crossbenches have shown from time to time. We would like more cooperation. We will try to keep communication lines open so that you know what we are seeking to do. We genuinely respect the rights that crossbenchers and private senators have in regard to these matters.

Question resolved in the affirmative.