Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 March 2015


Suspension of Standing Orders

4:20 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

Just so we are very clear, the government was offered by the opposition a full sitting day on the Monday before budget. As long as it was a normal Monday sitting day they would have had full agreement from the alternative government and the majority of the chamber. But Senator Abetz does not want to accept that. He does not want to accept an agreement by the opposition to facilitate debate on some controversial bills which are opposed by a number of parties in this chamber, because he does not want a normal sitting day on the Monday. He wants one that is only about government business with the addition of question time, but nothing else, none of the other aspects of a sitting day. That is what we are arguing about.

We are having a suspension of standing orders, because the government has turned down the opposition's agreement to a normal sitting day on the Monday. That is how unbelievably unreasonable we have been. We have actually suggested that the parliament sits. We should have a normal sitting day. I emphasise, as someone who has been on that side of the chamber, Monday is a very good day for government business. On a normal sitting day on a Monday you are looking at around seven hours of government business. You would have had that by agreement. But no, instead they decide they do not like how unreasonable we are being—for daring to suggest that if the parliament sits, we should have a normal parliamentary day with seven hours of government business! And instead, they want to try and ram through this motion, notice of motion No. 5, on the basis that they have got agreement with members of the crossbench. If the crossbenchers choose to vote for it, that is a matter for them; we do not agree. We think that if we have a full sitting day with that many hours, it is only reasonable that the Senate have a normal sitting day. But behind the argument—actually, explicitly part of this argument—is the government's suggestion that we have been somehow unreasonable.

I want to make it very clear what we as an opposition have done which has agreed to facilitate debate on the metadata bill. I wrote and requested—via the Manager of Opposition Business and directly—of the government their request for additional hours in this sitting week. We kept getting only a Tuesday variation. We kept being told, 'oh, we only need to sit on Tuesdays; that is all we will take'. Now we do not agree with Senator Ludlam on the metadata bill. But I was not going to agree to only have it only debated on Tuesday. So I said to them, 'we want a full proposal about what would happen during the sitting week'. Did I get that? No. I acknowledge that in the intervening period between those discussions and the first discussion this week, we had the passing of Mr Fraser, which obviously affected the Senate. At the meeting, what we indicated to the government is essentially what they have got agreement to, with the exception of Wednesday.

We indicated that the opposition was prepared to give up the MPI on both Tuesday and Wednesday and private senators' business on Thursday, and to sit additional hours on Tuesday and Thursday. Can I just repeat that so everyone understands: for government business, the opposition was prepared to give up the MPI on Tuesday, the MPI on Wednesday, and private senators' business on Thursday, and to sit additional hours on Tuesday and Thursday in order to debate the metadata bill. That is the unreasonable position that Senator Abetz is now going to try and complain about. Well, Mr President, that was not an unreasonable offer. The opposition's position on this is not unreasonable. And if the government choose to try and run the Senate this way, well, they are going to get these sorts of responses. They are going to get the opposition saying, quite rightly, 'well, we are not just going to agree to this motion', and, 'we are going to do deny formality', and, 'we are going to move amendments'—because that is what we believe. That is what we believe: that the Senate ought to be run with a little more consultation; frankly, with a little more organisation than the chaos that we appear to be seeing from those opposite.

I repeat: we are prepared to facilitate debate on the metadata bill, which is why we are prepared to give up time. We are prepared to sit on the Monday before budget week—not something that those opposite ever gave us in government. But we are prepared to do it. We just want a sitting day with seven hours of government business. And instead, the tactical decision by the geniuses on the other side is that they now want a debate and a suspension of standing orders, instead of taking what was a very reasonable offer—a very reasonable offer—from the opposition about additional sitting time on the Monday of the budget week. So I say to the crossbenchers: I would encourage you to consider supporting the opposition on this. We will be moving an amendment to ensure a full sitting day. (Time expired)


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