Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Ministerial Statements


2:37 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak briefly in response to the minister's statement. COVID-19 does indeed present a significant challenge for Australians. But I would also like us to consider, in particular, some of our regional neighbours—places like Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and, indeed, the South Pacific. We should keep an eye on those jurisdictions and look to help and assist those jurisdictions if we can, even if it's only in spirit in some instances. The government has been successful: the trend is looking good in respect of flattening the curve. The responses haven't been perfect. No doubt the Senate will deal with that in time, and I will say a few words on that a little bit later.

Centre Alliance will be supporting the government's bills today, but we will also be moving amendments to fill cracks. I haven't seen all of the Greens amendments. I suspect some of them may be the same, but I would just address this to Senator Wong and the opposition as we move these amendments: we may have some good ideas—we may have some ideas that fill cracks in the legislation—and they should be considered. Our aim here is not to get the legislation quickly through the parliament; it's to properly scrutinise it and get a better outcome, and if that takes a little bit more time then so be it. I encourage you to look closely at those amendments.

I am glad that there is support for a Senate committee that will look at COVID-19 and the government's response; however, I will point out that the Senate committee doesn't provide opportunity for debate on issues. It does not allow for disallowances, as the Treasurer makes changes to the rules that we are set to agree upon—or at least the shell legislation that will enable the Treasurer to make rules. Because of comity principles, it does not allow for the Senate to call ministers from the other place—or at least to require them. There is an issue with that and I will be putting a question to Minister Cormann in relation to that at question time.

Of course, the business of government is continuing. We must recognise and acknowledge that there are a number of public servants around Australia who are continuing to do their work. They're continuing to make sure that the arms of government are working. The parliament should, of course, be examining what they're doing and, if necessary, criticising and seeking changes to the way they might be doing things, and a Senate select committee that is examining COVID-19 cannot do that. For that reason, it is my very strong view that the parliament should continue sitting. Of course, it's clear that we won't have the numbers to force that to happen, so I would like to remind all senators of standing order 55(2), which allows that:

The President, at the request of an absolute majority of the whole number of senators that the Senate meet at a certain time, shall fix a time of meeting in accordance with that request, and the time of meeting shall be notified to each senator.

So there is, in fact, a mechanism, and I extend an offer to Senator Wong, Senator Waters and others: if indeed there is a problem that requires—


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