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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1976


Mr DRURY (Ryan) - This debate on the Estimates for the Parliament provides honourable members with the opportunity to have a good look at ourselves as a Parliament. It is always interesting to listen to honourable members on both sides speaking objectively on the Parliament and its procedures, our working methods and so on. It is a happy augury that there has been a bipartisan approach to this whole question although I would agree with my friend and colleague, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), that the way in which we debate the Estimates is not really satisfactory. We still have to find a satisfactory method of dealing with the Estimates line by line and scrutinising and examining the expenditure in the way we really should. For example, the total amount of expenditure that is estimated for the Parliament for the 1971- 72 financial year - $4.829m - is not really being scrutinised line by line at all although we do have before us the details set out in Appropriation Bill (No. 1). I feel that we must bend our minds towards finding a better way of dealing with the Estimates.

Tonight we have heard quite a number of constructive thoughts and suggestions and, I regret, a few destructive ones. I do hot agree with those who deplore the traditions of the Parliament. I believe these traditions have been handed down to us and should be valued by us. As the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) said, if we take away the dignity of the Parliament what have we left? Not very much. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) made a good point when he suggested that the Government might consider introducing the system of White Papers adopted at Westminster. This might help to improve the quality of debates by informing honourable members of all parties in a constructive way and would greatly aid them in their research in various fields. The suggestion that there are too many motions relating to matters of public importance was a valid criticism. I would be one of the last in the Parliament to want to inhibit in any way the right of any member of any party to move any motion or use any of the forms of the Parliament in the proper way. However, I feel there are occasions, such as during the budget session of the Parliament when we are debating the second reading stage of the main Appropriation Bill, familiarly called the budget debate, and during the course of the present Estimates debate which will continue for some days, when we could well do without motions relating to matters of public importance. The same argument would apply to the AddressinReply debate. 1 am not seeking in any way to take away any of the rights of honourable members to use the forms of the Parliament. We spend a growing amount of time every day on the presentation of petitions and 1 hope that the Standing Orders Committee will in the fairly near future look at the whole matter of petitions to see whether some satisfactory means can be found of handling them, more effectively and expeditiously and in a less timewasting fashion. I hope too that the Standing Orders Committee will have a look at the necessity - I feel there is no necessity now - to have motions and amendments seconded. In passing, I understand that the House of Commons at Westminster abandoned the seconding of motions and amendments about 10 years ago. I think we all are in agreement on the need for the better streamlining of legislation during the session and I know that the Leader of the House (Mr Swartz), the Deputy Leader of the House (Mr Chipp) and other Ministers are trying very hard to co-ordinate the measures to be introduced in this present session to avoid the end of session rush with which we all are so familiar and which does the Parliament no good at all.

I have often felt that we are very unfair to the officers of the Parliament. We are very unfair to the Hansard staff; we are very unfair to the Library staff; and we are very unfair to the transport staff, including the drivers, when we sit late at night. I am one of those who believe that most of us do not function effectively after about 11 p.m. and I think that for the most part 11 p.m. is late enough on any ordinary sitting day except, perhaps, for the closing stages of a session when there is legislation to be cleared. Even then I hope we can find some means of regularising the procedures for debating Bills and handling their presentation in a more streamlined, more satisfactory and more efficient way than we have so far managed to do.

I want to make only a passing reference, since there is no question of an expenditure involved in the Estimates, to the urgent and growing need for the calling for a new Parliament House design. I am not advocating the expenditure of any amount of money, nor is any expenditure provided for in these Estimates that we are now considering but, as a member of the House Committee and a number of other committees on which I have the honour to serve, I see quite starkly the need for a new Parliament House to be designed and plans to be got under way. I have on good authority that it would be about 3 .years at least before any money would need to be outlaid, but if we do not get busy and if the Government does not make a decision fairly soon I feel, that by the time the present extensions to this building are completed there will be a demand and a need for more space. Unless there is a concentration of thought and better longrange planning on this matter of accommodation for members, staff and the ancillary services of the Parliament we will not be doing ourselves justice and will not have a properly functioning Parliament.

It should be mentioned in relation to the long sitting hours, very often until midnight and sometimes past midnight, that quite a number of officers have to do about another hour's work in Parliament House and at the Government Printing Office before they can go to bed in their hotels or homes. When the House rises in the evening most of us are able to put on our hats, get into a car, go back to our hotels and go to bed but this does not apply to a lot of the senior officers of the Parliament. Attendants have to stay here to clean up after the day's work, the transport people are still busy and the Hansard staff is also busy. Quite a number of others are also affected. I believe we should give more consideration to the staff which serves this Parliament so well and in future when we are thinking about the hours of sitting let us have more regard for these people than we have had in the past.

There is a great need for more committee rooms. This ties in with what I have just said about the long range need for a new parliament house and for designs for a new parliament house. The consideration of the report of the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House has been on the notice paper since 8th April 1970. I urge the Government to make an early decision on the calling for designs for the new parliament house. It is inevitable - and we have to accept this - that there is a growing volume of work in this place. We have reverted to the 3-day sitting week and I think that we all want to make the Parliament function as effectively and efficiently as we can with the time available to us. Members of this Parliament have a lot of demands on their time in their own electorates and this is why, as we all know, we decided to go back to the 3-day sitting week. I believe that now we have adopted this course we have to accept that we must make the very best use that we possibly can of the 3 days that we sit in Canberra. The time will surely come, although per haps not while most of us will be here, when there will be even more members in this Parliament and an even greater volume of work to attend to and a greater number of Bills to deal with and more sitting days will be required. But for the time being I hope that we will not only avoid late night sittings but also that we will make more efficient use of the time that we have available to us.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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