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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 630


Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - On a point of order, Mr Speaker. T draw your attention to the fact - and perhaps you will pass this on to the Prime Minister - that half the Ministry was not in the House for the first 7 minutes of Question Time today. Their absence was at our expense.


Mr SPEAKER -I shall certainly draw the point to the Prime Minister's notice.


Mr Anthony - I raise a point of order. My point is that during Question Time it is very difficult to get answers to questions. One of the reasons for this - and I draw the Prime Minister's attention to this point - is that too many policy statements are being made outside of this House where there is not the chance of making comment. The only chance that the Opposition has is to ask questions during question time. When the Prime Minister was the Leader of the Opposition he always made a point of demanding that the dignity and the respect of the Parliament should be maintained by ensuring that whenever possible major policy statements of the Government should be made in this House. Over the last 2 weeks there has been a succession of state ments made outside this Parliament That does not give members of the Opposition the chance to comment on them. I am sure that it would overcome many of the problems of Question Time if the Prime Minister would ensure that Ministers obeyed a long standing principle which has been honoured by previous governments.


Mr Whitlam - If I may speak on that point, I see the force of what the right honourable gentleman says. At least this much has been achieved so far: There have never been per day, per week of the sittings of the House so many statements made by Ministers on the proceedings of conferences they have had with their State counterparts or the proceedings of conferences at which they have represented Australia overseas. I believe it is true to say that the proceedings of every conference between the Australian Government and State Government Ministers since the last elections have been tabled in this House. I believe it is also true to say that a report has been made to the Parliament on every conference at which Australian Ministers have conferred with Ministers of overseas governments. Moreover, reports" of outside bodies, such as commissions, committees, boards and task forces which the Government has asked to advise it, have been tabled promptly in the Parliament. I am aware that it would 'be of great interest for statements, such as the one regarding the second Sydney airport or the reference to the Tariff Board dealing with the motor vehicle industry, to be tabled in the Parliament. This has not been the practice of previous governments. I am prepared to discuss the possibility of adopting some practice like this but I imagine that there could be difficulties if every reference to the Tariff Board were immediately tabled in the Parliament. I am anxious to let honourable members know what the Government is asking people to advise it about. Information about that advice is certainly given more promptly than has ever been the case before today. Whilst I am prepared to discuss this matter or to have my colleagues, such as the Leader of the House - the father of the Parliament - discuss it with members of the Opposition, I must say that a result is more likely to come about much earlier if we can achieve some principle whereby when a ministerial statement is made one statement upon it is then made by a member of the Opposition. The procedure to now has been that when a member of the

Liberal Party wants to speak to a ministerial statement a member of the Country Party has the right to speak to it as well. If there is to be orderly and prompt discussion in the Parliament at least let us have it on a rational basis of parity.


Mr Snedden - Mr Speaker, today has been a very bad day for question time.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! Is this a point of order?


Mr Snedden - Yes, Mr Speaker, I am speaking to the point of order. This situation has been building up simply because the number of questions asked from this side of the House has been diminishing constantly because of the amount of time taken by Ministers in answering questions. There has been a sharp contrast between Ministers avoiding answering questions at all or saying only a few words, leaving that question totally unanswered and other Ministers taking anything up to 15 minutes to answer one question. The discussion which has flowed from the point of order raised by the Leader of the Country Party is most important. The Prime Minister has alleged that all reports by Ministers of the conduct of discussions with States or overseas governments have been tabled. However, a great paucity of debate has been allowed on matters of major national and international importance in this House. There is nobody on this side of the House who does not want to join in the debate-


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The right honourable gentleman should direct his remarks to the point of order.


Mr Snedden - Mr Speaker, I am .responding to what you ruled in order by the Prime Minister.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! This could turn into a debate. I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that the Chair is not trying to stifle him, but I ask him to be brief.


Mr Snedden - If it was relevant for the Prime Minister, surely it is relevant for me. The task of the Speaker is to be fairhanded


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think the Leader of the Opposition will appreciate that the Leader of the Country Party took a point of order which, I thought, was answered by the Prime Minister. Is the Leader of the Opposition taking another point of order or is he speaking to the point of order raised by the Leader of the Country Party? If an honour able member on the Government side takes another point of order, this debate could go on for a week.


Mr Snedden - If it did go on for a week it would serve the interests of the Parliament because it would be the first time we wouldhave been able to debate it.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! Not on points of order.


Mr Snedden - The Prime Minister has spoken about these reports. Yes, let them be tabled and let them be tabled in this Parliament first and not reported to the news media through leaks or any other form.


Mr Luchetti - Mr Speaker, I rise to order. The Leader of the Opposition has not been-


Mr SPEAKER -Order! Are you taking a point of order or speaking to this point of order?


Mr Luchetti - I am taking a point of order that the Leader of the Opposition has not been granted leave to make a statement and therefore he is out of order.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I call the Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Snedden - The Prime Minister in responding said that he would like discussions to be carried out between his people, whoever they may be, and the father of the House, who we do know, with members from the Opposition. We will be very glad to have those discussions because we want to have the opportunity of debate and we want the opportunity of debate in this Parliament first, not for the information to be leaked out by various means or presented formally in a-


Mr Luchetti - I again rise formally to take a point of order.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I would say to the right honourable gentleman in the first place that the point of order taken by the Leader of the Country Party was a matter specifically for the Prime Minister to answer. There is going to be an open debate on this matter because of points of order being taken from both sides of the House. I ask the honourable gentleman to terminate his point of order as quickly as possible.


Mr Snedden - The Prime Minister spoke of the Australian Industry Development Corporation and of the Government's motor vehicle policy. Why has there not been a statement made in this House on the AIDC and on motor vehicle policy?


Mr Whitlam - There is a second reading this afternoon; it is on the notice paper.


Mr Snedden - It is on the notice paper now, but the matter has been before the public for days. If the right honourable gentleman is willing to give effect to what he implied in his statement, we will certainly meet him. We want to have debates in this House on all these issues. This is the place for debates to occur and we want question time to be conducted as it should be.


Mr Whitlam - Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. I take the point so that honourable members and listeners will understand that the notice was given yesterday in the House about the Australian Industries Development Corporation Bill and the accompanying Bill and the second reading of both Bills is listed on the notice paper and on the blue sheet for today. I also take the point that hitherto there has been no response from either of the Opposition Parties to the suggestion that I made before the House of Representatives Standing Orders Committee that we should devise a procedure whereby Senate Ministers could be rostered to .answer questions without notice in this House and that this House should give leave for its Ministers to be rostered to answer questions without notice in the Senate.


Mr Anthony - I challenge that statement.


Mr MacKellar - Mr Speaker,I take a point of order. You will remember I trust that I was the first member called at question time this morning. I wished to ask a question of the Prime Minister but the Prime Minister was absent from the chamber. You gave me an undertaking that you would call me later during question time.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I did not say that. I said that I would put you on the list. I did not know how many questions were going to be asked or what the questions were.


Mr MacKellar - Mr Speaker, you gave the clear impression that you would call me later in the day. Can I ask for an understanding that I will be called on the next day of sitting?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! That depends.


Mr Kelly - On the point of order raised by the Leader of the Country Party, all I am asking - I do not know about other honourable members - is that the Prime Minister says to this House what he says to the news conference he holds on Tuesdays. I cannot see why we should not be regarded as being at least as fitting to hear this information as members of the news media. Why should statements as important as those on the motor car industry and the Australian Industries Development Corporation 'be made to a news conference? If they are worth making to members of the Press, surely they are worth mak- <* ing to this Parliament.







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