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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 3539


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (09:31): I seek leave to move a motion to vary the order of the Senate of 20 June 2018 relating to consideration of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018.

Leave not granted.

Senator WONG: Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to vary the order of the Senate of 20 June 2018 relating to consideration of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Personal Income Tax Plan) Bill 2018.

I am moving this motion in order to give senators the opportunity to suspend standing orders to debate a motion to, frankly, remedy what was passed yesterday in this chamber.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator WONG: Yes, we will. I'll take the interjection from Senator Macdonald. We will keep trying it again, because we actually believe that the Senate should do its job. The Senate should do its job, mate, which is actually to seek to amend legislation and debate it, not to act like an arm of the executive. We were sent here to legislate, and yesterday the government, along with their mates Senator Rex Patrick and Centre Alliance, who appear to roll over—every time Senator Cormann asks Senator Patrick to jump, he just says, 'How high?' He's a Lib. He is nothing but a Lib. Senator Rex Patrick is nothing but a Lib who is happy to walk in here and do what Senator Nick Xenophon would never have done. Senator Storer put a statement out yesterday, and it was very measured, I would have to say, but it was also a statement which told the truth, which is that Senator Nick Xenophon would never have done what Senator Patrick agreed with Senator Cormann to do, and that is to do over the Senate. This is $144 billion worth of tax cuts that they don't want to debate. This is supposed to be one of the centrepieces of your economic plan, and you don't even have the spine to debate it properly. You come in here and you try an ambush in order to make sure the Senate can't debate amendments. What an extraordinary proposition—that we are sent here in this place, but we want 30 minutes debate on $144 billion worth of tax cuts! What I find extraordinary—

Senator Cash: We find this extraordinary!

Senator WONG: The minister, who is a serial misleader of the parliament, continues to interject. But we'll come to you later.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Wong, there is a point of order. I will call Senator Birmingham and then come to you, Senator O'Sullivan.

Senator Birmingham: Mr President, that is a clear reflection upon another member of this Senate. Senator Wong obviously knows better than that and should clearly withdraw.

Senator WONG: Mr President, as always, I will withdraw if you ask me to. The minister herself has conceded that she misled on five occasions.

The PRESIDENT: On the point of order, Senator Birmingham, in my view, and having had advice confirming it from the Clerk, that is not a personal imputation on a senator, but I will remind all senators that, particularly on days like today, we should step back from personal imputations or impugning other senators. Otherwise, today will get more difficult than it needs to be.

Senator WONG: The motion I am seeking to move to suspend standing orders—a motion the government doesn't even want to debate; pretty interesting, isn't it?—would enable this Senate to properly consider the message from the House of Representatives. That's all. From the roaring and the interjections that we saw just previously—and with Senator Macdonald and Senator Cash getting all hot under the collar again—you would think that we were talking about something outrageous. This is parliamentary democracy. There are two chambers. We pass legislation; they pass legislation. We get to consider the amendments that they've made or whether or not they've accepted ours. It's the parliamentary system. What this Leader of the Government in the Senate did yesterday was prevent debate on the message because he wants the political timetable, and that's what so objectionable about all of this. The motion moved was not because there was some time sensitivity or the government had to get it up today or there couldn't be further Senate debate because there had been hours of it, because there hadn't. We'd given up Tuesday night. There'd been, I think, 45 minutes of committee time or maybe a little bit more. It wasn't because we'd been filibustering or there'd been lengthy debate. Senator Mathias Cormann did over the Senate because he wants a political timetable, and that is objectionable. That is not the way this place should be run.

This is an important piece of legislation. We should be able to debate and amend what the House sends back. We accept, of course, that the government has the majority in the House; that's why they're on that side. But they do not have the right to prevent this Senate from debating and amending the message or the legislation which comes back from the House, yet that is what this Senate did yesterday. I'd implore Senator Hinch and others on the crossbench who may be against us on the tax cuts—I think you're wrong in policy on that and wrong in merit, but I accept that's your decision—why do over the Senate to enable Senator Cormann to deliver on Malcolm Turnbull's political timetable? There is no reason why this Senate should not have the opportunity to properly debate and amend the message when it comes back. No reason was put yesterday and no reason has been given. The only reason is the political strategy that Senator Cormann is desperate to deliver on for a desperate Prime Minister ahead of the by-elections.