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Friday, 15 May 1970


Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Minister for Labour and National Service) - The issue we have before us is an amendment moved to an original motion. The original motion is in accord with the normal practice of the House, that when a statement is made by a Minister a motion is moved that the House take note of the paper*. The question therefore before the House at that point of time was 'that the House take note of the paper'. To that motion an amendment was moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson): that the following words be added to the motion'. The honourable member then went on to recite them. After the moving and seconding of that motion, there was before the House a motion: That the House take note of the Paper', and That 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, acting for and on behalf of the Commonwealth Government, that there would be a further consultation with the States before the Commonwealth government introduced any legislation on the territorial sea and continental shelf.

After that amendment was moved and seconded we proceeded during the course of the day to debate it. During the course of the debate it became perfectly clear to all people listening to the debate that the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) thought that he had given a commitment which had not been honoured. The Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) initiated the debate. He made it clear that so far as he was concerned the honourable member for Farrer acted sincerely and held a sincere belief. As the debate proceeded it became apparent that there was a different situation about which honourable members were speaking. One was a proposition about a certain extent of authority of the Commonwealth which had been outlined at an earlier point of time, whereas at the present time an entirely different proposition is contained in the legislation which has been introduced into the House. As the debate went on, views from both sides of the House were put. Late this afternoon the honour able member for Casey (Mr Howson) moved an amendment to the proposition that was before the House at that point of time. The amendment of the honourable member for Casey sought the deletion of all the words after 'and' in the Opposition's motion and that there should stand in their place the words that the honourable member for Casey moved. The amendment of the honourable member for Casey, if carried by this House, would substitute the words contained in that amendment for the words proposed by the Opposition. The words proposed by the honourable member for Casey are these: that this House does not believe that there has been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments.

In the midst of a barrage of interjections I will continue with my case and come back to that very point and argue it, because I want to put it in perspective. Members of the House, in the flurry of interjections and excitement, may have forgotten the amendment. The amendment of the honourable member for Casey would substitute these words for the censure motion moved by the Opposition: that this House does not believe that there has been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments.

The honourable member's amendment goes on to use these words:

The House acknowledges that when the Government decided to change its policy on off-shore authority by legislating to take control from the low-water mark to Continental Shelf, the Government did not, at that time, inform the States of this change in the policy which hud been the subject of consultations between the Minister for National Development and State Ministers. lt is of the opinion that it is this fact-

That is the fact contained in the second paragraph - which has led the honourable member for Farrer feeling justified in believing that an undertaking that there would be further consultations, which he gave to the States, has been dishonoured.

The matter before the Chair at present is a motion by the Opposition to disagree with your ruling, Mr Speaker. The ruling which you gave was that this amendment moved by the honourable member for Casey is in order. You ruled it in order. The Opposition, in moving dissent from your ruling, alleges that your ruling is wrong because the amendment is a negative of the amendment moved by the Opposition. So fat the Opposition has not quoted a standing order which prevents a negative from being moved.

My understanding is that the practice of this House follows the practice of the House of Commons - and it is a practice as distinct from a standing order - that the direct negative should not be moved as an amendment. I have not heard a member of the Opposition allege that there is a standing order that prevents this. If there be no standing order which we can turn up, look to and read, we must have regard to what the practice is. My understanding of the House of Commons practice, which we are following, is that . there are occasions on which a direct negative can be moved. As I. understand your ruling or as I put to you, Mr Speaker, this is not even a direct negative. I take the point that there could be occasions - and I want it to be understood that this is my understanding- when a direct negative could be moved. But' I do not think that this is such an occasion, because I do not regard the. amendment as a direct negative.

I think that the amendment of the honourable member for Casey is in fact an alternative. If somebody moved an amendment that the table was black and if somebody wanted to move an amendment that the table was not black, quite clearly that a a direct negative. But if somebody moved that the table was black and if somebody else wanted to move that it was not black and that there was some reason why it may appear to be some other colour that is an alternative. The honourable member for Casey has put an alternative in his amendment. What the honourable member for Casey says is this: The honourable member for Farrer sincerely believes something. The Opposition, seeking to make political capital--


Mr Hurford - What are you doing?


Mr SNEDDEN - I am sure that there would be no denial that an opportunity is being taken to make political capital. The Opposition then moved the motton. The amendment of the honourable member for Casey, 1 think, more accurately describes the position. It is an alternative. It does accurately describe the position and it accurately says: that this House does not believe that there has been any failure on the pvt of the Government to honour any commitments.


Mr Garrick - We say that you do.


Mr SNEDDEN - You say that we do. I would like to try a vote on it and see bow the numbers go. It is perfectly apparent that honourable members opposite are prepared to go through all this performance. No doubt it is entertaining to those in the gallery and, for all I know, it may even be entertaining to those people listening on the radio. The reason why we are sitting here now discussing the motion of dissent from your ruling, Mr Speaker, is not that honourable members opposite have a real belief that they should dissent but because they are taking the point as a procedural matter waiting for some members to arrive. When those members arrive-


Mr Hurford - I rise to order, ls this matter relevant to. the motion before the chair?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I would suggest that the Leader of the House confine himself to the matter before the Chair.


Mr Daly - I raise a point of order. The Minister has stated that the Labor Party is waiting for members to arrive. Was not the honourable member for Ballaarat brought here by special aeroplane to vote?


Mr SPEAKER - Order! There is no substance in the point of order.


Mr SNEDDEN - The honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) has complimented you, Mr Speaker, very warmly and I join him in the compliments upon your wisdom. You have had the wisdom to know that the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Casey is in order because it is an alternative. It is not a negative. It is upon that alternative that the House will be asked to vote. The House will vote on the amendment of the honourable member for Casey. If honourable members vote as I confidently expect them to and support the amendment of the honourable member for Casey, that amendment, having been carried, will become the motion. We will then vote upon that. 1 expect in the course of the evening a number of divisions. I expect that until the members from the other side who are now winging their way here arrive there will be no possibility of co-operation from the Opposition in taking a vote. For that reason, if the Opposition chooses to spend its time debating a motion of dissent from your ruling rather than debating the issue, that is a matter for it. It will pursue its course, but I think that we would not want to see the forms of the House departed from in any improper way. The honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart), in the course of speaking to this amendment, referred to the Clerk of the House.


Mr Daly - I rise on a point of order. The Minister appears to be guilty of tedious repetition. Would it be because he is waiting for Mr McMahon to get back from Djakarta?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.


Mr SNEDDEN - That has been answered by a prayer. The honourable member for Lang referred to the Clerk of the House. The Clerk of the House and his assistants are always at the service of every member of the House, and all of us lean very heavily upon their advice.


Mr Birrell - The honourable member for Lang said so.


Mr SNEDDEN - Yes, he did indeed say it. We lean od them every day that this House is sitting. Mr Speaker, we have until 9.45 to go. The members of the Australian Labor Parly are leaving Sydney now, and they are duc to arrive at Canberra Airport at 9.45 p.m. The honourable member for Lang referred to the Clerks. They have a corporate experience covering the length of the Commonwealth Parliament. This experience is passed on from one to the other as they succeed each other. They devote their lives to their working career. There have been occasions when I have had disagreements with the Clerk of the House. He always seems lo manage to convince me of the Tightness of his view. He is the man upon whom you rely, Mr Speaker, for advice on these issues. 1 have no doubt that you relied on the advice of the Clerk when you accepted that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Casey was in order, and 1 have no doubt that you were right. The honourable member for Lang then said one other thing. He said: For the sake of this Parliament' and he then made some appeal to you. For the sake of this Parliament I hope that honourable members of the Opposition will not proceed and pursue this debate on dissent from your ruling, Mr Speaker, because quite clearly you are right. If the members of the Opposition wish to return to the subject matter of the debate, the way in which that can be done is to accept your ruling. When that is accepted we will have a debate on the substantive issues before us and not on this charade.

Mr MORRISON(St George) 19.4]- My mind boggles at the tortuous paths along which the purported logic of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) has led us. An indisputable point has been made by my colleague the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) on the basis of the Standing Orders. I do not think that the Standing Orders rule out the application of commonsense to the rulings of this House. I want to examine the negative of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson) and to see where it leads us. Let us take the first sentence, lt reads: that this House does not believe that there has been any failure on the part of the Government to honour any commitments.

Let us take the direct negative of that. It would read: that this House-

We excise the words 'does not' because we are taking out the negative - believes that there has been a failure on the part of me Government lo honour a commitment.

That is the direct negative of the proposition moved by the honourable member for Casey. Where does that lead us? lt leads lis precisely back to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), which says:

.   . that the Prime Munster ami his Cabinet lack the confidence of die House because they failed to honour a commitment made to the States. . . .

The direct negative of the proposition put by the honourable member for Casey leads us precisely to the proposition put by the honourable member for Dawson. Mr Speaker, may 1 seek your guidance? If the

Opposition proposed the amendment I am about to suggest, would this proposition be a direct negative of the proposition put by the honourable member for Casey? To my mind the following is a direct negative of the proposition put by the honourable member for Casey: that this House believes that there has been a failure on the part of the Government to honour a commitment. The House acknowledges that when the Government decided to change its policy on off-shore authority by legislating to take control from the low water mark to continental shelf, the Government did not, at that time, inform the States of this change in the policy which had been the subject of consultations between the Minister for National Development and State Ministers, lt is of the opinion that it is this fact which has led to the honourable member for Farrer feeling justified in believing that an undertaking that there would be further consultations, which he gave to the States, has been dishonoured, and in these circumstances the House censures the Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Mr Speaker,I ask for your ruling on that tentative motion.


Mr SPEAKER -The honourable member has raised a hypothetical matter. It is not the function of the Chair, as I have said before in my occupancy of this office, to give advice to honourable members during a debate. My purpose is to interpret the Standing Orders and rule on points of order.







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