Selection Of Bills Committee - 04/09/2014

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:57): I do not have the government's original motion in front of me, but Senator Moore's amendment refers to the Customs Amendment (Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill and the Customs Tariff Amendment (Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill being referred to the Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee for report by 2 October. It would help if I knew what the government's original motion was.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The motion is that the Selection of Bills Committee report be adopted. Senator Moore is seeking to amend that report.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have not seen that report. My point is that I am not sure whether the government wanted it earlier than 2 October or later.

Senator Fifield: Earlier would have been our preference, but we can live with that date.

Senator Kim Carr: What a good negotiation!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is often the case that negotiations are conducted with everyone except the government's own backbench. That is no reflection on Senator Fifield, who does a wonderful job in what are, I might say, very difficult circumstances. I very much support what he does.

Perhaps I will get on with the point I really wanted to speak about, and that is that I am told by staff that recently the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee was dealing with 14 concurrent inquiries. I was told that that was a record for the Senate. Whether it is true or not, it is not a record you would be proud of. I simply make this point: there are some bills that for government reasons—very valid reasons—need to be dealt with urgently, but we are getting so many references to both the legislation and he references committee that committees are struggling to cope with the work being given with them. It is not only senators themselves but also the committee secretariat staff, who do an absolutely magnificent job. They must be under pressure in trying to deal with all these committees, to draft chairs' reports and to deal with dissenting reports. It is not fair to the committee staff and, quite frankly, it is not fair to senators either.

The fault lies, of course, with those of us in this chamber because we continue to set up inquiries. I see a couple of other inquiries being proposed today. I do not know when senators are going to get the opportunity to deal with them. I rise today to say what I have been saying privately in our party room: we really do need to have a serious look at the workload of senators. As the Labor Party will know and as the Greens would appreciate as well, in government, ministers and parliamentary secretaries are not usually part of the committee process so backbenchers are dealing with four, five and six committees at the same time. We are travelling—in my case—from North Queensland to Hobart to Perth and trying to do justice to these things.

So I am just making a general plea for us to be a little bit more circumspect in the number of matters we refer to committees. In this instance I am very keen to see the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement implemented. I am very keen to be part of the committee that will look at it, because it is an area that I have a particular interest in. I am always a bit sad we did not get a better deal for sugar, but I will talk about that some other time. But it is good that it is coming. It has to be done, and I am sure the committee will deal with it expeditiously. (Time expired)


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (12:10): I am speaking on the amendment to the amendment, which is Senator Fifield's amendment. I actually agree and support Senator Fifield's amendment on the change of the date.

Can I also say that I agree with most of what Senator Carr has just said. I do think it is important. This is a fairly substantial piece of legislation. I think it is good legislation. I have been convinced by Mr Pyne that it is good. I have been convinced by the vice-chancellors, who have all been calling for its adoption, that it is the right way to go. I also add—and I put in brackets for Hansard by way of a joke—that I am quite happy for it to be dealt with at an earlier time because I am not on that committee and I will not have to sit through it all. But I will watch it because the points that Senator Carr made are very valid.

Without digressing from my support for this amendment to the amendment, can I briefly in passing refer to the Customs Amendment (Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation) Bill 2014. My understanding is that the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement bill will be going to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which many senators are already part of. This is the point I was making before: why are we having a Senate inquiry, and taking the time and the resources of the Senate, to deal with a matter that will already be dealt with—correct me if I am wrong—by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, where it should be? It seems to me that senators have to have a serious look at the duplication of committees not only in their own interests of health but also bearing in mind the resources and pressures put on committee staff. But I support Senator Fifield's amendment.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The question is that the amendment moved by Senator Fifield be agreed to.

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