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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 553


Senator ROBERT RAY(10.17) —I always enjoy Standing Orders debates because they bring out the pomposity of honourable senators more than any other debate. There are two propositions before us. The second proposition is probably more important than the first, that is, that speaking time in Committee stage debates be limited to 10 minutes. In my experience anyone who speaks for more than 10 minutes in the Committee stage-let us remember that one can have repeated goes at it-tends to get back into a second reading debate speech. This is one of the things that have debased what should be a fundamentally good approach to the Committee stage. Suddenly, after five minutes, when people have asked questions they wanted to ask or have made the points they wanted to make, they realise that they have another 10 minutes, especially if they have had some legal training, and so they lift another 10 minutes from their superb speech on the second reading and blast us all with that-and on and on it goes. So we listen to many second reading debate speeches with a variation on the theme each time. I cannot understand the opposition to the second part of the proposal, which is to limit speaking time in the Committee stage to 10 minutes rather than the present 15 minutes.

As for the 20-minute proposition, I think I was here when we reduced the hour time limit on speeches to half an hour. I remember hearing the same doom and gloom speeches from people such as Senator Crichton-Browne-about how people could not adjust and how they needed an hour. I do not recall anyone needing an hour since we cut back the limit to half an hour. The real problem, apparently, is that senators cannot compress their thoughts into a 20-minute speech. I suppose that it ultimately goes back to an analysis of what a speech is and what purpose it serves. Senator Crichton-Browne, apparently, is worried about all the people reading the speeches. Frankly, it would be a lot cheaper to give each one of those people a free holiday overseas than to have to extend speeches by 10 minutes for the 20, 30 or 100 people who read them.

Even by Senator Crichton-Browne's own admission-the admission of a professional politician-he rarely even reads the House of Representatives speeches. He reflects the rest of the community, who do not often read Hansard. The only value in speeches in terms of the public-2 per cent I might add-is on broadcast days, which is three days in eight sitting days, in each two-week block. What happens? We rate about 2 per cent of the radio audience and 50 per cent of that audience gets very upset if there is a Test match on and it demands that we go off the air. Nevertheless, I am a defender of broadcasting Parliament because it enables the public to understand what politicians are saying. But what purpose does a speech have in this chamber? Certainly people do not read speeches, in my view. Speeches really are just a tug of war across the chamber. It is important for an opposition to trot out its abilities and points of view, but I believe that speeches could be compressed into 20 minutes.

Nevertheless, in the end this debate tonight will be a farce. We are not going to get a resolution; we are not going to gag it; and the Opposition will talk it out, like all Standing Orders debates have been over the last five and a half years. It is a condemnation of this chamber that we cannot manage and rationalise our own Standing Orders, yet we strut around the country saying that we govern it. We cannot govern our own chamber. The debates become a shambles. The rights of senators are reduced consistently, not because their speaking times would be reduced from half an hour to 20 minutes but because senators cannot get on a speaking list to put their points of view. This has nothing to do with the expansion of the Parliament. No one can tell me that an extra 12 senators have created all these problems. It is absolute garbage to suggest that.

In my view we have a real problem with the Standing Orders. They need a total review. One of our colleagues, Senator Macklin, who is present in the chamber, has pressed that point very firmly to the Standing Orders Committee. He has often made the point that the Standing Orders should have a total review. He probably does not think much of me and others who have said: `Why bother? You would spend months or years doing that review and it would come to this chamber and we would never have the will and application to apply those changes because it would get talked out'. Everyone who is in opposition, whether it is us or senators opposite, knows that at a certain point of time a government has to dump a debate from the agenda and go to the banana Bill or the pig slaughter levy Bill so that it can get through the essential legislation. So we cannot have a rational discussion of Standing Orders in this chamber. A lot of recommendations have come out of the Standing Orders Committee, but I doubt that even one will be put through in this session because the Opposition will talk until it knows that the Government has to cave in and move the debate off the agenda to make way for more essential legislation which affects the rest of Australia.

Even if we do not reduce speeches from 30 to 20 minutes, I would like to hear the rationale of those people from this side of the chamber or the other side who oppose speeches being limited to 10 minutes in the Committee stage. Basically the Committee stage is a to and fro process, with Opposition and Government senators directing questions to Ministers and seeking responses. It should not be a de facto second reading debate. In view of the fact that I have said that one can compress a brilliant speech into about five minutes, I will resume my seat.