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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 3577


Senator JACINTA COLLINS (VictoriaActing Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (12:05): I apologise once again to Senator McKim. Unfortunately, so many irregular things have been occurring in the chamber today that I missed the precise bill he was referring to when he commenced his remarks. But I was intending to address this report, Report No. 6 of 2018 of the Selection of Bills Committee, for a different but somewhat related reason, which is why I sought that clarity. Senator McKim is referring to issues that we've dealt with throughout this parliament and indeed the last parliament in relation to our approach to counterterrorism and national security issues. And the point that hasn't been raised here but that of course was discussed in the Selection of Bills Committee is that this bill has been to the PJCIS, so parliamentary scrutiny has been provided. I understand that the Australian Greens have some issues in that respect—not that Senator McKim necessarily outlined them here, but I do note what those issues are.

I was seeking to make a broader point in relation to the role of this committee. And whilst some of the crossbenchers are here I do think, given what has occurred this morning, that this is a point that is critical to be highlighted. The general approach to this committee—aside from the point I just made about PJCIS, about security, counterterrorism and issues of that character—as a general rule is that any individual senator can seek to have a matter referred to committee. The reason for that is that each individual senator, quite aside from party groupings, should have the capacity to look in detail at any bill that comes before the Senate. Indeed, I hope we continue this tradition as the house of review. But what's quite extraordinary and what this issue highlights is how the capacity for each individual senator to express a position in relation to a bill was ripped away from us yesterday and today. I hope those senators who cooperated with the government are not going to use this as their next area of attack on democracy, that it's not going to be another way in which this strange crossbench undermines the function of the Australian parliament, because critical to the Australian parliament is our capacity to review legislation.

I never thought I'd be standing in this place saying that critical to this parliament is a senator's capacity to speak on a bill. I never thought I'd be standing in this place and seeing what occurred earlier today, where senators who changed their position on a bill and determined not to insist on the amendments that the Senate had previously made did not get an opportunity to speak or did not seek the call, did not speak in this chamber as to why they changed their position on a policy issue. This will be an interesting question, and I hope I don't have to wait to hear the answer on the radio. So, not only did they not explore the critical policy issues around this tax plan but, indeed, they didn't even justify why they changed their position. Instead, they stitched up a deal with the government to provide camouflage which they hoped might protect them. I don't think it will. I think the Australian electorate is wise enough about our democracy to understand that the positions taken by some of the minor parties here are untenable. They think this parliament is going to operate in a way where we have the Leader of the Government in the Senate directing traffic in the way he was this morning. He was directing traffic in the way he said, 'Five minutes.' I hope we've got the camera footage of what occurred here today, because it has made the Senate function as a farce.

I go back to my point about the Selection of Bills Committee. This report, although it is rarely focused on in any detail by the time it reaches this chamber, is critical to our function. The precedent we have around any senator being able to refer a matter to a committee for detailed scrutiny is critical. (Time expired)