Thursday, 18 November 2010
Consideration of Legislation
- That the provisions of paragraphs (5) to (8) of standing order 111 not apply to the International Financial Institutions Legislation Amendment Bill 2010, allowing it to be considered during this period of sittings.
Question agreed to.
- consideration of general business order of the day No. 15 (Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010) have precedence over all government business on Thursday, 18 November 2010; and
- at 12.45 pm, the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 be interrupted to allow consideration of bills listed on the daily Order of Business, under the heading ‘At 12.45 pm’.
The opposition will be opposing this motion for the simple reason that we are here to help. We have the government’s best interests in mind, as is often the case. Despite the belief that we on this side of the chamber have that the government do not have a policy agenda, the government are maintaining that they do indeed, and we are going to give the government the benefit of the doubt. We would not want to see any unreasonable impediments to the government’s legislative agenda. Whether in government or opposition, we have always believed that governments have a right to have their bills scrutinised and debated but, of course, with the important caveat that the governments have provided the Senate with all relevant information to make proper and informed debate possible.
If this motion fails there will certainly be no justification for the government to say, at the tail end of next week, that the opposition has in any way, shape or form been thwarting their agenda. There is also no need to take away from the time of the government’s business. As Senator Evans averted in this place yesterday—and perhaps he should not have, but as he did I will refer to it—the Procedure Committee may well be proposing to the Senate that there be provision each week for a specific time for private senator’s business. That is something that the Greens sought and that is something that the opposition supported. I must say I am surprised that the government are seeking to limit their own time. When there is pressure on household budgets I am surprised that euthanasia is the most pressing issue on the government’s agenda.
We had the day before yesterday the opposition move to take over government time with a private member’s bill and now we are getting the opposition arguing that government business time should not be taken over by further debate of a private member’s bill that is already underway. I have been very clear about this. I have asked the government to have this legislation debated this morning because we have not been able to implement the change that Senator Fifield was talking about, to wit, the implementation of private member’s time. But we should have done that. The matter has been on the agenda not just since the election; it has been there for the last three years—and, in one way or another, it has been blocked by both the government and the opposition from being processed through the Procedure Committee. It ought to have been in place by now but it is not. On the easiest count, 10 hours of private member’s time has been denied in the Senate because there has been no progress on that matter. It is a very simple thing: like other parliaments around the world we should have private member’s time that deals with legislation. This is a poor second in that, having started the debate on this important piece of legislation to restore territory rights, we should see that legislation through to fruition. It is not a second-rate piece of legislation; it is an important piece of legislation. I have had talks just this week with the chief ministers of both the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory about restoring the rights of the territories as near as we can to those of the states. This legislation should proceed to debate now. (Time expired)
I support the Greens’ motion. I believe this motion should be brought on for debate. There have not been reforms in relation to dealing with private member’s business. In the absence of that, it is important that we have a mechanism in place to deal with private member’s bills such as this. Whilst I support the bill, I am implacably opposed to voluntary euthanasia. But this bill is about territory rights and ensuring that the ACT and Northern Territory legislatures have an opportunity to vote on legislation such as this if they wish to.
You could say that about any piece of legislation—state or territory—but I think it is important that we have that debate. Senator McGauran is free to vote against this piece of legislation and, given his comments, I expect that he will. But this is about process and ensuring that, if it is a matter of importance, it is brought on for a vote. Agreeing to have the bill dealt with does not mean that members are obliged to vote for it, but I would have thought that enough notice has been given in relation to this particular bill. It has been dealt with by the committee process and I think that dealing with this legislation is the right thing to do, notwithstanding my personal opposition to the whole issue of voluntary euthanasia. This is about territory rights and we should be able to deal with it in an expeditious way.
It is quite obvious who is running the Senate at the moment: we do not even have to wait until June for the Greens to take complete possession of the Labor Party. I want to point out that, in a referendum on Territory rights, the Territory voted not to go to full statehood and that was carried. A majority of Territorians voted to maintain their status as a territory. So now we are overriding their wishes. The point I wanted to raise is that the Labor Party has absolutely genuflected to the Greens; we do not even have to wait until 30 June for the Labor Party to be fully under the control of the Greens. I just wanted to point that out. This euthanasia bill has been brought on because the Labor Party does not have the courage to stand up against the Greens. What is it going to be like in six months time? That is a question we have to put to the people. When the Greens can run the Labor Party now, what is it going to be like in six months time?
This motion was moved to allow some time for debate today, in government business time, of a bill that would be subject to a conscience vote in the Senate. This of course does not happen frequently but it is far from unprecedented. As far as I am aware, all parties have agreed that Senator Bob Brown’s Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 will be subject to a conscience vote. The government has agreed to provide some government business time to debate this bill and we remain committed to the Procedure Committee proposal that the Senate may adopt in relation to private senators’ bills. This additional debate time will allow senators the chance to state their positions on the issue of conscience debates, and issues such as euthanasia are important to the community. This is the first time this government has sought to use government business time for a private senator’s bill since we gained office in 2007.
The Howard government, with the support of the Labor opposition, allowed three private members’ bills to be given wide-ranging and exhaustive debates. The bills that Senator Brown seeks to reverse—the euthanasia bill, the therapeutic goods amendment bill and the prohibition of human cloning bill—were ones that were allowed. Of course, all three bills were debated in government business, all with additional sitting time, with the full support of the Labor opposition. In the case of the euthanasia bill, the Senate sat for an additional five hours to consider the bill. I will not go into the times for the debates on the other bills but they were extensive.
After today there are only four programmed sitting days for the Senate for the remainder of the year. The government, with Senator Bob Brown’s agreement, is seeking a relatively limited amount of time for this bill this year. The government does recognise that this may only be the second episode of the debate on this bill and that the Senate is unlikely to vote on the bill this year. This will leave the Senate free to debate other significant government legislation in the next four sitting days. The Senate should be able to strike a balance— (Time expired)
Quite clearly, this is about voluntary euthanasia—that is what the bill says. I cannot understand why the Labor government has actually given priority to this, and done the Greens’ dirty work, when this is about euthanasia. Quite clearly, the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 is about that—it has in the title ‘Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation’. If this is not meant to be provocative, it certainly is. As to you folks, Labor—what does it say about your position on euthanasia that you are giving this precedence over everything else when, just a few days ago, when it came to helping our kids get to university through Youth Allowance, you would not allow that to go forward? You are quite happy for euthanasia to go through but you are not happy about Youth Allowance going through for our kids. That is just totally wrong, so I will not be supporting this. We should be doing more to protect life than to take it away. This is wrong, and we will not be supporting it.
That the motion (Senator Ludwig’s) be agreed to.