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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3911

Mr TUCKEY —by leave-Apart from the comments of the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh) as to which is the best football code in Australia, I very much agree with his remarks about Question Time and the recommendations which have been made on this topic by the Standing Committee on Procedure. The honourable member and his Committee have made some quite sensible recommendations. I imagine that I am as active a participant in Question Time as anybody in this place in the use of questions, points of order and interjections. That might have been the reason for the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron) suggesting that I could become a prime contender for the sin bin. I do not disagree with that particular selection. But the people who are being left out of these discussions are the Australian people.

Question Time has tended to grow over a period as a contest between Government and Opposition. I think that is most unfortunate. The Opposition of the day has a responsibility to elicit information from the Government on behalf of the Australian people. Members of this place may take a different view, but clearly at Question Time the Australian people should be able to get information through the forms of this place. In recent times in particular that information has been denied to them. For that reason, yesterday through a point of order I drew the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to the fact that there are 16 million Australians outside this place who might like to know the Government's intentions in a certain direction or how a particular piece of legislation will affect them. There was a classic example of that in reverse when the Treasurer (Mr Keating) not that long ago informed us that in filling out the hated log book, about which the Government has had second thoughts, the person concerned had to fill in only the private kilometres. One has to think of the effects. Some people may only hear these things on their car radios, and in time, when they are visited by a field auditor from the Australian Taxation Office and present their log books as evidence of tax deductions, they will be told that they are out of order.

There is a responsibility on the government of the day to give accurate information to this Parliament. That is why it is still felt that it is a grave sin to mislead the Parliament. In my view, that would warrant a much larger penalty than a little bit of time in the sin bin. There is a responsibility on government to give accurate answers and not to treat Question Time as some sort of contest between the Government and the Opposition. If the Opposition in its questions can highlight the deficiencies of the Government, that is quite proper. In this way the Australian people, who are the major beneficiaries of parliamentary broadcasts, will know whether it is a good government.

Having arrived at that position, I consider it quite unnecessary for changes to be made to the Standing Orders to solve the problem so clearly identified by the honourable member for Bowman. He has pointed to the massive fall in the amount of information available to the Australian people during Question Time, and he well knows the reason. Irrespective of a change to Standing Orders-and I would not oppose such a change-the solution resides with the Government. The Government can fix it tomorrow. The Prime Minister, as the principal offender, the Minister for Defence (Mr Beazley), as the second biggest offender, and the Treasurer, as the third biggest offender, can start coming into the House and giving the Australian people answers. The answers can be brief and concise and do not need to have included in them major political attacks that are totally unrelated to the question. I repeat that the Government can fix that tomorrow. When some tens of questions a day used to be asked in the Parliament, the Standing Orders were the same as they are today; it was the politicians who were different. They recognised their responsibility and took seriously that responsibility to advise the Australian people. One does not need to change the Standing Orders. I shall not object to the recommendations, because they highlight the problem; but the solution is available in the House tomorrow, and the Prime Minister can start off.

In this regard the Government could stop using Question Time as a means of making statements to the House. We know why the Government uses this mechanism. There has not been a statement made to the House in I do not know how long, because statements are debated. A statement gets a response-that is a convention of this place-but if a statement is made during Question Time that does not happen. The Government can resolve that problem purely and simply by not taking that course. It does not require an instruction from the Chair or any amendment to the Standing Orders. It is something the Government can do-and it can do it tomorrow. I say now-and I have said publicly to people on other occasions-that the day this Government can lift its economic and administrative skills to the level of its political skills, I would recommend that the Australian people keep it and not pass it on. It would be a very good government then, but it is miles away from doing so. The Government has a political solution to everything, including Question Time. There seems to be some reason that I should hurry and finish-I do not know why it is my side that wants me to finish; I would have thought that that would be the wish of the Government-but I am bringing these things to attention. The honourable member for Moreton-the member for brinkmanship--

Mr Hollis —You are stopping everyone else from speaking.

Mr TUCKEY —I am giving you good advice. You might get in a couple more questions, and those questions might help you in your electorate. I was there the other day, and they have not a very high opinion of you.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor will address the Chair.

Mr TUCKEY —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am only too pleased to do so, when the interjections cease. All this has been done before. I have drawn to the attention of the House the actions of Speaker Snedden. It has been quite properly recommended by the Committee that a power be vested in the Speaker to call on a Minister to bring his answer to a close or otherwise to ask him to resume his seat. That is an excellent suggestion. The reality is that Speaker Snedden used to do it.

Mr Holding —He did not.

Mr TUCKEY —I could bring the Minister copy after copy of instances-I quoted them on another occasion in this Parliament-where Speaker Snedden took that line; and I recollect that he took it even with the Prime Minister. The reason Speaker Snedden did so but it is not being done now is that he had the support of his Party. He was given respect as a Speaker. We do not do `Copes' on our side. The reality is that if members give that sort of support to Speakers they will have the courage to act within the present Standing Orders. Nevertheless, it would not be necessary if these Government Ministers were to answer properly and give information.

In terms of the behaviour of this side, and of me in particular, I am as interested as anybody else to listen quietly to answers to questions when information is being provided. I want to record it mentally and to take it back to my constituents. There is evidence that I do that. But, when we get all this rubbish and get into this garbage and the type of politics that is played by the present Ministers, it is no wonder that we get angry. We had misinformation produced by the Treasurer today. He was crossing figures. I have seen the Prime Minister do it, too. The Treasurer apparently developed it a bit more in America, where he stretched out the figures when talking to the most highly rated financial people in the world. He stretched out gross domestic products percentages by rounding them out, involving tens of thousands of millions. He does it here, and it is no wonder that we get angry.

My final point is this: There should be an absolute rule in this place that nothing is removed from Hansard. If something is said, embarrassing as it might be, it should stay on the record. Certainly honourable members should not, as they have in the past-if anyone calls on me to give the evidence, I will do so-pressure the Speaker to have matters removed that are embarrassing to them although, in fact, they have precipitated the original remark. That should not happen, but it has happened. I hope that if any changes are made, severe penalties will be put on members who even attempt to influence the Speaker in that regard.

Motion (by Mr Holding)-by leave-proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

Debate (on motion by Mr White) adjourned.