Senator FIFIELD: (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (12:42): On this side of the chamber we take very seriously the Senate’s role as a place of scrutiny and as a place of accountability. I think all in this chamber have a sneaking suspicion that on occasion we are the first people in this building to actually look closely at legislation, that perhaps they do not always do so over in the other place. That is just a sneaking suspicion, but we do have an important role to play here.
I remember listening to Labor senators during the years of the Howard government saying how committed they were to appropriate scrutiny, how committed they were to evidence based policy, how outrageous the then government was and how, when they won office, they were going to usher in a glorious new period of sunlight in public administration. In fact, they have a policy called Operation Sunlight in the Department of Finance and Deregulation-such is their commitment to openness and transparency, to airing all things which should be considered in the development of public policy.So, quite frankly, I was a little shocked when the Labor Party formed government that this approach did not come to pass. We saw that with the carbon tax, one of the most outrageous examples of the denial of the rights and duties of this chamber. This place was denied the opportunity to set up Senate committees to examine that legislation-putting to one side, of course, the fib, the bald faced lie, to the Australian people that there would be no carbon tax. Even in the face of that, this chamber was denied the opportunity for scrutiny.
We are seeing that again here today with this package of legislation. Senator Cormann, who has done a very comprehensive job in looking at this legislation through various committees over many, many months, is quite right to seek a suspension of standing orders in order to move his motion. His motion is merely calling upon the government to do that which the Senate has already directed it to do-that is, to provide information that goes to the heart of policy formation and to the heart of the actual, real-world impact of this legislation.
The Senate has already passed orders requesting that information and the government have not complied. So we on this side of the chamber are at a great disadvantage in being able to fully examine this legislation and its implications. I think it is very reasonable of the opposition to seek that the Senate suspend standing orders so that a motion can be put to this chamber that there be no further consideration of this legislation until the previous Senate orders have been complied with.
We have heard a great deal from the Australian Greens about the need for sunlight on the development of public policy, on the need for integrity and on the need for evidence based policy. This suspension motion should provide an opportunity for them to follow through on their fine words in actions. I hope they do. There is a pattern developing with this government where, despite their claim of the importance of evidence based policy and despite paying lip service to the role of this chamber as a place of scrutiny and accountability, they do not. We saw that the with the NBN-the worst example of non-evidence based policy you have ever seen. It was drafted between Mr Conroy and then Prime Minister Rudd on the back of an envelope whilst on a VIP flight. We saw it with the carbon tax. We saw it with the BER. There was no evidence based policy there. We saw it with the roofing insulation policy. There was no evidence base for that policy. We do not want to see that happen again. We need that information. We want that information. The Senate is entitled to have that information. The Senate has ordered the government to deliver that information and they should do so.
We will canvass at great length in the debate on the legislation itself how complex, how unfair and how fiscally irresponsible this package of legislation is. But we have before us at the moment a very simple matter-that is, the Senate should suspend standing orders so that Senator Cormann can move his motion to defer further consideration of this legislation until the government complies with the Senate order.