Monday, 24 June 2013
(1) On Monday, 24 June, Tuesday, 25 June, Wednesday, 26 June and Thursday, 27 June 2013, any proposal pursuant to standing order 75 shall not be proceeded with.
(2) On Wednesday, 26 June 2013, consideration of:
(a) matters of public interest; and
(b) government documents shall not be proceeded with, and instead the routine of business shall be government business only.
(3) Divisions may take place on:
(a) Wednesday, 26 June 2013, from 12.45 pm to 2 pm; and
(b) Thursday, 27 June 2013, after 4.30 pm.
(4) On Monday, 24 June 2013:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 10 am to 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm to 11.40 pm; and
(b) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 11 pm.
(5) On Tuesday, 25 June 2013:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 11 am to 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm to adjournment;
(b) the routine of business from not later than 7.30 pm shall be government business only; and
(c) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 10.30 pm.
(6) On Wednesday, 26 June 2013:
(a) consideration of the business before the Senate shall be interrupted at approximately 5 pm, but not so as to interrupt a senator speaking, to enable Senator Lines to make her first speech without any question before the chair; and
(b) immediately after Senator Lines’ first speech, valedictory statements may be made relating to Senators Joyce and Humphries.
(7) On Thursday, 27 June 2013:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 9.30 am to 6 pm and 7 pm to 11.40 pm;
(b) the routine of business from not later than 3.30 pm to 4.20 pm and not later than 7 pm shall be government business only; and
(c) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 11 pm.
(8) The Senate meet on Friday, 28 June 2013, and that:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 9.30 am to 3.40 pm;
(b) the routine of business shall be:
(i) notices of motion, and
(ii) government business only; and
(c) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall be proposed at 3 pm.
(9) The following government business orders of the day shall have precedence over all other government business, be called on in the following order and be considered under a limitation of time, and that the time allotted for all remaining stages be as follows:
(10) Paragraph (9) of this order shall operate as a limitation of debate under standing order 142.
This motion, lodged last Thursday, sets up debate to give the Senate additional time to consider a range of government bills before the end of the winter session. As senators know, the winter session is generally a reasonably short period. The government has a legislative program which is extremely important. This motion will allow senators time to place on record their views on government legislation but not to continue through repetitious second reading contributions, as has occurred to date.
I acknowledge that debating bills under time limits restricts debate and that this should only be done when necessary, and the bills listed in the motion today are indeed necessary. When one looks at the government's agenda, one sees that it is a broad agenda which has been on notice for quite some time. With a couple of exceptions, the bills listed have a 1 July 2013 start date. The bills contain a number of benefits from 1 July. For instance, increasing the superannuation concessional contribution cap to $35,000 and increasing the income-free threshold that applies to recipients of Commonwealth payments—just to name a few. We have also consulted senators and allowed for other bills to be listed, such as the Sugar Research and Development Services Bill. In many cases the bills implement changes that have had a long and detailed gestation period with policy development, extensive community engagements and even parliamentary scrutiny through the committee system and estimates over many years.
In the case of the aged-care package of bills the opposition agrees that reforms are required in this area. The package involves a comprehensive 10-year plan to reshape aged care and the package has been negotiated over the last 24 months. The Australian education package also fits this category. It has been clear for many years that a new basis for funding schools is required. After years of consultation and negotiation this package needs to be passed so that improved funding can be in place for 2014. Even the opposition must see the need for a new funding model for schools, even though it will not agree publicly with any outcome that addresses the disadvantage it has finally accepted exists in the current system and the system is due to expire at the end of this year and schools need that certainty.
The Constitutional Alteration Bill has an even tighter deadline, with this bill having to pass by this Wednesday. If the opposition is serious about supporting this bill its members should be facilitating its passage instead of continually adding to its speaking list. We are here to get the job done, not to allow for further time wasting, such as the division that occurred on that last motion. As anyone who has read the Notice Paper would see there is a lot of legislation before the chamber. If the progress of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill is any guide, where the opposition doubled its speakers—and it took almost a full week of government business time for the bill to be considered—you can understand why the government has moved today's motion. As I have said about time management motions in this place before, the Senate needs to address the amount of time devoted to government business in regular sitting weeks. The chamber needs to make room for more government business. Unless the government has around 50 per cent of the time of the chamber, time management motions will continue to be required if key bills in any government legislation program are to be dealt with.
Senators would be aware that it is not unusual for such a motion to tightly order business of the Senate in the last few sitting days of the parliamentary sitting. This motion is not unprecedented, especially at the end of a parliament. Let's not forget when the coalition was last in government how it treated the Senate. Remember when WorkChoices went through both houses of the parliament in one day. Let's also look at how it gagged debate on the sale of Telstra and on Medibank—just to name a few. The only workable option for the government is to move this motion to provide for more time to deal with government business. Governments of all persuasions are faced with the same options in managing their legislative program. When they can, governments use time management motions to structure debate, and, as I have said, particularly at the end of an important session.
The motion opens the opportunity for the Senate to be adaptable, as it was last week with respect to the non-controversial legislation. The Senate can be adaptable in its approach to debating legislation for this week. For these last few days this motion is the most effective way for the Senate to manage its time. The motion would set out clearly the chamber's expectations for debate on legislation. Opposition senators may not appreciate reasonable attempts to manage time, but senators on this side of the chamber are focused and determined on governing for the Australian people.
There is important legislation that needs to be passed: legislation that impacts on the daily lives of Australian people. The community would expect us to get on with that job, and that is exactly what we are doing. It is, after all, one of the core duties of the Senate to consider government legislation, and indeed deal with it rather than delay it. I ask senators to support this motion.
You did not have to be Nostradamus to predict last week that this motion was going to come before this chamber. Last week I predicted that, as sure as night follows day, Senator Collins would move a motion seeking to guillotine debate in this place. I urged Senator Collins at the time to resist the calls from Mr Albanese in the other place. I gave Senator Collins the benefit of the doubt, that she actually held this chamber in some regard. I urged her to say to Mr Albanese in the other place: 'No, Mr Albanese, I will not move a guillotine motion in the Australian Senate, because I believe the Australian Senate, as a house of review, has a job to do. I won't do that, Mr Albanese. That might be how you play things in the House of Representatives but it is not how we do things in the Senate.' I urged Senator Collins to stand up for this chamber, to stand up for its rights, to stand up for its prerogatives—but, clearly, she was not up to the task. She wilted at the first phone call from Mr Albanese.
What is clear from Senator Collins' contribution to this debate is that the government views the legislative process in the Australian Senate as somehow a courtesy that the executive extends to the Senate chamber, that it is not the right of this chamber to fully examine and debate legislation. That was very much the Paul Keating view of the world: that question time was a courtesy extended by the executive of the parliament. And now we are seeing this government say that debate on legislation is a courtesy extended by the government to the Senate, and that courtesy may be taken away when it suits the government of the day. It is a manifestation of arrogance and of incompetence.
Governments from time to time will say, 'Look, we don't know when the election will be; we need to get a program of legislation through the parliament—who knows when the election may be'. But that is not the circumstance here. This government set the date of the election at the start of the year. If there were ever a government that had the opportunity to plan and to manage, it is this government—they have known from the start of the year the date of the election; they set the sitting schedule; they have had every opportunity to manage their legislative program through this place.
And let it not be said for a second that the opposition have in any way been anything other than cooperative and responsible during this term of parliament. I will take just last week as an example. The opposition facilitated the passage of 23 pieces of legislation. Where legislation is not controversial, or where legislation has been thoroughly examined, we are very happy to facilitate the passage of legislation. If we feel that only one contribution is required, then that is all that will be made in this place. We have not sought to frustrate, to thwart, to filibuster legislation in the Senate in this term of parliament—on the contrary, we have been highly cooperative. If you look at the legislative score card, the amount of legislation that has passed through this place bear that out.
The government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, on the one had, as they have, day after day, that this parliament is working extremely well—they cite the hundreds of pieces of legislation they have got through the chamber—and then on the other hand say that the opposition is being obstructive, that the opposition is filibustering, that the opposition is delaying and thwarting debate and discussion. You cannot hold those two propositions at the same time. One of them is right and one of them is wrong. You cannot hold both of those propositions at the same time.
There has been a lot of bad legislation that has passed through this parliament; I grant you that. But the opposition cannot be accused, in any way, shape or form, of denying or delaying the passage of legislation in this place. We have a perverse situation here where the government are saying that they want to extend hours in order to allow for further debate. That is wrong. The government are seeking to extend hours so that they have the opportunity to guillotine more bills. What is given with one hand is taken away with the other. I could understand if someone was listening to the proceedings of this place thinking, 'It sounds a reasonable thing to extend the hours of debate.' It might be a reasonable thing if the purpose of extending the hours of debate was not to force more bills through this chamber and to guillotine more bills in this chamber. We do not have a particular issue, as such, with sitting longer, but we do when the sole purpose of adding a few extra hours to debate in this place is in order to guillotine more legislation and gag more debate. We cannot support that.
I just want to tackle something that Senator Collins said about how our side of the chamber when in office handled the guillotine or 'time management', as she more euphemistically puts it. There are 55 bills that are listed in this motion to guillotine. There are 55 bills where debate will be gagged. Of those 55 bills, there are 49 bills that will have less than one hour of debate. There are 30 bills of that 49 that will have less than 30 minutes of debate. Of that number, there are 17 bills that will have less than 15 minutes of debate. Actually, it will not be 15 minutes of debate. That is 15 minutes for all stages—debates, divisions, everything. When you add those 55 bills that will be guillotined by this government to the bills that have already been guillotined by this government in this parliament, it will take the total number of bills guillotined in the Senate by this government to 216. If you compare that three-year period to the three years that the coalition had control of the Australian Senate when we were in office, we guillotined only 32 bills. That is 32 bills compared to 216.
There will always be a role for some judicious use of the guillotine by the government of the day, but it is something that should be used sparingly. It is something that should be used in exceptional circumstances. This government use the guillotine as a routine tool of governing. When the numbers are used in the chamber for a guillotine as a routine part of governing, that steps over into an abuse of process. That steps over into denying the voices within this chamber the chance to have their say on behalf of the Australian people. Obviously I am very protective of the rights and prerogatives of this chamber and of the senators within, but I am even more protective of the fact that senators in this place are the voices of the Australian people. If you are denying Australian senators the right to properly debate and scrutinise legislation, you are denying Australians the right to have legislation scrutinised. You are denying their entitlement to have their representatives scrutinise legislation on their behalf. So, while we are obviously offended as senators out of concern for this chamber and its processes, we are even more offended on behalf of the Australian public that their right to have their legislation scrutinised is being denied.
If there is one piece of legislation in this package of 55 bills where the denial of the opportunity to scrutinise is emblematic, it is the bill to provide for a referendum question in relation to local government. If there is any type of bill that should be sacrosanct, if there is any type of legislation where debate should not be curtailed, surely it is legislation that proposes a change to the nation's Constitution. It is bad enough that this government seeks to deny equal funding to the 'yes' case and the 'no' case for a referendum. That is bad enough. That is unprecedented. In fact, I am still having difficulty coming to grips with the fact that there is an Australian government that would deny equal funding for a 'yes' case and a 'no' case. I never thought I would see the day when an Australian government would seek to pervert and to skew the mechanics and the processes of an Australian referendum to obtain an outcome that it desires.
It is completely immaterial whether the parliament as a whole supports that particular outcome. It is completely immaterial if 90 per cent of the parliament support that particular outcome. What matters is that there is a fully informed public debate in relation to a referendum question. While the parliament may be of largely one mind, that is not to say that the Australian public have the same mind or share the same views. Even if they do, that is not to say that, in the course of a referendum campaign, their mind may not be shifted from where it was before. So I am still struggling with the fact that this government is denying the opportunity for equal resources for the 'yes' and the 'no' cases for the proposed referendum.
But, if that is not bad enough, this motion contains a guillotine that would seek to terminate debate on the local government referendum bill at eight o'clock tonight. At eight o'clock tonight, it does not matter how many senators still wish to contribute on behalf of their constituents and their states. At eight o'clock tonight, it does not matter if there are questions that senators want to ask in the committee stage about the mechanics of this legislation and about the consultation process that led to the referendum question or if there are questions that they want to ask in relation to the wording of the referendum proposition. It does not matter if senators have those questions. It does not matter if senators still have contributions to make. This government wants to guillotine, this government wants to terminate debate, forthwith at eight o'clock tonight.
It is a good point that Senator Cormann makes, because this motion cannot succeed with government members' support alone. It can only succeed if it has the support of the Australian Greens. The Australian Greens have spoken year after year, and we have all heard it time and again, about the importance of parliamentary scrutiny, about the importance of fair and democratic processes and about the importance of making sure that the public have their say and that the public are fully informed—whether it be in a referendum. So I would be amazed if the Australian Greens supported this guillotine motion—absolutely amazed—because it would be contrary to everything they have ever said in this place about the need for parliamentary scrutiny.
Again Senator Cormann pre-empts me. Could there be a deal in place? I look innocently down the Notice Paper and see propositions such as Australian Greens being on the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges. I am not seeking for a second to join those two things together, because I would not think for a moment that the government would be party to a deal that would see the Australian Greens come onto the Senate privileges committee in order to get their support for a gag bill. I would not believe that for a second. But I do have cause for concern, as I see Senator Collins walking back down the chamber from consultations with Senator Milne, that perhaps that is an indication that the fix is now in. I hope my fears about what the Greens may do in the vote on this motion prove to be completely unfounded and that the Greens' fine words about parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary process will live on as statements of virtue, but I have my doubts.
I started my remarks by saying that this motion represents two things. The first is arrogance on the part of the government as it seeks to deny this chamber its role and responsibility in appropriately scrutinising legislation. The second is that this motion is also a manifestation of the incompetence of this government and of its inability to manage the legislative program. The election date, as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President Marshall, was set at the beginning of this year. So the government has known for the entire year exactly how many sitting days it would have in which to pursue its legislative agenda. There has not been a government that has had greater certainty about the boundaries it had to operate within to give effect to its legislative agenda. The only explanation as to why the government has been unable to do so, when you have an opposition that has been incredibly cooperative in the passage of legislation through this place, is just sheer and utter incompetence. Who would seek to push 55 bills through the Senate chamber in one week? And these are not 55 pieces of noncontroversial legislation. There are listed many, many bills that are matters of great controversy, such as the government's intention to make life much more difficult for Australian businesses that cannot find workers with the appropriate skills to avail themselves of 457 visas. That is a matter of great national interest that deserves proper debate and proper scrutiny. The Australian Education Bill is a matter of great public interest and some controversy that deserves proper public scrutiny. The private health insurance lifetime cover legislation is a matter of great controversy that deserves scrutiny and that deserves debate in this place. There are a number of tax bills listed as well. I have no doubt that we are going to hear something from Senator Cormann about those over the next few days.
The government should rethink this motion. It does no credit to the government; it does no credit to the Australian Labor Party; and if it is passed by this chamber it will do no credit to the Australian Senate, because it will say that this government and a majority of senators in this place do not think that the Australian people deserve to have 55 pieces of legislation receive the scrutiny and debate that they are entitled to.
This is not a matter of government versus opposition, ultimately; this is a matter of how this chamber views itself and how this chamber views its role. Does this chamber see itself as a sausage factory? Does it see itself as a rubber stamp? Does it see itself as a mere convenience for the governing alliance of the day? Or does it see itself as a house of review: as a place where senators pause, read, debate and ask questions? The answer to that question will be in the votes of senators, here, today. I urge all senators to vote against this motion—to reject it and uphold the standards of this place.
I rise to indicate that the Australian Greens have agreed to add extra sitting hours, including sitting on Friday, to try to get on with the job of delivering outcomes for all Australians. I have also to indicate that on several occasions we have indicated that we would prefer to have extra sitting weeks. We indicated last year and we indicated earlier this year that we would be prepared to have extra sitting weeks in order to deal with the legislation. However, that has not occurred. There is limited time left before the election, and I can tell you, Mr Acting Deputy President Marshall, right around Australia there are stakeholder groups who are holding their breath to make sure that legislation they have been promised for a very long time comes to pass. They are not going to tolerate a situation where the coalition is blocking important reforms that people have been waiting a very long time to achieve.
Can I indicate also that a lot of the faux outrage I have just heard from Senator Fifield needs to be sheeted straight home to the coalition because the coalition has refused to allow the noncontroversial bills to be dealt with in the way that they normally would be. They have deliberately organised a scenario in which we could not deal with the noncontroversial bills.
I am interested that Senator Macdonald should feel such outrage, because he has been on the phone three times asking that his bill—the bill that he wants through—goes in the guillotine. He has been saying, 'Please get it in the guillotine! Please get it in the guillotine!' and now he is all outraged because it is in the guillotine. I thought we had delivered for you, Senator Macdonald. I can tell you that the sugar research and development services bill is in the guillotine at your request. It is in the guillotine. Senator Fifield, your colleague desperately wanted it in the guillotine. What about your words about special scrutiny being denied to Senator Macdonald's bill? That is what he asked for. That is the truth of what goes on in here, Mr Deputy President. You know it as well as I do, and Senator Fifield knows it as well. His colleagues have been on the phone all week wanting their bills to be dealt with before the election, because there are a whole range of them. And that is the point that I am making: stakeholders around the country are desperate for this to occur.
Let me talk about Gonski for a moment. We have Senator Fifield here outraged that Gonski is going to be in this guillotine. Let me tell you that the Liberal shadow minister for education in Tasmania, Mr Ferguson—the colleague of Senator Abetz and Mr Tony Abbott—has been attacking the Tasmanian government for the delays in signing up to Gonski. 'It is an opportunity,' he said. He went on:
The Premier and the Minister for Education ought to sign up and give the benefits to Tasmanian schools.
Mr Ferguson is Mr Abbott's colleague. He is begging the Tasmanian government to sign up to Gonski at the same time as Mr Abbott is saying that if he is elected he will repeal this extra money. He will take it away from schools around Australia. So let's not hear this hypocrisy that is pouring out of the mouths of some people on the coalition side.
They know exactly what happens at the end of parliamentary periods. They know full well that they have filibustered for the last week. Let's go back and count the hours spent debating the EPBC water trigger bill. We have had filibustering for hours and hours. So I do not want to hear any more about cooperation and responsible behaviour. There has been no cooperation and no responsible behaviour in here.
Let me go through what is at risk if we do not get this package of 33 bills through. Firstly, as I said, there is Gonski. More money is going to go to our schools and there will be better education for our kids around the country. The coalition want to stand in the way of that.
Secondly, all around Australia people have been waiting for this package of aged-care reform bills. I can tell you that in the community there is a great deal of hope about aged-care reform, and the coalition is again standing in the way of getting that through before the election.
Thirdly—and this does not go nearly far enough; the Greens have been campaigning for a much better deal for Newstart recipients—in this package of bills there is support for single parents and welfare recipients by allowing single parents and Newstart recipients to earn more before their allowance is cut.
We also have legislation in here stopping children from being locked up in adult prisons—and that, in particular, is with regard to the removing of X-rays as a legal way of determining age, which had meant that Indonesian children were locked up in adult prisons in Australia. There are plenty of people around this country—and, no doubt, in Indonesia—watching what this parliament does about that piece of legislation before the election.
We also have the Australia Council bills. I can tell you from speaking to people in this constituency across Australia that they are desperate to get the Australia Council restructure through.
And I have not yet mentioned comprehensive protection for whistleblowers. This is something the government said it would do years ago. It did not do it. It is the last gasp of the government in terms getting these bills through before the election, and I am determined that we are going to get them through, because out there in the Australian community people desperately want whistleblower legislation and aged-care reform. They want to see the Gonski reforms go through and they want to see the Australia Council reforms.
The government can answer for itself in terms of why it refused to have extra sitting weeks. Nevertheless, I am not prepared to go to an election not having dealt with these critical reform issues, which people around the country are desperate for.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Senator Macdonald, I remind you again: you are the one who did not want to go to the election without the sugar bill being dealt with. It is in the guillotine, as you requested because you know that people out in your constituency are interested in having that bill go through, as well.
Let me go to the non-controversial issue. The claim that some bills will get as little as 15 minutes is deceptive, because these bills are normally dealt with as non-controversial on Thursdays, with debate sometimes only being five to 10 minutes. The Senate last week, for example, passed 23 bills in less than two hours as non-controversial. That was last Thursday.
As I said, half of the 33 bills related to this particular motion—half!—would have been considered as non-controversial in a normal week. But Senator Fifield and his colleagues refused to allow that to happen. They should not stand in here and go on about time management when they refused to allow these bills, which would normally be referred to as non-controversial, to be dealt with as non-controversial. No, indeed—you did not want them to be dealt with as non-controversial because you wanted to make a fuss about dealing with them before the election in a time managed way. Let it be on the record: you stood in the way of half of this package of bills being dealt with as non-controversial, and you had some of your own members ringing up asking that bills of interest to them be dealt with in this time managed way.
That is exactly what has gone on here. So, yes, it would have been a good idea if the government had sat extra weeks last year. Yes, it would have been a good idea if we had sat extra weeks earlier this year; the Greens requested that to happen. Nevertheless, we are where we are. This is the last sitting week before the election, and I am determined that we will get Gonski through this parliament, we will get aged-care reforms through the parliament, we will end up with a reformed arts sector, and we will have legislation through the parliament to facilitate a referendum.
As for crocodile tears over the referendum, let's go back and see the number of people for the coalition who have already spoken on the local government referendum legislation, and see what else there is to add. What we need here is some truth. We need some honesty towards the Australian people about whether the coalition is going to campaign against the referendum. That is what people want to know. They want to know where they stand. We heard the dishonesty last week: 'The coalition will not stand in the way of the question being put.' That is not the same as saying to people whether or not you are going to support a yes vote in the referendum. If you want honesty, if you want decency, that is what the Australian people want to know—they want some straight answers, some straight talking, in this Senate about what the coalition is going to do. It is very clear—
Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Under standing order 193, all imputations of improper motives are disorderly. I have clearly said I will be supporting the local government referendum when it comes to pass, so Senator Milne suggesting that I am not being, or have not been being, clear is a reflection that I take exception to.
Indeed, I am not referring to backbench members of the coalition; I am referring to the leadership of the coalition. Where are they on the question of a yes vote for the local government referendum? That is the point—
Opposition senators interjecting—
It is interesting when you start to touch sore points, because they cannot deal with it.
Opposition senators interjecting—
They can interject all they like, but they will not answer the question: will the coalition campaign for a yes vote in the local government referendum? If any imputation was made, it was made in reference to the expert panel, which made certain recommendations as to how the referendum ought to be conducted.
However, the fact of the matter is we want the referendum to be put at the time of the election, and we need the legislation to go through to enable that to occur. Again, I can tell you I was at the Australian Local Government Association national conference last week, and the Local Government Association would be furious with the parliament if it behaved in such a manner that the legislation was not dealt with and therefore the referendum was unable to proceed.
Let's get back to the realities of the community. The community has certain expectations. The education community throughout Australia wants an answer, a definitive outcome, on Gonski. They would never forgive this parliament for getting up before an election and not providing this. Why does the coalition want to frustrate and stop Gonski going through? It is because after this election it will be the law, and anyone who does not like it will have to try to repeal it. That is why they are in this position—they do not want it to become the law because they would then be in the situation where they were the ones taking away money from education around Australia. The community is not going to think very kindly of a coalition, should they find themselves in government, trying to repeal Gonski. We are going to get it through.
Exactly the same goes for aged care. I want to see these reforms go through for aged care. I doubt that you would find a person on the street who did not want to see the package of aged-care reforms go through this parliament. We have an ageing population, and the community at large wants to see aged-care reform through this parliament, and so do I. we also want to see the relief to 38,000 small businesses, restaurants and cafes, who generate more than $29 billion per annum. The legislation before the parliament allows them to be exempted from having to print separate weekend menus.
We have heard all about getting rid of regulatory pressure. This is actually in this package of bills. The coalition, if they have their way, will not allow it to be treated as non-controversial. They would rather see it lapse than be dealt with. Well, I would not. I want to see it dealt with. I want to see all this legislation dealt with before the election so people around the country have a new set of legislative provisions that give them some certainty.
After the election, I can assure you that the Greens will be standing here strongly stopping the repeal of Gonski and stopping the repeal of any aged-care reforms or whistleblower legislation, because these are things that benefit the community in a very substantial way. Just because the Leader of the Opposition does not support more money going into Australian education through the Gonski reforms, that does not mean that the broader community shares that view. I am determined we will see this passed. I am convinced that the right thing to do here for the community is to deliver for them the legislation they have been waiting for for a considerable amount of time.
I will be brief. Can I indicate at the outset that I will be seeking that the question be divided on paragraphs (9) and (10). I am not sure whether it is appropriate that I move that now or I move it when the matter is to be put to a vote.
I can indicate, further to that, that I will be voting differently on paragraphs (9) and (10) than on paragraphs (1) to (8) of the government's motion. In other words, I indicate that I support the government's motion for extended sitting hours but I do not support the use of the guillotine. On that basis, I understand that that will require a different vote.
I think we do need additional hours but we do not need the guillotine. I share the views of my colleague Senator Madigan, who has expressed his concern about the use of the guillotine. I think it is worth mentioning what a former senator in this place said a number of years ago about the use of the guillotine:
… the government can manipulate the Senate and is doing so. The government can dishonour the processes of the Senate and is doing so. The government may try to treat the Senate as it does the House of Representatives—that is, as a rubber stamp—and convert this country to executive government, but the government will reap the whirlwind of that. Fortunately, it cannot do away with elections. It can do away with the proper role of the Senate by using the guillotine—that is, putting such a range of important legislation before the Senate and demanding that debate be ended and that votes be taken knowing that it is going to win those votes.
The same senator further commented:
We have a constitutional imperative for this house to be able to look at all legislation coming from the other place. I delight in that.
That was former Senator Bob Brown, on 28 November 2005.
I think it is worth mentioning that the Howard government—and I have looked at some statistics in relation to this and I hope that they are reasonably accurate in terms of my arithmetic—from 1996 to 2007 used the guillotine on 125 occasions. From 2008 to the end of 2012, the guillotine was used—and this is on bills declared urgent or considered under an allocation of time—on 133 occasions. That is about double the rate. I think it begs some important questions about a better way of managing business to ensure that we have adequate and fulsome debate on legislation and appropriate scrutiny. That is our job here in this place. My concern is that we will not do that.
There are important pieces of legislation that will be coming up. There is the Australian Education Bill, as Senator Milne has pointed out, and the local government referendum proposal. I can indicate that I support the amendment to the Constitution, but I am dismayed that the funding arrangement is going to skew the debate in a way that I think will give strength to those who oppose the constitutional referendum, because of the way that the funding has been structured. That is very unfortunate, but I still support the recognition of local government in our Constitution. There is aged-care legislation, legislation on the childcare sector and antidumping measures. We have already lost something like 140,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector in this country since 2008, since the GFC. That deserves more time. There is the charities bill, which has huge implications for the charity sector. It is legislation that I support, but these are important matters. There is crimes legislation on witness protection, the private health insurance bill and a whole range of other bills that I do not think we will deal with adequately. That is why I support additional hours but I do not support what is being proposed here to guillotine this debate.
This is not the way that the Senate should operate. I encourage the parties to sit together to say: 'Do we sit an extra day, two days or three days to try and get legislation through in such a way that we can adequately debate it?' I remember not so long ago, a year or two ago, we dealt with very important and contentious family legislation that dealt with issues of custody and issues of domestic violence. That was very significant legislation, but the committee stage was truncated to, I think, just a few minutes. There was no adequate way to deal with a whole range of amendments, and I do not think that is adequate. I think the Australian people deserve better.
I seek that the question be divided on paragraphs (9) and (10). Perhaps, once the heat of an impending election campaign is over, once there is a new parliament, whatever the result may be, we can actually sit down, all parties and crossbenchers as well, to ensure that this does not happen again, because this is not the way that the Senate should operate.
Senator Xenophon has asked that the question be put separately. That is a matter for the discretion of the chair. Given that you have indicated that you intend to vote differently, I will put the question separately. Just to advise the Senate: I will be putting the question of paragraphs (1) to (8) separately to paragraphs (9) and (10).
On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: I would have hoped that Senator Xenophon might have moved an amendment to effect what he has spoken of—that is, to extend the hours but not guillotine—and if he does not—
You know the process for putting amendments, Senator Macdonald, and would expect that to be complied with. I am simply responding to the request that Senator Xenophon made of me, and I have advised the Senate accordingly.
I too rise to support the comments made by the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate, Senator Fifield, in relation to this motion to vary the hours of meeting and the routine of business. I listened to the Manager of Government Business in the Senate when she was giving her speech in relation to the motion and, in particular, when the Manager of Government Business said, 'We are here to get the job done,' because those words reminded me so much of Graham Richardson when he said, in relation to the Labor Party, 'whatever it takes'. He said, 'Whatever it takes to get elected to government, we'll do it.' Senator Collins showed the true reason that she is here today moving this motion to vary the hours and the routine of business in the Senate when she said, 'We are here to get the job done.'
The opposition, as we always do when it comes to motions of this nature, come to this matter bearing our usual reasonableness. It was only last week that the government came to the opposition and asked us to support a motion to vary the hours and the routine of business, and the opposition willingly did so. That was to enable certain senators to give their valedictories. As is the custom in this place, we will agree to such motions.
But for the government to come in here today with a motion that not only varies the hours of meeting and the routine of business but completely truncates debate in relation to not one, not two, not 10, not 20, not 30, not 40, but in excess of 50 pieces of legislation without a doubt not only confirms the contempt in which this government holds the people of Australia but certainly confirms the contempt which those on the other side have for the Senate as a house of review. In relation to Senator Milne's comment when she said, 'Stakeholders around the country are waiting with bated breath for certain pieces of legislation to be passed,' the only stakeholders around the country that are waiting with bated breath for legislation to be passed in this place are the union movement. This motion confirms to all Australians that not only have the Labor Party lost complete control of the legislative agenda in this place but they take their instructions from the union movement. Let me tell you why, in relation to two bills that are going to be debated on Thursday, the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013 and the Migration Amendment (Offshore Resources Activity) Bill 2013.
Despite the Office of Best Practice Regulation advising the government, in relation to schedule 2 of the Migration Amendment (Temporary Sponsored Visas) Bill 2013, that it should undertake a regulatory impact statement, the government failed to do this. In fact, not only did the government fail to do this but Minister O'Connor has made many promises to his mates in the union, and one mate in particular, that he will ram this legislation through not only the other place but this place as well. He completely disregarded the advice from his own Office of Best Practice Regulation to develop a regulatory impact statement for schedule 2 of that particular bill, and he wrote off to the Prime Minister and said: 'There are exceptional circumstances surrounding why my office should not have to develop a regulatory impact statement for the labour market testing provisions of this bill.' And guess what the Prime Minister did? I bet no-one in this place can guess what the Prime Minister did. Well, it is pretty obvious, isn't it? The Prime Minister granted an exemption based on exceptional circumstances. When the opposition and industry asked what those exceptional circumstances were, do you know what they were told? They were told that the government did not need to tell the people of Australia what those are exceptional circumstances are.
If this motion goes through, we will have but 15 whole minutes, and that includes divisions, to debate a piece of legislation for which the government has failed to follow its Office of Best Practice Regulation advice, has failed to develop a regulatory impact statement around the impact of labour market testing and has failed to consult with industry. Now the legislation is brought to this place on a promise to Minister O'Connor's union mates that he will deliver to them and completely change the nature of the 457 visa regime in this country. So, when Senator Collins stands up and says that she is bringing this motion today because the government needs to facilitate the passage of legislation through this place, quite frankly that will be a blatant misrepresentation of the government's real reasons for this motion today.
On Monday, we will be ramming through this place, after the dinner break, seven pieces of legislation, five of them in relation to superannuation. On Tuesday, if this motion passes, the Senate will be ramming through this place 11 pieces of legislation, with little or no debate on any of them. On Wednesday, the Senate will be ramming through nine pieces of legislation, including the bills I have just referred to in relation to the changes to the 457 visa regime. On Thursday, the Senate will be ramming through 10 pieces of legislation, again with little to no debate on any piece of legislation. On Friday, the additional day of sitting—lo and behold!—the Senate is ramming through 16 pieces of legislation, again with little or no debate.
Regarding Senator Milne's comments that a number of these pieces of legislation should have been in the non-controversial part of the legislative program, guess what, Senator Milne? The opposition was never approached about whether any of these 23 pieces of legislation should be placed in the non-controversial part of the legislative program. Perhaps if the government had come to us, we may have been able to consider that, but the government did not come to us, because, at the behest of their union mates, they have, quite literally, put together a list of legislation which they need to ram through in the dying days of the 43rd Parliament.
What this motion, and in particular a number of pieces of legislation within the motion, shows is that this is a government that is controlled by the excessive power and influence that the union movement has over Ms Gillard. Clearly, the unions have been promised by Ms Gillard that the legislative agenda that the unions set will be completed within this parliamentary sitting. She clearly hopes that, if she can ram this legislation through this week, on Friday she may still be the Prime Minister of this country. That is no way to govern Australia, but I think Australians know, as we do on this side, that the Labor government gave up governing Australia a very long time ago. They have been at war with the Greens and they have been at war with themselves. That is not governing in the interests of the nation.
When considering this motion, one thing that senators should never forget is that the government of the day sets the legislative agenda. It is the government of the day that sets the number of sitting days for a particular sitting period. If you compare the number of days and weeks that this place sat under the former Howard government with the number of days and weeks that this place has sat under the former Rudd and current Gillard governments, you can see that there is a fundamental difference between the two sitting calendars. Maybe that is an indication that the former Howard government was not afraid of scrutiny. The former Howard government was not afraid of bringing bills to the parliament and setting aside an appropriate number of sitting days and weeks for those bills to be properly scrutinised.
But we all know that those on the other side cannot wait to get out of this place. They cannot wait until 2.20 on Friday, when, once and for all, this place will rise until the federal election. Despite the Prime Minister's weasel words in relation to the new paradigm—in relation to opening the windows and letting the light in; in relation to transparency—we know that the only reason this motion has been brought before the Senate is to ensure there is little to no scrutiny of the legislation set out in the motion.
If the guillotine motion, as this motion ultimately is, is used in a legitimate manner as a business management tool, as is contemplated—because there is a standing order that contemplates the guillotining of debate, standing order 142—and if it is used properly, as it was last week when we decided to vary the hours of business, it will not be met with rancour; it will not be met with acrimony. But when those on the other side use the guillotine, as they do by this motion, as nothing more and nothing less than a political tool to deliberately prevent senators expressing their views on pieces of legislation or defeat the proper purposes of this house of review to sit down and, in an open manner, critically review the legislation before it, then you know that this is nothing more and nothing less than a political tool and that this is a government that does not want proper scrutiny of its legislation.
As Senator Fifield reminded senators, this bill will only go through if it gets the support of either the opposition or the Greens. The opposition made it very clear that, in the interests of good government, we will not be supporting a guillotine motion. Let us now consider, as Senator Fifield did, what we think the Greens, under their current leader, Senator Milne, may do on this motion—bearing in mind what Senator Brown, the former leader of the Australian Greens, used to say when the Howard government sought to introduce a guillotine motion. We know—because Hansard records it—that, during the time of the Howard government, the Greens constantly rallied against the use of the guillotine to prevent debate in this chamber. The Hansard is quite literally littered with the feigned fury and the verbal indignation of the Australian Greens in objecting to the use of the guillotine or to changes in the committee system. I think we can all recall that Senator Bob Brown, when he was in this place, was a regular speaker, regularly jumping up to put the Australian Greens' point of view on how disgraceful it was that the former Howard government would even think to use a guillotine in this place.
And then of course we have Senator Milne, the current Leader of the Australian Greens, who, lo and behold, seems to have had a transformation in her views on the need to review and scrutinise legislation. In the Senate on 14 August 2006 Senator Milne, as per usual, was haranguing the Senate on the importance of, lo and behold, scrutinising legislation. And this is what the current Leader of the Australian Greens said:
The Australian people deserve a house of review. A house of review means appropriate scrutiny of legislation and appropriate scrutiny of governments.
Well, the only thing that you can say to Senator Milne's speech earlier on in the Senate today, which is in complete contradiction to the weasel words that the senator used in 2006 when the Howard government was in power, is that we appear to have had a transformation. Since the Greens sealed their grubby, duplicitous little deal with the Labor Party, they have sold out every principle—if you can actually say that the Australian Greens ever had principles—that they ever had, because they consistently supported motions to support the guillotine in this place.
It is quite obvious that what the Greens do on the floor of the Senate when those division bells ring is perhaps not quite consistent with the words that come out of their mouths when they want people to think that they are going to do a certain thing in this place. When it comes to hypocrisy and duplicity, the Australian Greens really do win first prize. We all know what we are talking about here. We are talking about Mr Graeme Wood and the hypocrisy and the duplicity of the Australian Greens when it comes to the taking of political donations. This is the party that will do anything for money. This is the party that will stand up in this place, as they did under the former Howard government when they were talking about guillotines—
Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I would ask that Senator Cash withdraw the defamatory remark she just made—that the Australian Greens would do anything for money. That is offensive to all senators and I ask her to withdraw it.
It does hurt when you get caught out being hypocritical. It does hurt. Senator Milne jumps up to take a point of order in relation to the fact that the Greens are the political party on record as accepting the largest political donation ever made in the Australia's history. Let us say that again in case they forget: it was the largest political donation made in Australia's history—a donation of not half a million dollars, not $1 million, not $1.5 million but $1.6 million. So, when the Greens want to stand up in this place and pontificate about the actions of those on this side of the chamber, sometimes a little bit of humility is all that is needed, because each time the Greens stand up and pontificate, we will remind them of what they said in 2006 as to the guillotine under the Howard government.
What they are doing to do is undertaking a complete transformation, and we all know why: because of their grubby little duplicitous deal with the Australian Labor Party. When the Australian Greens jump up, as they often do, to talk about hypocrisy and duplicity in relation to political donations, we will take the opportunity to remind them that they speaketh with forked tongue. Just to remind them—in case they have forgotten—they are the political party to accept the largest donation in Australia's political history, a donation of $1.6 million from Mr Graham Wood. Let us see what they accept this time round. I know that Senator Hanson-Young currently has an advertisement going around saying that she had to raise $50,000 overnight in relation to our campaign. Mr Adam Bandt also has a campaign going around saying that he wants a few hundred thousand dollars. For a party that says that the acceptance of donations for political campaigns is not on, that to me is hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy.
And that is what we are seeing from the Greens today in relation to this motion. When the divisions bell go, the Greens will stay on that side of the chamber. What they said during the former Howard government—and it is on record; Hansard is littered with examples of the Greens jumping up and saying, 'This is a house of review; don't forget that.' All of that will go out the window as they sit with the Australian Labor Party and vote to guillotine 55 pieces of legislation, pieces of legislation that should be aired. This is a failure of due process. (Time expired)
Mr President, on a point of order: I have given notice of an amendment that I required to be put. I appreciate that I may not be able to speak to it, because of the gag, but I draw your attention to the fact that an amendment has been flagged and handed in.
I understand that I have no option now but to put the motion. The question that was considered by the chair was that the motion be now put. That was carried, and therefore I now have to put the question that is before the chair. The question has been asked to be divided.
My point is that the question before the chair should be the motion of which I have given notice and handed a written copy in. I cannot believe that the standing orders would allow for an important motion like this, and an important amendment, not to be able to be voted on by the chamber. Surely the government would also want the amendment to be dealt with before the motion is put.
No, for the exact same reason. The question was that the question now be put. There was a request that the question be divided upon and that is being abided by. So I will now put the question, which is that paragraphs 9 and 10 of the motion relating to the hours and routine of business for this week be agreed to.
The question is that paragraphs 1 to 8 of the motion relating to the hours and routine of business for this week be agreed to.
Pursuant to standing order 190, I seek leave to make a personal explanation in relation to a matter in which I was grossly misquoted and misinterpreted by the Leader of the Greens in the last debate.