Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee; Reference
I understand that Senator Abetz and the coalition are opposed to this legislation and to the amendment. That is very clear. But I think Senator Abetz just demonstrated the real reason for this motion before us today. It is simply to give him and the coalition an opportunity to rail against the government's agenda with respect to this bill and the amendment that was made in the House of Representatives.
They have said they are going to vote against the bill. They have said they are going to vote against the amendments. That stands, and I believe them. I know they are passionate about that. Senator Abetz has been passionate about that for a long time. But what is being put before the chamber today is quite bizarre. It has been suggested that just because someone disagrees with an amendment that was made by the House of Representatives we should have another Senate committee inquiry into that disagreement.
That is simply bizarre. That simply does not happen. I have never seen that before. There are countless times when legislation has come to this chamber and has been amended after a Senate inquiry. Legislation is often amended in ways which the committee never foresaw and in ways many of the senators in the chamber never foresaw.
The government does not have the numbers in its own right in this chamber, nor does it have the numbers in the other chamber. So it is a really bizarre proposition to say that because somebody disagrees with an amendment made by the House of Representatives we should return the whole bill to a Senate inquiry. The Senate committee has already had two inquiries into this bill. The normal process would be that the House of Representatives would debate the bill, and once it was amended it would come here. Generally, then, it would be referred off to a committee for inquiry. And we would look at the amended bill.
But in this case the opposition got exactly what it asked for. The opposition did not wish to wait for the bill to come here before referring it off to an inquiry. The opposition referred the provisions of the bill immediately it was introduced in the House of Representatives—sent the bill off to an inquiry before it passed the House of Representatives. The coalition asked for that. They have got what they asked for, yet they now complain because someone—the Law Council—has a different view to the House of Representatives. The Law Council is entitled to do that. I have enormous respect for the Law Council. I value its opinion. But just because the Law Council disagrees with the government does not mean that we need to rush off and have a Senate inquiry. I have never recalled our doing that before.
I think this is bizarre, and that brings me back to the real reason Senator Abetz is moving this motion. It is to give him an opportunity to rail against the bill itself. That is fine. We understand the opposition's policy position on this. They disagree with the government and the Greens and the Independents in the House of Representatives on this matter. It is their right to do so. They can do so, but this is not the question before the chamber. The question is, simply because the Law Council has been critical of that particular amendment we should refer it back to the committee.
Senator Abetz has not always had this view of the Law Council. The Law Council has been very active in providing views on this government's legislation and previous governments' legislation. We could just go, for a minute, to their view on the policy position of the former, Howard government on children in immigration detention. The Law Council said:
The Law Council calls on the Federal Government—
they are talking about the previous, Howard federal government—
to abolish the current policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive in the country without a valid visa. The Law Council also calls on the Government to ensure that all persons seeking Australia’s protection are treated equally, in accordance with the Rule of Law, and with due respect to human rights and to Australia’s international legal obligations.
When they made that criticism of the former, Howard government's policy position did we hear, from Senator Abetz or anyone else in the Howard government, cries to send their views off to a Senate inquiry so that the Senate could consider their views on a matter of government policy of the day? No, we did not. Did we hear anyone from the opposition, at any other time during the Howard government, when the Law Council was critical of the then government policy or legislation, say: 'Hang on, the Law Council has now said they disagree with the position of the government. We should now have a Senate inquiry so that we can air their views.' No, we did not.
This is nothing but a beat-up and a bizarre attempt simply to give the opposition an avenue to criticise the government's position. The parliament is absolutely entitled to make the laws as the numbers fall, and the House of Representatives moved an amendment to a government bill. There is nothing strange or unusual about that. That is the nature of government. That is the business of government.
What then happened was that the bill came to the Senate. The Senate may amend the bill too. It is the right of the Senate to do so. And if the Senate does that and the Law Council, in a week, says, 'We're unhappy with that amendment,' should we then go and have another Senate inquiry? And what if someone else does not like the amendment that the parliament has agreed to? Should we then say, 'Let's go off and have another Senate inquiry'? Of course not. That is not the way legislation is dealt with here or in the House of Representatives.
So I cannot support—we should not support—Senator Abetz's legislation, because it does not make any sense. It is not the normal practice of the Senate. It is not the normal practice of the House of Representatives. As I said, this is just a bizarre stunt to give the opposition an opportunity to rail against the bill. It has not been put forward for any other reason. It should be rejected for that reason.