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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 1960


The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

 

 

 

 


Senator WITHERS -The details of the table incorporated cover the period up to and including yesterday. I remind the Senate again, particularly honourable senators opposite, that it is not the Opposition's responsibility to arrange Government business in the Senate. The Opposition has not sought to change the order of Government business. In fact, when a Bill has been brought on by the Government we have either debated it or, as has happened on a few occasions, asked for the normal courtesy to be extended to us, and that the Leader of the Government in the Senate has done by meeting our wishes.


Senator Murphy - As with the Trade Practices Bill.


Senator WITHERS -I will come to that later. When we have done this we believe we have done so in the interests of the Australian people and so that important legislation may be given proper consideration by the Senate, as it is supposed to do by the powers vested in it by the Constitution. It is the responsibility of the Senate to make sure that legislation which will have great ramifications for the Australian people is given just and proper consideration- consideration, I might say, it is not often given in the other House because the present Government there continually guillotines matters which are of national importance in order to prevent further discussion on them.


Senator Murphy - I rise to order. The honourable senator is in order in dealing with what happens in here but is not in order in dealing with procedures in the other House. This is contrary to the long standing rule that we should not concern ourselves with the procedural affairs of the other House.


The PRESIDENT - I do not think the point of order is a valid one.


Senator WITHERS -I will pass over it, anyhow.


The PRESIDENT - I think it is as well for me to cogitate upon it. References can be made to what is happening in the other place provided they are not to a debate in another place but are in order to elaborate or make clear arguments adduced by an honourable senator on his feet.

However, Senator Withers has acknowledged that he has gone far enough on this occasion.


Senator WITHERS -I return now to the Senate. Let me take a few examples of what has been alleged about this place. Firstly, in relation to the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill, during his television appearance on Federal File' on Sunday last the Minister for Overseas Trade, Dr Cairns, said, following his remarks about the actions of the Opposition in the Senate being unreasonable and unjustified:

The Senate I understand rejected more Bills and amended more Bills last year than they've done this year.

He then went on to say that there were one or two Bills of particular importance to him, the first being the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill. This Bill was introduced into the Senate on 23 October. It has not been brought on for debate by the Government. Last Thursday it was still No. 13 on the notice paper and today it is still only No. 5 on the notice paper. If this Bill is of such importance to the Minister for Overseas Trade, I suggest that he encourage his colleagues in this chamber to ensure that the Bill is brought on for debate and stop aimlessly berating the Opposition in the Senate which does not decide the order of Government Business in this place and which, to date, has not had an opportunity of debating this Bill.

The next Bill is the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill 1973. This Bill was deferred on 5 June 1 973 by the Senate until the first day of sitting after 1 September 1973. Many weeks have passed since 1 September, but the Government has still not sought to bring on this piece of legislation which so many of its union supporters berate the Opposition parties for delaying or frustrating. On 1 5 November, this Bill was still No. 19 on the Notice Paper. Only this week, yesterday, did it even make the top ten, as No. 1 0, but today it is back at No. 1 1 .

Another example is the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill 1973; a matter of great importance, says the Government. The Senate deferred this Bill when it was first introduced into the Senate so that the matter could receive further consideration and to give dme to enable the Premiers and the Prime Minister to resolve their differences, if possible. The Government took this delay as a failure to pass, and re-introduced the Bill. The Bill came into the Senate on 25 September, nearly 2 months ago. The Government has not brought this Bill on for debate in total. This crucial Bill, as alleged by the Government, has been debated in dribs and drabs, bits and pieces. That is not the Opposition's fault. We claim that that is the Government's fault. Who is frustrating whom?

Another example of our good faith in wanting to help the Government keep its legislative program moving is the fact that in this Budget Session alone, the Opposition parties have given up General Business on 4 Thursdays so that Government Business may be discussed. I ask: Is that frustrating the Government's legislative program? Surely that is making time available so that the Government may bring forward its legislation for discussion, but this Government does not have the administrative ability to organise its legislative program so that even Bills which it claims are of the utmost importance reach the debating stage in the Senate. I repeat that the Opposition parties in the Senate do not wish to have the power, and would certainly not try to usurp the power, to arrange the order of Government Business in the Senate. The Bills which are brought on for discussion, when they are brought on for discussion and how they are brought on are entirely the Government's responsibility to initiate. If its important legislation is not being debated in the Senate, it is the Government's fault, and the remedy lies in its hands and in its hands alone.

The only sin of frustration that the Opposition in the Senate could claim to be guilty of is the sin of wanting to give full consideration to legislative material and in not agreeing with everything that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and his Government want done. No doubt the Prime Minister, who does not want his actions scrutinised, sees this as frustrating. I believe that the Australian people are grateful for that and I agree with one point made by Dr J. F. Cairns on Sunday, that is, that if there was an election the Government would not win. The Senate has the same constraints placed upon it as the House of Representatives and the Government have, that is, the constraint of the wishes of the Australian people who are our masters. We have not offended them as this Government has done.

If the Prime Minister and his Ministers persist in their claims that the Senate is frustrating, obstructing, filibustering and delaying their vital legislation, there is only one honourable path for the Government to tread, that is, the path to an election. The Prime Minister has had the power to call for a half Senate election since 1 July 1973. He has been entitled to request the GovernorGeneral to grant him a double dissolution since the Senate rejected the Electoral Bill for a second time on 29 August 1973. He has not gone to the people because he knows he is filibustering when he talks about Senate frustration. He knows that his legislation is not being debated because of his Government's administrative inability. He knows that his much vaunted mandate is today nothing more than a ghost. It was rebutted in the Victorian State election, knocked down in the Balcatta by-election in Western Australia, jumped on in the Greensborough byelection in Victoria, kicked in the head in the Parramatta by-election and finally buried last Saturday in the New South Wales election. As far as we are concerned, the Prime Minister and his Government should put up or shut up. They should stop whinging and whining and either go to the people or force their senior Ministers to take courses in administration so they can get down to the business of governing this country and stop their pettyfogging.


Senator Poyser - Who wrote your script?


Senator WITHERS -I ought to have on my glasses. That is the simple reason for my hesitation over the word.

The Opposition welcomes these extended hours. We welcome them because with more time surely Government senators will be able to organise themselves to bring on their urgent measures for discussion, a task which is their responsibility and theirs alone. If they can manage this, the Opposition will no longer have to put up with false and malicious charges of frustration and filibustering. Then the Government can cease its slanderous campaign against the Opposition in the Senate, a campaign which it has been waging to cover up its broken promises, its double dealings, its administrative inefficiency, its extravagant spending and its total inability to govern this country.







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