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Wednesday, 2 April 1980
Page: 1405

Senator CHIPP (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democrats) - I oppose this motion. The reason is that I am beginning to realise that the third sitting night each week of the Senate which is devoted to the business of private members who are euphemistically known as back benchers is becoming a farce. Senator Knight has just moved a very important motion concerning 500,000 people of ethnic origin who should be allowed to become permanent employees of the Public Service. I thought that his speech was impeccable in logic. He gave notice of the motion on 7 November 1979, five months ago.

The debate on the matter has been very good. Listeners to the debate might have been stirred in their excitement to think that Senator Knight was raising an interesting matter and to wonder how the Senate would vote on it. The anticlimax came when the Minister for Special Trade Representations (Senator Scott) rose and moved that the debate be adjourned. It will now go to the bottom of the Notice Paper.

Senator Cavanagh - He gave no reason why it should be.

Senator CHIPP - I am glad of that interjection. There is a reason why the third sitting night on which back benchers debate General Business is a farce. It is as simple as this: Senator Knight has canvassed his proposition with the Government. The Government has said that it is not acceptable and, therefore, it uses this device. This is no criticism of Senator Knight whatsoever; it is a criticism of the system. The Minister adjourned the debate knowing that other items on the Notice Paper will precede it and it will be debated again in the Senate. I believe that that practice is a debasing of the Senate which is supposed to be a House of review, particularly on General Business nights. The motion would have done no damage had it been passed. It simply requests the Government to do certain things about allowing ethnic people to become permanent employees of the Federal Government. The motion has been on the Notice Paper for five months. There was no response to the debate from a Minister tonight. One would have thought that the Government could at least pay honourable senators the courtesy, on the third sitting night of the Senate, to respond when something substantive and important such as the matter raised by Senator Knight is debated. I believe that the Government considers the third sitting night of the Senate in an indulgent way as though to say: 'This is the back benchers' night. Let them indulge themselves and have a bit of fun. There will be no harm done. If a difficult question comes up we will simply adjourn the debate and bury it in the Notice Paper. '

The next item on the agenda which the Australian Democrats will support is a motion to be moved by Senator McLaren concerning Asia Dairy Industries (Hong Kong) Ltd. I would like to be corrected if I am wrong but I am given to believe that he and his colleagues will want to vote on it. The Australian Democrats will want to vote also. We will support the Opposition. Am I right in saying that if the Government by sheer weight of numbers wants to stop a vote being taken all that needs to be done is for a Minister to rise, get the call at an appropriate time and move that the debate be adjourned? If we on this side of the House object to that there will be a division but by the sheer weight of numbers the Senate will be precluded from voting.

It seems to me that the whole system of debating General Business on the third sitting night is a farce. Several honourable senators, particularly Senator Missen and Senator Puplick, last Thursday night quite properly criticised the paucity of attendance in the Senate on the third sitting night. It is no wonder that senators do not attend the chamber. What is the use? I have been listening to this debate for 45 minutes. I was interested in it. I agree with it. What has been the use? It has been a study group discussion but this is a House of the Parliament. With those words I register my protest at the tactics that the Government uses to gag debates on General Business.

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