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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 762


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Minister for Air) - I move:

That, unless otherwise ordered, the days and times of meeting of the Senate for the remainder of the present period of sittings be as follows:

Tuesday: 11 a.m. until 12.45 p.m.; 2.15 p.m. until 6 p.m.; 8 p.m. until 10.30 p.m.

Wednesday: 10.30 a.m. until 12.45 p.m.; 2.15 p.m. until 6 p.m.; 8 p.m. until 11 p.m.

Thursday: 10 a.m. until 12.45 p.m.; 2.15 p.m. until 6 p.m.; 8 p.m. until 10.30 p.m.

It is proposed under this motion which stands in my name to extend the present sitting hours. This proposal is introduced each session to try to deal with the business of the Senate. Last session it was brought up on 16th May and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Willesee) spoke to the motion. At that time he said that while recognising that the motion was brought up at about that time each session he did not then regard it as necessary. At the same time the Australian Democratic Labor Party said that it would support the motion but it believed that if Senator Willesee wanted to go on with his suggestion then it was agreeable to that. So last sessional period, instead of the extended times being introduced on 16th May, it was not until 23rd May that I, as Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, was able to get my proposal for extended hours of sitting accepted. We all know the result of that situation. When we introduced the extended hours we got an additional 3i hours a week. On some Fridays we sat until 4 p.m. Yet at the end of the session not only were we rushing to get legislation through and pulling down speakers on particular Bills, but also the Senate in its wisdom decided to defer 3 Bills until this sessional period. Looking back over that experience and over the experience of years gone by since I have been in the Senate, I contend that the Senate should have accepted the extension of sitting hours from 16th May as I suggested, rather than 23rd May.


Senator Willesee - But the honourable senator offered to withdraw his motion.


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I accept that. I put the situation to the Senate and the Senate, in its wisdom, said that it thought I should wait an extra week, which we did. But this did not work out and that is the aspect to which I am directing the attention of the Senate. As all honourable senators are aware, in the other place the hours have been extended considerably in an endeavour to deal with the business before it. Up to the present time I, as Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, have not found it necessary to extend the normal sitting hours. This has been possible with the cooperation of the leaders of the other parties and I believe that we have been able to get the business through on time. At the beginning of the sessional period we planned for the Parliament to sit until 23rd November which is a sitting period of some 12 or 13 weeks. Here we are in the fifth week of this period and we have not completed the Budget, we have not touched any of the Budget legislation and we have not even commenced the sittings of the estimates committees. When I look back to the Budget period last year 1 find that the estimates committees sat for some 10 weeks. Admittedly during that period of 10 weeks we dealt with some legislation. That has been the normal procedure over the years since the introduction of the estimates committees. I take it that that will be the normal procedure again this year - while the estimates committees are sitting we will deal with some of the Budget legislation. In the remaining 8 weeks which we may have in this present sitting period we have to deal with the estimates which, last year, took us over 1 0 weeks.


Senator Devitt - If we are to make a proper judgment in relation to this matter, can you tell us how much longer we have in this session?


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I am saying that at the beginning of the sessional period we were told that it was planned that the sittings would extend to 23rd November.


Senator Devitt - 1 accept that. 1 - am asking now what is the situation? Surely we will not do that now.


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - The honourable senator's guess is as good as mine. No-one has been told when the' election is likely to be held. It is not my prerogative to say So. With all this in view, T suggest to the Senate that it might consider extending the sitting hours of each day. The suggestion I have put before the Senate is that on Tuesdays we sit from 11 a.m. till 12.45 p.m., from 2.15 p.m. till 6 p.m. and from 8 p.m. till 10.30 p.m. Under the normal sittings the Senate sits on Tuesdays for 5 hours 15 minutes Under this proposal the Senate will sit on Tuesdays for 8 hours - a gain of 2. hours 45 minutes.

I suggest that on Wednesdays the Senate should sit from 10.30 a.m. till 12.45 p.m., 2.15 p.m. till 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. till II p.m. Under the normal sitting hours the Senate sits on Wednesday for 5 hours 45 minutes. Under this proposal the Senate will sit on Wednesdays for 9 hours, which will gain us 3 hours 15 minutes. I suggest that on Thursdays we should sit from 10 am. till 12.45 p.m., 2.15 p.m. till 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. till 10.30 p.m. Under the normal sitting times the Senate sits on Thursday for a maximum of 7 hours 45 minutes. Under this proposal the Senate will sit on Thursdays for 9 hours, giving us a gain of 1 hour 15 minutes. If this proposal for extended sitting times is accepted, we will gain 7 hours 15 minutes in a week. The extended sitting hours which the Senate accepted last session gained us 3 hours 15 minutes a week.

I do not want the Senate to get into the position where at the end of the session we will have to sit after 10.30 p.m. or 11 p.m. because I do not believe that honourable senators want to sit late into the night. I think that is something which must be avoided. As Senate standing committees meet on Mondays and Fridays I do not think the Senate should sit on those days. I do not want to see the Senate sitting on Mondays or Fridays, as has happened in the past. Also, I do not want the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) standing in the Senate at the end of the session, as has become the practice over the entire time that I have been here, saying that the legislation is being forced through the Senate too quickly to enable the Opposition to have an opportunity to look thoroughly at it. I believe that if the Senate accepts the suggested sitting times we will be able to get through our business, deal with it thoroughly, and at the same time work within reasonable hours - no late nights. I hope that we could come to the end of the session without having all the rush or the deferment of Bills, as has happened in the past. So I suggest that the Senate should accept the proposal which I have placed before it.







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