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Wednesday, 14 September 2005
Page: 16

Senator JOYCE (11:10 AM) —Thank you very much, and I welcome the good honourable gentleman to our side of the chamber—

Senator Stott Despoja —Acting Deputy President Hutchins, on a point of order: I am next on the speakers list. Senator Joyce is not on the list. Will we stick to the speakers list or have we gagged that too?

Senator Hill —It is a longstanding practice: one side of the chamber then the other side of the chamber. The Democrats have chosen to sit on the Labor side of the chamber, so they are part of that speaking contingent.

Senator George Campbell interjecting—

Senator Hill —How many speeches has the government had on this bill? How many opportunities? Very few.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator Hill —In fact the Labor spokesman damned the government for not allowing Senator Joyce to speak. Then, when Senator Joyce rises, the Labor Party wants to gag him. They cannot have it both ways.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I would welcome Senator Joyce’s contribution to the debate but, unfortunately, we are faced with a situation where the government and Senator Joyce have voted for a gag that ends the debate at 11.30 am. I am happy for the government to move a motion extending the time for the debate. Senator Joyce is a victim of his own party discipline. He voted for a resolution that stifled the debate. Now he wishes to jump on the speakers list. The speakers list is agreed between the parties and circulated in the chamber. The speakers list shows McEwen, Stott Despoja and Fielding. If Senator Joyce is to jump in and speak, then he denies Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Fielding their opportunities.

Senator Hill —Not necessarily. You’re wasting speaking time now.

Senator Chris Evans —My point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President, is that the government have overturned all the Senate procedures and this is another one—a distributed formal agreement between the parties, the speakers list, which is given to the chair. They are going to break that convention as well. According to the list, Senator Stott Despoja has the call and she ought to be given the call.

Senator Bob Brown —On the point of order: it is totally outrageous that the speakers order now be broken to convenience government members who have not had the gumption to get up to speak until now. I move, according to contingent orders:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Stott Despoja being heard next.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Hutchins)—I have been advised that you cannot move that because there is a point of order before the chair.

Senator Bob Brown —I will move it immediately afterwards.

The PRESIDENT —I believe there is a point of order before the chair. As everybody knows, it has always been the practice to take one speaker from one side and then one from the other. The order of speaking is decided by the whips. I call Senator Joyce.

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, you have an obligation in this place to recognise that there is a crossbench. It is not one side or the other; there are three sides. Senator Stott Despoja is on the speaking list and Senator Joyce is not. It is totally contrary to all practice in this place that you suddenly come in here and give favour to a government member over a crossbench member who, according to the whips’ arrangements—

The PRESIDENT —Senator, you have made a point of order. I am ruling on that point of order. It is always the custom of the chair to take one speaker from one side and then one from the other. The last speaker was Senator McEwen on my left. I propose to take a speaker from my right, and I call Senator Joyce. I ask you to resume your seat, Senator Brown. I have ruled on the point of order. I call Senator Joyce.

Senator JOYCE —Thank you very much, Mr President. There have been a number of calls from the other side of the house that I had been gagged, so it is very important—

Senator Fielding —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. You were saying that you go from one side of the chamber to the other. I happen to be on the other side of the chamber to the previous speaker and I happen to be on the speakers list. I think it would be more than appropriate for Family First to have their say in the second reading debate on this legislation.

The PRESIDENT —There has been a lot of time wasted this morning and, Senator, I am sure that you will get the opportunity, either now or in the committee stage. I call Senator Joyce.

Senator JOYCE —Thank you very much, Mr President. It is important that we get it on the record today that the decision—

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I dissent from your ruling that Senator Joyce be heard ahead of the other senators who are listed.

The PRESIDENT —It is not a ruling. It is the right of the chair to call from one side or the other. I ask you to resume your seat, Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —We are not going to have a debate on standing orders. I have called Senator Joyce and I ask him to continue with his—

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I seek leave to move a motion that the Senate allow Senators Stott Despoja, Joyce and Fielding to give speeches in the second reading debate on the Telstra bills.

The PRESIDENT —We are now under the rules of urgency and I have no alternative but to call Senator Joyce.

Senator Chris Evans —Is leave granted or is leave denied?

Leave not granted.

Senator JOYCE —I think it is very important to get on the record what the National Party wished to extract from the Telstra legislation and what we have extracted, what we have done in the last week and how the process goes on. It is very important for people to know exactly what the resolutions were that we came down to this chamber with. In Queensland we had two resolutions that were given to us. One resolution was to not sell Telstra at all, and from the 350 or so delegates at the National Party state conference it managed to attract two votes, because the people in Queensland realise the political dynamics that we have to work with and the fact that we have to go out and do the very best deal we possibly can. As such, and realising that we do not actually have every vote in the chamber, although a lot of people think we do have every vote in the chamber—and I am flattered to think that a lot of people think that I am the only senator in the chamber—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —and it is great to attract the attention from the Labor Party and the free advertising they give me. I welcome the advertising. So far we have attracted a Labor member to our side of the parliament and I congratulate him for coming across. It is very important to know that what we actually came down here to support was a five-pillar policy, which was the extraction of a deal. We made it well known and everybody knew that, if we did not extract that deal, we would not vote for the sale of Telstra. We have gone into this process and we have accomplished so much. Even in the last week we have managed to—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —Who is gagging the debate now?

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Come to order!

Senator JOYCE —Thank you very much, Mr President. I just want to go through what has happened in the last week, because everybody knows all the pros and cons. In the last week we have managed to have the review process of this legislation to clarify exactly what is in the $2 billion trust fund. We have got that. There was a problem with it and we have clarified that. The National Party managed to get that clarified. We have managed to get clarification of the means and mechanisms of the operation of the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee.

It was great to see in the last week the National Farmers Federation coming out in support of us, and in fact imploring me to vote for this legislation. It is great to see that there has been recognition by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts of the need to get a wider involvement in the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee group. They will now get peak industry bodies involved with it. All this is part of the work you do when you are not involved in the semantics and filibustering that is going on here but you are actually reading the legislation and working out what is wrong with it and getting it fixed—because that is what we do in the National Party. We actually read the legislation, and it is very important to read the legislation because in this chamber you are supposed to check the veracity of the legislation. All the theatrics here have amounted to nothing. Your theatrics have amounted to nothing because nobody is listening to you.

It is good to see that the National Party have extracted this deal. We acknowledge that the deal that initially went to the lower house delivered nothing for regional and rural Australia. It delivered nothing, and it is the position of leverage that the National Party has that has put so much into this legislation that it can actually deliver the services. The final question has to be this: will the people of regional and rural Australia and the people of Queensland be better off or worse off after the passage of this legislation? All the problems that are currently happening are happening under the current ownership guise. The National Party has used this position of leverage to get both the money on the table and the legislation on the table to fix the problems. That is what the National Party does. We are few in number but we managed to extract a deal and I sit here today with my colleagues proud of what we have achieved.

I know that when we were talking on the John Laws show this morning, they were proud of what we have achieved. They know that the National Party has gone into bat. They know that the National Party is a safety valve in conservative politics. They know that the National Party allows open debate and, if you are so irrelevant that the Australian people do not want to vote for you, that is not our problem. You must make yourselves relevant. You must become engaged in the debate, you must come up with rational solutions and you must become part of the solution and not just a commentator on the problems. It has become apparent that you have not even read the legislation yourselves. You had the same amount of time that we did. The National Party had to find the problems that you should have found. Why is that? Why is it that we found the problem with the $2 billion slush fund? Why is it that the National Party—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator Hill —Mr President, on a point of order: screaming abuse at the speaker is totally out of order. Labor speakers receive the courtesy of being listened to. The Labor Party should cop it now and listen to Senator Joyce.

The PRESIDENT —There is too much noise in the chamber. I ask all senators to come to order.

Senator JOYCE —So the National Party had to do the Labor Party’s job on this. It had to become an effective mechanism to bring some veracity to the legislation and to make sure that we deliver what we intended to deliver. We worked very hard at that. I also thank Minister Coonan for the assistance she has given me.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —She has. Honourable senators, last night we in the National Party delivered 10 proposed amendments to the legislation to the minister, and all 10 have been agreed to. We are looking forward to such things as an independent assessor on the COT cases. We look forward to a greater connection. I can see some of the amendments here on the table this morning. That is how it works on this side. We achieve things, we find the problems and we fix them.

I want to put on the record that the National Party has extracted this deal. The National Party has gone into bat. The National Party has delivered. I will conclude with this: there is strong sentimentality towards the ownership of Telstra; I acknowledge that, and you hear about it everywhere you go. But when there is a choice between—

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —If you will let me finish, someone else will get a chance to speak. If there is a choice between the sentimentality—

Senator Bob Brown interjecting—

Senator JOYCE —You did not get a Senate seat in Queensland, Senator Brown. There is a choice between the sentimentality of owning Telstra as it is now or having the legislation and the money in place to fix problems and to bring parity of service and prices into the future. If we have the legislation and the money in place to deliver that—which were never there when the bill was initially put through the lower house—then the National Party has delivered. It is the only party in this house that has managed to stand up for rural and regional Australia in such a way that it actually delivers.