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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26284


Senator ALLISON (10:20 AM) —The Democrats will also vote against this motion. We think it is an outrage that the minister has come in here this morning and talked about having negotiated the number of bills that will be dealt with before the Senate adjourns. Negotiated? I have yet to have a conversation with the minister about why it is that marriage, for instance, is on the list. What is the urgency on marriage? At our last sitting we had a bank-up of bills and there was some negotiation—it is called a leaders and whips meeting. That is where we get together and the government explains to us why certain bills are necessary and urgent for debate and must be passed within a given period. There has been no leaders and whips meeting still. The minister came across a moment ago and said: `We are not now listing bills at all. However, we are going to deal with marriage and electoral legislation.' Neither of those bills, as far as we can see, has any urgency. I ask the minister here and now, since we did not have a leaders and whips meeting and since we are wasting the time of the Senate in this debate about what we should be dealing with before we finish today or tomorrow or whenever it is, to explain why it is that the marriage bill and the electoral bill are urgent. Otherwise, it is very difficult for us to know exactly what we are going to stay here for, how long we are going to stay, why the Senate is being held up in this way and why the other bills dropped off. They were there yesterday and early this morning. Why have they suddenly disappeared? We do not have any answers to any of those questions.

We will get into the debate on the FTA shortly. I agree with Senator Brown that we are here talking about this now because over a period of a week, from when the amendments first came out, agreement could not be reached between the two major parties. Obviously the lawyers in the United States—or George W. himself—might have held up the process. That needs to be explained to us, but we are being left in the dark. The minister says there has been negotiation. Let me explain that there has been no negotiation with the Democrats. We do not know why we are doing these bills and we do not know why we are going to be here until late tonight. It is quite provocative on the part of the government. If they want the free trade agreement legislation to be dealt with then this is not really a good way of handling business, because it requires the cooperation of the Senate.

We had the absurd situation last night where the debate stopped because we did not have this agreement and yet there are a lot of complaints on the part of the government about how this is taking too long. It has been more than 20 hours—I do not know what it adds up to now—but it has all been a waste of time, effectively, because we are not ready to deal with the only two amendments which apparently will make the difference between the legislation passing and not passing. I would very much like to think the government would consider our amendments seriously, but obviously they will not. That does not mean that we will stop talking about the amendments and stop advocating for them. I have a lot of questions to ask about these new amendments, so the minister can look forward to a proper exploration of the issues that arise out of them—but we will get onto that. In the meantime, we deserve an explanation as to why it is that there are now three bills to be dealt with where previously there were 11.