Wednesday, 20 June 2018
Consideration of Legislation
Thank you, Mr President. I commend you on that decision. Senator Cormann is in a flurry because he doesn't want the Senate to fully understand the implications of the motion that he's seeking precedence to move. Let me give you one example amongst opposition senators that we have been dealing with in the last few minutes. The question was: how does this impact on today's program? What does it mean for the remainder of the program? The motion that's been circulated appears to mean that when we get back to government business on the Red, which is item 19—when we get through all the other business this afternoon and get to item 19—if we haven't reached 6.30 by then, we'll have whatever the remainder of the time is. That is what the government is proposing. I would highlight to senators who have circulated amendments that are on the running sheet here to consider: if they support precedence now to deal with this motion, how much time will we be allowing for consideration of their own amendments?
Let's look at what might happen here if we allow the government to abuse Senate processes and have this process occur. What will happen is that we will move through business on a Wednesday as we ordinarily do—if you're lucky, under normal arrangements, you might only have about half an hour more of government business—and this tax plan that the government is moving, phases 1, 2 and 3, may receive only an hour and a half of committee-stage consideration in the Senate. An hour and a half! What are you hiding? There is no rush. There is no urgency; I'll come to the detail about the lack of urgency in a moment. But I do ask senators to consider: do you really want to allow precedence for this minister to move a motion that will circumvent proper consideration of the government's tax plan? If you allow precedence, that is where we will be going.
We still have before the committee-stage consideration amendments by Senator Storer, a class by the opposition, a separate class by the opposition, Senator Storer, Centre Alliance and the opposition again. Indeed, we've dealt with the final block but only one block of all of the amendments here. Of course, what's generated this dummy spit is that, in managing the committee-stage consideration, the opposition went immediately to the critical issue and the Senate determined an outcome that the government doesn't like. I ask those senators who joined with the opposition and the Greens to vote down stage 3 to consider common sense here: if you agree to precedence, and if you agree to this motion, you're basically compromising yourself. You're saying, 'I oppose stage 3 but I'm going to circumvent any consideration of the other stages and I'm going to fast-track this back to the House of Representatives.'
Then comes the next danger of interpretation in this motion. Have a very close look at paragraph (c) in the motion, and read the last phrase in (c): when the message comes back from the House of Representatives, it will be dealt with 'immediately without amendment or debate'. What this government is trying to do is the extraordinary thing of removing your own prerogative. Why would you support it? It makes no sense. This is an enormous dummy spit by Senator Cormann because he did not succeed with stage 3. Now he's asking senators to compromise their own capacity in relation to dealing with this matter.
You saw just a moment ago that the government needed to even get advice about how to move forward with the guillotine, because they didn't know when senators could speak. Fortunately, I do know it is our prerogative to address this issue, and we should do so. We should allow time for all senators to understand what this motion really means. So, on the face of it, I and others thought, 'Oh, we're going immediately into this.' Well, we're not. We'll get to it at item 19 on the Red, if we even get there before 6.30. And guess what's going to happen at 6.30? At 6.30, we're going to roll through votes. You won't have the opportunity to ask any questions. You won't be able to query the government about how one thing or another with stages 1 or 2 might operate. They are completely avoiding scrutiny of this package. They are removing the Senate's power to review. Our critical and core responsibility is what is at stake here. That is what this motion does. I would be stunned if a well-informed senator would agree to have their powers compromised in this fashion.
But let's get to some of the other facts of the matter here. Let's go back to Senator Birmingham's discussion about the urgency. There is no urgency other than the government's desire to spin together some political whim. Let's address these tax issues. Labor supports stage 1. So there's no urgency on that one. In fact, it's a refund. You've got until June-July 2019 for it to be dealt with administratively, so there is no immediate urgency on that. Step 2 doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2022—48 months away. Step 3 doesn't come into effect until 1 July 2024—72 months away—up to two terms of the parliament. The other element of this picture that hasn't really been well explained by the government is why they are relying on standing order 142. They're basically asking the Senate to again limit its power, limit its capacity, to consider issues in debate. I encourage senators who are considering this issue to have a look at section 142 in the standing orders. For crossbenchers, the standing orders are in your drawers. Have a look at it. Pull it out. Look at standing order 142.