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Friday, 15 May 1970

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - Mr Speaker-

Mr Uren - May I move that so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Deputy Leader of the Opposition making his speech?

Mr SPEAKER - I will not advise the honourable member what to do. 1 have called the honourable member for Wills.

Mr BRYANT - As has been pointed out in this House before, a motion for dissent from the Speaker's ruling produces one of the most important discussions upon which we can embark. There are 2 ways in which we can decide whether the ruling is in order or is out of order. The first way is by reference to the Standing Orders, and the second way is by reference to the precedents that have been established. I believe that more or less the first precedent established in this field indicates that you should reject the amendment moved by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson). It is our belief - this is confirmed by a study of the English language or any consideration of it at all - that the amendment put is a direct negative of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), which is in these terms:

.   . the Prime Minister and his Cabinet lack the confidence of the House Because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States by the previous Minister for National Development

The amendment proposed by the honourable member for Casey says: that this House does not believe that there has been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments.

On any understanding of the English language as I know it and as it has been used here, and on any interpretation of its precision and the way in which it is used, those 2 sentences negative each other. On the one hand one says that the Govern- ment failed to honour a commitment made to the States, but on the other hand the other one says that the House does not believe that there has been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments. One is the direct negative of the other. No matter what kind of padding is added to it, no matter what is added to it to expand the amendment or to bring in other matters, the facts are that these 2 sets of words are inconsistent. I am supported in my view in this matter by a ruling given in 1936.

Mr Robinson - Mr Speaker, I rise to order. The matter before the Chair is a motton of dissent from the Speaker's ruling that the question be now put. The honourable member for Wills is not dealing with that question.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Wills cannot deal with that question because that is not the question before the Chair.

Mr BRYANT - In May 1936 a censure motion was before this House. On that occasion Mr Harold Holt, who later became Prime Minister, moved an amendment upon which a discussion ensued. I believe that the terms of the amendment, the terms of the discussion and the ruling by the Speaker are particularly relevant to the discussion before us on this occasion. The words, of course, are not identical. The motion from the Labor Party was:

That this House censures the Commonwealth Government for its failure . . .

It then refers to various sorts of things. To that motion Mr Harold Holt moved that the motion be amended by adding the words:

It commends the proposal for an inquiry into the application of this principle . . .

That amendment was immediately challenged by the mover of the original motion, Mr Curtin, who later became one of Australia's great Prime Ministers. Mr Curtin, who rose to order, said:

I submit that the amendment is irregular in form and cannot be put from the Chair, because it is in substance a negative and contemplates what is an expanded negative. I refer to 'May's Parliamentary Practice'. 10th Edition, page 279 .. .

Honourable members opposite will find that reference at page 419 of the edition of

May' on me table of the House, Subsequently Mr Speaker Bell, who was the Presiding Officer at that time, said:

In my opinion, the mere adding of words urging some one to take certain action does not put in order an amendment otherwise a direct negative.

He further said that a former Speaker of the House of Commons had ruled that an amendment was merely an expanded negative. This was bis ruling and 1 commend it to honourable members. This concerns all of us in the conduct of this House and in fact in the formulation of amendments:

.   . but 1 have already said that the essential point is that the motion asks the House to censure the Government, whilst the amendment urges it to approve the Government's action, and ny opinion is that a motion that seeks to censure the Government, should be met by a vote of 'aye' or 'no' rather than by an amendment that is a negation of the motion. I therefore rule that the amendment is not in order.

This was said on 6th May 1936, by one of Australia's most distinguished Speakers, I presume, the Honourable G. J. Bell. 1 believe that precedent is one which we ought always to consider when we are considering censure motions in this place.

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