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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2580

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - The Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) is one of the most skilled men in public life in defusing an issue or making anything sound flat, but he has not reconciled us to this proposition. In fact, he has given the very reason why the proposition need not be carried. He as acknowledged - we take no great credit for it although it is a fact - that when the cut-off time for introducing new matter was approaching or had just elapsed during this sessional period the Opposition had collaborated in concluding the necessary business. There was no fuss and no waste of time. Ail members quietly and efficiently put the business through. The Minister has put another reason why it might be necessary to suspend the 11 o'clock rule and that is that if we are having a cognate debate on certain Bills and we then need to have separate votes we might have to defer till the following day the votes on any of the Bills which had not gone through before 11 o'clock. There is no reason whatever, in view of the instances that he has given of Opposition collaboration, for him to believe that in those circumstances the Opposition would not agree to the vote being taken on the remaining Bills upon which debate had concluded after 11 o'clock. Bills upon which there are cognate debates practically always are non-controversial Bills or the controversy is on the pilot Bill, the first Bill.

Then the honourable gentleman says that these are the reasons why it is necessary to suspend the 11 o'clock rule. These are not substantial reasons. In fact, the whole conclusion from the instances he gave is that it is not necessary to suspend the 11 o'clock rule. It cannot be too often repeated for the benefit of members of Parliament, members of the Press gallery and members of the public that any debate in the Parliament which starts before 1 1 o'clock can go through till the debate ends. It can go through till the due sitting time of the House the next day. There is no reason whatever why, if a debate is commenced before 11 o'clock on Tuesday night, it cannot go through till 2 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. There is no reason why, if there is a debate commenced before 1 1 o'clock on Wednesday night, it cannot go through till 10 o'clock on Thursday morning. There is no reason why, if a debate has commenced before 11 o'clock on Thursday night, it cannot go through presumably until the following Tuesday afternoon. There is no need whatever to suspend the 11 o'clock rule in order to conclude a debate on any matter on which debate has commenced before 11 p.m.

The only consequence and purpose of suspending the 11 o'clock rule is to permit debate to commence on a fresh matter after 11 p.m. It may be that there are some circumstances in which a government would regard a matter as so important that it had to bring it on after 11 p.m. and get it through before the following day. The Minister has not given any indication of any such matters. There are no such matters on the notice paper. There are no matters on the notice paper, which have been introduced by the Government, on which we could not very comfortably have a debate, with every honourable member who was minded to speak doing so, before the projected rising of the Parliament in the middle of December. We are scheduled to have 5 sitting weeks after this week. There is nothing on the notice paper to suggest that we could not get through all the Government business on the notice paper by that time. As a matter of fact, one would think there is even time, by the middle of December, to have a debate on some of those matters which have been on the notice paper since April last year. I am just trying to find the exact number of the order of the day so that honourable gentlemen can follow the argument readily. It is so far down the notice paper that I had almost overlooked it.

Mr Killen - What about the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill?

Mr WHITLAM - That was one of them, actually. I do not want it to come up for debate for the first time after 11 o'clock at night. I want all honourable gentlemen on both sides of the House who support the former Prime Minister's undertaking to the people at the last election to support this Bill. I am indebted to the learned, honourable and gallant gentleman, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Killen). I refer to order of the day No 66. It is not on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, but on the sixth page of today's notice paper. It is the resumption of the second reading debate, from 16th April 1970, on the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill 1970.

Mr Reynolds - It has been sunk.

Mr WHITLAM - No, it is only in shallow water. It is becalmed; the Government is stranded. I am sure that a majority of honourable members will see that the Bill is not sunk, but is launched on a successful voyage. But even going down as far as that order of the day on the notice paper, there is no reason whatsoever why all the Bills introduced by the McMahon Government and all the Bills introduced by the Gorton Government during the present Parliament should not come up for debate before 11 p.m. Indeed, there is no reason why Bills introduced into this place by a Minister for Foreign Affairs - not the present Minister for Foreign Affairs or the one before, but the one before that - during the present Parliament should not come on for debate before 11 p.m. This is not the only Bill in this category. There are some other related Bills, other continental shelf Bills and electoral Bills. There are even Bills introduced by the Opposition to give votes to 18-year- olds, or to provide electorates of equal population, or to synchronise elections, or to abolish capital punishment for crimes under Federal laws. There is plenty of time in the scheduled 5i sitting weeks of this year for us to debate all these matters before 1 1 p.m. The Minister has not listed or indicated the other Bills which can come up. I have to resist this motion on the arguments that he has put and the facts which we have. The arguments which he has put do not hold water. He has conceded that the Opposition has not been inflexible but rather co-operative in enabling business to be concluded after 11 o'clock or technical matters to be brought up for the first time after 11 o'clock. The notice paper shows that we can get through all the matters put on it by the Government and by the Opposition in the 5i weeks before us.

Mr Chipp - How do you know that it is 5i weeks? You are making a categorical statement and I should like to know the basis for it.

Mr WHITLAM - I am going on my experience over some years of how long it takes to debate the sorts of Bills and the number of Bills which are on the notice paper at the moment. I am not putting the argument that we should sit for only another 51 weeks. Nobody in the Labor Party has ever put this, and I do not suppose that anybody in any Party which was in Opposition ever would put the argument that the Parliament should go into recess. Neither I nor any of my colleagues have ever complained about the number of days the Parliament sits. We have complained, as have a great number of Government supporters, too, at the hours at which we sit. I regret that in this case the Leader of the House is over-reacting from the experience of last May. The new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), in panic, determined that the House of Representatives should adjourn. It adjourned on 6th May, much earlier than it ordinarily adjourns. Not infrequently the House sits into June. The Senate, in fact, continued to sit for another fortnight. There was no reason why the House of Representatives should have adjourned at that time, but the11 o'clock rule was suspended, the guillotine was applied and every possible method was used to get the House up and the Government business through.

I do not believe that the 11 o'clock rule is suspended usually so far ahead of the scheduled adjournment. The House is not scheduled to adjourn for another 51/2 weeks. Normally the 11 o'clock rule is not suspended 51/2 weeks before the scheduled adjournment. I believe that this is a more than usually blatant use of the suspension of the 11 o'clock rule. I give tribute in conclusion as 1 did in commencing to the extreme urbanity the very plausible urbanity of the Leader of the House in moving this motion. He has not convinced us.

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