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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 955

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(12.52) —I take up two points that Senator Townley raised. The first is the matter of the Press conference apparently held here for the South West Africa People's Organisation and I accept, if the facts are as Senator Townley gave them, that that conference may certainly have been outside the guidelines for the use of Parliament House. I am sure that if Mr Tickner did that he did it in ignorance, as a relatively new member, but I am certainly willing to take that matter up with the Presiding Officers. I must say that the suggestion that members of the Press should in some way be censured or reprimanded or have their privileges taken away because they went to such a Press conference is extending it a bit far.

The second matter concerns the general comments that Senator Townley made about me and about Mr Tickner.

Senator Townley —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: Is the Minister on the speakers list for this hour and a quarter that is devoted to the members of the House?

Senator GRIMES —I was the only one who rose, and I got the call. I am just going to make some comments; I am not going to attack Senator Townley or do anything like that. I suggest-gently-that the comments Senator Townley made about me and about Mr Tickner, and I suppose the comments in general that he made about the Government and SWAPO, hardly come under the description of non-controversial debate for which this time is supposed to be set aside.

Senator Reid —I take a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is not a time for non-controversial debate. It is a time when we agree that there will be no quorums or divisions. It is debate in lieu of first reading debates, which may be controversial. If the Minister insists on this period being non-controversial then we will have no choice but to restore debates on the first reading of money Bills. We have given up those debates on the agreement that we can use this time for such debate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! No standing order applies to this situation; it is a private arrangement. I cannot deal with private arrangements; I can deal only with Standing Orders.

Senator GRIMES —I accept that, Mr Acting Deputy President, but you have in front of you at the moment a speakers list and on the top of that speakers list, which was produced by both sides of the House, are the words 'non-controversial debate'. Of course it is just an agreement between both sides of this House, but this place cannot work without there being agreements. I do not care whether or not we have non-controversial debate or not during lunch time; it does not worry me in the least. I am quite happy for there to be controversial debate but up until now that has not been the agreement. I know Senator Townley under normal circumstances does not take much notice of agreements and I do not care if there is no agreement. I do not care if there is controversial debate; I will be the first one to become involved in it. I quite enjoy controversial debate and, frankly, the way the Senate has been going in the last few weeks we could do with some controversial debate. The only problem is that people like Senator Townley get up and dish it out but when someone on this side gets up and gives them a bit back they bleat and want to make personal explanations and have another go. Honourable senators do not find me asking to have withdrawn anything said about me and they do not find me making personal explanations, except on very rare occasions about matters of fact. I do not bleat about it. I am perfectly happy to take it but, as I have frequently told honourable senators opposite, I am perfectly happy to dish it out. People come in here and make statements such as the one Senator Townley made the other night, but when they get some back they want to get up at half past eleven at night, or whatever it was-

Senator Townley —Seven past eleven.

Senator GRIMES —Seven past eleven, if that was the exact time, and cry about what has been said about them. As far as I am concerned they will not get leave at that time of night. Then they come in the next day and, in a childish, schoolboy-like way, say: 'Senator Grimes was unkind to me last night, I am going to call quorums all day'. That is pathetic behaviour, and absolutely typical.

Senator Townley —You can believe it. You will see a bit more of it then. You will see the rules of this House.

Senator GRIMES —There it is. We have heard it from Senator Townley now. Senator Townley is saying: 'If I do not like what Senator Grimes says I will come in the next day and punish everyone by calling quorums all day'. This is not a schoolboy debating society or a Sunday school picnic; it is a House of Parliament. If honourable senators dish it out they will get it back. If they want to play silly games I do not mind; it is no skin off my nose. I will certainly be in any controversial debate they start up.

Senator Peter Rae —On a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: The Minister repeated the statement that this was intended to be non-controversial debate; the agreement was that it be non-controversial. It is my understanding that at the first Whips meeting of this session the matter was discussed and it was reconfirmed that it was never properly titled a time for non-controversial debate. The Opposition Deputy Whip said that the debate had been wrongly called non-controversial, but in fact it was in lieu of first reading debates on money Bills. I believe that for the Minister to have gone on and asserted, in the face of what the Deputy Opposition Whip said, that it was a time for non-controversial debate, was in effect to call her untruthful. I rise simply to make the point that an error was made in the title of the speakers list; the arrangement is that during this period quorums will not be called, divisions will not be called and speakers may speak on matters on which they would otherwise have spoken during debate on the first reading of a money Bill. I therefore think that the Minister owes Senator Reid an apology for accusing her of misleading the chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. There is before me a speakers list. No Chairman, President or Acting Deputy President can rule on private agreements, nor would we want to. We can only apply Standing Orders.