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Tuesday, 17 November 1964


Senator MURPHY (New South Wales) . - I rise to support the honorable senators who have spoken on the Opposition side and also Senator Wright. Senator Paltridge has stated that the only matter which can be discussed on a motion of urgency is one which is specifically and exclusively within the sphere of ministerial responsibility. That is a criterion which has never been accepted and never would be accepted by the Senate. One has only to ponder the matter to see that the criterion obviously is wrong. If a matter was not only within the sphere of ministerial administration but also within some other sphere, the Minister would suggest that we could not discuss it in the Senate.

That is completely untenable. It has been stated elsewhere and it appears in " Australian Senate Practice " by Mr. Odgers that motions for the adjournment of the Senate to debate matters of urgency may be disallowed because the Commonwealth Government has no administrative responsibility in the matter, that is, where responsibility is exclusively resident somewhere else. Be that as it may, the Senate certainly has power to discuss under Standing Order No. 64 matters which concern itself, irrespective of whether they fall within the sphere of ministerial responsibility. One can easily conceive matters which may be of the utmost importance, which are Senate business themselves and do not fall within ministerial responsibility. The remarks in the book and the previous rulings must be understood in the context in which they are being discussed. This is a matter of Senate business.

I propose to indicate another basis apart from that upon which Senator Cohen relied. He stated quite rightly that under section 203 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act the Senate could, if it thought fit, refer the matter to the Court of Disputed Returns, thus showing that the Senate has competence to deal with this matter. But there is another basis upon which it is clear that the Senate has competence to discuss this matter. I ask you, Mr. President, and honorable senators to look at section 11 of the Constitution, which states -

The Senate may proceed to the despatch of business notwithstanding the failure of any State to provide for its representation in the Senate.

If one reflects upon the words, "The Senate may proceed to the despatch of business ", it is apparent that the Senate may not proceed to the despatch of business if it so decides, and it would be within the competence of the Senate right now to decide that it would not further proceed with the despatch of business until such time as the State of Western Australia had provided for its representation in the Senate. lt is evident that the Senate could, if it wanted to, take other steps. It is entirely within our competence to discuss these matters.

We are concerned with the composition of the Senate itself, lt must be within the competence of this chamber to discuss matters of such high constitutional import which intimately concern the Senate and are the Senate's prime responsibility. We are the persons concerned with the composition of this body, whoever else may be involved. There is no doubt that the State of Western Australia is involved. The Senate is involved. This is the very heart of the Senate itself. It is unthinkable that it is outside the competence of the Senate to discuss this matter.

Question put -

That the ruling be dissented from.







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