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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3913

Senator FERGUSON (5:55 PM) —Firstly, can I say that we are debating this today because Senator Brown moved a dissent from the President’s ruling. I do not believe this is an amendment to his original motion; I believe that it is a totally new motion and that in doing this Senator Brown should have withdrawn his dissent and sought leave to move another motion. I know technically he can do it this way, but I do not believe it is the right way to handle the business of the Senate. A reference to the Procedure Committee can be done by letter; it does not need a motion to go through the Senate chamber. Therefore, I believe that it was wrong of Senator Brown to move a dissent from the President’s ruling when, in fact, all the President was doing was upholding the standing orders—which he is obliged to do.

Senator Brown talks about an ad hoc ruling by the President on Thursday. It was not an ad hoc ruling; he was upholding the standing orders. Can I say that the President has my total support, and probably the total support of all of my colleagues, in the actions that he took. He had overlooked this breach of the standing orders on previous occasions. He had overlooked a breach of the standing orders by the same senator. If it were the wish of Senator Hanson-Young to bring a child into the chamber—and, in fact, as Senator Brown said, it has happened on other occasions—why on earth didn’t Senator Hanson-Young at least seek an appointment with the President and discuss the issue with him instead of just bringing a child into the chamber in breach of standing orders? It left the President in a very unenviable position. I think that Senator Hanson-Young could have made life easier for both herself and the President if she had asked the President, ‘Is it all right if, on occasions when I am caught short with the baby and the division bells are rung, I bring the child in?’ Then maybe Senator Hogg could have discussed the issue and discussed it with other people. As it so happens—I do not think the President would mind me saying this—he and I had a discussion about that very matter the night before this occurred, because of the fact that Senator Hanson-Young had unexpectedly brought a child into the chamber on a previous occasion. Certainly it was unexpected for the President.

Can I say to senators present that we have come a long way, since I first entered this chamber, in making working conditions in this place family friendly. We have a childcare centre, which was urged by senators and others for a long time. That childcare centre is here and it is available for people to use if they so desire. Breastfeeding infants are allowed into the chamber. That came into place some time ago. I know Senator Collins was here back in the earlier days when things seemed to be a little stricter. Senator Brown talked about Senator Collins bringing a child into the chamber—I am sure that was not done without some discussion with President Beahan but I would stand corrected if that is not the case.

The court of public opinion seems to have a different view to that of Senator Brown and Senator Hanson-Young in relation to this issue. We have seen the court of public opinion at work over the whole weekend. I have never seen online polling over such an issue, where 85 per cent of the population do not agree with Senator Hanson-Young’s action that was taken last Thursday in relation to bringing a child into the chamber. Where else can you take a child into the workplace? That is the question that is being asked by a lot of people. It is a workplace. It is also the place where nationwide decisions are made. I think there are certain observances that should take place here, and one of those is the upholding of the standing orders.

If you want to change standing orders, change them before you break them. Do not break the standing orders in the hope that they can be changed afterwards—and this is what is happening in this particular situation. An issue has occurred and Senator Brown, who moved dissent from the President’s ruling, has now said: ‘Well, I’m not too sure, having read the court of public opinion, whether I should proceed with this. I’ll change this and refer it to the Procedure Committee.’ I am not so sure that people outside of this place would look favourably on our changing the standing orders.

I do not know why Senator Hanson-Young did not ask for a pair. I have no idea why she did not ask for a pair, but I do know that Senator Brown restrained her and made her stay in the chamber. I do not know why Senator Hanson-Young did not ask for a pair, because I know both of the whips are very accommodating. Senator Hanson-Young, I am quite sure you would have been able to get a pair on this occasion. Senator Hanson-Young also said: ‘We bend the rules. We recommit a vote when someone is missing.’ We are not bending the rules; we are working within the standing orders when a vote is recommitted. The standing orders in this place have been in place for a long, long time. They have been changed over time to accommodate the wishes of other people. It is not bending the rules to recommit a vote, because standing orders make the provision that it is possible to do it. Every situation is covered in some way by the standing orders in this place.

Senator Brown, I will not oppose this going to the Procedure Committee. You can be quite sure of that. As Chair of the Procedure Committee, I welcome this issue coming to the Procedure Committee. It could have been done by way of a letter to the Procedure Committee, which would have avoided all of this debate. Indeed, most of the matters that we discuss at the Procedure Committee come by way of letter rather than by resolution of the Senate. I think that would have been the appropriate thing to do. I want to conclude by saying that I firmly support the President of this chamber in the action that he took last Thursday. It was his right to uphold standing orders. They should be upheld in every situation. If people do not like the standing orders then they should seek to change them. The time to change standing orders is prior to breaking standing orders or being in defiance of standing orders, not before you have had the opportunity to try and change them.