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Thursday, 8 November 1973

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) -I rise to express my opposition to a joint sitting of the 2 Houses of the Federal Parliament supposedly to decide the issue of the site of a new and permanent parliament house. I believe that a study of the background to this debate and the decision on the siting points clearly to a doubt as to the wisdom and the ability of a group constituted as a parliament. The Parliament is, and is intended to be, demonstrative of the failings and inabilities, as well as the abilities, which one finds in a cross-section of public life. We hope finally to arrive at a correct decision. The Senate has received a message requesting a joint sitting of the 2 Houses of Parliament at which a vote of members and senators would purport to decide the site. The meeting would have no constitutional base whatever and would, I believe, create a precedent for future embarrassment of the Senate in its role of a House of equal strength to the House of Representatives. There are strong arguments for both of the important matters that we are considering, and in general they have been raisied by previous speakers. A poll of members today would produce a different result from that which would be produced in 5 years' time. If the Government of today wishes to take the advice of the concerted view of the larger number of members of both Houses, it is on record from some years ago.

A meeting of the nature suggested would decide nothing constitutional or positive. If there were a joint meeting there need only be a leader of great strength in a new government- perhaps someone like Sir Robert Menzies- and within 6 months it would be quite likely that he would decide the site and direct the National Capital Development Commission to build on the lakeside site. There would be no constitutional argument against such a leader doing so. A meeting of the two Houses would produce nothing. I believe that I represent my State in this Chamber on a basis which is not comparable in strength with that of representatives in another place. I would not like to join with them in any meeting which would indicate that the strength in the House of Representatives is double that in the Senate. If there were a genuine intention on the part of the former Government or this Government to be influenced by the united vote of the 2 Houses of Parliament, regard would be paid to the fact that the House of Representatives voted on a site and that the Senate voted on a site. I indicate to the senate the view which I expressed previously and which appears in Hansard. I indicated that I saw no need for a joint meeting. I then said:

As it was supposedly the wish of members of Parliament, expressed by their votes, that would be taken as the criterion as to where the house would be situated, I think an answer has been given already. Adding the votes of members in the other place and in the Senate, those for Camp Hill total 63 and those for Capital Hill total 83.

One has grave doubts as to what governments will do. In my ignorance, I then said:

I have no doubt that this decision of members of Parliament cannot be reversed by any Executive decision that the site should be elsewhere. I have confidence that the will of Parliament as expressed by the majority of votes, will be upheld.

We know, of course, that the Gorton Government trampled into the ground that decision on the basis of the united vote of the 2 Houses and that it decided that the new and permanent parliament house should be on Camp Hill. The same thing can happen again. A joint meeting of the 2 Houses will decide nothing. In my view, the only way to go about this matter is to bring in a Bill and, in general, I cannot but be attracted to the suggestion by Senator Wright.

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