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Thursday, 8 November 1973

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) - We have just listened to a speech which illustrates how, with all the imperfections of Parliament, the fundamental thinking and purpose is ennobled by the traditions of Parliament, evoked by the subject to which we are addressing ourselves, that is, the building that is going to house this Parliament in the future. It will probably be the chief democratic Parliament of the southern hemisphere for the next 2 to 5 centuries. That is something which I think ought to impress us all. I am sure it does. All I want to say on the subject of the actual site is that we are embarrassed by having 2 sites which are, in my opinion, uniquely special and which would be of great advantage to this country. Although I was originally a Capital Hill man, I have been persuaded by the report of both the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House and the National Capital Development Commission, which is entitled to be respected because of its knowledge of town planning and architecture, to change my opinion. My inclination at the moment is towards Camp Hill. I say that in candour simply to put the matter aside because today the issue is not, I submit, which of those 2 sites should be chosen but on how we should reach a decision as to which of those 2 sites should be chosen. I submit that Senator Murphy's introduction- I hope I can say this without disrespect to him- was without proper consideration of the proposition. He said that a decision should be made and that it should be made by Parliament. Actually he said that it should be made by members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate, but of course, we have no right of recognition other than as members of Parliament and by virtue of the authority that we hold as members of one House or the other. I could not agree more with the propositions, firstly, that a decision is required now- that is to say the immediate future- and, secondly, that it should be a decision by the Parliament. But Senator Murphy has put forward a proposition that would not lead to such a decision.

We have been bedevilled by the inappropriate procedures of this matter since 1958. It was in 1958 that the Menzies Government purported to decide the site as being on the lakeside. Anyone who reads the National Capital Development Commission's report will see that it asked for a decision because it properly recognised that the site of the new and permanent parliament house would be the focal point of its planning. It went ahead 10 years in the planning of its environs. It was then confronted with resolutions passed by the Parliament and found that the Houses of the Parliament did not agree with the lakeside site. I think we can all rejoice in the decision of the Parliament of the day that elevated the site from beside Lake Burley Griffin to either Camp Hill or Capital Hill. At the time the Parliament dealt with the matter in 1968 it dealt with it by resolutions and then sought to reconcile the resolutions. The question of a joint sitting arose. I am much indebted to Senator Withers and Senator Cavanagh for the reminders they have given us of the debates of that time. I was a member of the Government at the time. Although there was a free vote, as we have been told, the Government made a decision. I am now at liberty to say, speaking as an individual, that it was a decision with which I fundamentally disagreed. It is not the right of the Government to make such a decision; it is the right of the Parliament. But it has to be a decision.

Parliament could not proceed to solve the matters before it except pursuant to the Constitution. Senator Cavanagh has made reference- I believe it was a very adequate one- to section 57 of the Constitution. He pointed out the special nature of the provision- it is the only provision known to me- of the Constitution that provides for a joint sitting. In this case none of the conditions that would entitle the Governor-General to convene a joint sitting of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives has yet been complied with. We have had none of the elections and double dissolutions that would justify a joint sitting of the House passing any resolution which, in the terms of the final part of section 57, once resolved shall be taken to be duly passed by both Houses of the Parliament and shall be presented to the Queen. There is nothing that applies to any situation other than that of a double dissolution followed by an election followed by a joint sitting under section 57.

So it is completely delusional to think that any resolution come to by a joint sitting such as is proposed in this message would have any operative or persuasive effect. Senator Murphy concedes that it would not have any operative effect. But the thing about it is that it would constitute a precedent on the part of the Senate in going along with the House of Representatives which has double its numbers. We would reduce by half the representation of authority that we are given by virtue of being senators and thereby not uphold the authorities and purposes of the Senate. 1 find myself so much in agreement with what Senator Cavanagh has so cogently put forward in this matter that I content myself with a simple statement to that effect.

I refer also to the procedural matters which have been provided for in the Standing Orders as to communications between the 2 Houses and conferences. If in any other case the 2 Houses wish to reconcile their point of view if they are in difference, we provided for it if it is a case outside section 57 and we provided for it in a way which preserves the integrity of our constitutional position. I think it was at the time they were forging out the Petition of Right in 1628 that Coke said: Parliament must do the things of Parliament in a parliamentary way'. At that time, of course, he did not have the 3 centuries of experience that followed. This statement was made right at the threshold of parliamentary authority. Why should we not proceed in a proper way, with all the example before us of irresolution and drift that is caused by inappropriate approaches. If the Executive makes a decision that belongs to the Government everybody tries to rebel against it and everybody ignores it. If we have a proposition that Parliament should decide and Parliament approaches it in the proper way, that Act may be altered by any subsequent parliament by a subsequent piece of legislation, but that would be an act of irresponsibility which parliaments usually do not show in matters such as this.

If we want to get this matter solved in a constitutional way, if we want to get it solved effectively, and if we want to get the procedure that will give the Parliament the promptest decision, I urge the Senate to reject the proposal for a joint tete-a-tete meeting at which a vote would be taken without debate. The proposition put forward by Senator Murphy is that consistent with the resolution of 6 May 1 97 1 we should concur in a message for a joint sitting. That resolution of 6 May 1 97 1 provided for no vote -

Senator Poyser - It did not provide for any debate.

Senator WRIGHT - It provided for no debate. It provided for the resolution, such as it was, to be ascertained by a majority of votes. I have heard Senator Murphy refer to the fact that if one has a Bill one may have absentees when it comes on. Is it supposed that we are going to have a full roll call for this joint meeting? Is it supposed that everything else is to be laid aside? We are going to have just the same difficulties. It has been indicated by way of interjection that there would be a much more responsible way of ascertaining our individual views if we simply took a secret vote from members and counted them up without going to the inappropriate procedure of a joint meeting.

The question of a joint meeting is also bedevilled by the reflection that there is to be no debate. I would think, especially with new members and even with those who have been here for many years, that it is imperative if one is to be responsible to one's duty for each member of Parliament individually to inspect the sites. In the light of work that has gone on in regard to Capital Hill and the road which surrounds that area it is imperative to know in what way the Parliament House could be linked with the gardens on Camp Hill and those of the present Parliament House. In the same way to inspect Camp Hill is an experience, with the opportunity to have explained how the road can be bridged over so as to take in- honourable senators may be good enough to glance at the plans attached to my Bill- not merely Camp Hill but also the parliamentary gardens, the projection into Capital Hill square and the actual circle of Capital Hill.

The second point I would like to make about the absence of debate is that I would think every member of Parliament would enrich his understanding of the problem involved in these 2 sites by listening to members of that expert body, the National Capital Development Commission, explain by way of a model the relative considerations as to the site. So the idea of going to a joint sitting without debate, 1 think, is a stultifying prospect for members of Parliament.

Lastly, I notice that Senator Murphy says that it is not necessary to have the joint meeting in this place and that it may take place anywhere. I heard someone offer various locations for the joint meeting in Canberra elsewhere. But when one speaks in the Parliament one speaks with all the advantage and responsibility of complete freedom from defamation law, under parliamentary privilege. It will be recalled that it was needful for that to be invoked at the time of the last debate when some honourable senators felt it was their duty to make criticism of some people. One would not feel free to indulge in such criticism without the protection of the privilege of Parliament.

So for all these reasons- our constitutional position, promptness and effectiveness of decision and the appropriateness of discussion of the decision- I would urge that the Senate should not accept the resolution from the House below. In whatever way commends itself to any honourable senator let us initiate an Act of Parliament. I have put forward one simply to indicate the general idea of what may be described in a simple Act of Parliament. Of course, I am not committed to any one part of it. My Bill has been put forward only as a medium of consultation within the Senate to see whether we could get an expression of the original passage of an Act of Parliament to go to the House of Representatives for that place to say whether it would agree with it or not.

I wish to make only one concluding reference. Some people, I think, were swayed in the House of Representatives by the emotional appeal to capture Capital Hill before the bureaucrats get it. It was argued that if we do not build a parliament house on it they will build on the site. I have shown that even the National Capital Development Commission's Camp Hill proposal ensures that Capital Hill will never be made the site of a competing structure. In my Bill I have included the additional safeguard which is, I think, the thing most warm to the ideas which I have expressed. This is an idea in which persons best rejoice and it will make the whole of the area around Capital Hill an eternal garden, a national garden or park for the people of Australia where parliamentarians can see the people in what I hope would be a unique park of all parks and gardens in Australia. In that sense let us decide the question without delay in the proper way. Let us reject this motion and see whether, by debate, we can agree to a stature which will give definition to the site and describe the jurisdiction of the grounds to be annexed to the Parliament which, as far as I am concerned, I would prefer went down to the lake as suggested by Senator Withers. But in my natural approach I wish to make as little contention on any subject as possible. Therefore I will confine myself to as little area as possible. In that spirit I trust that the motion will be rejected to enable us to bring in the appropriate Bill.

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