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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 550

Senator GRIMES(9.53) —I rise as a voice from the past. I would like to remind honourable senators, including Senator Button and Senator Walters, that when I came into this place, not that long ago, the Standing Orders said that on non-broadcast days honourable senators could speak for an hour and on broadcast days could speak for half an hour. When I came into this place most people did that. Those who had been here before that famous class of 74, as Senator Peter Baume would know, did that. On the first day a couple of us, when we had to move and second the Address-in-Reply and spoke for only 20 minutes, caused considerable consternation in this place, not only amongst some of the senators who had been here for a long time but amongst some of the Clerks who believed that, if one had an hour, one used it and that, if one had half a hour, one used it.

Senator Newman —And some use more than half an hour, like Senator Evans.

Senator GRIMES —I make no bones about the fact that people who suffer from what I understand people in the honourable senator's profession call prolix and people in my profession call waffling exist on both sides of the place, and I have been as guilty of it as anybody else. I just rise in this debate because the argument used by Senator Macklin and by Senator Chaney is that, if we take out the average figures, we find that the average time of speaking is less than 20 minutes, and therefore we do not need to reduce the time to 20 minutes. I suggest that another exercise should be done. If we take out the people who always speak for half an hour, no matter what the subject is, how important it is or how trivial it is, and then we average it out, we will find that the average will come down considerably. There are people in this place who cannot give the time of day in under half an hour.

Senator Walters —And you are one of them.

Senator GRIMES —It does not matter which side they are on. The simple fact is that in this place we have more and more senators, we have more and more legislation, and people talk more often than they used to. Everyone's complaint in this place is that we do not get enough time to deal with legislation, papers and everything else. I suggest that that terrible place over there where they sit on green couches has managed to cope with 20 minute speeches for a long, long time.

Senator Walters —Don't let us get like that.

Senator GRIMES —Most of us in this place, including Senator Walters, usually speak for 20 minutes or less. The problem is that there are some people on both sides who speak for half an hour every time they speak. If we gave them an hour they would take an hour, and if we gave them two hours they would take two hours.

Senator Haines —They would not say anything more.

Senator GRIMES —And they do not say any more, as Senator Haines says. They indulge in all sorts of thespian tactics. They indulge in the sorts of tactics that have been often used in this place of using the `indeed' method, saying: `Mr President, it is a fine day. Indeed, the sun is shining. Indeed, there are no clouds in the sky. Indeed, there is no water falling out of the sky. Indeed, the temperature is quite warm'. And they go on and on like that to fill the time. If we limit the time to 20 minutes, as Senator Button said, most of the people in this place could get their point across in that time. If someone needs extra time, they can have extra time-10 minutes, and another 10 minutes, I suppose. But we either limit the time to a reasonable time of 20 minutes or we extend the hours and days of sitting until there will not be enough weeks in the year. With due respect to Senator Chaney, I think it is a very phoney argument to say that because most people speak for 20 minutes or less we do not need this amendment. I urge him to go and use some other statistics-that is, to exclude those senators who always take half an hour. He would then find that that time comes down considerably. I think, therefore, that it is a sensible amendment. I do not think that the standard of debate will diminish; in fact, I think it will improve because it will sharpen people's capacity to get their point across in a few minutes. Believe me, in the case of some people in this place, that is well worth doing.