Tuesday, 10 March 2009
by leave—I move:
That, on Tuesday, 10 March 2009:
- the hours of meeting shall be 12.30 pm to 6.30 pm, and 7 pm to 11.40 pm;
- the routine of business from 7 pm shall be government business only;
- that from 7 pm, any question in respect of which a division is called for, and any questions consequent on the outcome of that division, shall stand postponed until the next day of sitting at a time fixed by the Senate; and
- the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 11 pm .
I thank the chamber for its support of this motion. It is the case that at this time of the year we have substantive legislation to deal with in the days available. We obviously were not able to work on Monday, as it was a public holiday in Canberra. We need the time. There are a substantive number of bills. There are more than 20-odd packages in total to be worked through in the fortnight, if I can call it a fortnight; it is actually nine days. That also requires a number of substantive bills. Those bills include the Fair Work Bill. This time will allow contributions on the second reading tonight. This will be on what we would generally refer to as a no divisions and no quorums basis. That will allow those people to make their contributions. As I understand it, there is a substantive list of people who are keen to speak on that bill. Therefore, this time will allow them to make their contributions. It will not be determined this evening. As the motion foreshadows, debate will spill over to tomorrow. Given the number of speakers, it may take part of this week to be concluded.
The Greens do not support the motion. We believe that the Senate should sit an extra week. We have made that clear to the government. The government believes that it can get this quite extraordinary workload dealt with by the Senate in the next nine days. The government is intending to have the Senate sit on Friday and on Friday week as well as extra hours at night. The government says, ‘Well, it was a holiday on Monday so we have to make up for that.’ When the schedule was planned last year, it was well known that yesterday would be a public holiday. That is irrelevant. The fact is that the government has scheduled one of the shortest sitting years in history—certainly since the Second World War—if you exclude election years. We are dealing with a global financial crisis, the onrush of catastrophic climate change and a number of other major items consequent upon a change of government not much more than 12 months ago.
This is bad planning and bad management by the government. We are here to consider legislation properly and in a considered frame of mind, in the wake—hopefully—of proper committee reports, where they are germane. For the government to simply say, ‘Well, we’re going to constrict the sitting weeks and then, as this big workload appears on our plates, we’ll ask you to agree to sit later and to suddenly sit Fridays,’ is not acceptable. We have a responsibility to ourselves as well as to our electorate to be giving things like the industrial relations legislation, legislation on alcohol taxation, legislation on student unions, legislation on climate change and all the other matters on the Notice Paper due and proper consideration.
It is not good enough, due to the deliberate design of the government to sit perhaps the most frugal work hours in recent Senate history, to be then saying: ‘But we’ll expand the length of day; you can sit into the night. Then you can come back somewhat the worse for it the next day’—as if there are no electoral matters, media and all the rest to be dealt with—‘and we’ll keep doing that till we get through with this and then we’ll rush off.’ It is bad management and it is bad Senate procedure. And, by the way, I would expect that the next thing we will have, if it is not already in this motion, is that when we do sit on Friday there will be no question time. Then we will have a request that private members give up Thursday afternoon so that, effectively, this squeeze is going to mean the shortest period of private members’ legislation consideration since the Second World War when, arguably, the list of private members’ matters to be considered—and there are very important pieces of legislation there—is the longest.
I would say to the opposition: have a second think about this, because you are losing out and your constituents are losing out if we continue to accede to this sort of process coming from this government. The Senate deserves more respect and the electorate deserves a better outcome from Senate deliberations than we are going to get with this truncated, concentrated and devalued form of rearranging sittings on the run because insufficient time has been given for Senate sittings this year to deal with the expected workload.
It is not satisfactory. It is not reasonable. It needs rethinking. I would say to the opposition that we should use this opportunity to say no to this sudden move to sit tonight and next Friday, to abolish private members’ time and to have more days of sitting of the Senate with no question time for no good reason. It is good for a government that does not want scrutiny. It is good for a government that wants to get legislation through without proper debate. But it is not good for the Senate and it is not good for the electorate.
I indicate that the opposition will support, today only, the increase which has been proposed by the Manager of Government Business. But I do place the government on notice that we will not tolerate filibustering, we will not tolerate padding out of any debate, as we have witnessed on previous bills when we have conceded time, we have agreed to hours changes, we have agreed to give up our general business time of the week and we have not lodged motions in relation to standing order 75. I think the government needs to understand that we have been exceptionally cooperative and, similarly to Senator Brown, our patience is probably wearing thin. The government needs to manage this agenda a lot better. The hours have to be allocated more clearly and time cannot be wasted in the chamber by dragging out debates to keep us waiting.
The government is on notice: we agree for today’s changes only. We have a leaders and whips meeting on Wednesday where we will discuss the matter further for any other considered extension. But the government must manage this process effectively and use the time that we are generously allocating to its best advantage.
That the motion (Senator Ludwig’s) be agreed to.