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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2151


Mr JARMAN - My question is addressed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Has the Minister seen a reported statement by the Leader of. the Opposition that the Opposition is opposed to strikes on political issues? Is he aware of any previous statement by the Leader of the Opposition on this matter? Are honourable members correct in assuming-


Mr Bryant - 1 rise to order. Mr Speaker, you have on a number of occasions ruled that a question must be related to a Minister's department and this question obviously has nothing to do with the ministerial responsibilities of the Minister for Labour and National Service. Therefore it should be ruled out of order.


Mr SPEAKER -I think that the honourable member will find that standing order 142 permits questions to be addressed to a Minister in relation to matters of public interest and for which the Minister is responsible, Surely the matter cif industrial disturbances comes under the jurisdiction of the Minister for Labour and National Service. I think this is the practice that has been followed in relation to questions addressed to Ministers by members of the Opposition.


Mr Whitlam - Speaking to the point of order, question time has deteriorated into an opportunity for Ministers to make statements on subjects of their choice, having first provided questions to- be asked by members sitting behind them. This question is not even dexterously phrased. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, whatever the Standing Orders may say - and I would have thought with respect that they were so clear as to prevent questions like this being bowled up - that the sheer question of equity in these matters must be considered. Question time is being abused. There is no similar opportunity-


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I will not allow the honourable member to debate the issue. I can understand the point of order he is making.


Mr Whitlam - Might I put it this way? Questions like this, and the answers which are given ad nauseam to those questions, are a temptation to disorder during question time, as you know. The alternative procedure is for members who are mentioned gratuitously by a Minister in his reply to seek leave to make a statement or to make an explanation at the end of question time.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable gentleman will not continue to debate the matter.


Mr Bryant - Mr Speaker-


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I have already dealt with the honourable member's point of order. I am now dealing with the matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition knows, as I have said in the House several times, that the Chair has no way of knowing how a question originates - whether it originates in the manner the honourable gentleman has described to the House or in any other manner. The Chair must assume that an honourable member who asks a . question does so in accordance with the Standing Orders, unless he is challenged to vouch for the accuracy of material contained in the question. In this case I have no way, and I do not think any other honourable member, except the honourable member asking the question, has any way of knowing how that question originated. Therefore, as I have ruled on many occasions, I have no jurisdiction whatsoever. It is even more difficult for the Chair to take action when the subject on which a question is based relates to a matter which comes within the responsibility of a particular Minister and is in the public interest.


Mr Scholes - I rise fo order. Does your ruling in respect of matters of public interest which do not necessarily fall within the responsibility of a Minister also cover the Leader of the Opposition who, under the Standing Orders, may be asked questions on matters for which he is responsible in the House? If your ruling is to apply to Ministers it should also apply equally to the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! That is a situation which is not before the House at the present time and, therefore, it is irrelevant.


Mr Bryant - Standing order 142 provides that questions may be put to a Minister relating to public affairs with which he is officially connected or to proceedings pending in the House. It is true that the Minister is officially connected with trade unions but he has no official connection with the Australian Labor Party or any of its operations, and those parts of the question which relate to statements by members of the Opposition do not deal with public affairs with which the Minister is officially connected. I believe the question should be ruled out of order.


Mr SPEAKER - Standing order 142 says that questions may be put to a Minister relating to public affairs. Surely a public statement by a Leader of the Opposition is a matter of public concern. The honourable member has conceded that the Minister has a great interest in and is responsible for trade unions. Therefore, I deal no further with that point.


Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I rise to order. In the ruling that you have just given you said that it is permissible to ask a Minister a question relating to a matter of public interest.


Mr SPEAKER - With which he is officially connected.


Mr Whitlam - I would concede that. But in this case, as I remember it, the question asked of the Minister was whether he could recollect any other statements the Leader of the Opposition had made on this subject, which the honourable member puts under the slogan of 'political strikes'. The question does not purport to relate to anything that the Leader of the Opposition has said recently, particularly yesterday, on this subject. It is completely at large, asking the Minister whether he can recall any other statements made by the Leader of the Opposition under this slogan. There must be some limit.


Mr SPEAKER - In view of what the Leader of the Opposition has said in relation to the wording of the question and as I am not conversant now with the wording, I ask the honourable member for Deakin to repeat his question.


Mr JARMAN - My question to the Minister for Labour and National Service, relating to his portfolio, is: Has the Minister seen a reported statement by the Leader of the Opposition that the Opposition is opposed to strikes on political issues? Is he aware of any previous statements by the honourable gentleman on this matter? Are honourable members correct in assuming that both the Government and the Opposition now have a bi-partisan approach to political strikes?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The latter part of the question inviting an assumption on the part of honourable members is out of order. The first part of the question is in order.


Mr LYNCH - It has been widely reported that in a Press conference in Sydney yesterday the Leader of the Opposition did make some detailed reference, whether in substance or in passing, to the question of political strikes. I can recall no other statement in detail by the Leader of the Opposition in relation to this question which I believe is a matter of substance not just for this House but in fact for the Australian people. As has been widely reported, the Leader of the Opposition is understood to have indicated that political strikes were not effective if they dealt with matters which could be determined or resolved only by governments and he pointed to matters such as social services or education as areas in which action could not be productive. So far as the question asked of me by the honourable member is concerned - I am not quite certain which part is in order and which part is not - this would be . the first time that the Leader of the Opposition has referred to this matter in detail during recent years - a period during which there has been a marked increase in strike activity of this type. If the Leader of the Opposition believes that strikes over' questions such as pensions are not productive it is a great pity that there was no comment by him during the past 2 years when in fact there have been major strikes in this area. So far as Government policy is concerned, it is clear and unequivocal. We are opposed to political strikes of any dimension for, I believe, good reasons. Such strikes usurp the function of government; they tend to be divisive of the trade union movement; and they certainly interfere with the individual political convictions of trade unionists.







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