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Wednesday, 18 July 1906

Mr HUTCHISON (Hindmarsh) - I wish to draw attention to the need for an alteration of the standing order relating to the granting of leave of absence. Standing order 45 says -

Leave of absence may be given by the House to any member, on motion, after notice, stating the cause and period of absence; and such motion shall have priority over other motions, and shallnot be debated.

That standing order should, in my opinion, be amended to allow of debate, which is the practice of another place. To-day the honorable member for Dalley moved that leave of absence be granted to the right honorable member for East Sydney, on the ground of urgent public business, and it might appear that, in allowing the motion to be passed on the voices, we approved of the absence of the right honorable gentleman. I would point out that, when members of the Tariff Commission desired to absent themselves from their places' in Parliament, in order to attend to really urgent public business,, the right honorable member for East Sydney disapproved of their going away to Western Australia, Tasmania, and South Australia whilst the House was sitting. So strongly did the honorable and learned member for Illawarra feel upon the subject that he considered that it was his duty to be in hisplace in the House, rather than to absent himself, even for the purpose of taking part in the proceedings of the Tariff Commission elsewhere than in Melbourne. I do not think that the right honorable member for East Sydney is attending to urgent public business. When it was sought to grant a month's leave of absence to the leader of the Labour Party in the Senate, who was a member of the Tariff Commission, not only did honorable senators belonging to the party led by the right honorable member for East Sydney object to leave being granted, but they forced the matter to a division. The honorable senators who voted against the motion were Senators Baker, Dobson, Gray, McFarlane, Symon, Walker, and demons. Honorable members will find the division recorded at page 3342 of Hansard. The right honorable member for East Sydney is now in Queensland urging the electors to vote, and yet he is himself absenting himself from the House, and neglecting to vote upon matters of the highest importance. I think that he might have shown a better example. What is his record in regard to attendance in this House? On the 4th July Senator Higgs pointed out that during the first session of the first Parliament the leader of the Opposition attended only 93 out of 215 sittings; that is to say, he was absent upon122 days. During the second session he attended only 27 out of 68 sittings. In the first session of the second Parliament he attended 90 out of 122 sittings.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He did that in order to keep me company.

Mr HUTCHISON - I would like to point out that during that year, when the right honorable member's attendance was a little better than usual, he occupied the position of Prime Minister. During the second session of this Parliament he attended 29 out of 90 sittings, and was therefore absent upon 61 days. We have seen very little of the right honorable gentleman during this session. He was not here to express his opinion upon what has been described by members of his own party as one of the most far-reaching measures that has ever come before this or any other Australian Legislature. I think that it was his duty to be present, not only to speak, but to vote. It would appear, from the action of some honorable members of the Opposition, that the right honorable gentleman was very glad to be absent. Some of his supporters put up a great show of opposition to the Australian Industries Preservation Bill, but not a single member had the courage to call for a division upon the motion for the third reading. In 1904, when the honorable member for Barrier directed attention to the absence of certain Ministers, the right honorable member for East Sydney stated that it was their duty to be here, and that they were paid to be here. Now he is absent from his place in Parliament, and is endeavouring to undermine the positions of honorable members who are here doing their duty. If it is an urgent matter for the right honorable gentleman to conduct a campaign upon the lines he is now following, it is equally urgent for honorable members representing Queensland to be in that State looking after their own interests. The right honorable gentleman is reported to have stated that he had given up the present Parliament, and was now appealing to the electors. If that be so, instead of seeking for leave of absence, he should have sent in his resignation. I trust that the Standing Orders will be amended, so as to enable honorable members, before granting leave of absence, to satisfy themselves that the member who is seeking to be relieved for the time being from attending to his duties in the House is engagedupon urgent public or private business. I am sure no one would raise his voiceagainst leave of absence being granted to an honorable member who had really urgent business to attend to.

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