Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (3.45 pm)—I seek leave to move the government’s motion on varying the hours of meeting and routine of business this week.
Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (4.07 pm)—Perhaps I should start by reminding this place that the Greens moved a motion some time ago to extend the sitting of the Senate by four weeks. The government did not support it but, strangely enough, the opposition also did not support it. So while they are talking about lack of time, quite rightly, and criticising the government’s management of the legislative agenda, we Greens did provide the opposition with an opportunity to support an extension of sitting hours so that we could deal appropriately with the legislation.
I find it amazing that criticisms are being made of the Senate blocking legislation when, firstly, the government had an opportunity to extend sitting weeks but, secondly, there has been no attempt to have a leaders and whips meeting this fortnight. We always have a leaders and whips meeting at the beginning of the sitting fortnight before we break for the long winter break and for the summer break because we all know that there is going to be an extensive program of bills.
It happened under the previous government; it has happened under this government. We get a backlog of bills and there is a push to get them through the Senate chamber before we rise. Why hasn’t there been a leaders and whips meeting where all the parties’ leaders and the whips, as the name of the meeting suggests, talk about the legislative agenda, what the government priorities are, how long we expect the debate to last and what bills the government wants to get through urgently et cetera? We have not had that meeting, so we come into this place, we are told the government has a whole list of priorities, yet there is no discussion, as we usually have at the beginning of such sittings, to work out how we could make this place work a little better.
Having said that, I actually question how any senator who comes to Canberra for these two sitting weeks and does not expect to be sitting Fridays looks at the Senate agenda. We always sit on Fridays in the last two sitting weeks before the winter break and before the summer break because we know that there are a stack of bills that we need to deal with. That happened under the previous government as well. I will get on to the government not managing their legislative agenda in a minute but we always do sit at least those two days and long hours and we definitely did it under the previous government.
So what is different this time? What is different is that we have an even bigger stack of bills than we usually have because we have had so few sitting weeks to enable us to discuss the bills. It is disingenuous, as Senator Parry has pointed out, to say there is only a certain percentage of Senate time that has been spent on government business—that is, on legislation. We do spend other time on government business, but this place also deals with a range of other issues that are important to this country and we have quite rightly been dealing with those issues as well.
The Greens, as I said, proposed that we should sit for more weeks. We came here expecting that we would be sitting Fridays. I do not pack my bags to come here all the way from Western Australia knowing we have a full week without thinking that we are going to be sitting on the Fridays of these two sitting weeks. However, the government should have timetabled more sitting weeks for the Senate. They knew very well what bills they had. If they did not, they should have and that implies mismanagement of the legislative agenda. They knew what bills were coming. They knew what we would be dealing with.
They want to treat this place as a sausage factory when they used to rail for hours against the now opposition when they were in government about treating this place as a sausage factory. Now they are doing the same thing. They are trying to treat this place like a sausage factory by banking up the bills. There is a list a mile long of bills and we are supposed to be just ticking them off and pushing them through. Do they think that with things like welfare quarantining we may just close our eyes and it will go through without our full attention? There are a range of bills on the legislative agenda this week that we demand that we have time to talk about. We are not going to just tick and flick.
We need an appropriate time in this place to deal properly with the legislative agenda. As I said, the Greens came to this place expecting that we would be sitting longer this week. We prefer to sit on Fridays but we have not seen a reflection of our goodwill from the government because the government did not even see fit to come and talk to us about extended hours. We kept expecting them to, but there was no phone call to say, ‘What do you think about sitting longer hours?’ We heard the opposition got a phone call. We heard Senator Fielding got a phone call. Senator Joyce did not get a phone call apparently—maybe it is this end of the chamber.
Senator McGauran—Have you got the Greens number?
Senator SIEWERT—Apparently not, Senator McGauran. It goes back to management of this place.
Senator Ludwig interjecting—
Senator SIEWERT—I did check with Emma and we did not.
Senator Parry—Who’s Emma?
Senator SIEWERT—Our whip’s clerk. When I heard the rumour yesterday about extended hours, I checked whether we had had a phone call and we have not. Subsequently, apparently, we got a phone call. However, given that we came expecting that we would need to sit some extra hours—the preference is for sitting Friday so that we are not brain dead from sitting here into the late evenings, as has happened in the past—the Greens are willing to support this motion. We do, this time, concede that we do need to spend some extra hours on the legislative agenda, and we are willing in this instance to agree to sit this Friday. So we will be supporting the motion, because we are trying to show some goodwill to try to move the legislative agenda along, but it would be handy for us to be consulted through a leaders and whips process so that we can talk about the legislative agenda, set some priorities, do some estimates of how long it will take to discuss the legislation and have a more orderly approach. So, as I said, the Greens indicate that we will in this instance be supporting this particular motion.