Wednesday, 21 June 2017
I seek leave to move a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for today and tomorrow.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter—namely, a motion to provide that a motion relating to the routine of business for today may be moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
I also move:
That the question be now put.
Senator Brandis sought leave to move a motion to suspend standing orders. Leave was not granted. Senator Brandis then moved a contingent motion to suspend standing orders and at the end of that motion moved that the question be now put. So, the question is now being put—
Honourable senators interjecting—
I need silence. I have appointed tellers. When tellers are appointed, senators must assume their seats. If any senator wishes to change to the other side of the chamber, I will suspend the division for the moment, for senators to cross to the other side of the chamber if they wish to. Otherwise, please take your seats. Order! Senator Brandis.
I thank the Senate. It is not the government's intention to gag this motion, or any motion, but to move a motion for the orderly consideration of business. I can advise honourable senators that I will in due course move that the Senate consider the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 until midnight tonight if the debate has not earlier concluded, and, as well, if the debate continues tomorrow, 22 June, that the Senate adjourn after it has fully considered the bill, so that the Senate will sit either today or tomorrow until such time as debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 has been concluded. So this is—let me make this clear—an hours motion, not a gag motion.
Honourable senators know that this is a bill of the greatest significance. We know that the Australian Labor Party, disappointingly, have decided to do everything they can to get in the way of the Senate dealing with this bill. However, it is the government's wish, and we hope it is the wish of the crossbench as well, that this legislation be considered this week, before the Senate rises. Every argument that could possibly be heard or rehearsed in relation to the Australian Education Amendment Bill has been heard or will have plenty of opportunity to be heard so that there should be no reason, no reason whatsoever, why the Senate cannot sensibly make a final decision in relation to the passage of the bill before the end of tomorrow, or, if it be the wish of honourable senators, earlier than that. But it is the government's wish, and we hope it will be the wish of colleagues, that the bill be dealt with earlier than that if possible.
We understand—and I do not want to have to raise the heat of this debate on a procedural motion—that the Australian Labor Party, having failed to implement the Gonski report, resents the fact, as Kathryn Greiner said on Latelinelast night, that it falls to a Liberal government, a coalition government, to implement the Gonski recommendations. That is what Kathryn Greiner, a member of the Gonski panel, observed in her interview last night. It is a point that Mr David Gonski himself has made. The proposal now before the parliament captures the essence of the Gonski report. This is a rare opportunity for this Senate to break what is a decades-long public policy dispute about school funding so that we can for the first time have a transparent system, a needs based system and a nationally consistent system.
I want to use this opportunity to give great credit to my friend and colleague Senator Simon Birmingham, who is on the cusp of achieving what no Australian education minister, coalition or Labor, has ever been able to achieve before: consistency, transparency and fairness in the Commonwealth contribution to schools funding. I want to thank and express the government's appreciation of the members of the Senate crossbench who have been good enough to engage with Senator Birmingham and also with my colleague Senator Cormann, in particular, to hear the government's arguments as to why this is the right way to go to break the deadlock of decades, the anomalies of decades, over the Commonwealth contribution to schools funding. This is an historic debate. The state aid to non-government schools argument has been going in this country for more than 50 years, ever since the Menzies government in 1963 announced that it was going to provide state aid to Catholic schools. With this debate, we are now in the historic position, in the next two days, of concluding that half-century-long dispute.
I rise to speak against the suspension of standing orders for a very simple reason: we do not know what the deal is. We do not know what the policy is. We do not know what changes the government is proposing. All we know is what Senator Xenophon said in a contribution to the committee debate about what concessions he says he has got in order to sell out South Australian schools. That is all we know. But what the government is seeking—I say to the crossbench, you ought not participate in this—is for the Senate to proceed on a debate on a bill until conclusion, before they have even told us what the bill contains and what the policy is. So it is a very simple proposition: the Senate ought not be, at short notice—
You are not my type either, mate, don't worry about it. Coming back to the question at hand, the reality is there is a very large policy issue on the table here, regardless of the view that Senator Hinch, Senator Gichuhi, the Greens, Senator Hanson and her team, or Senator Xenophon and his team take. And that policy issue is: what is the appropriate framework to fund Australian schools in the coming years? We have the view that the government's legislation is not good enough. We have the view that a fair deal for Australian students and a fair deal for Australian schools is in the national interest. We have a view that funding them $22 million less than the coalition previously promised—there was not going to be a dollar less than what the Labor government put in place—is the wrong thing to do. We have a view that saying that the majority of public schools will not reach the appropriate standard is not good enough.
But those are matters of substantive argument. In relation to the bill before the chamber, though, the Senate should not be required to debate and vote on a bill in relation to which senators do not know the detail. The reason they do not know the detail is that Senator Birmingham has, in a desperate effort to get the numbers through this place in order to ensure that Prime Minister Turnbull's leadership is safe, is running around seeking to do a deal with Senator Xenophon and other members of the crossbench. You are entitled to do that, but this Senate, as a legislative chamber, as a chamber of this parliament, is entitled—
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Mr Acting Deputy President, I wonder if Senator Macdonald could possibly cease interjecting for at least 30 seconds?
Fifteen seconds, okay. We will try that. How about that? This Senate ought not be asked to debate and vote on legislation, to sit through the night tomorrow night, because until this finishes—
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Point of order: standing order No. 193(3) is in relation to personal reflections. Senator Macdonald continually interjects on Senator Wong as she is making her contribution. It is highly disorderly. Robust exchanges are okay in this place, but there is a contempt from Senator Macdonald for female senators on this side of the chamber. He is constantly engaged in it. He is constantly disrespectful to female senators on this side of the chamber. The President asked today for some respect across the chamber, and it is about time this senator, who is constantly disrespectful, was pulled into order.
If you are not speaking on the point of order, please resume your seat. I am aware of that standing order. I am also aware of standing order No. 203, which talks about senators who wilfully disregard the instructions from the chair. I draw senators' attention to standing order No. 203.
I come back to the substance at hand. As I said, these are weighty issues which are before the chamber, because they go to the funding arrangements for Australian schools across the country, every state and every territory, for many years to come. Yes, they can be amended by a later government, and I hope they will be should they get through, but in the absence of that the chamber has to address very seriously and consider very carefully whether these arrangements are appropriate. What the Nick Xenophon Team, the One Nation team and others in this chamber are now going to vote for if they vote for this is a requirement that this debate be continued and finalised before senators know what the deal is. Senator Xenophon, you may think that is an appropriate way to operate in this chamber. I do not think it is. I think it is reasonable on something as important—
Point of order: Senator Wong is making an imputation as to what I am actually doing. I think that imputation is incorrect. There are a number of imputations. She is making an imputation about the conduct of the business of the Senate, which is not an accurate reflection of my views.
Is this on the point of order? I have not yet ruled on the point of order. I would ask all senators to direct their remarks to the chair. That may assist the chamber in proceeding with this motion that is in front of us.
I am somewhat mystified by the point of order from Senator Xenophon. If he is not going to vote to make us sit here all night on a deal that he has done that we have not seen then let him say so, but if he is then I submit to the Senate that my contribution is entirely accurate. You are making us sit here late tonight and tomorrow night on a deal that we have not seen that affects every school and every student in every state and every territory for years to come. I am not sure which part of that Senator Xenophon disagrees with, but what I would say to you is that is an entirely accurate explanation of the position that he and his team appear to be adopting, and I urge senators not to suspend standing orders to enable it to happen. (Time expired)
Colleagues, the motion before us is seeking to suspend standing orders in order to allow Senator Brandis to move a straightforward motion: that the Senate sits until midnight tonight in order to deal with the Australian Education Amendment Bill and that, if the Senate has not concluded its consideration of that bill by midnight tonight, the Senate will sit tomorrow until such time as it has concluded that business.
Colleagues in this place will have seen similar suspension motions many times before and similar proposed hours motions many times before. I think it is important to acknowledge that in seeking to suspend standing orders Senator Brandis is not seeking to move a motion that would curtail in any way, shape or form this chamber's opportunity to debate and to consider this legislation. The purpose of Senator Brandis's suspension motion is to allow substantive motions to be moved that would in fact facilitate the consideration of this legislation for as long as is required to do that legislation justice.
That is in contrast to previous approaches which have been taken in this place which have sought to use guillotine motions. I think those of us who have been here for some time well remember a period under the previous administration where, I think, 54 bills were guillotined in the course of a week. There was something in the order of 25 or 30 bills upon which votes occurred without there being any debate at all. I think it is to the credit of those senators who tend to sit at the far end of the horseshoe that they will not support motions that seek to deny colleagues the opportunity to debate. In fact, they will only support motions in this parliament which seek to facilitate the debate of legislation.
That is what Senator Brandis is seeking to do—to ensure that this important legislation can be addressed. This is not uncommon at this particular point of the legislative cycle, in the last few days before there is a significant break such as we have in the middle of the year. This sort of legislation does require to have the attention of this chamber, and Senator Brandis's motion will ensure that it has that opportunity. Importantly, Senator Brandis's substantive motions will ensure that there is not the capacity for any grouping in this chamber to filibuster legislation to ensure that the parliament or the Senate times out and does not have the opportunity to consider this legislation. Senator Brandis's motion ensures that there is not the opportunity to filibuster, but rather that the Senate has the opportunity to conclude this important business before it rises for the winter break.
This is important for a number of reasons, but the prime reason is to ensure that Australia's school education sectors have certainty for the future. Australian school education sectors want the Australian parliament and Australian Senate to conclude this matter so that they can budget and so that they can know where they stand. That is the certainty that Senator Brandis's substantive motions seek to ensure the Senate has the opportunity to provide. There is not the opportunity for contributions to be made in the form that would seek to use all of the available time in the ordinary Senate schedule. I would commend my colleagues to support Senator Brandis's motion that we suspend standing orders so that he can move his substantive motions so that the Senate can deal with this business and give the school sector certainty.
I will call Senator Gallagher and I will just explain why I am calling Senator Gallagher. I know you have been trying to jump, Senator Xenophon, but precedence is given to the managers in this debate, and that is the guidance Odgers' provides us, so I am going to call Senator Gallagher.
The chaos with which this motion to vary hours has been moved today leading to this debate is symptomatic of the chaotic approach this government have taken to education funding in general—from the way the deal has been dripped out, to the way they avoided going through education stakeholders and dripped out incorrect information to schools, to the way they have treated senators and MPs with contempt with the information they have been prepared to provide. They have provided some info to some senators and none to others, refusing to provide information.
Now we have had the Leader of the Government in the Senate come in here and move a motion that seeks to gag any debate on whether or not we should allow this motion to be moved, only then to be rebuked by the Nick Xenophon Team and told, 'If you don't allow a debate on this, presumably something else is going to happen, like withdrawal of support for the hours motion.' Then we saw the Leader of the Government in the Senate jump to his feet and say: 'Oh, whoops! Sorry about that. We will let you speak just for a minute before we push this through.' It is not the way to run a chamber.
This past sitting fortnight the opposition have worked cooperatively with the government. We have passed a number of bills. We passed 18 bills last week and another 20 this week. Then, as soon as we get to a point where we have some issues, this kind of approach is taken by the government—ram it through and punish those who have actually been working with them to get particular legislation through this place. And they are asking us to stay here without any information on the bill that is presumably going to have amendments made to it in the Senate. So we are all meant to hang around like we did last time, with the government enabled by the crossbench as usual. Every time the government want their way, they go and walk the corridors and get the crossbench to jump. The crossbench say: 'Extra hours? Yep, no worries.' It is always locked in. One Nation is always happy to assist. Senator Hinch is always happy to assist. And, more often than not, the Nick Xenophon Team are happy to assist as well.
Meanwhile, let's remember what happened with the business tax cut, the enterprise tax plan. We all sat around. I remember the day very well. I brought my bad hair to work that day. That day $19 billion, I think, passed through in about 20 minutes of debate after sitting here for hours and hours while the government tried to get their act together. I am presuming that is what is behind this motion too—that they do not have a deal or they might have a deal but they have not worked it out and they do not want to go home until they do have a deal. That is regardless of the fact that the department itself said there was no pressure to pass this legislation in this sitting and that it was desirable to have the new arrangements in place at the beginning of the spring sitting in August. That was the department's own advice in their submission—there is no rush. But this government want their way regardless of the conventions and appropriate conduct of this chamber, which is to allow for scrutiny. It is scrutiny of what at this point? What are we going to scrutinise? Does anyone have any information on what we will be scrutinising? Are we going to do it the same way? Will we have hours and hours of the government filibustering and trying to keep the debate going while other people are off trying to seal the deal and then, when the deal is brought in here, it will be rushed through in some government speech and we will all vote on it? Is there no need for the Senate to provide that scrutiny role?
We had the absurd situation yesterday where the government nearly ran out of business because they are so hopeless at managing their program. The only people who have been filibustering in this chamber have been from the government because the government cannot get their act together on legislation and finalise the arrangements for the education deal. The crossbench enable them every time. They do not have too. The department has said this legislation does not needs to be dealt with yet, that it is desirable for it to be dealt with in the first part of the spring sitting. Yet we are all here because the government have snapped their fingers and said they need extra hours. They cannot manage their program and they cannot finalise their arrangements, and enough of the crossbench are going to enable that to occur. Meanwhile, every kid in every school in every system is going to suffer for it.
Senator Cameron said, 'Surprise, surprise!' I think it is important to put on the record that Senator Fifield I believe unintentionally misled the Senate earlier when he said there were some 25 to 30 bills that were rammed through. I remember that horror week. I think Senator Williams said it was more like 60 bills that were rammed through without debate and without proper consideration—gag after gag after gag. It was wrong. That was not how a parliament should legislate. What this motion does is to facilitate the committee stage, which will essentially be unlimited, so that the opposition and the crossbenchers and, indeed, other government members, can ask questions about this important piece of legislation. I know that Senator Collins, as the spokesperson representing the opposition in relation to this, has done an enormous amount of work, and I fully expect that her questions will not be filibustering but will be pertinent questions on the important substance of this bill. The very purpose of this motion is to allow—
Senator Cameron interjecting—
Senator Cameron is being uncharacteristically unkind. This motion is about fairness. It will allow an unlimited debate in the committee stage of this bill. I cannot see—
That is a very good question, Senator Brandis. Yes, we have plenty of new points to make, and we may indeed have many more new points to make if we get a look at the deals that are being constructed around this building right now. But the chance to properly scrutinise any of the amendments coming forward is something that you are trying to interrupt through this process right now. I have not been in this chamber to see some of the things that you guys have been talking about as practice of the Senate, but I have been in classrooms for 20 years, and I know how important it is—
Mr Acting Deputy President, three times you have warned senators to address their remarks through you, for an appropriate reason, that is so that we can get on with the debate. Could you tell this speaker to do the same?
I have been in classrooms for 20 years, and I know the importance of the debate that should be had around this piece of legislation and the amendments that we hear are in the wind and that apparently are going to land here at some point in time. The level of scrutiny that they need to have cannot be enabled by having an hours motion to help us debate them through the night. They need far more scrutiny. Senator Brandis, you actually said that it has taken half a century to get to this point. You think that that is a good achievement. If it is that significant, if it has taken 50 years to get to this point, we should not be deciding it in one night. We should not be deciding it with senators sleeping on their benches, coming in here and getting half the information.
If we go to the reality of the way in which this government has dealt with every sector that is impacted—the government sector, the independent sector and the Catholic sector—we know why they want to get out of here in a hurry, and why the members of the crossbench should not facilitate it. This should not be facilitated, because there does need to be proper scrutiny. The department itself, who has actually told us the truth when the minister has not provided the evidence, has said that this does not have to come in to be resolved until the spring sitting.
As a teacher, for all the teachers and all the parents who have contacted me and your offices, you should reject this. It is so important for all the children of this country that we give this bill proper and fair scrutiny, not through the middle of the night. This is a dirty arrangement that is not necessary. This does not need to happen until September, and it is only happening because the government think they can corral the group of people in this room and make a decision and that is a better chance of getting a deal with you right now than if they have to go out and actually speak to the stakeholders that they have so offended in the process of coming to this moment.
Mr President, the chair has already warned speakers five times that they should address their remarks through the chair. They do that for a purpose, which is so that the debate can proceed on a proper basis. I ask you to ask speakers to address their remarks to the chair.
What you are proposing is not proper debate, Senator Brandis. This government actually believes that they can corral and get a vote in here tonight, and they want that to happen. They do not want to take their department's advice, which is to wait until 1 September. They think they can push this deal through now, because if they do that they will not have to speak to the National Catholic Education Commission, nor to the teachers across this country, nor to the representatives of every state and territory P&C and answer their questions. They will not have their dodgy figures scrutinised over the next few weeks. They are trying to snow the Senate. They are trying to suppress debate and proper scrutiny by pushing this through in the most outrageous manner.
There are some bills where I suppose this happens, but we are talking about the children of this nation. Fifty years in the making, Senator Brandis says. We can afford more than a couple of hours in the dark to make this dirty decision of this government. They have not proven they are worthy of the trust of the crossbench. They have betrayed promise after promise, and they have misled person after person and they have denied access to information. They stood up in here today and indicated that they were going to answer questions, but we have not even been able to get the documents with the facts. That is why you should not trust them to do this dirty deal in the next couple of days. We as the Senate should not be responsible. We need to get the whole of the community involved in the next three months, until September, to have a look at what this government proposes to ensure they are not pulling a swifty on anybody in this chamber. It is wrong. We should not support the suspension of the standing orders. (Time expired)
Thank you, Senator Cameron, the time of the debate on the suspension of the standing orders has expired. The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Brandis to suspend standing orders be agreed to.
The Senate divided. [16:56]
(The President—Senator Parry)
Question agreed to.
(1) If by 7.20 pm today, the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 has not been finally considered:
(a) the routine of business from not later than 7.20 pm shall be government business only; and
(b) the Senate shall adjourn without debate after it has finally considered the bill or at midnight, whichever is the earlier.
(2) If by 2 pm on Thursday, 22 June 2017, the bill still has not been finally considered:
(a) the routine of business from not later than 4.30 pm shall be government business only;
(b) divisions may take place after 4.30 pm; and
(c) the Senate shall adjourn without debate after it has finally considered the bill or a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister, whichever is the earlier.