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Tuesday, 15 October 1974
Page: 1714


Senator SIR MAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) - I am bound to state to honourable senators that I am not an adjournment speaker. I learned this lesson many years ago when the Ministry kept us here until about 3.30 in the morning pushing some of its legislation through the Senate. The adjournment was then moved and I thought that I would have some amusement by keeping the Ministry sitting for about 2 hours after that, and I did.


Senator Cavanagh - Why break your record?


Senator SIR MAGNUS CORMACK -I am quite sure that Senator Cavanagh will remember the incident. I merely make this preliminary explanation and state that I have no intention of keeping honourable senators for another 2 hours tonight. Senator Cavanagh will be very relieved to hear that.

Mr President,the reason I address myself to the motion for the adjournment of the Senate involves a matter that has caused me a great deal of disturbance. What causes my disturbance is to read in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' today where the 'Sydney Morning Herald ' transmits an historical method of communication which is a variant of the court circular in London. It comes under the heading in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' of 'Vice-regal'. I think honourable senators will find a similar section in the Melbourne Age'. But this morning, the 'Sydney Morning Herald' conveys under the heading of 'Viceregal' the following information. With the permission of honourable senators and you, Mr President, I would like to read what is stated to the Senate:

The Governor-General and his daughter, Mrs Kibble, held a dinner at Government House, Canberra, last night, in honour of His Royal Highness The Prince Charles. Guests at dinner were the Honourable the Prime Minister and Mrs Whitlam, the Honourable the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Mrs Cope, the Honourable the President of the Senate and Mrs O'Byrne, -

The notice then goes on to state who were the other guests. I raise this matter because it involves a question of constitutional priority. The constitutional priority involved in this situation is that the Constitution of Australia states that the

Parliament of Australia shall be composed of a Parliament of the Senate and the House of Representatives. I point out to honourable senators that I am not quoting the exact words in the Constitution. Traditionally, in these terms, the President of the Senate takes precedence of Mr Speaker, who is the presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Some 10 years ago the Prime Minister of the day, the Right Honourable Harold Holt, in an administrative sense changed the order of precedence. I want honourable senators to observe this phrase: Administratively he changed the order of precedence. I think it is proper that I should advise honourable senators that the table of precedence is not a matter for any Prime Minister. It is a matter for the GovernorGeneral in the terms that we understood up to, say, 4 or 5 years ago. Of course, in present day terms, the Governor-General is the Viceroy. In other words, he occupies the position of Queen of Australia in the absence of the Queen from Australia.

How is the table of precedence established? The table of precedence is a table of precedence as established by the sovereign who lays down what is the order of precedence in Australia. It is the sovereign- the Head of State- who lays down the table of precedence. The Prime Minister of Australia administratively is seeking to change the table of precedence. As far as I know, there has been no consent to the change of precedence. Mr President and honourable senators, I go back to indicate to you that this question was raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) some time ago. Why does a court circular or, if you like, a vice-regal notice suddenly appear in the 'Sydney Morning Herald'- I have not looked at the 'Age' newspaper but I assume it would be in it also- showing that the Speaker of the House of Representatives has taken precedence of the President of the Senate in the area of the vice-royalty? This is what I wish to know. How has this been achieved? Has there been a change in the table of precedence, bearing in mind that the table of precedence cannot be altered except by the sovereign or her viceroy? The table of precedence cannot be altered by a fiat of the Prime Minister of the day.

The present table of precedence was established by the consent of the sovereign and by the Right Honourable Robert Gordon Menzies when he was Prime Minister. My information indicates that the table of precedence that he submitted to the sovereign was accepted by the sovereign. There is no evidence to indicate that the sovereign has consented to any change of precedence since that time, except that there has been an attempt- I think a successful attempt- to change administratively the table of precedence. Mr President, I have no worries about myself as your predecessor. But, Sir, I have a great deal of worry about you as the representative of the Senate, the elected leader of the Senate and the President of the Senate. You should not be put below Mr Speaker in the table of precedenceput below Mr Speaker not by any consent of the sovereign but by administrative practice.

Honourable senators will recall that when His Imperial Majesty, the Shah of Iran, was entertained in Parliament House by the Prime Minister, not by the Parliament, it was assumed that the table of precedence would be issued by the Prime Minister's Department to put you, Sir, below the salt, as it were. I know that those people who convey messages to the media of one sort or another will make sneering remarks that the senators are preoccupied by a miserable matter of who should be on the right or the left. That is not involved here. What is involved is the constitutional proprieties of the Senate versus the House of Representatives. The Constitution laid down quite clearly and unequivocably that the Senate takes precedence of the House of Representatives. My worry is that the circumstances commenced by the late Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Harold Holt, are now being continued by the present Prime Minister to usurp the prerogative of" the sovereign or, in this case, the viceroy- the Governor-General of Australia. I wish to know by what right a Vice-Regal notice can be sent to the newspapers of Australia putting below the Speaker of the House of Representatives the President of the the Senate, who traditionally for 70 years has been acknowledged constitutionally and without qualification as being senior to the Speaker of the House of Representatives on these ceremonial occasions.


Senator Cavanagh - It could be inaccurate reporting.


Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK -I do not accept that for one single solitary moment. It is not the first time that this has happened. I merely mention for example that when his Imperial Majesty the Shah of Iran was in Parliament House only a fortnight ago the President of the Senate was put below the salt. By what means is the Presiding Officer of the Senate put below the salt? It is true that the host on this occasion was the Prime Minister of Australia, and he was occupying Parliament House by permission of the Presiding Officers. The Prime Minister of Australia does not hold court in Parliament House except by consent of the Presiding

Officers. He cannot have luncheons or dinners in Parliament House except by consent of the Presiding Officers. Undoubtedly you, Mr President, gave your consent that the Prime Minister should hold a luncheon here in Parliament House. But how can he ask the host, who is you, Sir, to hold a luncheon or a dinner or whatever it is in Parliament House and then put you, the senior host, below the salt? That is what happened.

A constitutional matter is involved in this. It is the propriety of subverting the constitutional system of administrative processes. I want to say in most categorical terms that if this method of administrative subjugation of you, Sir, as President of the Senate, is continued, there is only one course left for the Senate; that is for the Senate in its parliamentary sense, not subjugated to any temporary Prime Minister or any Prime Minister who passes through the corridors like a shadeGod knows, we have seen a few of them in the last few years- to sustain the parliamentary propriety and authority. This simple administrative act to which I have referred involves an attempt, firstly, to subvert the proprieties of parliamentary authority and, second, to subjugate the parliamentary authority of a Prime Minister who is temporarily embedded in this place. I say no more at this stage, except to draw honourable senators' attention to the unfortunate position in which you, Mr President, find yourself and to assure you that the Senate will support you in any endeavour you may make to support and sustain the authority of the Senate.







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