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Wednesday, 17 November 2004
Page: 19

Senator LUDWIG (9:43 AM) —The issue of sitting hours is of concern. The opposition takes the matters of the Senate very seriously and expects that the government will ensure that the legislative program has sufficient time in which to be dealt with appropriately. Within the confines of the program that has been set it does appear at first instance to be a little short in the first half, which is of concern to the opposition. We do not want to see the first half of the year end in a rush, as sometimes happens, where the program gets compacted and we end up with fewer hours than necessary and the government's legislative program does not get the scrutiny it should receive. We then have this ridiculous period at the end of June when the government seeks extra sitting hours to deal with the program, when they could have ensured that the first half of the year had sufficient sitting days so that the program could run in an orderly fashion. The second half of the year does seem to be more like the patterns that have existed in the past, and we will still end up with a program where the government seeks additional hours at the end of the sitting program to deal with matters before the Senate.

We know that from 1 July the government's will may be imposed upon us. We hope and expect that they will continue to adhere to the principles that have been espoused in the Senate chamber on many occasions. We hope that they will continue to ensure that there is proper scrutiny of legislation, that there is sufficient time to ensure the legislative program is dealt with in an appropriate way and that we do not end up in the position where additional hours are sought, and generally granted by us, to ensure proper scrutiny at the end of the sitting pattern. We note that there is a new Manager of Government Business in the Senate and we congratulate the `old' Manager of Government Business—he is acting today because I understand that Senator Ellison is away, doing good business I suspect—for the work he has done in the Senate.

The opposition has had a good working relationship with the government in ensuring that the legislative program is dealt with—not so much the arguments; we can disagree on substance—and managed in a reasonable way. I thank the former Manager of Government Business in the Senate for his hard work in ensuring that that has occurred. I expect and hope that the new Manager of Government Business in the Senate will continue the similar tradition. I do not know who provided the program before us today, but I would expect the new manager to certainly take on board the comments I have made to ensure that the program is a sensible program and not to treat the Senate with contempt. I hope the government ensure that they do not become arrogant—as it appears they are—in respect of how the sitting pattern might be framed in the future.

We now have a legislative program with a number of bills before us, some of which the government have sought to exempt from the cut-off. I will deal with that argument at a subsequent time. Labor understand that there are matters that might have priority that the government have to progress. We hope that they will come to us and explain those priorities in a clear way and inform us of the urgency of bills that they may have to deal with during the truncated sitting period before the recess. For its part, Labor will deal with the government's legislative program on its merits and will continue to treat the legislative program that is put up to us in a principled way, as we have always done.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Ferguson)—I call the youthful, old Manager of Government Business in the Senate.