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Friday, 15 May 1970

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) - I would like to take the House back to what happened early this morning. After the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) had submitted the statement which gave rise to this debate, my colleague the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) moved certain words as an amendment to the motion that the House take note of the paper. The Prime Minister from his seat - it was the only time that he has appeared in the House; he has not appeared since - said that he accepted as a motion of censure the words sought to be inserted in the motion by the honourable member for Dawson. To my mind this is the significant question, and it is the one that we raised on a previous occasion.

We have a great deal of argument in this House from time to time on whether the Executive usurps the functions of Parliament or whether Parliament still has in it sufficient residual initiatives of its own. A few of the -initiatives that still remain open to the Opposition relate to moves for the discussion of matters of urgent public importance, votes of no confidence and votes of censure. I submit with all respect that this initiative resides in the Opposition only, because surely it is futility to suggest that a motion of no confidence would be moved from the Government side. Surely a Government must think that it has confidence within itself, although I am sure that some honourable members on the Government side at the moment do not have quite the degree of confidence that would make for an ideal situation.

I repeat that the Prime Minister said this morning: T accept this as a motion of censure'. What has happened is that there has been a counting of heads. The Government realised that at least the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) was going to support my colleague from Dawson. There was a suggestion also that the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson) and the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) would support it and that the honourable member for Lilley (Mr Kevin Cairns) was going to refrain. What sort of substantive action refraining is in a matter such as this 1 do not know. But by means of a contrivance - I submit that it is only a contrivance - another set of words has been substituted for those which earlier the Prime Minister was willing to accept as a motion of censure. I would suggest that in the context of all this the only way iri which the question should have been resolved was by honourable members voting aye or nay for the proposition. lt is true - and the Parliament has discussed this point on a previous occasion - that the Parliament has its own Standing Orders which are specific on particular propositions. Where there is doubt as to the meaning of particular standing order we invoke the great historical work of Erskine May, which has been the guide for British parliamentary institutions. Originally it was a guide for the use of the House of Commons, but it has subsequently become the vademecum of the other countries which have accepted the British parliamentary system. But I submit that as well as using our own Standing Orders as a guide and as well as invoking Erskine May we have also to place some faith in common sense.

Mr Speaker,lt seems to me, judging it on the basis of common sense, that we have twice accepted in the Parliament motions which have become negations of the original propositions. The way to deal with a proposition is to vote aye if you support it and nay if you do not support it. 1 submit to honourable members that they should look at the mathematics of this sort of situation.

Mr Sinclair - That is why we are here - the mathematics.

Mr CREAN - I know it is. The Government has been seriously looking at the mathematics all day. By use of a contrivance it has bought off two or three honourable members on its side of the chamber.

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) -lair - lt was a legitimate contrivance.

Mr CREAN - The Minister may regard it as a legitimate contrivance, Mr Speaker, but I am appealing to you to use your common sense. If 1 may 1 shall refer to a great historical observation which was made in the House of Commons in a day when things were not quite so good in that place - at the time of the Long Parliament, the time of the Lord Protector, Cromwell. He said to the Speaker: 'Remember, Sir, from whom you get your authority' - and I submit that this is important to you, Sir - 'and for whom you exercise it*.

I suggest that here you exercise your authority. Sir, in the name of common sense and in the name of the right of this institution. Looking at it that way, it seems very difficult for me, on the basis of any sort of logical analysis, to arrive at any other conclusion either about this particular set of circumstances, or an earlier set of circumstances, than that the House is being asked to vote on two questions of which one is virtually the negative of the other. On the previous occasion the motion of censure was also initiated on this side of the House. The initiative should properly reside on this side of the House. This is where censure should come from. The amendment which was moved today by the honourable member for Dawson on behalf of the Opposition was accepted by the Prime Minister as a motion of censure.

On the previous occasion the Opposition moved a motion of censure against the

Minister in charge of the House. That surely was a question which should have been resolved on its own. But on that occasion too a clever contrivance was used to get around that by turning (he motion against the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) into one against the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). How can such questions be resolved simultaneously? I think that if honourable members have another look at the voting on that occasion they will find, oddly enough, that from a mathematical point of view as many people were in favour of the leader of the Opposition as were against him, because of the way the decisions were arrived at.

The second amendment on this occasion seems to be nothing but a negation of the proper processes of debate. When a proposition is put up one is either for it or against it. Sensible amendments to a proposition are permissible, but not the type of amendment which takes away the total element from the first proposition and substitutes something which is the direct opposite. It appears to me (hat in view of what is involved here honourable members opposite are running away from the only right which the Opposition has, the right to censure the Government. If the Government has the numbers why is it so fearful of the result? The only reason is that it knows that if the Opposition's proposition were the only one available some of the Government's devoted followers would not be quite so devoted on this occasion. I submit that the second amendment is a paltry contrivance. I think also that it debases this chamber from what it ought to be - the most important debating forum in the Commonwealth of Australia. I am sorry that we have bowed to certain devices in this respect, Sir, and I still appeal to you as the custodian of the chair to use a little common sense. You are not the honourable member for Phillip, as my colleague the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) properly pointed out; you are Mr Speaker - a term which has reverential overtones within it and which will continue to have reverential overtones only if it is felt that when you have to make a difficult adjudication you lean not on the side of the numbers - because the numbers will prevail eventually - but that you occasionally lean on the side of logic. I submit that if logic is leant on in this instance the second amendment, that which has been moved by the honourable member for Casey should be rejected by the House because it is a direct negative of the first proposition which was put up and which was accepted earlier in the day by the Prime Minister as being a censure of him and his Government - which, if carried, would mean the fall of his Government and which, if defeated, would mean that his Government had prevailed.

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