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Thursday, 6 October 1927

Senator VERRAN (South Australia) . - I am a stranger here. I do not know whether or not honorable senators want to take me in, but after listening to this debate I have come to the conclusion that no good can result from it. There is no value in exhuming a body. Seeing the length of time that has elapsed since the happening which is the subject of this motion,I suggest to Senator Givens that having attained his end he should withdraw his motion. One honorable senator says that the Leader of the Senate did certain things; another honorable senator says that the Opposition used a threat. Where may I, a stranger in the Senate, look for finality? I am reminded of the old woman who, when shown two pieces of cloth by a salesman whom she thought was trying to impose upon her, said that the only difference between them was that they were both alike. In this case there seems to be very little difference between the opinions of those who support and those who are opposed to the motion. I think Senator Givens, who for a number of years occupied with distinction the position of President of the Senate, will realize that it is easy for an error to be made and that no law is perfect., I feel compelled to vote against the motion.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon.Sir John Newlands). - I think that Senator Sampson gave the key to the whole situation when he interjected that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Pearce), on the occasion in question, " put it over " the Senate. Certain honorable senators, believing that he did so, apparently desire now to " put it over " someone else. They are sorry that they gave the Minister leave to move a motion without notice on the day to which reference has been made, and wish to place the responsibility on someone else. It is not my desire to quarrel with any honorable senator ; but I take very strong exception to certain statements made by Senator Givens and Senator Kingsmill. They have inferred that I was in league with the Government to prevent Senator Kingsmill from presenting to the Senate a report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the 9th of May. That is absolutely incorrect. I was not in league with the Government then, nor am I to-day. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, on the day in question, asked me to " see " him as soon as possible. I had no more idea of what was in his mind than had any man a thousand miles away. That is all I can say of the incident. This motion has been moved ostensibly for the purpose of directing attention to some alleged omission on my part on that day, and really to censure me for it.For the information of honorable senators, I shall recall the facts. A function of great importance, the like of which will probably never occur again, was being held in Parliament House, and I was possibly somewhat excited, although not for the reason so ungenerously suggested by Senator Givens. Excitement was shown by honorable senators generally. I was not really excited, but anxious for the reason that my health was impaired, and I was afraid that at any moment I might collapse. I am not putting that forward as an excuse for any omission on my part ; I mention it only as an unfortunate fact. As I have said, Senator Pearce, the Leader of the Senate, asked me to " see " him as soon as possible, and I did so. If I omitted to call for the presentation of petitions, or questions without notice, in the usual way, I will show later that it was not the first occasion on which a President of the Senate had omitted to do so. Frequently the adjournment of the- Senate has been moved at the inception of the proceedings without notices of motion or questions being called for. For instance, when an adverse motion is moved in another place, it is customary for the Minister in charge in this House, before any business is transacted, to move " That the Senate do now adjourn." On such occasions petitions and notices of motion are not asked for, and, therefore, the procedure followed on the 9th of May did not establish a precedent. This question has been raised aa one of privilege. I consider it to be a question not of privilege, but of procedure under the Standing Orders. Notwithstanding the extensive knowledge of the Standing Orders possessed by Senator Givens, and his long experience in the chair, I venture the opinion that a minister in this chamber is entitled to rise in his place at any moment when there is no business before the Senate and ask for leave to move a motion. That is what Senator Pearce did on the occasion referred to, and the Senate granted him leave. There was not a dissentient voice. If the procedure was unusual, or in any sense irregular, then honorable senators who did not object to leave being granted were as much at fault as I was. While I may be censured by some for permitting an alleged breach of the Standing Orders, I say unhesitatingly that I endeavoured, notwithstanding my anxiety and illness, to carry out my important duties to the best ' of my ability, and that in my opinion nothing that was contrary to .the Standing Orders was done. Standing Order 66, which sets out the--routine of business, provides that the business of the Senate shall be taken in a certain order, "unless otherwise ordered." Senator Givens, in effect, has told the Senate repeatedly that the words, "unless otherwise ordered" are not to be taken into account. I remind him that the routine of business provided for in Standing Order 66 has frequently been departed from. It is not imperative that the President shall call for petitions, notices of motion, and questons before any other business is transacted. For the information of the

Senate, I quote a ruling of a distinguished predecessor of mine, exPresident Sir Albert Gould, who held that a Minister may move the adjournment of the Senate immediately after the reading of prayers. That is to be found in the records of rulings provided for the guidance of honorable senators. Standing Order 65 lays it down that a Minister may at any time move a motion connected with the conduct of the business of the Senate without notice; he can intervene before notices of motion and questions are called for. Senator Givens and other honorable senators know that a Minister always has the right of call: that is a well-established principle, so far as I know,. in every Parliament.

As honorable senators are aware, the Duke of York was to open the first, sitting of the Federal Parliament at Canberra, and .in order to carry out the ceremony in a proper way, it was necessary to arrange a set procedure, which had to be followed as far as possible, according to a timetable, before any ordinary business was transacted. All that I know concerning any prior discussion between the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce), the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Sir George Pearce), the leader of the Labour party (Mr. Charlton), and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (Senator Kingsmill) has been gathered, since the proceedings, from the Hansard report. At the time I knew absolutely nothing concerning any discussion between Senator Sir George Pearce and Senator Kingsmill, or any one else. Many senators who now appear to be thoroughly conversant with what occurred in that regard, obtained their information, as, I did, from Hansard. The Journals of the Senate show that at the outset of the proceedings on the day under review a message from the GovernorGeneral was reported. I think it will be conceded that under Standing Order 376 this can be done at any time unless a debate is proceeding. After that papers were presented. Under Standing Order 67 this can be done at any time when other business is not before the Senate. As the Journals of the Senate show, two Ministers presented a num- ber of reports and papers, so that

Senator Kingsmillcould alsohave presented the report of the Public Accounts Committee. I am sure that Senator Kingsmill would not have considered that he was doing wrong had he followed the example of Ministers. Following the presentation of reports and papers by Ministers, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, asked for leave, as he had a perfect right to do, to submit a motion. Then followed a motion under Standing Order 65 connected with the business of the Senate, which may also be moved at any time. Followng that, the adjournment was moved under Standing Order 63, which may be moved by a Minister at any time. The whole question hinges upon the fact that Senator Sir George Pearce was given leave to move a certain motion, not a dissentient voice being raised. Even the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham), who is usually ready and anxious to take exception to leave being granted to submit a motion without notice, did not exercise his usual vigilance on that occasion. After studying the procedure very carefully, I have come to the conclusion that nothing was done which was contrary to the Standing Orders, and that since honorable senators did not take exception to leave being given to the Minister to move his motion, the responsibility rests with them as much as with me.I have stated the facts asI know them without embellishment - without any rhetorical flourishes in regard to the "preservation of the rights of the people." The right of the people to govern themselves was not jeopardized by anything done on this occasion. I am not finding fault with the action of Senator Givens, but I think it would have been better if this discussion had been avoided. I appreciate the action of Senator Duncan in moving an amendment to "save my face," as it were; but if the Senate considers I have been guilty of carelessness, and have jeopardized in any way the rights and privileges of honorable senators - and I deny that I have - I am prepared to acpept its reprimand.

Senator Sampson - It is not a personal matter.

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