What appeared to be an attempt by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to debate the government's controversial legislation to reform the telecommunications sector was shot down in flames in the Federal Senate today.
The Federal Opposition accused Conroy of attempting to introduce the Bill for debate in what was supposed to be a period for non-controversial legislation, and just 15 minutes before that period ended and general question time began.
The Bill — Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 — was listed on the parliament's run sheet under Government Business, but when Conroy appeared to introduce it, opposition senators knocked it out of the park, saying Conroy introduced the legislation at the wrong time.
"Why you want to debate it for 10 or 11 minutes, it just does not make sense," said Liberal Senator Stephen Parry, the manager of Opposition business in the Senate. I cannot fathom the workings of the government and I'm sure the public can't."
Parry alleged the Bill could have been debated in November last year; however, he pointed out that Conroy had been on a trip in Egypt around that time. "You ought to have had these Bills brought on earlier in the week," he said, alleging Conroy had changed the running sheet for legislation that had been agreed to the night before.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said her party did not want the Bill in the non-controversial section of the Senate day, but that it was ready to debate it.
Conroy accused the opposition of holding up the debate. "Let's bring the debate on, let's have the debate and stop the senseless filibustering, the outrageous oppositionism, and the hijacking of this chamber that has gone on all week," he said.
"You do not get to decide what the Government Business program is," he told Parry. "This is a Bill that the government wants and needs to bring forward to start the debate."
Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson described Conroy as "rattled", saying he had had a "miserable week" where his judgement had been severely questioned. The comment appeared to refer to the revelation of Conroy's controversial skiing meeting with the Seven Network chief Kerry Stokes before the government cut television licence fees.
"Your decision to bandy yourself around the country, and accept largess from anyone who made an offer, has left you exposed," said Ronaldson.
"This ridiculous intervention at this hour ... just shows that you are completely and utterly rattled. If you had wanted this Bill on, you could have got it well before now ... you know and I know that this was never going to be debated today — and never going to be debated in non-controversial."