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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1563

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - I should like to refer very briefly to one or two comments made by the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins). Surprisingly I do so to commend him for them. In the latter part of his speech he referred, prompted by my neighbour, the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen), to the wives of honourable members. I am in the position where I do not have a wife any more, but I think that these ladies who work with their men do a magnificent job. They remain at home within the environs of the electorate. They have to tolerate the backlash, or accept the bouquets which come very infrequently to a Federal member of Parliament. I think that they are a wonderfully courageous and magnificent group of women. I can say this now, because, as I said, I do not have a wife.

The honourable member for Scullin referred to the time we spend at Canberra. The Leader of the House (Mr Daly) has more or less foreshadowed that we will spend more time even than the Mondays we now have here at Canberra. This creates quite a difficulty for honourable members handling great sprawling electorates. If I were to quote my predecessor - one of the finest members, I would say, that ever appeared in this House, Mr Bill Riordan - I would say that the electorate of Kennedy is one of the largest constituencies of its kind in the world, not so much in area but in distribution of towns, mining areas and grazing and pastoral areas. Just about everything is in that electorate. It has an area of 250,000 square miles. I think every honourable member in this House on both sides would agree with me that there is only one realistic way of representing people in this nation, and that is to mix among them, to go into the areas and to come into physical contact at least with the area from time to time.

Of course this is becoming increasingly difficult with the additional hours that we have to spend here in Canberra. Although it is interesting to note that in most countries - I had reason to learn this at some close quarters when I was at the 'United Nations - the elected representatives of the people move to Washington, to Delhi, to London holus bolus and stay there during the period of the sittings. This would be quite impossible from our point of view for two reasons: One is economic. Most of us could not afford to have an additional home in Canberra. The other is that it would keep us away from our electorates for quite an unrealistic time.

Perhaps I could refer again to the Leader of the House. He is a sort of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I think that we would all agree that he has been most compassionate, most considerate and most realistic in making additional facilities available to us. We now have the use of charter planes if we represent electorates of more than 100,000 square miles. My electorate covers 250,000 square miles. One of the things that always strikes me is how any Minister or Cabinet who would control these things could imagine that we like travelling in charter planes. To suggest that there is any great pleasure in sitting in a small Cessna for 4 or 5 hours with the obvious discomfort that may arise is quite ridiculous. However, at least we now have this privilege.

Some other improvements have been made to the functioning of the House. The suspension of the sitting by no later than 11 p.m., which was referred to by the honourable member for Scullin, is one. I think all honourable members will agree with me when I say that that is a very logical and realistic approach to adopt. I commend the Leader of the House for introducing it. But the point is the Leader of the 'House suddenly contorts himself and changes into a Mr Hyde. When he is in that mood he acts in a most ruthless manner. It is almost impossible to believe that the congenial and lovable Fred Daly quite suddenly becomes a diabolical character who will gag a debate in a split second and deprive honourable members of the normal democratic rights they have to express their points of view. That happened today with respect to the debate on a Bill which is of absolutely monumental importance to the nation, that is, the Bill seeking to hold a referendum concerning the controlling of incomes as well as prices.

Earlier tonight or late this afternoon the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) referred to the manner in which question time is conducted. I think all honourable members will agree with me when I say that question time is the most colourful time of any sitting day. It is the time when honourable members are not inhibited and when they can put questions to the Prime Minister and his Ministers. I think there would not be one member of this House who, if he were honest with himself and not jumping to a Party whip - I do not mean a Party Whip in the formal sense, I mean a whip that is cracked by a Party - would disagree with me when I say that we should devote at least one hour and perhaps li hours to question time, which is the period of a sitting day which is of most interest to the people of this nation. During question time members of Parliament can inquire from the Prime Minister and his Ministers in a most uninhibited manner about divers questions and things of interest to the people of the nation. I for one feel quite strongly that question time should 'be extended.

Let me get on to the conditions under which members of Parliament live in this great white building. I wish to point out to the people sitting in the galleries that once members of Parliament walk into this building each day they are prisoners until the Parliament adjourns at night. It is like being back at boarding school. Members of Parliament are not permitted to leave the building from the time the bells are rung at the commencement of a sitting day to summon members to the chamber until they are rung at 11 o'clock at night to tell us that we can go home. Irrespective ofwhether we like the conditions that exist in this building or the food or the facilities we are obliged to tolerate them.

One of the greatest disadvantages we suffer is the conditions under which we have to take our meals. With the exception of the period during which I was Minister for the Army, I have been on the House Committee for 6 years. From the moment I went on to it I discovered that I was one of the many members from all political parties who had been pressing for some sort of reasonable system of air-conditioning in the dining room. Look at the little lounge to which members of Parliament can take their guests. We ask people to come to Canberra and see Parliament House and the national capital. We take them for a drink into a dingy little room in which only about 14 people can sit. I think you will agree with me, Mr Deputy Chairman, that these conditions are utterly primitive.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage) - I do not drink.

Mr KATTER - I know you do not drink, Mr Deputy Chairman. As the proceedings of the Parliament are not being broadcast at the moment one can be quite honest about these things. But the conditions are quite primitive. Perhaps of more importance is the question of the air-conditioning of this building. It is of interest to note that a recommendation has been made to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in this respect. It is to be hoped that a favourable decision will be forthcoming. For 6 years we have been told that the matter is being looked into.

It should be understood that members of Parliament have no alternative dining facilities, unless they are affluent enough to go across to The Lobby Restaurant, which was supposed to be a restaurant built for the convenience of family groups visiting the Parliament. They were supposed to be able, if they so desired, to go to the The Lobby and have an inexpensive meal after visiting the Parliament. Honourable members know what has happened in that respect. Honourable members know the great protest that was made by both sides of the House about the services provided at The Lobby. I believe that some sort of a snack bar has been incorporated into the premises. But the people involved missed the punch altogether.

Finally, I wish briefly to pay tribute to the staff of the Parliament generally. I think the attendants are quite remarkable people. They must go through a period of boredom while they sit around waiting to do whatever we require of them. Despite that they do whatever is required of them in a very congenial manner. They are great fellows. The services provided by the Parliamentary Library are quite remarkable. Sometimes an honourable member will say to the Library officers that he wants certain information within the next 24 hours or the next 7 days.The information is brought to his room. It is fairly complete. However, I wish to make one small comment in regard to the information provided by the Library.

Mr Hayden - You cannot read.

Mr KATTER - Have you been drinking or something?

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage) - Order!

Mr KATTER - I just thought- he is a friend of mine. He understands me. Sometimes the information we receive from the Library is in precis form rather than in longer form. I refer now to the parliamentary committees, and in particular the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. I think that Party politics should be thrust aside and members of Parliament should get together. Sometimes the times for meeting of these committees clash with the various party meetings. I think the present system is causing considerable inconvenience and results in members from all parties being unable to attend meetings they should otherwise attend. I think something should be done about that.

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

MrDUTHIE(Wilmot)(8.36) -I appreciate many of the points raised by the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter). His speech was rather refreshing to listen to when comparing it with the speech made by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) just before the sitting was suspended for dinner. We heard a tirade by the honourable member for Bradfield expressing criticism and contempt for the Parliament in which he works. There was not one extenuating circumstance about his speech. I have heard the honourable member for Bradfield make many speeches in this place for many years. His speeches, while debating the estimates for the Parliament, have always been the same. He has done nothing very dramatic in his own way to change the parliamentary system and the procedures that he criticises and condemns. His speeches receive headlines in the Press because the Press will pick up criticism of this Parliament quick and lively, but a person who praises the Parliament or tries to make some contribution to it receives no publicity. The honourable member for Bradfield has been a publicity chaser in this respect.

I have contempt for any member who continually bashes this Parliament as if its members are a bunch of nincompoops, nitwits and conservative fellows who have no wish for improvement or anything like that. The facts belie what the honourable member for Bradfield said in this Parliament today. He made a speech which would be outrageous in any circumstances. If any member from this side of the House made a similar speech I would condemn it in the same way. We have so many critics outside the Parliament that it staggers me to think that a member like the honourable member for Bradfield runs with a pack of hounds baying through the countryside, as it were, against this institution. It is the finest institution in the country. It is one of the greatest features of democracy that I know. I will not receive any publicity for praising this place. It happens that I have been a member of Parliament for 28 years. On Friday I had my twenty-eighth anniversary in this Parliament.

Mr Lloyd - Congratulations.

Mr Daly - Congratulations.

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