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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1962


Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - Mr Hallett,we are required under a clause of this Bill to vote a sum in excess of $4m for the running of this Parliament during the current financial year. The question is whether the public is getting full value for that money. I am not going to suggest radical things like the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) has suggested but I will put some simple reforms that might make all the difference and which are within the power of the House if it chooses to exercise that power. First of all, why is the House so empty at most times? Just before I rose to speak in this debate I noticed that there were 15 people in the public gallery, 12 honourable members in the House, the Deputy Chairman, the 2 Clerks and 2 Hansard reporters. The number may have altered by one or two since then. This is a typical situation. Why is this so? Various reasons have been given but we ought to be asking ourselves why members and the public take so little interest in the proceedings of this place. There may be something the matter with us.

Sir, Iwould suggest first of all the inclusion of a standing order which was repealed about 5 years ago and which now permits honourable members to read speeches in this place. Nothing is duller than a read speech; a speech that is read, that is badly read, is not worth reading, lt is, I suggest, a simple means of infusing some life into a place that has become dead. Even those honourable members who sit here are mainly conscripts - conscripted by the Whips. Why is this so? Reading lacks the vivacity of the spoken word. Nobody attempts to answer what has been said by his predecessor because it is not in his script. The position is exacerbated by the cutting of the time honourable members have for debate. They do not have time to answer anything. They have to get on with the little bit in their script.

Let me pass on to the time that is wasted in this House, first of all in relation to the Opposition and then in relation to the Government. For matters of public importance 2 hours are allowed. This kind of thing sometimes occurs twice in a single week. The Standing Orders are suspended at any opportunity, and this again wastes time. Spurious points of order are taken and dissent from the Speaker's ruling is moved. I would be the first to agree that when an Opposition is implacably opposed, root and branch, to a Bill brought forward by the Government it has every right to use all the devices of the House to oppose that Bill. But I am talking about senseless, inane, stupid obstruction for no purpose whatsoever. The result of this is that there is not then time for those things that ought to have time and that are really important. I am speaking about the inane abuse of the privileges and rules of the House.

Now I come to the Government's situation: Today we have had, for example, apples and pears, pears and apples. We have got to the core of the matter a dozen times in the course of last 2 days. If every honourable member who has apples and pears growing in his electorate has to speak because he needs to have his speech published in the local Press, we should cut down the time for speeches to 5 or 10 minutes. Let him say his piece for the local Press and finish, and then we can gc, on with important matters.

There has been a haphazard timetabling of Bills. We dawdle through the early stages of the sessional period and then we rush through the last stages. I think that the last sessional period reached the very apex in this respect when something like 17 Bills were dealt with, if that is the correct expression, in the last 3 days. Either nobody is trying or nobody cares. In either event we cannot be surprised if neither honourable members nor the public are interested in our proceedings and the House is empty. Seldom do we receive reasonable notice in advance of Bills that are to be brought forward. So we do not have time for preparation. Speeches that are not prepared are not worth listening to.

Why do we not use White Papers in this House? The Westminster Parliament, on which we profess to model ourselves, uses this obvious device. If the Government has a policy which may involve bringing down a number of Bills and a number of administrative actions to put it into effect it tables a White Paper setting out the totality of the policy and then there is a debate on the White Paper which sets out the facts and argues the considerations. We do not do this. No, we have second reading speeches mumbled by a Minister at the table. Nobody listens. They do not really matter. Why can this not be done by White Papers instead of wasting time while Ministers mumble at the table? Let us have due notice as well. A White Paper could be reasoned at greater length than the Minister's second reading speech which covers only part of the total policy involved. A White Paper could cover the ambit of a number of Bills and administrative actions. It could enable Ministers to make brief, crisp, debating speeches in introducing the debate on the White Paper instead of the abominations that we have. lt could provide a better basis for informed debate. But no, we do not have White Papers here. We stick to what we had 70 years ago when we were all colonies.

Let me refer now to question time. We have far too many party political questions inviting rambling party political answers. We have no provision for supplementary questions, and therefore no probing of answers is possible. The first question may be about Aboriginals, the next on the special drawing rights created by the International Monetary Fund, and the third question may be on skeleton weed in the Mallee. There is no possibility of moving on with supplementary questions to probe particular matters. What is required is a factual reply followed by supplementary questions, as is done in other parliaments. That is not good enough for us here. No, we stick to the old style - the way we have always done it.

Let me come now to the Estimates debates. What could be more futile than a debate like this? This is not a committee. I called the Chairman 'Mr Hallett', to be committee-like. But let us look at the whole of the surroundings. We are sitting here as if it were a second reading debate. The Minister's advisers are sitting back there and he cannot turn around and ask them a question. Nobody ever raises a point, as used to be done once, long, long ago, as to why some item is larger or not as large as it was the year before. This does not happen here. I have seen it happen. I have been in Parliament 34 years. I have been in even long enough to have heard some question asked about the expenditure, which is what an Estimates debate is supposed to be about. Obviously we need an Estimates debate. I know that my friend, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), if he gets back here in time, will have something to say about the form of the Estimates. That is vital to a proper consideration of the Estimates. So many Bills are either technical or machinery measures that obviously at the Committee stage they ought to be referred to a committee instead of wasting the time of the House.

I refer now to private members Bills. Some of my colleagues here who appeared on television the other night had to rack their brains to think of a private member's Bill that had ever been introduced in the House in their time. At last they thought of Mr Joske's Bill many years ago. We do not have a private member's day on which members can draw lots in a ballot to see which honourable member will have the opportunity of introducing a Bill, as they do in the House of Commons. We get no assistance whatever from the legal staff in drafting Bills, so we do not have private member's Bills. I will not go on to mention the assistance that might be given to honourable members by more effective staff. I finish by saying that the other day I raised in the House - of course nobody took any notice - the question of the partial televising of Parliament for the purpose of a half hour session at the end of the day, taking out the essence of the debate and the things that had been raised during the day. I point out that this was fully and extensively debated in the House of Commons in 1966. The idea of having an experiment along these lines was defeated by only one vote. But we are not interested in that kind of thing. Let Parliament be buried. If the Bible had remained in Latin and had never been translated into the common tongue I suspect that the Bible would have been forgotten by this time. If Parliament is unwilling to use the modem means of communicating itself to the people, it too will be forgotten. Not only will it be dead, as it is now, but buried as well.







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