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Wednesday, 21 November 1973

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) - I rise swiftly and hasten to say, lest the Government should change its mind once again on Senate sitting hours, that the Opposition is delighted with the Government's acceptance of our invitation to put some sanity back into the sitting hours of this chamber. We welcomed the notice of motion which Senator Murphy put down yesterday. It seems that at last the Government has acknowledged that the Senate does have a legislative role to play in the governing of this country. Although grudgingly, it has also acknowledged the Senate's inalienable right to have time to discuss legislation.

Taking into account the weekend media reports of Opposition filibustering in the Senate, I cannot resist taking this opportunity to point out a few facts to honourable senators opposite and particularly to the gentlemen of the Press. Firstly I want to acquaint everyone of the fact that it is the Government that controls the order of business in this chamber. It is the Government that decides when a particular Government measure will be called on for debate in this chamber. It is the Government that decides the order of priorities and it was the Government that decided to shorten the sitting hours of the Senate despite the alleged massive work load. Even those honourable senators with the shortest memories will recall that the Liberal Party supported Senator Murphy on 22 August this year when he moved for the extension of Senate sitting hours. Honourable senators will also recall that on 17 October when Senator Murphy had a reversal of thought, we of the Liberal and Country Party Opposition vehemently opposed the curtailing of sitting hours. Senator Murphy's seesaw has swung again, and now he wants to extend the sitting hours. I am very pleased that he does want to do this because, after all, we of the Opposition suggested this by way of notice of motion which we put down on 6 November.

One could assume that the Government did not do anything about that notice of motion because the Government wanted it to appear that the initiative came from the Government- after all, how could it claim that the Opposition was filibustering if it either opposed my motion or acknowledged that the move for extended hours had come from the Opposition? But be that as it may. Since the time when Senator Murphy lopped Senate sitting hours by 3.75 hours a week we have consistently pointed out that more Government business could have been dealt with if the sitting hours had not been shortened. By shortening the hours when it did the Government lost 1 5 hours which may otherwise have been devoted to Government business.

I have said on numerous occasions, and I say again quite unashamedly, that Government claims that the Opposition in the Senate is purposely frustrating, filibustering and not dealing with Government legislation are arrant nonsense, for the Government has the power to bring legislation into this chamber when and how it pleases. Lest I be charged with wasting the Senate's time too much I will now put forward some facts as succinctly as I can. I have repeatedly said that where we in the Opposition are not opposed to Government legislation we will give it a speedy passage but where we are opposed to Government legislation we will debate it, seek to amend it if need be and, if we feel it necessary, attempt to defeat it. In the autumn session of this Parliament the Senate dealt with 108 Bills. Of those Bills 92 were passed, three were deferred, five were amended and four were defeated. Four were still awaiting consideration at the end of that period of sittings. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which sets out Bills introduced into' the Senate this Budget session and when they were dealt with by the Senate. This incorporation is subject to your ruling, Mr President, that it is quite proper for matter to be incorporated in' Hansard which is purely statistical matter.

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