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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 585


Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition)(3.12) —The motion before the House raises a number of serious implications about the way in which Parliament is conducting itself at present. Madam Speaker, I say at the outset that I will never condone or encourage an attack on your office or your person by any member of the Opposition or any member of my Party.


Mr Hurford —Why did you then?


Mr HOWARD —If the Minister is interested--


Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will cease interjecting. He is not assisting.


Mr HOWARD —I think, Madam Speaker, that that should be said at the outset. But I think I would be failing in my duty to my Party, to my colleagues and to the institution that I hold very dear, if I did not say that you cannot look at the events of the last 48 hours concerning the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) in isolation from other matters that have transpired in this Parliament, particularly over the last week. You cannot look at the events in isolation from the way in which the Government has stretched to their very limit the theoretical meaning of the Standing Orders of this Parliament so far as Question Time is concerned. You cannot look at them in isolation from the inherent influence that you, as Speaker, can bring upon the conduct of all members of the Parliament by your interventions in Question Time and in parliamentary debate.

You came to your office, Madam Speaker, with the genuine good will and personal respect of members on this side of the House. We hold you, as a person, in very high regard. Many of us have had a long association with you. We believe that the very fact that you are held in high regard gives you the capacity to exercise an influence on the conduct of all members of this Parliament-including members of the Government, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Treasurer (Mr Keating), and other senior members of the Government-which may on occasions not be automatically sanctioned by the Standing Orders. We have said repeatedly that there is a capacity, particularly at Question Time, to bring an influence to bear. You have been reminded and the Government has been reminded of the precedents that abound in the Hansard for that kind of intervention. While, as I said at the outset, I do not and will not condone any personal attacks on you or the Chair, I believe that to try to look at the conduct of the honourable member for O'Connor in isolation from the events of the past few days is, to say the least, to be completely and utterly unrealistic.

The second point I would make is that which was made so well by the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair), and that is that the sentence was determined, the numbers assembled and the decision taken before the man was given an opportunity to be heard. By no measure of Australian justice can that be regarded as a fair go. It is all very well for people to say that the honourable member for O'Connor had written his letter of apology and that the letter had been read. The reality is that the man has not been given an opportunity to explain himself or to speak in his defence.

I agree with you, Madam Speaker, and I agree with the Leader of the House (Mr Young) when you speak of the importance of the institution and the authority of the Chair. I am not contesting and will never contest the authority of the Chair in this Parliament. But I do contest the way in which the Government and its front bench have abused and stretched the Standing Orders of this House and then cry like wimps when points of order are taken against them as they have over the past couple of days. We object to this motion, not because we contest for a moment the authority of the Chair, not because I or any members of my Party or of the National Party will ever condone personal attacks on you, but because we believe it proceeds in isolation and in defiance of the circumstances that gave rise to the conduct of the honourable member for O'Connor and because it proceeds upon the basis that a man has been tried and convicted without being heard in his defence.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Young's) be agreed to.

A division having been called for and the bells being rung-


Mr Wilson —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: First, there is no copy of this motion before members of the House. It is a matter which every honourable member should consider as a member of parliament. In the motion, as I understood it, the Leader of the House moved the suspension of the honourable member for O'Connor for seven sitting days--


Madam SPEAKER —That is how I heard it.


Mr Wilson —Yet in debate we were asked as parliamentarians to draw the comparison between a suspension for seven sitting days and the provision of the Standing Orders which says that for a second suspension there shall be a suspension for seven days.


Madam SPEAKER —I think there might be a misunderstanding here. I think the second suspension referred to in the Standing Orders relates to a suspension by the Speaker for a further misconduct within the House on the lines of the first misconduct, and they go on to detail the position in relation to a third. This has nothing to do with the motion that has been moved on the floor of the House.


Mr Donald Cameron —Madam Speaker, you have seven days on your mind.


Madam SPEAKER —I suggest that the honourable member does not pursue that. I have already answered that.


Mr Wilson —Madam Speaker, the House suspends members, not the Speaker.


Madam SPEAKER —The House has made its own decision. It is in the process of voting on it now.


Mr Wilson —Madam Speaker, you just said seven days suspension by the Speaker but not by the House.


Madam SPEAKER —No, in the Standing Orders the second suspension, the honourable member will notice, is seven days.


Mr Wilson —By the House?


Madam SPEAKER —Yes. It does not mention seven sitting days.


Mr Wilson —Yes, and this is by the House; so it should be the same.


Madam SPEAKER —The Leader of the House has moved the motion from the floor. He has not moved under the Standing Orders under which the Speaker is required to move.


Mr Carlton —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I have not been through a procedure like this before in my time in the House, and it is the first time that I have had to vote on something without having seen the evidence put forward or had a chance to read the transcripts which have been tabled. Is this the normal procedure for this kind of operation?