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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1834


Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) -I must rise to oppose--


Senator Cant - I rise to a point of order. Mr Deputy President, when this matter was discussed previously on the report of the Standing Orders Committee, an amendment - amendment (3) - was moved in these terms:

Leave out 'the mover and the Minister first speaking shall not exceed 30 minutes each', insert the mover and the Senator next speaking shall not exceed 20 minutes each'.

To that amendment I moved a further amendment to alter the 20 minutes to 30 minutes. I know that we are discussing Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson's notice of motion, but I am wondering what the real object of it is, because what I have just outlined is the motion that was discussed when we were last considering standing order 64. My point of order is that I have proposed an amendment to amendment (3) which appears in the report of the Standing Orders Committee. In substance what Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson has done tonight is to move amendment (5). Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson's notice of motion reads:

That the Senate agrees in principle that standing order 64 relating to urgency motions should provide that the whole discussion on the subject should not exceed 2 hours.

The Committee recommended that proposed amendment (5) should read:

Leave out 'Provided that the whole discussion on the subject shall not exceed 3 hours', insert Provided that the whole discussion on the subject shall not exceed 2 hours'.

That amendment is now before the Senate out of turn and amendment (3) is being circumvented. My point of order is that in the previous debate on this subject we had reached proposed amendment (3) on page 3 of the report. Now the Minister, by way of notice of motion, has circumvented that by moving in substance proposed amendment (5).


Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Speaking to the point of order, I do not think that Senator Cant needs to get into an aggressive mood over this matter. In fairness, and speaking directly to the point of order, my motion on the notice paper is dated 2nd September 1970. The document that Senator Cant is referring to has on the front of it 'August 1971'. My understanding is that we did not deal with amendment (5).


Senator CAVANAGH - It was referred back to the Standing Orders Committee.


Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Even if it was referred back, talking in terms of time precedence, the Committee should not have been allowed to deal with it, because in the order of precedence it was a subject that was already covered by a notice of motion in my name on the notice paper. I think we can get a decision without taking points of order. All we get is an expression of view. In terms of principle, in any event, my understanding is that it is a matter which would go back to the Committee ultimately and perhaps have some significance when we come to deal with the item. I repeat for the guidance of Senator Cant that my notice of motion was given almont 12 months before this document was produced.


Senator Cant - The whole of standing order 64 was sent to the Standing Orders Committee as a result of my disagreement with a ruling of the President. That is finished.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - My attention has been drawn to the journals of the Senate. On Wednesday 22nd March this matter was considered and on the motion of Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson resolutions 1, 2 and 3 as reported were adopted. Item 4 of the Standing Orders Committee's report was referred back to that Committee for further consideration and therefore the matter of amendments that Senator Cant raises is covered by this particular decision of the Committee. In those circumstancen I cannot support the point of order that is raised by Senator Cant.


Senator Cant - What about the notice of motion relating to standing order 64? Does that also go back to the Committee or does it stay on the notice paper?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- The fact that Sir Kenneth Anderson's motion is standing on the notice paper as No. 1 places it before the Senate as a properly constituted motion and it should be considered by the Senate.


Senator CAVANAGH - As I had the call before the question was raised of whether the motion is in order, I would like to resume my remarks in the same conciliatory attitude as the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Sir Kenneth Anderson) has shown. We are seeking a harmonious discussion on what is best for the Senate. I am a member of the Standing Orders Committee. The Committee discussed at some length the amount of time that should be allowed to debate urgency motions. My memory is not sufficiently good to remember when we commenced discussion on it but the records show that the notice of motion that prompted this debate was moved on 2nd September 1970. The report of the i Standing Orders Committee was presented \ the following year. Knowing the length of i time between meetings, I would think that the Standing Orders Committee would be considering this question at the very time that the notice of motion was given.

The notice of motion could well have been inspired by a discussion and possibly the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee was that the mover of an urgency motion and the first Minister to reply should each of given half an hour, as standing order 64 now provides. Each other speaker in the debate was to be given quarter of an hour and the Standing Orders Committee was either considering a recommendation or had decided to present a recommendation that the time allowed to the mover of the motion and the first Minister to reply should be reduced to 20 minutes, and that the time of all other senators speaking in the debate should be reduced to 10 minutes.

We were told that this would permit more speakers to enter the debate and this could justify a reduction of the overall time of the debate from 3 hours to 2 hours. About the same number of speakers could enter the debate but speak for a shorter time to present a case. In that light I think there was some justification for perhaps considering a motion to reduce the time from 3 hours to 2 hours. When the report of the Standing Orders Committee came before the Senate it recommended a reduction of the allotted time from half an hour to 20 minutes and from quarter of an hour to 10 minutes, although the Committee favoured by its decision deleting the words 'half an hour'. The effect of Senator Cant's motion was to reinstate the words deleted and to change the provision relating to a Minister to cover the senator first replying. Senator Cant moved to reinstate the allotted times which are at present provided under standing order 64.

The debate was adjourned after we had considered all the other recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee. The matter was referred back to the Standing Orders Committee for reconsideration. When it was referred back I appealed to Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson not to allow this matter to remain undecided or to hang in the air for some considerable time. Hansard will show that Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson gave me an assurance that there would be an early meeting to consider the matter. That is some considerable time ago and there has not been a meeting.

If we are considering cutting down the allotted time, and a decision has to be made on that at some time, a case perhaps can be made out for cutting down the overall time of the debate. The Standing Orders Committee is dealing with one section and now an attempt is being made for the Parliament to deal with another section. If this motion is carried tonight it will not alter standing order 64, but the Senate will agree in principle to the reduction of time, a matter which then has to be referred to the Standing Orders Committee to change the standing order in accordance with the view of the Senate.

So we achieve nothing other than giving an instruction, I take it, to the Standing Orders Committee at the very time that the Committee is considering the whole question of urgency motions. Either a Minister or the President of the Senate has the power to call the Standing Orders Committee together at any time to consider a matter that was unresolved by the Senate and referred back to the Standing Orders Committee. The Government has adopted this approach rather than give the Standing Orders Committee the opportunity to do the job that it was appointed to do. The Government has a majority of members on the Standing Orders Committee but rather than give it a free hand in deciding this issue the Government is seeking to issue back door instructions to the Committee. The Government is seeking to bring influence to bear on a question that the Senate already has referred to the Committee for consideration.

If there were a desire for an amicable approach to this question the obvious thing to do would be to refer notices of motion 1 and 2 to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration in conjunction with what the Senate previously referred to the Committee, which included the amendment that Senator Cant moved in relation to this question of urgency motions. If we lack confidence in the Standing Orders Committee to do what is right and just and in the best interests of the Senate, we will proceed with the method suggested and the approach put in the argument presented by the Leader of the Government.

Prior to the Standing Orders Committee discussing this question a number of matters of urgency had been raised in this chamber. I think that my Party at one time, under certain leadership, had the odd impression that it could win elections by the number of matters of urgency that it put on the notice paper for discussion. Then there came the time when the Democratic Labor Party, following the election of Senator Kane, had sufficient numbers to stand in this place in justification of the raising of matters of urgency. Some sections were fearful about how this power would be used or abused by the Democratic Labor Party. A number of matters of urgency were raised by the Democratic Labor Party. One was raised at the end of the session for discussion at the beginning of the next session.


Senator Little - That showed initiative.


Senator CAVANAGH - That showed that the Democratic Labor Party, following the increase in its numbers in this place, was inclined to the fallacious view previously held by the Australian Labor Party, that the raising of matters of urgency would win support and win elections. So we had to go through that period when a series of matters of urgency were raised for discussion. I do not think anyone now has the idea that discussions on urgent matters will influence elections, no matter how many subjects are raised. Looking back on what has happened this session, the fears we had about matters of urgency have been unfounded. They have not been raised very often. I remember we discussed one matter of urgency the other day but there has not been a great number of such debates. Therefore, if the Senate resolves to restrict the time for them by an hour, it possibly would save us three or four hours a session, in view of the fact that opinions about matters of urgency have settled down.

Since I have been a senator I have been fighting against restrictions being imposed on back benchers. This is where the whole problem arises. Honourable senators who raise a matter of urgency believe that the question is of national importance; therefore they want it discussed by the Senate.


Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Important in their judgment.


Senator CAVANAGH - Important in their judgment, but they might be wrong. The senator who raises it is supported in most cases by other honourable senators from his State where the particular matter of urgency is relevant or is of particular interest. At present, under the Standing Orders, if the first 2 speakers take up ohe first of the 3 hours allowed, another 4 speakers, 2 from each side of the House, can speak for the remaining 2 hours. The aim of the motion moved by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson is to reduce the period allotted from 3 hours to 2 hours and thus reduce the number of speakers by 2 from each side. As the matters usually under discussion are of national importance, the order of those privileged to speak will run from the Leader of the Senate or Leader of the Opposition to the lower echelons of each party. The insignificant back benchers are pushed aside in the scramble for recognition as being capable of contributing to a debate on a matter of urgency that comes before the Senate.

Consider the debate on the proposed take-over of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd by Thomas Nationwide Transport. Every honourable senator thought that that matter was of sufficient importance to be referred to a Senate committee. An urgency motion was moved to that effect and it received the support of the entire Senate. Surely no-one can say that anyone wasted time by speaking in that debate.

Turning now to the question of time generally, I think that I am as cognisant as anyone else of the need to get through the business of the Senate. We come here at the beginning of the session with nothing to do. Debates on matters of urgency help the Government to fill in the time when there is no work for the Senate to do. The only time the Senate is busy is at the end of the session. The proposal put recently by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson for the Senate to sit longer hours was considered premature. On the day in question the Senate had 8 Bills on its plate, but 7 of those Bills were to be taken together and one was up for debate on that day. Last night we were left with 7 Bills on the notice paper, all of which were to be discussed together and therefore we had only one Bill for discussion.

The Conciliation and Arbitration Bill is now on the notice paper and it will take us a considerable amount of time. The importance of the Bill warrants a lengthy debate. Now, because we are up against time, the Government wants to alter the Standing Orders and commit us at every future session of Parliament; it wants to reduce the hours allocated for the exercise of the rights of back benchers. I submit, with all respect, that there is no justification for this. If there is a need to alter the Standing Orders the sponsor of such a motion is faced with the responsibility of showing that some mischief is occurring which needs remedial action. This has not been shown. In how many cases has a reduction in the rights under the Standing Orders been justified? Has it been shown in the present case that the notice paper has been cluttered up as a result of time taken in debating matters of urgency? I submit that the proposition moved by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson would save 2 or 3 hours a session but it would mean sacrificing the rights of many honourable senators. No justification has been shown for adopting this motion and the same applies to the next notice of motion set. out under General Business. We should not adopt this motion at this stage. In order to have a proper evaluation of what is needed to get through the business of the Senate we should refer this matter to the Standing Orders Committee, in all fairness, for consideration along with consideration of the length of speaking times.







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