Friday, 12 June 2020
Discovery of Formal Business
Consistent with the government's position on formal motions, which I outlined to the chamber yesterday, when we get to motion No. 646 I flag that the government will seek to have it dealt with during general motions rather than formal motions. That is because it raises complex policy matters on which all senators should have an appropriate opportunity to explain their position in an appropriately detailed and nuanced fashion. This session on formal motions is not the right place for detailed debate of complex issues.
The opposition would just like to say that we support the statement made by the minister just before. I would add that for some time we have had concerns that this part of the program is being used to move motions which warranted further debate where—
I was just saying that we support the statement just made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. We have had concerns for some time that this part of the program was being used to move motions that contained content that warranted further debate and that couldn't be dealt with as a yes/no situation. It was being used to wedge political opponents in a way that didn't allow for fulsome debate. We believe that this part of the program needs to be reformed because of the way this part of the program is being used by senators.
In reference to general business notice of motion No. 646 and how you don't want to formalise Senator Robert's motion for the reason that it should be debated: these are basically factual figures that are put forward before the parliament with reference to Aboriginal criminality. They're figures of percentages of Indigenous persons and non-Indigenous persons. It's basically informing the public and the people of Australia with facts that have been misused.
An honourable senator interjecting—
This is not what the public are hearing, and you are shutting this down today because you don't want the truth—you don't want the people to know exactly what is happening.
If we look at other motions, every other motion puts down facts and figures. We are dealing with other countries around the world, which have nothing to do with us. What you are doing is pursuing this line that you have, that you don't want people to know the truth of what is happening, or to debate—it's not about debate, it's about acknowledging the truth and the facts. You are not allowing this to happen!
We of course take a very different position to One Nation on the issue of Black Lives Matter and Indigenous deaths in custody, as I'm sure people well know. But we are particularly concerned that the government, with the apparent support of the opposition, is now the sole arbiter of what is going to be allowed to be discussed in motions. In our view, this is an infringement on the power of the Senate to determine its own agenda and, in particular, for smaller parties to put issues that are a bit inconvenient for the two big parties to deal with.
So whilst we would have opposed the motion, were it being put, we are again concerned, as we were yesterday, that this is a trend of the government, silencing any party in this Senate from putting motions on the Notice Paper.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Just to the argument that it can be debated at another time: we know that, but the instances of those times are far reduced. We have formal motions every day. General business and the ability of the crossbench, in particular, to get time in that session is vastly limited. So this is in effect a silencing, and it's that issue that we take issue with.
I will just correct, for the record, what the operation of this section of business is. Any senator can deny an issue formality. It is not party or status: it is in the hands of 76 senators to deny formality, the matter to be considered without debate. It is important to note that granting a motion formality means it is not debated; it is voted on by the Senate specifically without debate. The right of every senator to deny that formality is an ability for them to say, 'I do not want to vote on this without debate.' That's just the operation; it's in the hands of the Senate as to whether that changes. But it's important that each senator understands the operation of that provision of the day's program.