Senate debates

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008

Referral to Committee

4:51 pm

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

The government will not be supporting this motion on the referral of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 to committee either. We are a bit confused by the opposition’s position on this. They seem to have had another change of heart. I do not know whether there has been another party room meeting and a revision of their policy position. When this was before the Selection of Bills Committee earlier this year and when the report was adopted by the Senate on 25 June 2008, the opposition then supported the recommendation that the bill not be referred to a committee. So, as late as 25 June, the opposition were quite happy for the bill to be brought on for debate and did not require it to be referred to a committee. It seems that today they have another position. I am not quite sure what has changed. If you look at when this bill was debated in the House, you see opposition members supported it quite enthusiastically, as I understand it. I am getting used to the situation where the opposition seem to flip-flop on issues but this seems to be a bit remarkable.

Senator Macdonald quite rightly made the point that there has been a very long and effective process, and coalition senators played a very important role, as did other senators, in that consultation process. The outcome, as I understand it, has been largely supported by stakeholders. The first of the bills arising out of that review was passed through the parliament in June 2007 on the initiation of the previous government. This bill is the second, which I understand was contemplated by the previous government and which seeks to implement the review that they supported. So it is of some surprise to us today that the opposition have again reversed their position and now seek to refer the bill to a committee. As late as June, senators from the opposition were prepared to support its passage and it being brought on for debate.

Now we have a motion by Senator Fielding that this bill be referred not only to a committee—and I understand that Senator Macdonald may have some concerns now which he might not have been aware of before, even though the position of his party was clear—but to a committee that will report on 10 November 2008. A process has been extensively carried out by this parliament over a number of years, with a lot of stakeholder consultation, a report endorsed by the parliament and the first stage of the legislation passed. At the eleventh hour, Senator Fielding comes in here and wants it to be delayed to November with, to be honest, not much rationale for such a long delay. It is not like he is asking for it to be deferred until next week or for a Friday committee. Despite that extensive consultation, which Senator Macdonald and the opposition have lauded, we are going to do it all over again. I am not sure why we are going to do it all over again and, quite frankly, no cogent case has been made.

I understand that, if there is support for this from the opposition and Senator Fielding, it may well be carried. But, quite frankly, we do not understand the opposition’s about-face on this issue. We do not understand what seems to be a rejection of all the work that they put into it. We do not understand the rejection of the stakeholder consultation and the extensive processes that occurred. We do not understand what changed between 25 June 2008, when they supported the proposition from the Selection of Bills Committee that it not be subject to inquiry and now. We are confused by the opposition’s position. We do not think that there has been a cogent argument made, given the extensive process and the wide support that it enjoyed from the then government and now opposition and the support that it enjoyed weeks ago in the House of Representatives. I am a bit bemused.

I do not know whether Senator Fielding has had a long interest in this, but he has to explain why this legislation—which we think is important—will be delayed again for months and why, if there are particular concerns, they could not be addressed in the committee stage of the bill.


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