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Wednesday, 16 March 1966

Mr DALY (Grayndler) . - I wish to raise a few matters relating to the answering by Ministers of questions on notice. The questions that I have under consideration are those listed on Notice Paper No. 145 for the House of Representatives. From a study of this document I have found that there are 29 questions still outstanding. They date from 27th October 1964. Even allowing for the time that a Minister must spend in his department and on various affairs of state, it is unfair that members of this Parliament should have to wait so long for answers to important questions. In the intervening period there have been lengthy parliamentary recesses. There has been plenty of time for the information to be collated. It is almost inexcusable that the Ministers concerned have not answered the questions.

The first question, which is question No. 728, was directed to the previous Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). I do not know why the previous Prime Minister did not answer the question. There was plenty of time for him to do so. Similarly, a very simple question was asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh of. the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) on 10th November 1964. The Minister has had plenty of time to run around the Territories and other places. Surely he could have taken 10 minutes to answer the question.

Mr Barnes - Read the question to the House.

Mr DALY - The question reads as follows -

What is the name of the officer or what are the names of the officers responsible for compiling his replies to questions Nos. 731, 732, 739 and 740 on the subject of labour conditions for indigenous workers in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea?

This is not an exceedingly difficult question, even for the Minister for Territories. It seeks information which he could easily turn up, and he could then furnish it in answer to the question. But the question has not been answered yet, although it was placed on notice on 10th November 1964. The honorable member for Hindmarsh asked question No. 797 of the same Minister.It is as follows -

Why did he not give a direct answer to questions Nos. 731, 732, 739 and 740 concerning labour conditions for indigenous workers in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea?

The Minister is present in the House. I should like him to tell the House why he has not answered the questions which have been asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh. Does it mean that they are not going to be answered? Does it mean that the Minister is dodging his responsibility in this regard? Is the information available? Why does not the Minister tell the Parliament why answers to these questions have been outstanding for 15 or 16 months? The Minister for Territories is smiling. I can understand why the previous Prime Minister used to be worried every time the Minister came to the table to answer a question off the cuff. The Minister has bad plenty of time to answer these questions on notice.

On 17th August 1965 the honorable member for Stirling (Mr. Webb) asked a question of the Minister for Civil Aviation. On 1st September 1965 the honorable member for Stirling addressed a question to the former Treasurer. On 15th September 1965 the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Reynolds) directed a question to the Prime Minister. Those questions are still unanswered. Then on 21st September 1965 the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) asked the Prime Minister a question concerning a letter that had been written by the then Minister for Supply regarding the wool prices referendum, wherein the Minister, in the face of a Cabinet decision, advocated a " No " vote at the referendum when it was the Government's policy to ask for a " Yes " vote. The question is still unanswered because the former Prime Minister did not want to have a head-on clash with the Australian Country Party on that particular issue. This was deliberate evasion of the question because the Government knew that the answer would embarrass it and also the Country Party and the Minister concerned.

On 28th September 1965 the Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister the following questions -

1.   Which officers have retired from the Com monwealth Service in the last ten years in order to become candidates for election as Members of a House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth or of a State?

2.   Is he able to state which political party endorsed each of them?

3.   What positions did each of them hold at the time of (a) endorsement and (b) retirement?

This was after a Public Servant, Dr. Patterson, who is now the honorable member for Dawson, was blackguarded in this Parliament by an honorable member who is interjecting now and other members on the Government side. This was because the honorable member for Dawson, who now sits with great honour and dignity in this House, nominated when he was a Public Servant for selection as the Labour Party's candidate. Government members opposite blackguarded him and he was dismissed from the important position which he held in the Commonwealth Public Service. The electors of Dawson have shown what they thought of that action by the Government. At the same time as this was happening, Sir William Gunn, while he was still head of the Australian Wool Board was running from one end of the country to the other as a candidate in a preselection ballot conducted by the Country Party. There is one kind of treatment for a person who nominates for the Labour Party and another kind of treatment for the person who nominates for the Country Party. I warn the Government that in the preselection ballot for the Australian Capital Territory, a member of the Commonwealth Public Service has nominated for selection as the Liberal Party's candidate against the present member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser). If that Public Servant wins the preselection ballot, will the Government treat him in the same way as it treated the honorable member for Dawson? I hops not, because we on this side of the Parliament believe that a man is entitled to his political convictions.

We now know why these questions upon notice are not being answered by the Ministers. The Government is vulnerable. It has weak spots on this particular issue. I point out tonight why the Government will not answer these questions. Let us see whether the Public Servant who has nominated for selection as the Liberal Party's candidate for the Australian Capital Territory will be treated in the same way as the honorable member for Dawson was treated if he gains a victory in the preselection ballot. We will see what the judgment of the Government is like on this question. At least the Government should be decent about this and own up to the fact that it practises political discrimination in answering such questions because it knows it is vulnerable on this point. I say this to you, Mr. Speaker: Government members must feel great shame as they gaze on the honorable member for Dawson knowing that they sought to destroy his career in the Public Service and knowing also that the people of Dawson endorsed his point of view and rejected this discrimination by the Government against a Labour man. If this is not the case, why does the Government not answer that question, notice of which was given on 28th September.

Why does the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Swartz) not answer another question o. which notice was given on 30th September 1965? A question asked of the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been on the notice paper since that date also. Another question addressed to the then Prime Minister was placed on the notice paper on 13th October. No wonder the Government wanted a new Prime Minister. Evidently Sir Robert Menzies did not have the time to answer these questions. Other questions, of which notice was given on 20th October, 28th October and 10th November, Terrain unanswered. The members of the Government who are now interjecting never submit written questions for the notice paper. They always ask their questions. This is because they cannot put their questions in writing as lucidly as members of the Opposition can. That is why all these questions on the notice paper have been asked by members of the Opposition. We inquire into what the Government is doing. We do not sit here dumbly and endorse every proposal put forward and never ask a question about it.

A question addressed to the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr. McEwen) has been on the notice paper since 24th November 1965. I can understand why this question has not been answered. Most Ministers are rarely in the country. If they are here possibly they are in and out of their offices so often that they have not time to get round to answering questions. A question upon notice was directed to the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Sinclair) on 25th November. It remains unanswered. There are other questions of which notice was given on 26th November, 1st December, 2nd December, 3rd December, 7th December and also 10th December of last year. On the 1 0th December I" even asked the uncle of the honorable member for Dawson - Uncle Charlie - the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) the following question -

What was the consumption of butler per head of population in Australia in each of the last ten years?

I have been waiting for the best part of three and a half months for the Minister to find the answer for me. Coming to a matter dear to the hearts of members of the Country Party, I asked the same Minister about margarine and I am still waiting on the answer. This shows what is happening, Mr. Speaker. I have not time to run through all of these questions but you can see that the Ministers are either incompetent or they are withholding information from members of the Opposition. I ask the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth), who is at the table to take my message to the Ministers concerned and ask them to satisfy the curiosity of members of the Opposition on important national subjects.

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