Senate debates

Thursday, 24 March 2011

National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010; Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures — Access Arrangements) Bill 2011

In Committee

4:31 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

and the opposition and all parties, as Senator Xenophon does in a very dutiful way, to ensure that he is satisfied with the legislation as it progresses through the parliament. But the questions that the opposition have been asking the minister have not pertained to whether he is assisting crossbenchers or whether he is looking at crossbench amendments; they have pertained to whether the government are drafting further amendments of their own, whether the government are actually developing amendments of their own.

And it is quite clear from his obfuscation, from his failure to tell us whether what we have before us is, from the government’s perspective at this point in time, the complete set of amendments without further ones that he knows are already being prepared, already being drafted. It is quite clear that the government is trying to work on further ways to fix up its flawed legislation, to fix up the mistakes it made when it first drafted this legislation and brought it into the House in November last year, to fix up the mistakes it made when it brought back the legislation into the House this year and passed it through the House, to fix up the mistakes it made after it began the debate in this chamber on Monday and then realised that it could not go ahead with what it had before it—and to fix up the mistakes that it has no doubt made in the two bundles of amendments totalling 28 pages that we have already.

No doubt there are many mistakes that still need to be fixed up, and that is why the opposition has serious concerns about what you are doing here. That is why we want to make sure that you are held to some account on this and that there is thorough scrutiny. Thorough scrutiny, frankly, is not provided by us spending endless hour upon hour upon hour in here debating this. It is not what I would want to be doing. I am sure it is not what the minister wants to be doing or what anybody else wants to be doing. Thorough scrutiny can be had by giving a little breathing space, by ensuring that we step back from this debate to some extent and that we have a couple of days and an opportunity for everyone who has an interest in this to give decent analysis to the hundreds of amendments the government has proposed—ensuring that we have that breathing space so that everyone can consider it.

In an ideal world, the minister would have had these amendments ready to roll on Monday, in which case we would have had easily a couple of days to give them the consideration they deserve. We could have had the time in that window to talk to stakeholders, to make sure that everyone was comfortable that the amendments you are proposing are going to do the job that you say they will do. But, no, you were not ready on Monday—and that is not Senator Xenophon’s fault; it is not Senator Ludlam’s fault; it is not the opposition’s fault. The only blame for the fact that this debate has not progressed further this week is on your shoulders, Minister, and the shoulders of the government for not being ready to debate it when you said you were going to.

You had it listed first up on Monday morning. We all came in ready and rearing to go. We were there, happy to debate straight on from there. I was expecting to be clearing the diary for Monday and clearing the diary for Tuesday as we progressively went through it. Had you proposed amendments of such substance as these, perhaps we would have sought an adjournment of the debate for a day or two so that everyone could go away and consider them. But, no, you were not ready. You did not do any of those things. Instead, of course, it was last night that these amendments were dropped on the table. It was late yesterday that these amendments were dropped on the table.

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