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Thursday, 24 June 2021
Page: 105


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Finance, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (17:15): I move:

I1) That the Senate agree to the following amendments to the temporary orders relating to formal business:

(a) Amend standing order 57, as follows:

At the end of paragraph (1)(a)(ia), add:

(ib) At 1.30 pm, statements pursuant to standing order 57(4)

At the end of paragraph (1)(b)(i), add:

(ia) At 1.30 pm, statements pursuant to standing order 57(4)

Paragraph (1)(c)(ii)

Omit "12.45 pm", substitute "12.15 pm"

At the end of paragraph (1)(c)(ii), add:

(iia) At 1.30 pm, statements pursuant to standing order 57(4)

Paragraph (1)(d)(ii)

Omit "11.45 am", substitute "11.15 am"

Paragraph (1)(d)(vii)

Omit "12.45 pm", substitute "12.15 pm"

At the end of paragraph (1)(d)(vii), add:

(viia) At 1.30 pm, statements pursuant to standing order 57(4)

Paragraph (2)

Omit "12.45 pm till 2 pm", substitute "12.15 pm till 1.30 pm"

At the end of the standing order, add:

(4) At 1.30 pm each day, for a period of not more than 30 minutes, senators may make statements without any question before the chair, provided that a senator shall not speak for more than 2 minutes and, if a division is called for it shall be taken at a later hour of the day after the time for such statements.

(b) Amend the temporary order amending standing order 66, agreed to as a temporary order on 18 June 2020, as follows:

Omit paragraphs (5) and (6), substitute:

(5) A request for the consideration of general business notices of motion as formal business shall only be recognised in respect of motions for:

(a) the consideration of legislation (including the introduction of bills);

(b) the conduct of Senate business;

(c) the conduct of committee business (including the appointment of a select committee); and

(d) proposing an order for the production of documents (including proposing further action in relation to an order for the production of documents).

(c) Amend standing order 76(8), as follows:

At the end of the paragraph, add:

", including to ensure that motions meet the definition of a particular category of business or are eligible for consideration as formal business."

(2) The amendments in paragraphs (1)(a) to (c) shall have effect as a temporary order until the last sitting day of 2021.

(3) The temporary order amending standing order 76 restricting the length of general business notices to 200 words (with exemptions), agreed to as a temporary order on 18 June 2020, shall take effect as a permanent order.

In doing so, I wish to provide some context, briefly, and some explanation. In my time in this chamber, the consideration of formal motions has, over a period of time, become one of the most divisive, dysfunctional and disorderly elements of the Senate consideration each day.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hanson-Young, on a point of order?

Senator Hanson-Young: This debate is only listed for 20 minutes. The minister's been allocated 15 minutes. I just want clarification. Is he speaking for the whole 15 minutes?

The PRESIDENT: That's not a point of order. The speaking times are set in the standing orders. The limitation of debate was set by the Senate today. I can only imagine that more interjections and points of order will reduce the time for debate. But they are the rules. Senator Birmingham.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I intend to limit my remarks. As I said, consideration of formal business has, over the 14 years of my time here, become one of the most divisive, dysfunctional and disorderly elements of the day. The process for formal motions was originally intended to allow the consideration of noncontroversial items, to allow consideration relating to the smooth running of the Senate. Instead, it has become a process where we have seen motions used for the purposes of race-baiting. We've seen motions that are engaging in the most sensitive of conscience vote issues. We've seen motions in relation to complex foreign policy matters. We've seen significant policy questions that, frankly, cannot be simplified into a few sentences, yet senators attempt to do so in putting such motions.

The conduct of this section of the day, where a sensitive or complex issue can be listed with just a single day's notice and then all senators expected to vote on it without any explanation, debate or consideration, has become the antithesis of what a parliamentary chamber should be like. As we know, the Senate and senators, particularly through the Procedure Committee, have long considered and debated ways to try to address the problems with the dysfunctionality of this element of the day. An attempt was made to limit parts of that. Unfortunately, the attempt to limit the number of motions in an effort to try to create a more orderly approach has only resulted in yet more dysfunction and disorder. So consideration has been ongoing in terms of how to achieve reform that will provide for greater order in the chamber whilst not limiting the ability of senators to make a stance and assay themselves.

An honourable senator interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Birmingham, please resume your seat. There will be more time eaten up if the interjections keep going. Senator Birmingham.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The proposal that is put forward is to limit such motions to their original intent in so far as they deal with procedural questions before the Senate, including the establishment of committees, including holding the government to account through matters such as the order for production of documents. There will be no such limits in relation to those process matters and considerations under the motion before the Senate. The government will still be held to account firmly through those elements.

The motion seeks to create a new half-hour opportunity, each and every day, for senators to make two-minute statements. This will allow any senator to make a statement on whatever matter, as controversial as they wish, but without expecting every other senator in this place—with no notice and no debate—to have to then form an opinion on that senator's controversial statement. Each senator will be able to have that opportunity.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator Lambie interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Lambie! In order to maintain order, I will use the time limited clock, and people are chewing up the time they have to make a contribution.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: It is the government's intention to make sure, through the allocation of these spots, that any different party entity or independent entity represented in this chamber who wishes to use that slot during each day has an opportunity to do so. The government will do that whilst noting that others may wish to claim their right to proportionality within the allocation of those slots. We wish to ensure that senators have the chance to have their say without compromising the rights of other senators in the way in which they engage.

There are other technical amendments in the motion which ensure that senators' statements time, as it currently exists on a Wednesday, is in no way limited and continues to exist per ordinary business, and similarly in relation to the consideration of non-controversial business. The government will continue to engage in relation to the allocation of these slots and with other senators in good faith about how other parts of the business, such as general business, can be used to provide the best possible outlet for senators to participate in a robust parliamentary procedure but without compromising the rights of their colleagues.