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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2304


Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Leader of the House)(3.28) —in reply-I again assure honourable members opposite that there is no intention of sitting on Fridays. The Clerks and those who understand what can happen in parliament say that we will be bereft if we do not have any sessional orders for a Friday sitting should it be essential in an emergency. It is put in the proposed sessional orders only on the basis that we need to have some order of procedure should we need to sit on a Friday. I assure honourable members that Government Business will go through as expeditiously as possible.

In answer to the question raised by the Opposition Leader of the House, I am of the view that this sitting period could finish by about 8 December. That is only a personal view. It is programmed to finish on 15 December but, as the right honourable gentleman would know, there are problems naturally associated with the drafting of legislation. The Parliamentary Counsel have had enormous pressure on them, particularly in respect of what are called the electoral Bills , which have now been introduced. An enormous number of hours have been put in. I think 8 December is a chance. Certainly we would not want to go too far past that date. I might say in advance that I will not be here at the time-I have to go to the Middle East-but I hope honourable members understand the position.

I can understand the concern raised by the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter). There is no intention of sitting on Fridays; let me assure him of that. If there were to be some reason to sit on a Friday this session it would have been for the Medicare legislation in which Opposition members quite fairly wanted to participate. It took 12 hours and 40 minutes which is a record time for debate on legislation.


Mr Sinclair —What about the restrictive trade practices legislation some years ago? I think it went a bit longer.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Well, all right, it was a record in recent years. Members of the Opposition, quite fairly, wanted to participate in the debate. I always want to give them a chance to do that without the guillotine or gag being moved. Again, we were anxious to get the Family Law Amendment Bill through. We did sit for a little longer because Opposition members particularly felt they wanted to make some contribution, from memory, to the divorce by post aspect. In other words, we do have in the Parliament certain pieces of legislation that can encourage a lot of debate. I am able to be persuaded that the Wednesday sittings are not successful. I make this point: The concept of sitting through to 8 o' clock was to allow a free period instead of having the dinner break. I understand there is an objection from senators who feel they still want to have dinner with members of the House of Representatives. Members on the Government side have not noticed the need to have such a compatibility at all hours of the day and night. But I think we felt it would be better to have an opportunity for people to have a meal at 8 p.m. which was not deemed to be too late, and also give them an opportunity for committee business.

I am very mindful of members who have a long distance to travel and I am certain my own colleagues, particularly those who represent Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell), the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) and Grey (Mr O'Neil) would be vying with the suggestion that they do not represent outlying districts. I am very anxious that members also have a chance to get to those districts. There is no question of sitting on Fridays, but it is there just as a safety valve because we need to make some appropriate reference to it.

I find the Wednesday evening reasonable except on the two occasions I have mentioned; that is, the Medicare debate and the family law debate. This occurred because of the need to get the legislation through. If honourable members feel they would rather have a dinner break and then still come back and sit here until half past ten or 11 o'clock I do not quite know the merits of the two as against stopping at eight.


Mr Lusher —If you don't stop at night there has to be a certain other time to stop. You cannot make arrangements and then have a different sitting time.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It would be a certain stop. I know the honourable member will not mind me saying it, but we did have a promise that the Family Law Amendment Bill would go through. A number of members were very anxious. They were member of the Opposition. They raised a number of matters to which there had been no previous circulation.


Mr Ruddock —You would not have been surprised with the family law legislation. It went through in a day.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Yes, it got through in a day.


Mr Ruddock —But you should have expected that. It only went through the Senate after weeks. I would have thought more people here would have wanted to discuss it.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I would have thought that when the honourable member was leading for the Opposition we could have got it through in a day. Quite clearly, the debate was rather weak in the areas that kept us here from half past seven until 9 o'clock.


Mr Ruddock —I would agree with that. I was very disappointed with it.


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —However, I know we all get disappointed. The Medicare debate occurred because the Government wanted the Bill passed and it had to be debated. It took 12 hours and 40 minutes for debate. I do not think that will happen again. I want to summarise the situation: The sitting hours for the autumn session have been circulated. They provide for a two-week break as the honourable member requested for the school holiday period. That will comply with the honourable member's request as well. In other words, I think I have been one of the most satisfactory Leaders of the House that honourable members have ever had. On that happy note, I thank the Opposition.


Mr Sinclair —Can you announce the commencement date of the Budget session yet?


Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I will find that out. I thank honourable members for their co- operation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.