Senate debates

Wednesday, 16 June 2021


Consideration of Legislation

5:41 pm

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

I think the only option to me is to seek leave to make a statement.

Leave granted.

That is very generous, isn't it? The Leader of the Government rings me at 5.08 pm and comes in and says, 'I will up-end the program because I have got a deal, including with a senator who is not here, to require the Senate to sit at short notice late tonight to resolve these three bills.' This is no way to run the Senate and if this Leader of the Government thinks that we are, then—

Senator Lambie interjecting —

Senator Lambie is right. It's no way to run the country. We have seen a fair bit of that. To come in here and say to senators we're now going to pull on—at 5.45 pm, when adjournment is at 7.20 pm—a debate on three bills, which are listed later in the program and that are supposed to be debated tomorrow, is pretty extraordinary and, frankly, very discourteous. I accept that Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts may have differences of views about the content of legislation. I accept that Senator Griff may have differences of views about content of legislation, but it is no way to legislate to turn up in the chamber at quarter to six on a Wednesday night and demand that the Senate sit late in order to deal with this because you have got a deal.

Next time the government wants some cooperation from the chamber around its program you might want to think back to this moment, Senator Birmingham. You might want to think back to this moment. It really is amateur hour on legislation which is important. We have very strong differences of views with the government on the legislation which need to be ventilated. There is a committee stage which needs to be dealt with. All of that is legitimate. What is not legitimate is to do a deal, come in here at quarter to six and then not even want a debate on this motion. I am only speaking because you give me the charity of allowing me to speak. Senator Griff can't speak. Are you going to let him? Senator Lambie can't speak. Are you going to let her?

This is really undemocratic to turn up and say, 'We're going to roll over the Senate program.' It is Senator Birmingham's program that he is now up-ending because he has decided it is better for him. 'We will roll over our program. We're not even going to let you debate it. We will do it with a vote of somebody who is not here.' That is what he is going to do. I am quite astounded at this way of managing the chamber. I am quite astounded that the government thinks it can just rock up with a few minutes notice—I got my first telephone call at 5.10; I don't know when other senators got theirs—and say: 'We've got the numbers. We're going to ram this through.' The government thinks it can rock up and up-end the program and say, 'By the way, senators, the Senate is going to sit tonight and deal with these three bills until it rises.' What sort of way is this to run government? I hope that for once you might actually tell us what the dirty deal is; usually we have to try and grab it out of you.

The way this government chooses to exercise its numbers in this chamber is really quite shameful, as is the lack of courtesy given to senators and to the Senate about this. Equally, it demonstrates a lack of respect for this institution that the minister won't even allow this change to be properly debated. I would say to this minister—and I see other crossbench senators here: you should have the courage to debate this motion. If you think it is such a great idea to turn up in the Senate and say, 'By the way, we're going to sit as late as it takes tonight to pass the second reading of three bills, and I'm only going to give you an hour and a bit's notice', you come in here and defend it. You stand up and defend it and explain why it's in the interests of democracy. As far as we can see, it is not. It is no way to run this chamber. It is disrespectful to other senators and it is disrespectful to this chamber as a legislative chamber.


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