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Tuesday, 18 May 1965

Senator McKENNA (Tasmania) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I oppose the motion not only for the many reasons 1 have advanced against it previously on innumerable occasions but also for other and different reasons that I shall offer now. I was rather intrigued earlier today to hear the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) qualify his praise for democracy with the words " as practised in Australia ". I am quite certain the M inister had this motion in mind when he applied those qualifying words. Odgers in " Australian Senate Practice " pointedly directs attention to the fact that the reasons for Standing Order No. 68 are, first, to protect minorities - and that would be a democratic purpose - and, secondly, to prevent legislation by exhaustion. That also is a very worthy purpose. Accordingly I fully realise now why the Leader of the Government added a qualification when he expressed his praise for democracy earlier today.

Wc have had experience of the suspension of this very useful standing order which prohibits the commencement of new business after 10.30 at night. Nobody with experience in the Senate will contradict me when I say that many of the incidents reflected no credit upon the Government or upon the Senate itself. We do not have to think back very long to appreciate the truth of that statement. In the light of experience with the present Leader of the Government in the Senate and his predecessors, I would say that generally the arrangement under which Leaders of the Government and Leaders of the Opposition have conferred from time to time on the order and conduct of business has worked exceedingly well for the convenience of most people concerned and certainly for the convenience of the Senate itself. It has worked so well so far during this sessional period that, speaking from memory and not from a. search of the records, I can recall only one occasion when the debate has been gagged by the Government. That speaks well for the good sense of both the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition.

I pay tribute to the Leader of the Government for his courtesy in providing consultation on this important matter of arranging the business of the Senate and for his readiness to listen to requests from the

Opposition. 1 do not know why, even at this late stage in the sessional period, he should not continue to rely upon that technique for the days that remain. It may well be that this motion will be carried. I hope that it will not be carried and that we shall be able to continue with the arrangements that have worked so very well hitherto.

I was very pleased to hear him announce, in reply to a question asked this afternoon by Senator Benn, that there would be discussions between Government and Opposition leaders on the arrangement of the business to be dealt with in the immediate future. My colleagues and I will be quite happy to participate in those discussions, but I indicate right away that the Opposition has three conditions in mind. The first is that there should be enough time to give proper consideration to all the bills. The second condition is that there should be a proper gap between the introduction of new business and the resumption of the debate on it. I mention only one matter in this connection. Bills that come from another place are very frequently the subject of comments by Ministers in the other place, and before debate proceeds in this chamber it is of great convenience and help to participants in the debate to learn what fresh pronouncements have fallen from ministerial lips. That cannot be done if the debate is proceeded with immediately.

The third condition is that there should be no continuation of the sittings beyond midnight or thereabouts. A period of rest is essential. We all have had experience of working not only right through the day but also right through the night and even beyond the small hours of the following day. I recall one occasion not so long ago when we continued through until lunchtime on the following day. That certainly is not conducive to good temper, good health or good legislation. It does not reflect any credit upon those who sponsor it or even on those who participate in it.

In the circumstances which have existed between the Opposition and the Government, we know that the end of a sessional period is in sight when this hardy annual or biannual comes up. We have been told that responsible people in another place have indicated that the sittings will conclude this week. One spokesman has said that they will not conclude until next week.

In any case, it is quite clear that the end is in sight. The introduction of the motion now before us is really an invitation to the Opposition to be obstructive. I am sure that the Leader of the Government, in introducing it, does not intend that, but I direct his attention to the fact that it may enforce upon the Opposition a duty to obstruct Government business. That is not a course upon which we want to embark. I hope that we still will be able to proceed with discussions and understandings as in the past, and that there will be no need for the Minister to do any more than to introduce new measures after 10.30 p.m., letting them lie until a proper period has elapsed before we are asked to debate them.

Wilh the end of the sittings in sight, I direct attention to the fact that already to our knowledge there are some 23 bills to be discussed, lt is true that some of them are bracketed together and may, so far as the second reading stage is concerned, be debated together. At present there are seven bills on the Senate notice paper and sixteen on the notice paper of the other place. I think it proper to list them for the record. The bills on the Senate notice paper are -

Conciliation and Arbitration Bill 1965.

Poultry Industry Levy Bill 1965.

Poultry Industry Levy Collection Bill 1965.

Poultry Industry Assistance Bill 1965.

International Wheat Agreement (Extension) Bill 1965.

Cellulose Acetate Flake Bounty Bill 1965.

Western Australia (South-west Region Water Supplies) Agreement Bill 1965.

The notice paper shows 13 matters listed for the other place, and notice is given of three other matters. The 13 Bills listed are as follows: States Grants (Petroleum Products) Bill 1965; Customs Tariff Bill 1965; Customs Bill 1965; Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill 1965; Commonwealth Electoral Bill 1965; Referendum (Constitution Alteration) Bill 1965; International Monetary Agreements Bill 1965; Broadcasting and Television Bill 1965; Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Bill 1965; Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1965; Supply Bill (No. 1) 1965; Supply Bill (No. 2) 1965; Appropriation (Special Expenditure) Bill (No. 2) 1965.

In addition, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) has given notice of a Bill to amend the Universities (Financial Assistance) Act 1963-64; a Bill to grant Financial Assistance to the States for Science Laboratories and Equipment in Schools; and a Bill to grant Financial Assistance to the States for Buildings and Equipment for use in Technical Training in State schools. It is quite obvious that while the list includes machinery matters, it also includes matters which are not only of great importance but are of vast volume. I have referred to alterations to the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the Broadcasting and Television Act, and to the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Bill, the Customs Tariff Bill, the Customs Bill and the three education bills.

Although the Senate rose last Thursday night and I have addressed almost every minute of my waking period since to the legislation coming forward, I confess that I have not yet looked at some bills. That is the situation in what seems to be the last week of the sessional period. There literally was not sufficient time. Honorable Senators who have examined the legislation will have noticed the volume of reading matter that is required in a consideration of the States Grants (Petroleum Products) Bill and the importance of the issues raised in the Commonwealth Electoral Bill, the Customs Tariff Bill and the Customs Bill. The changes to be made must be taken on trust by the Opposition, unless we are prepared to spend days in a study of them. We just have to take the Government's say so as to the effect of the changes. It may be that we can do that, but if we do so, do we discharge our responsibility properly? The Opposition believes that ample time should be allowed to examine these very important matters.

I welcome the intimation given at question time by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge) that discussions will take place between him and the Opposition in relation to arrangement of our heavy programme. If the three points I have enumerated are kept in mind, I have little doubt, in the light of past experience, that we shall be able to give proper attention to the Bills and at the same time have due regard to the convenience and health of honorable senators and to all members of this Parliament. If agreement can be reached between the leaders of the parties which can then be ratified by the three separate parties - both Government and Opposition - it would be the best of all worlds and the sensible way to conduct the business of this Senate.

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