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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 139


Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - I should like to join my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), in his concern for the consequences of the suggestion put forward by the Government. I appreciate that the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) is approaching his dotage and as such finds that his mobility is not quite so great as it once was. This is part of the problem that the Government faces. As most honourable members on this side of the House appreciate as they look at the front bench opposite, the Ministers are all somewhat senior in years to those of us on this side of the chamber. I think the average age of the Ministry is 7 to 8 years older than that of the Opposition. The same age difference applied when we were in Government. It is strange that the Party that aspires to the support of the young people is far from young itself.

This first measure which the Leader of the House has introduced reflects concern that the mobility of some members of his Party has been reduced and it has become necessary for them to have a longer time in which to reach the chamber. In all seriousness I think it is equally true that - as all members of this House know - if this motton is being introduced only as a matter of concern for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) because of the location of his present office, there is a permanent pair customarily available for the leaders of the Government and the leaders of the Opposition. True it is that the Prime Minister should share with every other member of this House the right to vote on any matter which might come before the House. The very fact that the Prime Minister has a permanent pair and the Leader of the Opposition has the same right with him is a reflection of the sort of responsibilities which they exercise. In other words, they cannot always be immediately available to come into the House to vote. I think it is hardly necessary to change this particular standing order in order to accommodate the Prime Minister alone.

Moreover, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has stated, in the past there have been frequent occasions when Senate Ministers have been attending committee meetings or Cabinet meetings on this side of the House when a division has been called, just as there have been occasions when the bells have been rung while members from this side of the House have been attending committee meetings on the Senate side of the House. There have customarily been located in offices in remote parts of this building members some of whom are not so agile as they might be and all of whom could have found a little difficulty in reaching the chamber within 2 minutes of the bells being rung. For that reason also I am opposed to any change in this standing order.

The honourable member for Prospect has just referred, quite justifiably in my opinion, to the time taken in the counting of a division of this House and of the projected extension of that time on each occasion when the bells are rung. I trust that the Leader of the House in his new quest for saving time in this place will reflect each time when he asks the Whip to move the gag that by so doing he will be extending the 2 minutes to 3 minutes and that the time of the House will be frittered away.

I do not know how many divisions are held in the course of a Parliamentary sitting. Hardly a week would go by without between 10 or 20 divisions being called. Each time a division is called, if this motion is agreed to, the bells will ring for an extra minute. That will all be time taken from the time available for the running of this chamber and consideration of its business. Is the Leader of the House really so concerned with the efficacy of the conduct of the business of this place? I share with the honourable member for Prospect a concern at the manner in which the vote is taken in this place. I think it is a matter that could well come under our consideration. Others forms of counting are used in other Parliaments throughout the world. I am quite sure that it is not beyond the wit of nian, the Speaker or the Leader of the House, to find suitable alternative forms for counting divisions. If this were done perhaps the time for which the bells are rung could be reduced.

It was also said that the change is to be temporary. In fact, we are meeting in a Parliament House which is said to be temporary. 1 think it was first occupied in 1927. I rather fear the consequences of a temporary change of this character. Any change, once made, is not temporary: it is a change until such time as it again is altered. I see no reason to accept the change only on the basis that it might he allegedly temporary.

Another factor concerns me. At this present moment the proceedings of this chamber are being broadcast. Those of us who have been away from the chamber from time to time have listened to the parliamentary debates being broadcast. Sometimes the standard of the debate is not as high as it might be. but fortunately that is not always so. However, on those occasions when there are divisions and the bells ring those Who sit in the broadcast control booth and who look at our proceedings constantly, find it somewhat difficult to keep the listeners amused, entertained or whatever they endeavour to do, while the bells are ringing. I believe that it would be worth while if for that reason alone we kepi the time for ringing of the bells to the minimal period of 2 minutes instead of the 3 minutes as proposed. When a debate was gagged and a succession of divisions called in this chamber - that situation is not unknown here - the additional time taken, if this proposal were accepted, to hold those divisions would erode the capacity of most listeners to remain interested in parliamentary proceedings. T think that it is a good thing for the country and a good thing for the Parliament that an opportunity is given to people to listen to these proceedings when they are broadcast. Any erosion of that opportunity is to be decried.

I find it very hard to accept this proposal, despite the good humoured way in which the Leader of the House has presented it, as being anything other than an attempt by the Government to erode the rights of the individual member. To my mind this is the great tragedy. These great champions of Parliament on the Government benches now claim the right to reduce the amount of time available to parliamentarians to speak. Each time the bells ring, it is true, it will take one extra minute. One minute less debating time does not seem long, but one minute multiplied time after time after time in divisions tends to cut down the time available for the proceedings of this chamber. I do not believe that is in the interest of the House. I do not believe that it is in the interest of the public. I do not believe it is in the interest of open government. Accordingly, I share with my colleague an intention to oppose the motion.







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