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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 764


Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - Mr President, this is a very curious motion. The Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Drake-Brockman), in his usual courteous and urbane style, comes into the Senate and asks us to extend the sitting times because he says this will avoid difficulty at the end of the period of sittings. We know from experience that that is not so. If we sat for 24 hours a day we would still be in trouble at the end of the sittings as long as the Government follows the practice of holding back' legislation in the other House and then pouring it in here in the last few days of a session. No amount of sitting now will overcome that problem. That is one aspect of the matter.

The other aspect which I think ought to be understood by the Senate is that in the past I have extended co-operation to the Government. I have been prepared to agree upon times, to say that a debate on a matter will take so much time. I have implored the Government to suggest some such programme. I well remember an occasion several years ago when this proposal worked extremely well and to the satisfaction of everyone. We actually allotted times for the discussion of various motions, amendments and Bills, and the matters went through like clock-work and I think to the entire satisfaction of the Senate. I see no reason why that cannot be done in order to dispose of our business efficiently, and I suggest that is what ought to be done now.

It is a little bit like Parkinson's law: Work expands to fill the time made available. I doubt very much whether if we doubled the time of sittings we would get through any more work. That is my experience, and I ask honourable senators to search their minds to consider their experiences. Do they really think that if we started at 9 o'clock in the morning and sat until midnight on every day of the week we would really get through much more business and, particularly, would we solve the problem of dealing with a bank up of legislation at the end of a session? I do not think we would. Problems are created if sitting times are extended. If sitting times had to be extended I think we would concur with the present proposal.

That brings me to the third aspect of the motion moved by the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. The motion states:

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

But the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate does not tell us what the remainder of the present period of sittings will be. Fancy coming into the Senate and saying to us: 'We will not even tell you for how long it is to go on, but you have to agree to it because there will not be enough time'. We are in the situation where the Prime Minister of this country, for purposes of his own and because he is too weak to make up his mind, is allowing the 2 Houses of Parliament to be operating, when they cannot work out a programme to divide up the time that is available because they are treated discourteously. They do not know how long the remainder of the period of sitting will be.

Why should this Senate be invited to deal with a motion which refers to the remainder of the present period of sittings when even the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate cannot tell us whether we will be here until the end of this month, or until the end of October, or when the sittings will be concluded? Have houses of parliament ever been treated with such discourtesy? Apparently the Prime Minister is incapable of making up his mind. I am told that there is a term for this attitude of mind. It is aboulia. Some judges and other persons have been known to suffer from it. It is the inability to make a decision.

The Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, in good faith, has come into the Senate and said: 'Look, I really cannot tell you when the present period of sittings will conclude. We might have another 3 weeks of sittings. There might be 9 days or there might be 20 days, 1 cannot tell you, but 1 want you to change the sitting times for the remainder of the present period. I do not know what the present period is.' If the Parliament is to rise after another 7 or 9 sitting days, of course we should work these suggested times. Probably we should be starting at 9 o'clock in the morning. But if the Parliament is not to rise after 7 days - if it is to sit longer - there may be no necessity for this proposal at all. I think this cat and mouse game of the Prime Minister - causing 2 Houses of the Parliament to have to deal with this kind of indefinite motion, not knowing how to dispose of their business - is an affront not only to the Parliament but also to the Australian people. Why should we not be told what the remainder of the present period of sittings is?


Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The timing may depend on certain events.


Senator MURPHY - Yes. This Parliament is entitled to know and not to be treated to some kind of cat and mouse game arising out of weakness and inability to state firmly when the election will be held, so that the 2 Houses of the Parliament may act in a responsible and sensible way to determine the programming of their business and to see to it that the matters which ought properly to be dealt with are dealt with and that legislation is prop erly dealt with. How long will it be before the Prime Minister will make up his mind and tell the people of Australia in a responsible way that the election will he held on a certain date? When that is done, we can programme our business accordingly. Are the 2 Houses of Parliament and is the Senate to accept this state of affairs? Until the Prime Minister overcomes his awful complaint, his inability to make a decision, we will not know how long the period of this sitting will be. I therefore move:

That all words after 'period of sittings' be deleted and that the following words be inserted: be considered after the Prime Minister h:is announced the election date for the election of the House of Representatives.'

The motion will then read:

That, unless otherwise ordered, the days and times of meeting of the Senate for the remainder of the present period of sittings be considered after the Prime Minister has announced the election date for the election of the House of Representatives.







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