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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3919

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (6:18 PM) —I sincerely thank all members for their contributions to this debate. I am sure all the contributions will be taken into account if, as seems likely, the Senate Standing Committee on Procedure gets this reference. I reiterate that on Friday night I went and saw the President and, having used the device of flagging dissent, said that I wanted to consider that over the weekend, to look at a more positive outcome. And I am very pleased to say that that is potentially in the offing.

To Senator Ferguson and Senator Barnaby Joyce, I would point out that there have been some precedents in the matter of allowing children here under very limited and special circumstances; that is part of the Senate record. There has not been a rule which said that there was a prohibition, and that line should never be crossed. I might say to Barnaby Joyce: people tried to apply that rule on a very famous occasion 2,000 years ago. Christ said on that occasion, ‘Suffer little children to come unto me’—do not let the officials get in the way and deny children access that other people have.

I simply say that because we need a little bit of compassion in this place on occasions like this, and it is very curmudgeonly of Senator Joyce to be talking about this as a stunt, particularly when he himself said, ‘There are 76 people in our nation elected to go beyond the bar, and that is all.’ Well, he is elected to come beyond the bar but he was absent from that very important vote on Thursday night, and he tells us, by way of excuse, that he was talking with people in his room. Whether that was Mitch Hooke again or whoever he has not disclosed to us. But it was Senator Joyce’s responsibility to be here and to vote on that issue. How dare he point a finger of blame at Senator Hanson-Young, who did everything she could, despite the difficult circumstances, to be here for a vote which she knew was on an important issue, and who ran into difficulties which we now know. The big critic of this has been the Leader of the National Party in the Senate, who has no excuse for his failure to be here at all. Let me say, through you, Acting Deputy President, if the time arises when Senator Joyce finds himself on the wrong side of the rules for a perfectly human reason, I expect that I will be one of the first to give him some latitude and show some compassion and some fair-mindedness under those circumstances—something that he has denied Senator Hanson-Young and, indeed, it is not the representation that I would have expected from his party.

I note that Senator Ferguson said Senator Hanson-Young should have asked for a pair. Again, he is a senator who was not here on Thursday. The two most trenchant critics of Hanson-Young and me and the Greens, who have come in here to cut across the general goodwill towards there being a good outcome from this measure, are the two senators who failed to turn up for the vote, whatever their excuse might be—there has been no good excuse put before the chamber—on Thursday night. Let that be on the record.

I would point out that, when I first came here, gentlemen always had to wear a coat but ladies did not. It was Senator O’Chee, again from the National Party, who demanded that I be gagged when, one hot summer’s afternoon, on a perfectly reasonable day, I came in here without a coat on. I had on a shirt and tie but no coat, and he demanded that I be ejected. I ask you: where is Senator O’Chee today?

Senator Faulkner —Could we have an answer to that question, please?

Senator BOB BROWN —Yes, I would like an answer to it; maybe the National Party could supply it.

Senators who have been here since at least five or six years ago will know that it was not permissible to take photos from the galleries. As recently as that, the press were not permitted to take photographs. It was a motion I put to change that rule, which the Senate adopted, which meant that we could have a photographer in the press gallery just a few moments ago. Before that, there was a total prohibition on photographers except for the first 30 minutes of question time—and then, bang, they were asked to leave at that stage.

We have seen the rules amended for breastfeeding—and I am interested in what Senator Collins had to say, and I thank her for her very generous contribution—but I do not know that there has ever been a mother who has breastfed in this chamber. And it is very obvious why that is likely to be so. What we are talking about is mothers bringing very young children, infants, into the chamber on occasions where they have felt that that was temporarily and very briefly a reasonable thing to do.

I think people who are elected to this place and who have children have the common sense to know what is a reasonable thing and what is not. The President must always have the discretion to intervene if they do not show that common sense. I note that all presidents since I have been here have been very good with children who come into the public galleries. We all know how disrupting it is if suddenly a child starts crying or creating a lot of noise in the public gallery—and very swiftly they are removed. Very swiftly, kindly and gently their parents are assisted to have them be taken away, and they cease to be a distraction.

I do not think it is beyond our wit and wisdom to improve the rules to make sure that some accommodation is made for mothers and, indeed, fathers who have the common sense to know that, if they bring a child in here, the child should not be disruptive, the time should be brief and it should only be done on rare occasions. Some good will come of this. I hope the Senate will vote for this reference. I know that the Procedure Committee will take into account the debate and the changing circumstances in modern Australia in 2009. I certainly hope that they will adopt the suggested amendment or something similar.

Question, as amended, agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 6.27 pm to 7.30 pm