Thursday, 24 June 2021
Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Consideration of House of Representatives Message
The motion passed earlier today requires that the question be proposed from the chair and put immediately, so I propose the question:
That the Senate does not insist on its amendments to which the House has disagreed.
That needs to be put immediately. The question now is that the Senate not insist on its amendments. Paragraph (d) of the motion agreed to earlier today says:
… the question that the Senate not insist on its amendments be proposed from the chair and put immediately.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I will give senators the call. If you will be quiet, I will give you the call when you seek it, but I make the ruling that 'be put immediately' means immediately. There is no other way to read that phrase. Senator McKim, you raise a point of order?
I do. The terms of this motion are very clear. The question should be put immediately; it does not say the words 'without debate'. So you put the question, then the Senate can debate it. That is the only reasonable way to interpret this motion, and the reason that the government has not put those words in is because they did it in such an unholy rush that they have stuffed it up.
I'm going to make the ruling. If you wish to dissent from it, you can. The Clerk has agreed with me that 'put immediately' means put immediately; there's no other way to construe that term. I am putting the question because, when we move procedural motions, it is 'that the question be put'. They are the same words. It means 'that it be put to the Senate immediately'. If it didn't have the word 'immediately' there, then there would be an opportunity for debate. So I'm going to put that.
The question is that the Senate not insist on amendments (1) and (4), which the House has not agreed to, on the Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021.
The amendments on sheet 1200 simply implement an existing requirement of the Water Act to maintain a transparent register of water trades. This provision has been in the Water Act for 14 years. As Minister Dutton kindly pointed out in the House of Representatives debate this morning, this amendment has a solid legal basis. The pathetic excuse the Nationals gave that the states each have their own register actually supports our case for a basin-wide register. The Nationals have confirmed that there is not a basin-wide register. By taking this action, the ALP and the Liberals and their sellout sidekicks the Nationals are making it clear that they intend to pick and choose which aspects of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan they intend to follow. It's a bit like they're saying: 'We like this bit. Let's spend years stealing water from farmers, forcing up the price of water so the holdings of our friends are suddenly worth a fortune. But we hate this bit. We don't want anyone to know what we're doing.' On what legal basis are the Nationals, the Liberals and Labor doing this? (Time expired)
After 24 hours of absolute chaos in this place and the other—because of the rift and division within the government—we are now here, well past the time we should have finished, still debating a piece of legislation that this government doesn't even have a unified position on. It is an absolute disgrace. On the one hand you want to manage the Murray-Darling Basin, and on the other hand you've got members of your own government saying that South Australia doesn't need fresh water. You are an absolute disgrace. It's a shambles. There is no way we should be dealing with this, right here, right now, when you can't even get your own house sorted out.
I have received advice from the Clerk, who has advised me that the precedent in this case is the medevac message, and debate was not allowed on that occasion. I don't have in front of me the script I had earlier today. Normally dissent is dealt with on a subsequent day, but, if the Senate wishes, we can deal with it immediately.
Can I seek some clarification? While Senator Waters used the word 'dissent', I didn't actually hear her move a motion. It sounded like she was inviting you to consider the matter, Mr President. Is this a motion of dissent from your ruling or is it an invitation for you to consider and come back to the chamber?
If I can clarify—I understand we're dealing with the legislation now. What I've asked to be dissented from and for you to seek further advice on is the principle that putting the question immediately means putting it immediately without debate. I accept that this legislation, as per the hours motion—which we didn't agree to—will be dealt with right now, but I ask for the point of principle to be considered, because it's an important procedural issue to get right.
The PRESIDENT: I've read out my ruling and the precedent that the C lerk informed me of , which was the medevac message . D ebate was not allowed on that occasion. What I will do , Senator Waters , is take it that you are flagging a motion of dissent to this ruling .
I would invite the government, pursuant to standing order 198(2), to move a motion to determine that dissent today, which is open to the Senate to do. I don't think it's reasonable for a dissent motion, which is a serious motion, to be hanging over the chamber and the President's head after the Senate rises.
I concur with the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in relation to the benefit of certainty in this matter, particularly given the precedent that exists in relation to the ruling you made. I move:
That the question be put.
I've received further advice from the Clerk on this matter, so I need to correct something I said earlier. The Clerk says the motion on the medevac message allowed a short debate, but the point remains that 'put immediately' means without debate—that is, only statements by leave are in order—which is consistent with exactly what I said prior to adding the note about the medevac message. My apologies for that error. I assume, Senator Waters, your question is that the Senate dissent from my ruling on what 'put immediately' means.