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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - The Opposition can well appreciate that there are problems involved in handling the business before the House in the time available. In fact we seem to be reaching the unequalled situation that the House could very well sit right through to the Budget session without having the normal winter recess. But this is not the fault of the Opposition.

Before going further into that point I want to mention that the Opposition wants to co-operate with the Government as much as it can but we accept no responsibility for the fine mess that the business of the House is now in. There are 56 items on the notice paper now before the House which are waiting to be concluded. We have considered some; we have concluded none. It is entirely the Government's fault that this situation exists. In spite of this we do want lo facilitate the business of the House.

The Opposition's Health and Welfare Committee considered ways in which we could most expeditiously handle the proposed amendments but the time allotted is altogether too short. The Government haallotted 6 hours during which we would have to deal with 33 proposed amendments. There would not be 33 separate occasions on which an amendment would be moved because a number of the proposed amendments are grouped. There would be something like 21 or 22 occasions on which members of the Opposition would be on their feet discussing the amendments that we propose to put. I repeat that 6 hours is altogether too short a period of time in which to discuss these matters. Operating on this basis would permit only one Opposition speaker on each occasion thai the Opposition receives the call. He would have to move the amendment, or groups of amendments, and there would be no succeeding speaker to support them.

I submit to the House that this is a serious state of affairs. The role of the parliamentary chamber is to consider and deliberate upon legislation before it. It is not only the right of honourable members on both sides of the chamber to contribute as constructively as they can to the matters being discussed by the House; it is their obligation. The Opposition is alarmed at the casual and perfunctory manner in which the Government is treating this important measure which proposes amendments to the National Health Act. It is symptomatic o' the dreadful state into which the affairs of this House have fallen. Because of the shambles which the Government finds itself in at the present time, the Committee stage of the debate on this Bill is thrust upon us suddenly this afternoon. At midday there was some sort of wafflyrumour going about the place - it came from official sources - warning Opposition members to be ready. lt indicated that if the Government could settle a brawl over the National Health Bill in its own Party rooms the House would be discussing proposed amendments in thi Committee stage. Less than an hour later we received a message which indicated that the brawl could not be settled. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) was having a rough time. Accordingly, we had to be ready. This information came from the Government side. Wc did not create this situation. We are pretty much guided by the sort of information that is passed on to us by the Government's advisers, whoever they are.

We were advised to prepare ourselves to debate the Handicapped Children's Bill in the afternoon, and then at about 20 past 1 or half past 1 we were advised that it appeared likely that the Health Bill would be discussed. We were informed that some amendments were to be made by the Government as a concession to pressure from the back benchers. But, after all, the back benchers, in spite of their objections to the way in which the Government had handled those amendments, wanted to save the Government from public disgrace and defeat in this chamber and were prepared to make concessions. Any reasonably operated house of discussion, such as a national assembly, a Federal Parliament or a national parliament of any sort ought to have a proper control over the matters which are going to be handled by it. ft should not be in a situation of serious doubt some 2 hours before a matter to be discussed is in fact brought before the House. The House of Commons is able to advise on divisions and on matters to be dealt with by it several days before they are in fact dealt with. The best notice that the Government can give is 2 hours. Frankly, this is a terrible state of affairs into which the Parliament has now sunk. Of course, the sad situation in the Government benches is responsible for this. But we of the Opposition should not be held up. We should not be prevented from discussing the normal business of the House or have our role interfered with merely because there is a brawl in the Liberal Party benches.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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