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Tuesday, 16 August 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am quite in accord with the motion, and it will be remembered that I suggested a few clays ago that we should resort to morning sittings.' I am o,ne of those who desire that the Tariff shall be dealt with as soon as possible, and am prepared, if necessary, to agree to Monday sittings, and also to the Senate meeting every Saturday morning. I desire to make sure, however, that if we agree to morning sittings, as proposed by the Government, vrc shall not have an all-night sitting. I therefore move, by way of amendment -

That the following words be added: - "Provided that on such Wednesdays and Thursdays as the Senate meets at 1 1 a m., the President shall, at 10.30 o'clock p.m., put the question. That the Senate tlo now adjourn, which question shall not "bc open to debate; if the Senate be in Committee at that hour, the Chairman shall in like manner put the question, That he do leave the tillair and report to the Senate; and upon such report being made the President shall forthwith put the question, That the Senate do now adjourn, which question shall not be open to debate. Provided further that, if the Senate or the Committee be in division at the time last mentioned, the President or the Chairman shall not put the question referred to until the result of such division has been declared; and if the business under discussion shall not have been disposed of at such adjournment it shall appear on the business-paper for the next sitting day."

I move this amendment because I am very anxious to avoid all-night sittings, which should not take place except in the most extreme circumstances,- for instance, whena number of honorable senators are deliberately blocking business. I do not think it can be said that this has been done in respect to the debate on the Customs Tariff Bill. Of course, I can quite understand that the measure is not going through as quickly as the' Government would like, but there has been very little useless or unnecessary talk upon it. I am not pleading for the cutting out of allnight sittings for my own personal convenience, .because I will not stay here all night. On Thursday night last, when we were told that we were expected to sit all night, I went home at 10.30 p.m. I agree with Senator Gardiner that in dealing with the schedule to the Customs Tariff Bill we are considering a matter vitally affecting' the interests of the people, and requiring the application of a'll the intelligence, ability, and wisdom, senators possess, in order to give adequate protection to the manufacturers of Australia, and those who arc employed in our various industries, without at the same time' unduly taxing the overwhelming majority of the people. Even with the exercise of all our intelligence and wisdom, we are liable to make mistakes. But the people have a perfect right to ask us to discuss the matter when we are in a fit state of mind to do so. No item in the Tariff should be agreed to merely because honorable senators are too weary to discuss it properly, or are, perhaps, too indifferent as to what happens to it. At the same time, the public are anxious tohave the matter settled one way or another. I spent the week-end with a prominent business man of Melbourne, who said, " I congratulate you upon the way in which the Senate are dealing with the Tariff. They did not seem to bother about it in the other House, and the schedule went through anyhow, but you, in the Senate, seam to be devoting time and attention to the items." I believe that the people are entitled. to ask us to sit a week or so longer if by doing so we can do better work.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then why not sit on two extra mornings ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not mind doing so. As I have already said, I would not- mind coming here also on Mondays and Saturdays. Our doing so would certainly cause the representatives of New South Wales and South Australia to spend a couple of week-ends in Melbourne;: but it would not be any great inconvenience to them, and' would not be any inconvenience to the representatives of other States who reside in Melbourne throughout the session. I object to having, items passed merely because honorable senatorsare tired, or indifferent, or even asleep.

Senator Bolton - That is not a fair charge. During the last all-night sitting we were all paying keen attention to our work.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - As I was not here I cannot contradict the honorable senator; but I have been through other allnight sittings.

Senator Bolton - The honorable sena tor should have been here.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Possibly those honorable senators who remained throughout last Thursday night were all busily engaged in the chamber, and were not sitting by the fire in the club room; but as I was not here I did not see what waa done. Why in such circumstances more work should be done than can be done while we are sitting here during the day-time with our minds quite active I do not know.

Senator Bolton - It was because you were not here.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That remark is very unfair. Ministers will acquit me of any charge of having interfered with their anxiety to get the business through. Some honorable senators suggest that we should always adjourn at 11 p.m., but there is an advantage in adjourning at 10.30 p.m., because, while honorable senators can get away easily enough when the Senate rises, the officials and members of the Hansard staff find it very difficult to catch their trains when the adjournment takes place close to midnight. My amendment willnot prevent the Senate from sitting later than the hour proposed. It will, however, prevent the Govent from coming down and saying, "We are going on " ; and if there is any obstruction, of which I have seen very little here, the Senate can very easily decide by a vote to sit all night.

Senator Earle - The Senate can quite as easily prevent an all-night sitting by a vote. A majority must be in favour of sitting all night before the Government taa ask the Senate to continue sitting.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) -I know that the Senate can do as the honorable senator suggests, by refusing to,give the- Ministry a quorum.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Or by some one moving that progress be reported.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But that would be taking the business out of the hands of the Government, a thing that some of us do not like to do. The amendment seems to me a reasonable one; in any case, if it does not work satisfactorily, it can be put on one side. I am pleading, not so much in the interests of the convenience of honorable senators as in the interests of the Tariff itself, not one single item of which ought to be permitted to pass merely because some honorable senators may be tired or indifferent.

Senator Reid - Or in bed!

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Or in bed. Allnight sittings are not new to me; and I have never known one that was a credit to Parliament or the people.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator has not seen the all-night sitting here.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so; although there was a time when I was foolish enough to stay all night.

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