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Thursday, 10 March 1977


Mr SCHOLES (Corio) -The Opposition is clearly a party to these propositions, having agreed to them in the House of Representatives Standing Commute on Standing Orders. I want to direct some remarks to the first proposition, which fixes the hours of sitting of the House. I direct my remarks in the context of a report which was presented to this Parliament on 26 May last year and which the Parliament directed should be considered as a matter of urgency. I refer to the report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) will be aware, and honourable members are obviously aware, of the concern being expressed by the Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Conservation that issues relating to the sittings of the House contained in that report have not come before the House for discussion. In fact, despite a clear undertaking given at the time of the tabling of that document by the Leader of the House, that document has not come before the House for discussion.

We are now fixing sitting times for this session of the Parliament. I should have thought it appropriate that some consideration should be given to the recommendations of the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System. I am not indicating that I necessarily would support the recommendations of that Committee. But certainly the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) has made it clear in a letter which has been addressed to me, and which I presume has been addressed to other members and ministers, that some considerable difficulties are being experienced with the present sitting arrangements to organise sittings of parliamentary committees. I raise this matter because I think it is now approaching a year since the report of the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System was brought down. The Committee started hearing evidence more than 2 years ago. I know that because I was the initial chairman of the Committee. So the contents of the report of the Committee will be almost invalid because of the passage of time if the Parliament does not at least consider it shortly.

Another undertaking which was given at the time of the presentation of that report and which I think is relevant was that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure was set up on the understanding that the other recommendations of the Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System would be taken into consideration shortly. I think the Committee on Expenditure was set up on the understanding that the Government considered the establishment of such a committee to be a matter of urgency.

I put to the House that the House ought to examine its procedures. It took the course of appointing a committee, in which representatives from both sides of the Parliament and both Houses of the Parliament participated, which made a considered and fairly substantial recommendation. Unlike most committees, this Committee sought information not only from within Australia but also from comparable Parliaments outside Australia, even if the Committee did have to return to Australia in the middle of its deliberations. But I think the report of this Committee is a serious document. We ought to have some understanding that it will be considered by the Parliament. It is relevant to the hours of sitting of this House because recommendations in that report refer to hours of sitting and to some alterations to those hours of sitting to enable committees to meet without interruptions by bells and other aspects of parliamentary life which make the hearings of any committee which requires people to be brought to Canberra for questioning unsatisfactory and impractical while the House is actually sitting. Might I suggest, Mr Speaker, that this might be an appropriate time for the suspension of the sitting?


Mr SPEAKER -It depends upon how long the honourable gentleman wishes to speak.


Mr SCHOLES -I have some other remarks to make which are not related to this particular subject. Only half a minute remains until 1 o'clock.


Mr SPEAKER -I am prepared to remain for that half minute if the honourable gentleman wishes to continue.


Mr SCHOLES -I will not finish in that time, I assure you, Mr Speaker. We are not opposing the proposal concerning the adjournment. The Opposition is concerned that, when certain speakers rise on matters which are of controversy and are allowed only S minutes to address the Chair, organised interruptions- this happens to members on both sides of the House- can lend themselves to the destruction of the speech. I think this is something the House ought to take into consideration. I would almost suggest the Speaker should have the power to grant the honourable member concerned an additional period if his speaking time has been taken up with these actions. I realise that this matter would be difficult to deal with. Members rights can be denied in this way. A matter which could be dealt with in 5 minutes sometimes cannot be dealt with at all because of organised interruptions.

Sitting suspended from 1.1 to 2.15 p.m.


Mr SCHOLES - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was making the point that the 5 minutes allowed for speakers during the adjournment debate was not opposed by the Opposition. We are concerned at the ease with which speeches can be interrupted now and by which means the major portion of a member's time can be taken away. The Opposition is not opposing the trial period for a number of the proposed Standing Orders which, I think, have been before the Standing Orders Committee on a number of occasions. I point out that the change in the procedures relating to a quorum by which the House, when counted out, does not necessarily adjourn until the next day of sitting does not take any onus off members to be present when a quorum is called. It takes some onus off the person who calls the quorum because he does not run the risk of a count out, which has a certain odium. The odium attaches to both sides of the House when a count out takes place. The proposed standing order provides that the Speaker may again take the chair after the ringing of the bells at a time stated by the Speaker. The Opposition would be concerned if the time stated were any substantial time after the first ringing of the bells. For instance, if the House were counted out at 3 p.m., I do not think it would be reasonable to suggest that the bells be rung at 9 p.m.

As I have indicated, the Opposition does not oppose the proposals. We will watch them with some interest, and we will be looking to have them included in the Standing Orders if they work or to have them amended fairly soon in the session if they do not work. I think it is important that we know exactly where we stand in relation to the Standing Orders. Most of these are substantive matters which should be built into the Standing Orders as early as possible if they prove satisfactory so that there is no ambiguity between what is in the printed Standing Orders and what applies in the House. Otherwise it could create difficulties for members. I suggest that after a reasonable period, possibly at the end of the Budget session, we should be looking to see whether these proposals should be included as Standing Orders rather than continue them until the end of the Parliament. The Opposition does not oppose the propositions, but I reiterate that we are seeking to have the report of the Joint Committee on the Parliamentary Committee System debated in the House so that members can express an opinion on it.


Mr Sinclair - That will be done.


Mr SCHOLES -The undertaking was given. We are also concerned about the limit of S minutes on speeches during the adjournment debate in that quite often a member cannot make his point in that time on a controversial matter.







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