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Thursday, 8 November 1973

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I continue the remarks that I commenced to make earlier. Let me say that I had a pretty unhappy experience as a member on the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House to the extent that I was elected to that Committee in 1966; I sat at one meeting of the Committee which decided to ask all the parliamentary departments what accommodation space they required in the proposed house; and while those letters of inquiry went out to those departments we had an election, and my Party did not see fit to reappoint me to the Committee. However, after a 3-year period I was appointed to the Committee. I attended one meeting which considered the report to be presented to the Parliament. I was the only one, I think, who went through it clause by clause, and I was disgusted with the report that was presented to the Parliament. All that every one of the then Government members of the Committee could say was: 'It is a pity you were not here from the start. Then there may have been some logic in it. It is too late to alter it now '. The report was tabled in this House and it remained on the notice paper for years, but was never discussed.

There are many features of the proposed new and permanent parliament house which I do not think are architecturally possible and others which I do not think are desirable in the interests of the comfort and satisfaction of members. However, we are not now deciding on the design of the building. So, if we cannot agree on the site, we have not agreed on the building. A committee has agreed on it, but so far neither House of the Parliament has considered the question.

The case put by Senator Murphy was said to be plausible. Whereas previously we argued that there were some constitutional barriers to a joint meeting of the 2 Houses, Senator Murphy now says that there would be just an expression of opinion. When we last discussed this matter my argument was that the Senate had the right to an equal voice and that that right should not be taken away and should not be sold for a joint meeting; that a solution had to be found which met the requirements of the Senate. Like Senator Withers, I do not think we would be pigheaded if an impasse arose. The great decision of the Senate on that occasion was taken by a margin of 2 votes, and 2 senator's who voted for the joint meeting are absent today. So, we shall have to rely on the new senator's or on a change of mind by some of the older senators, to carry this motion. I agree that a joint meeting would be an easy method of solving this problem We could do it by sending a ballot paper to each member. Senator Murphy has said that it would not be a constitutional meeting, just the determination of a consensus of opinion; that we would get together and vote. But the point is that we would be complying with the request from the other House to meet jointly. We, by resolution, would decide to meet jointly. Therefore, we would meet jointly by decision of both Houses. What we have to look at is: Are there any dangers in meeting the House of Representatives as a result of decisions of both Houses? If we wanted just an expression of opinion, we could ask every member for his opinion. I think I could forecast the majority opinion, whether it would be for Camp Hill or Capital Hill. I think the Executive would have more confidence if it had an expression of opinion by members. But this does not, of necessity, mean that we have to have a joint meeting. When we sought a joint meeting, the then Government did not agree with the opinion expressed by this House and decided to take action. That was when this House became irate because that action was taken in defiance of the expressed will of this House. Although there was a majority of only two on that expression of opinion, a bigger majority expressed hostility to the action of the other House. That shows that we considered the right of this House.

Under the Constitution, which I quoted on the previous occasion, the only provisions for joint sittings of the 2 Houses are contained in section 57. That section prescribes the action to be taken after a Bill has been rejected on 2 occasions with a 3-month interval between rejections. After that period a double dissolution can occur, and if a double dissolution occurs we can have a joint meeting of both Houses. Admittedly, such a meeting is concerned with Bills. I read the following from the final paragraph of section 57:

The members present at the joint sitting may deliberate and shall vote together upon the proposed law as last proposed by the House of Representatives and upon amendments, if any, which have been made therein by one House and not agreed by the other . . .

Senator Wright - If the Governor-General agrees.

Senator CAVANAGH - If the GovernorGeneral agrees.

Senator Wright - This is the Government of the day.

Senator CAVANAGH -That is so. The point I am making about this whole question is that it can occur only when an impasse has been reached and then the voters have the first opportunity to cast a judgment. After the electors have been given an opportunity to cast their judgment the matter is returned to the Parliament. If it is again rejected a joint meeting can be held. Section 57 of the Constitution states:

The members present at the joint sitting may deliberate and shall vote together upon the proposed law as last proposed by the House of Representatives, and upon amendments, if any, which have been made therein by one House and not agreed to by the other, and any such amendments which are affirmed by an absolute majority of the total number of the members . . .

Anything which is not agreed to by one House can be debated by the other. As a result we could be debating the action of the House of Representatives or vice versa. Section 50 of the Constitution states:

Each House of the Parliament may make rules and orders with respect to-

(i)   The mode in which its powers, privileges, and immunities may be exercised and upheld:

(ii)   The order and conduct of its business and proceedings either separately or jointly with the other House.

Provisions have been made in the Senate Standing Orders as to the conduct of communication with the other House. A communication need not be by a joint meeting. I consider the holding of a joint meeting more dangerous to me than deciding the site of Parliament House. Equal voting strength is given under the Standing Orders to both Houses. Section 53 of the Constitution states:

Except as provided in this section, the Senate shall-

The section deals with money Bills which the Senate cannot amend-

.   . have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.

That section puts the Senate on an equal basis with the House of Representatives which is greater numerically. If our equal right with that House is destroyed the Senate will be accepted as an inferior body. When I first became a member of this House it had a low public image. I think the image has improved, not as a result of my entry; it may have improved despite my entry to the House. The value of this chamber has been questioned on a number of occasions. If we reach a stage where we have not equal power and we become a lesser House than the other House it will be difficult to justify the continuation of this chamber. The next point I wish to make, and on which we have had some debate, is contained in section 23 of the Constitution which states:

Questions arising in the Senate shall be determined by a majority of votes, and each senator shall have one vote. The President shall in all cases be entitled to a vote; and when the votes are equal the question shall pass in the negative.

At the moment we recognise the right of the Senate, We have equal power with the other House. But we now seek an arrangement whereby we will sit conjointly with another House by which we are overridden 2 votes to one. Our votes might be able to sway the decision for the siting of the new parliament house, but the value and prestige of the Senate would be weakened as a result of a precedent being set of a greater numerical House overriding us. In regard to the question of communicating with the other House, if we so desire, I refer honourable senators to the Standing Orders. A number of Standing Orders outline the way we can communicate with the other House. Standing order 334 states:

Communications with the House of Representatives may be by Message, by Conference, or by Select Committees conferring with each other.

Standing order 337 states:

Every Message from the House of Representatives shall be received, if the Senate is sitting, at the Bar by a Clerk at the

Table, and, if the Senate is not sitting, by the Clerk of the Senate, and shall be reported by the President as early as convenient, and a future time named for its consideration; or it may, by leave, be dealt with at once.

That standing order relates to a message received from the House of Representatives. Standing order 338 which deals with conferences states:

Conferences desired by the Senate with the House of Representatives shall in all cases be requested by message.

Standing order 339 states:

In requesting any Conference, the Message from the Senate shall state, in general terms, the object for which the Conference is desired and the number of Managers proposed to serve thereon, which shall be not less than five.

That standing order is not dealing with a joint meeting. It concerns a meeting of managers. Standing order 340 states:

Every Motion for requesting a Conference shall contain the names of the Senators proposed by the Mover to be the Managers for the Senate.

Standing order 344 states:

The Managers to represent the Senate in a Conference requested by the House of Representatives shall consist of the same number of Members as those of the House of Representatives.

If the House of Representatives requests the conference it cannot have more members than the Senate. Standing order 345 states:

In respect of any Conference requested by the House of Representatives the time and place for holding the same shall be appointed by the Senate; and when the Senate requests a Conference, it shall agree to its being held at such time and place as shall be appointed by the House of Representatives, and such agreement shall be communicated by Message.

Those who framed our Standing Orders said, in effect: 'The method of communication in deciding matters, if it is not law or is not taken to the extent of a double dissolution, shall be resolved by having equal managers, if it is requested by the House of Representatives'. Of course, if it is not requested by the House of Representatives, the numbers may be disproportionate but the superiority of this House decides the numbers which it shall have. We can say that our position is such that we are prepared to meet the House of Representatives in conference if we have 2 delegates to every one from the House of Representatives. The Constitution has protected the position of the numerically weaker House and given it the prestige of equality; in fact, it has perhaps given it some superiority. Today we went to sell it all away to the numerically stronger House on this question. There is provision for the holding of a joint meeting about proposed law after the views of the people have been sought. The practice has been for a Government that introduces legislation which does not receive the approval of one House either to fail to go on with the proposed law or amend the provisions which offend the other House. We have legislated by that method through the years. I agree that if a Bill were carried in relation to this matter by one House and the other House did not agree to the proposal we could get somewhere on the question, but I cannot agree with Senator Wright's proposed Bill because he has introduced into it a time factor. I have strong views on the prestige of the Senate. I believe that we should try to uphold its dignity and not lessen it. I do not regard myself as being an authority on where the new and permanent parliament house should be. There are several suitable spots for it in Canberra.

Senator Greenwood - I think the Minister was one of the original seven in favour of the lakeside site, was he not?

Senator CAVANAGH - No, I supported the Camp Hill site. Because of my imperfections and because I had insufficient knowledge on this matter I placed my confidence in the hands of the architect of Canberra. It was more in keeping with his ideas to have it on Camp Hill. I simply backed Burley Griffin. It was not a case of my thinking that it would be better on Camp Hill than on Capital Hill. After that I felt obliged, when the Executive moved to support the Senate's recommendation and changed to the Capital Hill site. Because of my loyalty to the Senate I would vote at any such meeting not according to my feelings but according to the view of the Senate. That would destroy any chance of us obtaining a true expression of opinion on this matter. We have to uphold the dignity of this House. We should not sell it away to another House which is numerically stronger. I hope Senator Murphy's proposal will be defeated.

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