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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2046

Mr TUCKEY(10.15) —I wish to take the opportunity tonight to talk about the Government and its approach to the most important time in Parliament, Question Time. I have been here for over six years, which is long enough to recognise a government in decay. When governments run out of good news, when they can no longer engineer questions from their back bench so that they can announce progress or good news in the community, they invariably turn on the Opposition. They regiment their back bench to throw them questions that are aimed at tipping a bucket on the Opposition. This is not new; I saw it in the decline of the previous Government and I guess, if one were to study the history of this Parliament, it would have happened many times before.

The most remarkable thing about it is that in the Government in which I participated there was not much co-operation from the back bench in being regimented, as I watch this Government's back bench being regimented into asking dorothy dix questions. Question after question is asked. Government members never get the opportunity to represent their constituents and ask the sorts of questions that they expect them to ask in their interests. Government members have to ask questions which allow Ministers to make statements.

Mr Campbell —When did you last ask one?

Mr TUCKEY —This week. Government members have to ask questions as they are instructed. They obviously accept that form of regimentation. It is entirely up to them that they continue to do it. It is a sign of a government in decay. We are now down to a situation where less than 10 questions are being answered in 45 minutes. This is a disgrace because most of the time the Opposition in particular is seeking information from the Government. The Government is so convinced that it has to have this confrontationist approach to the Opposition that it never thinks that some of these questions might be aimed at seeking information on behalf of the Australian people. The Australian people are entitled to know what is going on, what the Government's plans are, whether there is a future for falling interest rates, and other things which affect people daily. This Government does not want to answer those questions.

Today we tried to find out whether the Government had plans to sell off many national assets which it now proposes to sell to repatriate this massive $24,000m debt and reduce, hopefully, the $8,000m worth of interest that must be paid this year from taxpayers' money. That is double-edged, because when the Government is paying $8,000m in interest, we find that home owners, credit card users, farmers and small business people are having to pay interest rates of 20 per cent. So that is a very good reason why members should have their questions answered, and answered properly.

Evidence has been brought to this House by the Standing Committee on Procedure, which was looking into this issue, that in places such as Canada 40 questions can be answered in 45 minutes in some circumstances. We are getting 10 questions answered. We either have the most voluble Ministers in history or a very frightened group of Ministers who are not prepared to answer questions. Anyhow, the Government has totally regimented the members of its back bench, who are totally subservient. They never get to ask a question of interest to their own electorates. That never happened under the previous Government.

Mr Cunningham —I raise a point of order.

Mr TUCKEY —It had better be a good point of order.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair decides on points of order in this place.

Mr Cunningham —The honourable member for O'Connor is casting aspersions on the Whips' officers in this Parliament in claiming that the back benchers are regimented. That is totally against the Standing Orders and it should be withdrawn.

Madam SPEAKER —The Chair was listening very carefully; there is no point of order.

Mr TUCKEY —No point of order, Madam Speaker; that was plainly frivolous.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The Chair decides that.

Mr TUCKEY —Yes, and I am entitled to say that that was frivolous, time-wasting and should be punished. It is not punished because the honourable member is over there. Another point I wish to make--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member is coming very close to reflecting on the Chair.

Mr TUCKEY —There were other reflections on the Chair today; that is the final point I want to make. There was total contempt of the Speaker today, firstly by Ministers and eventually by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke).

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will not go into that side of it.

Mr TUCKEY —Madam Speaker, I am not speaking about you. I am speaking about members of the Government and I am entitled to do that. I am entitled to say that the Prime Minister threatened you as he left this place today.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor is not entitled to say that the Prime Minister threatened me. He will withdraw that remark.

Mr TUCKEY —Well, I will withdraw it, if you do not believe it happened.