Monday, 4 December 2017
On one point, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate does have the government cold. She's absolutely right that we want to vary the program and she's absolutely right that, at this point in time, the government does not have the numbers on these particular pieces of legislation. She's got us cold. We confess; we admit it—it's true. But 'twas ever thus: whether it be this government or its predecessors, governments schedule for debate pieces of legislation for times when the government thinks that there is a reasonable prospect of passage. That is what governments do. In fact, in this place, it's always been recognised that the government of the day should have the opportunity to determine the legislation that is debated in government business time. That is all we are seeking to do through the motion that Senator Brandis is seeking leave to move.
I need to respond to a couple of points that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate raised. Firstly, it is not the government's intention to bring this legislation back later this week. That is not the intention of the government. Indeed, if there is not a consensus around this legislation in the new year, the government will not be listing it again. That is the way this place operates. If there is a consensus, if it's clear that there is a majority of the chamber who supports a particular legislative proposition, then we put it forward for debate and for a vote. So let me be very clear: the government will not be seeking to list this legislation later this week. The reason is self-evident: we want there to be the opportunity for further discussions with groupings in this place. I am advised by the relevant minister, Ms O'Dwyer, that there are some groupings in this place who are open to further discussion. So we are providing the opportunity for that to occur.
Mr President, given it's getting towards the end of the year, you tend to start reflecting a bit and I'm getting a little bit nostalgic. I recall when Senator Ludwig was the Manager of Government Business. He would say to me, 'Mitch, look, we're the government of the day. Don't intervene in our right to list legislation, because whatever goes around, comes around. You do the right thing by us as an opposition and, when we go into opposition, we'll do the right thing by you.' I took Senator Ludwig at his word, and he's an honourable man, and I've got no doubt that, if he was still in this place, he would be urging that the government of the day should have the opportunity to determine the legislation which is debated. But it does seem that the cooperation that the then opposition rendered isn't being reciprocated. In fact, I well recall, at that time in opposition, some of my colleagues—and Senator Macdonald may well have been one of them—said to me, 'Mitch, they say that now but, when they're in opposition, they're not going to honour that. They're not going to practise what they preach.' And Senator Macdonald may have had a point.
So, I would encourage colleagues to support Senator Brandis in his endeavour to suspend standing orders so that he can move a motion to do that which should be a fairly straightforward matter for any government to do and which, you would hope, would be supported by the chamber—that is, to enable the government to list and determine the legislation that is debated in government business time and the order in which it's dealt with. We think that's just good and sensible practice, and it will provide the opportunity for further discussion about this legislation. As I said earlier, the government won't be relisting this legislation for any time later this week. We'll have discussions and then we'll see what the new year holds.