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Thursday, 6 October 1927

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - I move : -

That the manner in which the proceedings in the Senate were conducted at its meeting on 9th May, 1927, was a grave breach of the privileges of the House, and must not be regarded as a precedent.

I submit this motion without the slightest particle of party or personal feeling. My only object is to preserve the rights, independence, integrity, dignity, and honour of the Senate, which I feel is an obligation not only upon me, but also upon every other honorable senator. The British are the only people I know of who, right down through all the centuries, have displayed a genius for constitutional government. They have taught the world the way in which constitutional and party government should be exercised, by maintaining the rights, independence, integrity, dignity and honour of that great Mother of Parliaments, the House of Commons, which is regarded as the principal parliamentary institution in the world, and sets an example worthy of emulation. In the fight for these rights the House of Commons has had to resist the aggression of the Crown, sometimes of the old feudal system, and also of governments; but it always has upheld its rights, privileges, independence, integrity, dignity, and honour. We have inherited these great traditions - we have adopted the practice of the House of Commons - and it is our bounden duty to see that every right and privilege handed down to us is passed on intact to those who succeed us. That is the only reason I have for submitting this motion. I contend that if the practice adopted in the Senate on the 9th May were accepted as a precedent, this chamber might as well be wiped out of existence, because it would be at the mercy of any government which chose to prevent the Senate from transacting its business in accordance with its rules of procedure. The procedure to be followed on that day was clearly laid down in a paper prepared for the guidance of senators, presumably by the Clerk of the Senate, and, sir, with your concurrence. The paper set out that after petitions had been presented, notices of motion and questions might be called on and papers laid upon the table. It further stated that a motion for the presentation of an address to His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, would be moved, and also that motion for leave of absence and that the Senate should rise until a date to be fixed would be moved. That was the correct procedure to be followed. But what happened? Petitions were not called for by you, sir; notices of motion and questions were not invited. The Government intervened before this business was transacted, and intervened, I believe, sir, with your concurrence. Leave to move a motion was obtained before the sittings of the Senate were properly opened. If the Government can do that on one occasion, it can do it On another.

Senator Grant - The Minister obtained the leave of the Senate to move the motion in question.

Senator GIVENS - The Minister had no right to obtain the leave of the Senate to do anything until the proceedings had been properly opened. No one has a right to intervene until that is done. The people of Great Britain have an incontrovertible right to approach Parliament by petition before Parliament can proceed to transact any business. That has always been the right of the British people. On this occasion petitions were not called for. No one has the right to ask for leave to do anything in the. Senate until you, sir, call for the presentation of petitions in the proper way, ask for notices of motion, and call on questions. After that has been done the Minister in charge of Government business can ask for leave to move a motion, but not before. I wish to direct particular attention to what actually happened. The chairman of a joint committee of both Houses was prevented by the procedure followed from presenting a report of the committee to the Senate, although he was present in the Chamber, and was not only willing but anxious to present it.

Senator Graham - Why did he not present it?

Senator GIVENS - Because he had not the right to do so - neither had the Government a right to transact any business - until the proceedings were properly opened.

Senator Grant - No one here prevented him from presenting it.

Senator GIVENS - I have stated the position. The chairman of the Public Accounts Committee expressed indignation at being prevented by the procedure adopted from presenting the committee's report. After an interval of four and a half months it has now been presented to the Senate. The report was the result of a long and careful investigation by the committee, the cost of which has to be met by the taxpayers. The taxpayers, however, were denied the right of ascertaining the contents of the report for four and a half months, owing solely to the procedure adopted on that occasion. That is entirely wrong. Such a course has never been followed before in this Parliament, and never in the House of Commons during the whole of its existence. On this occassion the only business transacted was that which the Government chose to submit. I, in common with other honorable senators, was aware from the outset that the procedure was entirely out of order. You, sir, in speaking on the matter on that occasion, directed attention to the fact that no objection was raised at the time. I ask you, sir, what that has to do with the question. It is not so much our business to see that the procedure is correct as it is yours, although I admit that every honorable senator hasa responsibility. You, sir, also twitted honorable senators with having failed to direct attention to the matter at the time.If I may be permittedto say so, that was rather ungenerous on your part, seeing that, personally, I did not call attention to the manner in which business was being transacted, mainly out of consideration for yourself. It is absolutely distasteful and unpleasant to me to call attention to wrong procedure or to raise points of order. I intensely dislike doing such a thing to my successor in the chair. Wo find that not only did the Minister in charge of business. in the Senate on the 9th May, move a motion which he had no right to move when he did, although you sir, said that he had a right 10 move it by leave, but that you, sir, before calling on the business in the proper way, read a message from His Excellency the Governor-General containing a list of bills, which I shall not enumerate, to which assent had been given. That was done without asking for petitions or calling on notices of motion and questions. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Sir George Pearce) presented a long list of papers.

Senator Ogden - He is now in Geneva.

Senator GIVENS - Yes, and I am exceedingly sorry that he is not present; I should have liked him to be here. "We cannot delay discussion on this subject until he returns, because the Senate cannot be permitted to sleep on its rights. I have no desire to censure any one; my only wish is to assist in preserving the rights of the Senate. The Honorary Minister (Senator Crawford) also presented a number of papers. He did not seek or obtain leave, and the business of the Senate was not called on in the proper way. A motion for leave of absence, and a motion concerning the next meeting of the Senate were disposed of before the business of the Senate was called on; as a matter of fact the business was not called at all during the sitting. I must beg leave to differ entirely from any one who says that that was not a breach of the privileges of the Senate. Why was it done? We were told that objection would be taken to the presentation of the Public Accounts Committee's report to the Senate on that day as it might lead to an unseemly discussion. No discussion could have arisen on the day the report was presented. The Chairman of the Committee would have done the same as he did last week. He would have presented the report, and given notice of his intention to move " that the paper be printed." In any case an arrangement for the convenience of the other House should not concern the Senate, which is an independent branch of the legislature. - As I have said, no discussion would have taken place had the report been presented that day. It was brought forward last Wednesday week - ten days ago - and there has not yet been a word of discussion upon it. I submit that the whole procedure was a gross breach of the privileges of the Senate. If honorable senators will refer to the 13th edition of May, page 81, they will find the following : -

Wilful disobedience to any of the orders or rules which regulate the proceedings of the House is a breach of privilege.

That is the practice laid down in the latest edition of May. It is unequivocal. There is no escaping from it. The procedure of the House of Commons has established for us our parliamentary rights and privileges. The more I studied its rules and practice, which it was my duty to do during the thirteen years that I had the honour to occupy the chair in which you, Mr. President, are now sitting, the more impressed was I with the wisdom and sagacity of the men who had framed and maintained them. While they give the Government of the day full opportunity to proceed with its business in a proper way, they also protect the rights of minorities and of individuals. It should be the concern, as it is the duty, of every member of this Parliament to see that those rights and privileges are handed on to future Parliaments inviolate.

I did not draw attention to what I considered, at the time, to be improper procedure at the meeting of the Senate on the 9th of May, until the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) had moved the adjournment. I felt that although what was done was unquestionably wrong, it might have been due to the inadvertence of yourself or of Senator Pearce, caused by the unique importance of the occasion, and therefore excusable. I thought that perhaps you and Senator Pearce might have been affected by the excitement of that historic occasion, or might have been a little exhilarated because of the high honours which had been conferred upon both of you by His

Majesty the King. In such circumstances, the departure from correct procedure would have been understandable, and might have been excused. I should not have taken exception to it, and it might have been overlooked,- had not Senator Pearce, in moving the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, " given the whole show away," if I may be permitted to use a colloquial expression. He said that what had been done had been done deliberately. It could not have been done without your concurrence, Mr. President, since you are the custodian and guardian of the Senate's rights and privileges. I thereupon directed attention to the fact that no one - neither you nor the Minister - had any right to interpose between the Chairman of a Committee of the Senate, and the Senate itself, in order to prevent him from presenting a report to the Senate. In reply to that statement Senator Pearce said - his remarks may be found on page 11 of Hansard -

I am not discussing any question of right; I am merely putting it- that the Government in the course it has taken to-day has not given the committee an opportunity to present its report.

What right had the Government to prevent any Committee of the Senate from presenting its report? The whole gravamen of my complaint is that the Government adopted a certain procedure to prevent a committee from presenting its report. If the Government can do that on one occasion, it can do it on another, and thus the privileges of the Senate may be destroyed.

Senator Grant - Was the little matter dealt with in caucus?

Senator GIVENS - I am not referring to anything that may have happened in caucus, nor am I speaking for any one but myself. I take a very serious view of the position that has arisen, because I realize that there is on every honorable senator an obligation to do all in his sower to preserve the rights, privileges, honour, dignity, and independence of our parliamentary institutions.

Senator Foll - I have known a Minister to do what the honorable senator complains of when he himself was in the chair.

Senator GIVENS - The honorable senator cannot point to any such occurrence during my occupancy of the chair.

Senator Foll - On one occasion, when a no-confidence motion had been moved in another place, the honorable senator, as soon as he took the chair in the Senate, called on a Minister, who wished to move the adjournment of the Senate. That was clone deliberately to prevent the transaction of business in the Senate.

Senator GIVENS - When presiding over this chamber I always took especial care to see that the procedure was in strict accordance with established parliamentary practice. The President has a right to " see " or call on a Minister first. That is a right which no one can deny. However, let me return to the proceedings on the 9th May. Senator Pearce went on to say: -

Notices of motions and questions were not called on because of the way in which the Government put certain motions before the chamber.

The Government had no right whatever to place any business before the chamber until petitions, notices of motion and questions had been called for by the President. ,

I do not wish to labour the question. Even if I felt so disposed, my physical condition would not allow me to do so. I should like to emphasize that if. in my view, the procedure, to which j take exception, on the 9th May had been due to inadvertence because of excitement natural on such a unique and important occasion or to exhilaration on the part of either you, sir, or the Leader of the Senate because of the honour that had been conferred upon you, the matter could have been overlooked; but since it has been admitted that the procedure was adopted deliberately, I feel compelled to submit this motion in order to protect the rights of this chamber. If honorable senators will look at Standing Order No. 412 they will find that when the mover of a motion has replied, the debate is absolutely closed. There can be no exception to that rule whatever. On the 9th May, however, that Standing Order was not complied with. The Hansard report of the proceedings shows that after Senator Pearce had moved his motion, and had replied, you, sir, also addressed the Senate. Your right to do that at the proper time and on any subject, and to vote on any subject is unchallengeable. But you have no more right than any other honorable senator to address the chamber after a debate has been closed as provided by the Standing Orders. However, that is a much smaller matter, and I do not wish to stress it. My chief concern is to sec that the rights and privileges, the independence, the honour, and the dignity of the Senate are not impaired, and 1 appeal to every honorable senator to declare that the procedure of the 9th May must not be regarded as a precedent. If it were, it would deprive us of those rights and privileges which have been fought for through the centuries by -the House of Commons.

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