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Monday, 20 September 1999
Page: 10007

Mr REITH (Workplace Relations and Small Business) (10:18 PM) —by leave—I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the routine of business for Tuesday, 21 September 1999 be as follows, unless otherwise ordered:

1. A motion to be moved by the Prime Minister relating to East Timor, and debate ensuing with speech time limits being as follows:

Prime Minister—Not specified;

Leader of the Opposition—Not specified;

Next 8 Members speaking—20 minutes each;

Other Members—10 minutes each.

2. Orders of the day, government business.

I thank the opposition for agreeing to give me leave to move this motion so that tomorrow the parliament can focus on developments in East Timor and the contribution that Australia is making to the international peacekeeping force which is now moving into East Timor.

These are exceptional circumstances and we believe that in these exceptional circumstances it is appropriate that a full day be set aside for members of the House to express their views on the issues, to express their good wishes and concerns, and to ensure that our troops appreciate that our thoughts are with them at this time. The Prime Minister will move a motion to that effect. It is proposed that there be no speech time limits on his contribution nor on the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition. For the next eight members it would be 20 minutes each and then 10 minutes each for all other members of the House. We believe that this provides a reasonable opportunity for members to make a contribution.

Of course it does mean, as we are proposing, that there be no question time tomorrow. This is made all the more important because we needed to await the return of the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister today from Darwin. We were not able to have the full day today; therefore, it is on tomorrow. Tomorrow the House does not sit until 2 o'clock so we lose a little bit of time. We are keen to make sure that as many members as possible have the opportunity to speak and we believe, given the importance of the issue, that it is appropriate in this exceptional circumstance to put aside question time tomorrow.

We have had question time today and there have been many questions put by the opposition to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and others, so there has already been some opportunity for question time as provided today. I should also say that it is in keeping with past precedents that question time be put aside. If we look back over the record, we see that on some occasions it has been put aside and on other occasions it has not been. I suppose it is again dependent on the particular circumstances on those occasions. But, just to put matters into context, there was a sitting on 21 January 1991 on the involvement of Australia in the conflict with Iraq. It was admittedly a two-day special sitting, but we note from the record that there was no question time on that occasion.

Perhaps as good a parallel were the circumstances surrounding Australia's involvement in Somalia. That was perhaps a better one because it was a normal scheduled sitting day, as tomorrow will be otherwise. On that particular occasion there was no question time. Just for the interest of members, on that occasion the then Leader of the House was none other than Mr Beazley, the current Leader of the Opposition. He referred to the fact that `there is no time for the normal practice of question time', so we are following precedent that the Labor Party themselves set when they were in government.

I do not need to add more than that, other than to say that on one of those occasions Mr Wal Fife was the Manager of Opposition Business and he did not require a division either.

Mr Martin —He was a gentleman.

Mr REITH —He was a gentleman. Whilst he expressed his point of view, he did not see that there was any need to do other than express his point of view and did not put the House to the unnecessary time and inconvenience to some members of holding a division.

I appreciate the partial cooperation that we have had from the opposition to set this motion in place tonight. By setting this motion in place tonight, it does mean that when the House convenes tomorrow at 2 o'clock we can go immediately to the motion. I think that is in keeping with the eagerness, which sentiment I am sure will be expressed tomorrow, of members to focus on the main issues rather than on the procedures for the debate. I therefore commend the motion to the House.