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Tuesday, 29 June 1937

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - I take this opportunity to protest, as forcibly as I am able, against the unseemly procedure which members of this chamber are being asked to accept in dealing with this measure. A copy of the bill was placed in my hands exactly one minute ago and to suggest that I have any possible opportunity to offer either intelligent, or effective, criticism of it is to suggest something bordering on the miraculous. In these circumstances, I do not intend to try. There is much that might be said, and ought to be said, in dealing with a bill of this kind, but I, for one, am not going to assist the Government out of the difficulty into which it has got itself by its procedure in this chamber and in the House of Representatives. To keep honorable senators cooling their heels for six months of the year and then bring us here on the 15th June, expecting us to get through the session by to-morrow night - I understand that is the intention of the Government - is entirely wrong. Something was said in this chamber this afternoon regarding the necessity for preserving public respect for parliamentary institutions in this country, and I agree entirely with every word uttered on that subject, but nothing happening in connexion with public life in Australia to-day is more calculated to bring those institutions into utter disrespect than is process are of the nature which is repeatedly adopted by this Government. Within the time that is being made available to it, this Parliament cannot deal competently with the legislation submitted to it.

Senator Payne - Has the honorable gentleman no work to do when Parliament is in recess?

Senator COLLINGS - My two colleagues and I work very hard when the Senate is in recess, but that is not the point; it is, that we cannot expect people to respect our parliamentary institutions when we are asked to deal with this bill within so limited a time. This measure contains matters of sufficient importance to call for weeks of the most careful deliberation on the part of honorable senators. If the Opposition chose to adopt certain tactics which it has a right to do, it would be accused of stonewalling and of being a party to a system of legislation by exhaustion. That criticism has been levelled at us time and again, but, on this occasion, we propose to throw full responsibility for the ridiculous situation which has arisen entirely upon the Government.

During the debate on the AddressinReply last week, my colleague Senator Brown made some remarks concerning destitution and distress in this country and when he dared to suggest that the living conditions of all the people in Sydney were not what Senator Dein would have us believe, that honorable senator stated that if my colleague would cite a single instance of a person being on the verge of starvation, that person could, within a few hours, obtain government sustenance, or, if he were receiving insufficient sustenance, his allowance would be substantially increased. Senator Dein wished honorable senators to infer, of course, that members of the Opposition make a practice of exaggerating the destitution prevailing in so many quarters in this country. The honorable senator, furthermore, undertook to attend personally to such a case. I now wish to ask him to redeem that promise.

Senator Dein - Certainly.

Senator COLLINGS - In the cases which I propose to mention I am prepared to furnish privately the names and addresses of the persons concerned to the honorable senator. Both cases are perfectly genuine. Without reservation, I believe that Senator Dein has a kindly heart, and I believe that he meant all he said. I shall now give him an opportunity to prove that I am not mistaken in my opinion of him. On a recent occasion, during a debate in this chamber, the Assistant Minister (Senator Brennan) declared that I was always harping either on the morgue or the cemetery, the suggestion being that I had always a tale of catastrophe, which .could not be accepted at its face value. The first case which I bring particularly to the notice of Senator Dein is that of a young man, an earnest student, who for the last twelve months has endeavoured, in vain, to secure employment in order to obtain sufficient income to provide himself with the bare necessaries of life, and, at the same time, allow him freedom to attend at night science lectures at the Technical College. He has appealed to a considerable number of prospective employers, without success. Here is an excellent opportunity for Senator Dein to make good his word, and I ask for his cooperation in that matter. But for the fact that a certain individual, who was under no obligation to the young man, came to his rescue, he would be actually starving to-day. He is a brilliant young fellow, and I am sure, if he were given a chance, he would become a considerable asset to this country. If he is not actually starving, he is on the verge of starvation.

Senator Dein - Senator Brown said that people were actually starving in Sydney.

Senator COLLINGS - This man would be actually starving but for the fact that some one befriended him by agreeing to make a certain financial contribution to him weekly.

The second case which I have in mind is that of a widow in New South Wales who, within the last three weeks, approached a member of the House of Representatives and asked him to try to do something to extricate her from her unfortunate difficulties, which were due to the' fact that Bebarfalds Limited, furniture merchants of Sydney, was pressing her for overdue payments on her furniture: She was unable to keep up those payments, because her husband had died some time previously, and the undertaker was pressing her because she was falling behind in her payments in respect of her husband's time-payment funeral. Notwithstanding the existence of cases of this kind, Senator Dein and other honorable senators tell members of -the Opposition that we are only shedding crocodile tears, and have very little grounds for complaint when we describe the conditions of the downtrodden and oppressed sections of the community.

Did the Standing Orders permit it, I should propose requests in relation to this measure but, of course, the Senate's powers in relation to a money bill are limited. Originally I intended to say quite a good deal on the subject of malnutrition, .but I shall not do so, because I wish to register my emphatic protest against the insane procedure adopted by the Government every year of keeping Parliament in recess for months on end, and then asking members to deal within too limited a space of time with the important legislation placed before it. I am not going to attempt to do my job in those circumstances, and I propose to tell the electors of Queensland of this ridiculous position. This morning members of the House of Representatives went home exhausted after an all-night sitting. It is my intention to throw the responsibility for this insane procedure entirely on the Government. Only a year or two ago, we had the spectacle of Hansard reporters dropping on the job, fainting, and unable to carry on any longer. Do such occurences indicate an intelligent method of getting legislation through this or any other chamber ? The Government will not get anything out of me by the process of exhaustion. Later, when the Estimates come before us - if they ever do come, and the Government does not decide to do without them - I shall say what I want to say. If Government members want an. "all-nighter", let them go ahead and have it, as Government supporters did in the House of Representatives last night, when they made provocative speeches, and expected others to sit in silence. So far as I and my colleagues are concerned, nothing that honorable .senators opposite may say will make us talk. The responsibility is on the Government. By the actions of the Government the taxpayers are being defrauded ; they pay us to do our job here, not anywhere else, and we are denied the opportunity to do it properly.

Senator Hardy - Is the honorable senator throwing in the towel?

Senator COLLINGS - No. I have something which I could say about Senator Hardy which would make him a spectacle for derision among the people, but I do not intend to say it at present. I can cite some startling cases of malnutrition, and some startling remarks on the subject by Ministers of the Crown, ministers of religion, and responsible citizens; but I do not, at this stage, intend to discuss the matter beyond saying that my investigations have led me to the belief that malnutrition does not always originate in Surry Hills, Woolloomooloo, Fitzroy, or Richmond ; a good deal of it originates in Toorak and Potts Point. That, however, will be the subject for a speech later on, and with that remark I leave the subject for honorable senators to think over. The job which lies before us is not only to discover meansto provide every one with the necessaries of life and conditions of health and decency, but also some means whereby we can take away from other people the excess of the good things of life that makes them also come into the category of those who are not properly nourished. So far as this bill is concerned, the Government may get out of the hole in which it is in its own way, and as it thinks best.

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