Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Days and Hours of Meeting

12:31 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the days of meeting of the Senate for 2014 be as follows:

  Autumn sittings:

     Tuesday, 11 February to Thursday, 13 February

     Monday, 3 March to Thursday, 6 March

     Monday, 17 March to Thursday, 20 March

     Monday, 24 March to Thursday, 27 March

  Budget sittings:

     Tuesday, 13 May to Thursday, 15 May

  Winter sittings:

     Monday, 16 June to Thursday, 19 June

     Monday, 23 June to Thursday, 26 June

     Monday, 7 July to Thursday, 10 July

     Monday, 14 July to Thursday, 17 July

  Spring sittings:

     Tuesday, 26 August to Thursday, 28 August

     Monday, 1 September to Thursday, 4 September

     Monday, 22 September to Thursday, 25 September

     Tuesday, 30 September to Thursday, 2 October

  Spring sittings (2):

     Monday, 27 October to Thursday, 30 October

  Spring sittings (3):

     Monday, 24 November to Thursday, 27 November

     Monday, 1 December to Thursday, 4 December.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the amendment circulated in my name:

That the days of meeting of the Senate for 2014 be amended as follows:

(1) Omit:

"Monday, 7 July to Thursday, 10 July Monday, 14 July to Thursday, 17 July."

(2) Omit all words and dates from "Spring sittings" and substitute:

"Spring sittings:

Tuesday, 19 August to Thursday, 21 August

Monday, 25 August to Thursday, 28 August

Monday, 8 September to Thursday, 11 September

Monday, 15 September to Thursday, 18 September

Spring sittings (2):

Monday, 13 October to Thursday, 16 October

Monday, 3 November to Thursday, 6 November

Monday, 10 November to Thursday, 13 November

Monday, 24 November to Thursday, 27 November

Monday, 1 December to Thursday, 4 December."

The Greens are seeking to amend the sitting days the government has determined for next year. We want to amend the sitting schedule for very significant reasons. The government has selected sitting days later in the year that conflict significantly with school holidays in all of the states of Australia. This government professes to be family orientated and yet sets sitting days that require parliamentarians to be out of their states when their children are on school holidays. With some careful thought they could have avoided those school holidays. The Greens have circulated amendments that in fact do avoid those school holidays so that we can have more sitting days in the second half of next year that do avoid—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: I am very keen to follow what Senator Siewert is saying but I do not have a copy of the circulated amendment in front of me, so I do not know what she is talking about.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

We will facilitate a copy of the amendment for you. Senator Macdonald now has a copy. Senator Siewert, you may continue.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. As senators are getting copies of this amendment, they can see that we have put some thought into how we could arrange the sitting days to facilitate the necessary debate in this chamber that would also allow senators and members to be in their states during the school holidays so that they can spend valuable time with their children.

We as senators, and I am sure those in the other place, are away from home for a great deal of time, so to be able to be in your homes when your children are on holidays is very important. So we have looked at those dates and found dates that enable us to be here but also at home. They also remove the two weeks that have been put in the July school holidays. We know why the government wants those days; so they can get rid of the carbon legislation. The legislation that is working, that is reviewing, that is able to deliver renewable energy in this country and is reducing carbon dioxide emissions. These amendments enable proper consideration of those bills.

I urge the opposition to support these amendments, given that they not only facilitate more family friendly arrangements but also will not facilitate the government's agenda of trying to get rid of the carbon package that is in fact working so significantly. I am sure the opposition know that the longer we ensure that these packages are working, the harder it is to repeal them and the more the community will understand these packages and appreciate that they are delivering the change that we know we need to make to ensure that we are addressing climate change in this country.

The industry itself is also pointing out that the longer the packages are in place, the harder it is to repeal them. So I urge the opposition to support our amendment in order to ensure that we are as family friendly as everybody in this place says that we are. The Abbott government say they are family friendly but bring in a calendar that specifically for the first time takes out all the school holidays—not just a couple but all of them in the latter half of next year. It means that we are all away from our homes when our children are on school holidays.

The opposition say they want to make it harder for the government to repeal the legislation. Join with us to make sure that we have proper scrutiny of the government's proposals and that we are able to spend time at home with our families when our children are on school holidays.

12:36 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

It will not surprise you, I am sure, that we will not be supporting Senator Siewert's proposed amendment. We will be continuing to propose that the sitting schedule as circulated be the pattern for next year.

I might say I am a little perplexed, though, by Senator Siewert's contribution here and her concern in particular about the Senate sitting in July because I did pick up a copy of the 2011 sitting schedule on the way into the chamber and, lo and behold, there was a sitting week in the Senate on 4 July which—as those of us who were in this place at that time will recall—was essentially an opportunity for the Australian Greens to do a victory dance around the chamber to demonstrate that they, with the Australian Labor Party, in glorious communion, had effective control of the Australian Senate. They did not want anyone to be in any doubt that they were here, that they were in charge and that they were running the previous government.

The Greens at that time, through proposing and supporting a July sitting week after a new Senate came into being, did touch on something important, though—and that is that there is absolutely nothing wrong, in fact it is quite appropriate, for the new Senate to have the opportunity to examine significant legislation. That is what the government is seeking to do: to give effect to the will of the people, expressed at the ballot box in the form of a new Senate, at the earliest opportunity. Nothing could be fairer, nothing could be more democratic than to give the new Senate the opportunity to express its view on behalf of the Australian people in relation to important legislation. I have no doubt that there will be important legislation for the Senate to consider at that time. So, as I say, I am a little perplexed at the concern that the Australian Greens have about a July sitting. We will rely on the precedent that they and the Australian Labor Party put in place in 2011. And, unlike those who are seeking to amend the motion, our purpose will not be any sort of victory dance. Our very serious purpose will be to get down to the people's business.

12:39 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Labor Party will not be supporting this amendment, though I do wish to acknowledge the points raised by the Greens about the issues around school holidays. In terms of the process, we accept the longstanding convention that the government of the day has the right to determine the sitting pattern for the government. However, I think it would be useful in future to consider having some negotiation beforehand because I think the issues Senator Siewert raised about family friendly policies should be discussed openly in this place and maintained.

While rejecting the Greens amendment and supporting the government because we have had the longstanding process of accepting the government's proposals on sitting patterns, we do wish to put on the record that—as we were told many times in this place by the opposition of the day—by accepting this sitting pattern we expect there will be a degree of certainty about it and that people will be able to make plans around it. Should any request come forward from the government to the opposition around extended hours or extended sitting weeks, we will be raising the same points about how important it is that we have that certainty, and there can be no guarantee of any agreement to requests for extensions in this place. It would be, as we say, 'in exceptional circumstances', with a real case put forward, that we would consider such a request. However, as we ought, we are saying that the government of the day has put forward their proposed sitting pattern, we have it in front of us, we accept that and will support that.

12:40 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens, you would be surprised to hear, Mr Deputy President, almost had me on their argument. I wish they had given us some notice of it. With respect to Senator Siewert, the hypocrisy of the Greens shows through. They are talking about family friendly and I am a bit attracted to that—not that it is of particular relevance to me personally, but there are other senators who are in that family situation where this would be useful. I would have liked to have had a bit more time to sit down with my calendar, look through that and see what is right or what is wrong. The hypocrisy, of course, comes with the first part of the proposed amendment: that you cannot sit in July. If the purpose of sitting in July is to get rid of the carbon tax then I am totally in favour of that. As soon as we possibly can we have got to discharge the will of the Australian people in getting rid of the carbon tax, so if we could bring that forward to 1 July I would be happy about that. I just find the hypocrisy breathtaking, but it is what you expect from the Greens.

If you were serious about your argument about being family friendly you would have separated the two parts of the amendment perhaps. You would have left out the first bit, done the second bit, and we could argue about that some other day.

Senator Whish-Wilson interjecting

I hear Senator Whish-Wilson saying you can do that. I am sorry, I am not as quick a thinker as you, Senator Whish-Wilson; I would have to go away and have a look at my calendar and see what is right and what is wrong. But if you are serious about this you would have done it that way. Clearly you are not serious, it is just another opportunity to get up and slag the abolition of the carbon tax.

I have to say I am not terribly happy about the way my government has planned the sittings for this period of this year. I think it was appallingly late in being distributed and it means a lot of people are going to be inconvenienced. It could have been brought forward. I recognise the government could not call the parliament together until Fairfax was determined, but there was still plenty of time to get the parliament back together earlier, so I am unhappy personally with the sitting period this year. I think the point you make on the second part of your amendment, about it not being family friendly, is a very valid one. I am not sure if you approached the government about it.

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We did!

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You did approach the government and they told you to get lost? I would have hoped that if you had approached them about that they may have taken some account of that particular argument you put. But the first part of your amendment completely destroys my faith, though limited and very temporary, in some serious proposal by the Australian Greens as to how to run this chamber. As to whether the carbon abolition package cannot get through before 1 July, I guess everyone is speculating. And, quite frankly, nobody knows how anyone is going to vote on various issues after 1 July.

I can guarantee one thing: I for one will be voting every way I can to get rid of that carbon tax, for two reasons: (1) I firmly believe that it is bad policy and (2) it is a breach of a commitment by the previous government not to introduce it. So the sooner that we can get that on the better. But, if it is just a question of giving you another five minutes to talk about the carbon tax, it really takes away from the sincerity that I thought you might have had in relation to family friendly sitting days.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Siewert to Minister Fifield's motion be agreed to.

Question negatived.

The question now is that the motion moved by Senator Fifield be agreed to.

Question agreed to.