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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26175

Senator ALLISON (3:58 PM) —The Democrats will not be supporting whatever this motion is. We have not seen it yet. It has not been circulated in the chamber. There has been no leaders' and whips' meeting. We do not know why there is a necessity to sit late tonight. Is it to finish the free trade agreement legislation debate or is it to deal with all the other bills that are on the list for today? There has been no suggestion that the government has some pressing bill that must be dealt with this evening.

As Senator Brown says, it is unprecedented for us to suddenly have long sitting days in the middle of a sitting session. We are used to it at the end of sessions, of course, but those agreements to sit late and to sit extra days are taken after we have had a proper process. Leaders and whips get together, they work through all bills that are yet to be dealt with and they typically decide that not all of them are urgent and so we tip some off and we deal with others. We get through the agenda—whatever we and the government negotiate will be dealt with. We do it and we do it cooperatively.

Senator Ian Campbell has informed Senator Bartlett informally that the proposal is to sit until midnight and that there will be a suspension of the sitting for dinner. What is the purpose? I ask: do we have to come back tomorrow and have another late night sitting? Why? What is the reason for our sitting late tonight? I acknowledge that the debate on the free trade agreement is taking a long time. Many hours have already been put into it—probably more than 20 by now. But it is important legislation and it deserves proper debate. If this proposal is just a threat to make us stop speaking on this subject—particularly those on the crossbench—let the government tell us that. Let us have some level of cooperation outside this chamber. Let us talk through exactly why it is that we are being asked to sit late. Let us understand the reasons and have a proper plan, a program, ahead of us. Or, as Senator Brown suggests, is this all about the Prime Minister wanting the flexibility to call an election this weekend? As I said, the Democrats are not interested in doing business in this way. We will oppose the motion once it finally reaches us. We still have not seen it. We want to know what this means for the rest of the week. What exactly does the government have in mind with these extra sitting hours? What are we heading towards for the rest of the week and the rest of today?