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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3902

Senator PARRY (Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (5:04 PM) —I gather there are no other speakers in the chamber, so I am happy to sum up the debate. First of all, I will set out the coalition’s case again. When this parliament commenced, sitting hours were very minimal, sitting weeks were very minimal, and the government has been in constant disarray with its program. This year it has continued with that disarray, that disorganisation, and as recently as last week, when meeting with the government, it indicated to us the bills it regarded as urgent and the bills it regarded as highly desirable. We were quite surprised then when on Thursday of last week we saw the order of business for today was going to be the CPRS bills first, without any of the legislation that the government considered as being urgent. So we felt compelled today to ensure that the urgent matters were dealt with. We were astonished that the government would not allow its budget measures through prior to considering a piece of legislation that does not come into effect until the year 2012, and now we have to consider legislation that has a start-up date so far in the future, without guaranteeing and assuring the public of this country that the legislation concerning finance and important budget measures, the appropriations bills, were not going to be passed. There was no guarantee. We could have risen on Thursday without any guarantee of these bills having even been considered or passed. To me that was reckless behaviour, so we as an opposition decided to assist the government with that process, clearly stating that these bills should be considered first, prior to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation. We are not saying we are not going to debate the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme suite of legislation. That will come up, but it will come up later this week, and we want to commence that debate. That is not an issue. But we do not want to commence that debate until the urgent matters that this country needs to have considered are considered by this chamber and passed.

On the legislation that Senator Ludwig indicated is not here, there are two bills already here. Other bills are scheduled to come up this week. These bills could have been here a lot earlier if the government in the House of Representatives had bothered to get them across in a timely fashion. Fancy leaving some of the most critical bills that a government deals with on a regular basis, on a financial year basis, until the last moment, leaving them until the last week that parliament is sitting before the 1 July commencement—not only that but also leaving them until the latter half of the last sitting week. That to me is irresponsible. This government needed to have those bills considered first.

We have stepped into the breach. We have assisted the government with this process by enabling those bills to be considered well and truly before we get into a lengthy, protracted debate on what will be an important matter that this Senate needs to consider after those urgent bills. We are simply restating the bills that the government have asked us to have considered as being urgent, and that is important for everyone to comprehend and understand.

I return to the contribution by Senator Evans. He, I might add, spoke for longer than I did, so the accusation of filibustering that he made is incorrect. We had an opportunity earlier today if we were going to filibuster. If we had had a filibustering arrangement, we could have spoken, when the Senate commenced at 12.30 pm, for 30 minutes just on the suspension motion. We did not. The motion was moved, I sat down and we had a vote. That saved 30 minutes of time, which has been the typical attitude that we on this side of the chamber have had. We have constantly given up time. We have constantly given up general business time that we could have dealt with very important issues in, we have constantly given up matters of public importance and we have facilitated the government in every way possible. Even as late as Monday evening of last week, we facilitated a non-urgent bill because the government were not ready with their program, and they came to us with cap in hand and asked: ‘Will you consider this legislation, even though it is not on our urgent list, because basically we have run out of legislation?’ We agreed.

We are constantly facilitating the government’s program, to the extent now that we have had to actually try and manage it for them today. Otherwise, there was a risk that these bills would never be considered. Senator Evans talked about the filibustering aspect. I spoke for fewer than 10 minutes. I had 20 minutes more for which I could have spoken. Senator Wong spoke for longer than I did. Senator Ludwig spoke for longer than I did. We had a brief contribution from the National Party, one from Senator Bob Brown and a very brief one from Senator Cormann. Senator Macdonald was also agitated into the debate by some issues that he thought were quite significant, and he raised those in a very exceptional way.

I also indicate that, I think, Senator Bob Brown—it may have been Senator Fielding—said that we should not be having legislation by exhaustion, and that is what happens when you extend hours. You end up having the legislation that we need to have discussed being debated at a late hour of a night when we have considered many other bills, and it is just not the way to run legislation, especially important legislation. It is better to do it over a methodical and clear course of time that enables senators at least to be fresh for the debate and to keep up with the debate.

It has also been pointed out that we are the opposition, not the government. That is correct, and we are not doing this on our own. It takes a majority of the Senate to decide what the government’s business will be. We have moved a motion. We are going to ask the Senate to make a decision on that motion. If we fail, we fail. If we win then the consideration of legislation will go as we have asked in our motion. We have also left scope in that motion for the government to order which bills it wants to have before it out of that list and when it wants to bring them on, providing they are brought on before the CPRS is debated.

We are very mindful of the government in this place arranging the order of business. However, when the incompetence gets to such a level as it has this year, when the sitting pattern is so minimal that we have not had enough weeks to consider legislation, a responsible opposition needs to step forward and say, ‘Okay, government of the day,’ especially after flagging it last week with you and flagging it many times in this place. I have got up on several occasions—and Hansard will bear me out—saying that the government cannot manage its own program. So we are assisting in that regard on this one occasion.

I say to Senator Ludwig through you, Acting Deputy President: we were reluctant to do so, but you obviously cannot achieve this on your own. We are trying to ensure that you are not caught at the end of this week without having vital legislation passed. Senator Ludwig said that there are simple rules under which the government runs the government program. Yes, it is very simple and, if only the government could run the government program, we would not need to step into the breach. We are very concerned that this is the last possible week and we are down to the last couple of days. Let us get the urgent stuff done first and then come back to the CPRS and debate it in a calm and rational manner, as the debate should progress.

In conclusion, I indicate that, if this vote fails now, I have already lodged a notice of motion with a slight variation to bring this on again and to ask that the government consider the urgent legislation. We will be discussing this with Senator Fielding and Senator Xenophon and hopefully encouraging support for that. If that is the case, we will not do it by way of contingency motion; it will be by way of notice of motion to have those matters considered. We do not want to waste time. We have demonstrated week in, week out when we have been sitting that we do not filibuster in these debates. I have demonstrated that already today. This is a serious matter of getting urgent legislation passed, and I cannot for the life of me understand why the government would not want its secure financial arrangements secured in place by 1 July.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Parry’s) be agreed to.