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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4926

Senator McKIERNAN(4.50 p.m.) —I have been following this debate if not in the chamber then on the monitor in my room. I am getting concerned at the lack of responses, the lack of answers and the flippancy with which the parliamentary secretary is treating the questions which come from this side of the chamber. This is an extremely important bill to the people of Australia, to the workers of Australia. It is a very important bill to us on this side of the chamber because of our affiliations with the trade union movement and the fact that many of us here publicly admit that we have got very distinct links with the trade union movement, and we are very proud of it.

Senator Campbell —Ask your question? Have you got a question?

Senator McKIERNAN —I have got the floor and I am talking. You sit there and keep quiet. When you are asked a question, you should respond. You have no right to ask me questions when I am making a contribution to the committee—no right at all.

The CHAIRMAN —Could you speak through the chair, please.

Senator McKIERNAN —Mr Chairman. We are asking on this side of the chamber some very important questions, crucial questions to us and crucial questions to the people that we purport to represent in this parliament of Australia. We are not getting responses. One of the core commitments that was given to the people of Australia prior to the election was that no worker would be worse off by the introduction of the Howard industrial relations legislation.

We look for evidence of that commitment in the objects of the bill, and it is not there—it is just not there. We seek clarification from the parliamentary secretary. We are not even given the decency in the committee, in the parliament, of a minister having carriage of the bill. We are not even given that decency with this very important piece of legislation.

We ask very definite, very genuine questions and we are flippantly told to go to the library.

Senator Hogg —Or not answered.

Senator McKIERNAN —Or not answered; he just sits there dumb. I can understand that the parliamentary secretary might not have the competence, I can understand that he may not know what he is talking about, but we have a right—we have more than a right; we have an obligation—to get these answers out of you, to get an understanding of what the government is about in putting forward this particular bill. We have to persist with what we are doing. That is what we are elected for; that is what the people of Australia voted for in the March election and in the election before that when others were elected to this place. We have to fulfil those obligations to the people who put us here—and it is not only us; it is other senators in the place. We have obligations, but there are obligations on the other side of the chamber as well.

I would hope that you have had your little bit of fun with your flippant answers, with the arrogance that I suppose anybody who reaches the front bench is entitled from time to time to show, to put on display. I think it is about time now that we got back to the real issues. We are asking simple questions. We want progress on the bill. There will be progress on the bill, but give us some answers.