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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2339

Senator GEORGES(9.57) —Mr Chairman, I have been endeavouring to get the call. While I have been so doing, Senator Withers came into the chamber smiling. It is not unusual for Senator Withers to be smiling, but it reminded me of the events leading up to the 1975 election and the performance of the Opposition at that time. What is happening at present is exactly the same. What the Opposition endeavoured to do was to make the system of the Senate unworkable . That is what it is doing at present. It is endeavouring to make the system of the Senate unworkable. It has succeeded as far as one committee is concerned. It has destroyed the consensus approach of the Estimates committees in examining the estimates by a deliberate campaign of delay and cross-examination of witnesses before an Estimates committee in such a way that it finally led to a vote before the committee which was, as Senator Chaney said, cast on party lines .

Senator Chaney went to a lot of trouble to point out that the Chairman has a casting vote. Honourable senators will recall correctly that at the time we set up the Estimates committees we did so according to a ratio of 3:3. But, in order to continue the principle that the Government should have the majority on committees, a casting vote was given to the Chair. If Senator Chaney objects to that, we will reconstitute the committees in such a way that the government has the majority on the committees, as is the tradition. We could have a ratio of 4: 3. The situation should never get to that point, but it has reached that point because of people such as Senator Martin and, I regret, also the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney).

Let me now point to the continual denigration and degradation of the procedures of the Senate. It is revealed in the behaviour and the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition, who uses the authority of his position as Leader of the Opposition to engage in petty interjection.

Senator Walters —Look who is talking.

Senator GEORGES —I am not the Leader of the Opposition. I am not the Leader of the Government. I hold a position in this place exactly the same as that held by Senator Walters. We have a certain latitude to misbehave which is not to be accepted as the behaviour of the Leader of the Opposition. The Opposition, in anticipation of an election, is engaged now in a deliberate campaign of disruption. That was evident at the Estimates committee hearings. It was evident in my Committee that there was a campaign of delay and disruption. It has been evident in the debates in this chamber last evening and this morning. The tactic is to make the place rowdy and unworkable, to attack a particular Minister, no matter what the justification may be. The Opposition seeks out what it considers to be, shall we term it, the weakest point for the moment and to attack, attack and attack. Let me say that members of the Opposition have chosen the wrong person to attack. They have chosen the person who can give them as much back as they have endeavoured to hand out. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) is quite capable of handling everything that they are prepared to dish out. But in so doing, the Opposition is bringing this place into disrepute. Honourable senators opposite have sought to delay and have engaged in unfair behaviour. I know what they are about to do. They intend to search out scandal. It does not satisfy them to engage in the type of attack which they are engaged in at present. I ask honourable senators to mark my words: The Opposition will search out scandal, if it has not already done so. The pattern that emerged in New South Wales prior to the New South Wales election will emerge here and it will be to the discredit of honourable senators opposite that they engaged in that sort of behaviour.

Senator Withers —That is right, and I do not complain about it. I do not go round whingeing, do I?

Senator GEORGES —It is always a sign of the times when Senator Withers starts to take an interest in this place. He played a very effective role in the past in the dismantling of democratic procedures. He is now about to engage in the same process. All I can say is that if members of the Opposition intend to continue engaging in the procedures and the methods that they have used before the Senate Estimates committees when only minor estimates were before the various committees, they will set up a confrontation in this place that will lead to acrimonious debate and delays. As far as I am concerned, they can delay as long as they like because on this occasion whatever they do will not be successful.