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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3240

Mr YOUNG (Leader of the House)(4.36) —in reply-Madam Deputy Spea- ker, we have reached a unique precedent here that every time I move a simple motion about the conduct of the sittings, the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender), who has been elevated to the position of Manager of Opposition Business, decides to make a speech. Every time he decides to make a speech, I am going to make one for a little longer, until he gets sick of doing it. Today he raises the matter of Question Time, how many questions are being asked and what has happened in the Parliament. This week I celebrate 13 years in this Parliament. I was here under the Whitlam Government; I was here under the Fraser Government; and I have been here as a member of the Hawke Government. This by far is the best government of those three, not only in its policies in dealing with the problems Australia has had, but in the conduct of this Parliament.

For the seven years under the Fraser Government, when the honourable member for North Sydney did not have the opportunity of sitting here, it was run like a butcher's yard. Malcolm Fraser ran this Parliament like a butcher's yard. The honourable member for North Sydney talks about precedents and the number of questions. Let me tell him about a few other things that used to happen under the Fraser-Howard Government. The convention of two hours' notice for Ministers to make statements and to hand the statements over to the Opposition was not carried out under the Fraser Government. All the conventions of Parliament were just ripped up under the Fraser Government, and the honourable member for North Sydney says, `Forget about all that; what about Question Time?' Let me tell him about Question Time.

Mr Spender —You know as well as I do that it is the most important part of the proceedings.

Mr YOUNG —Let me tell my dear colleague from North Sydney about Question Time. Last night we had one of the most important statements ever brought into this Parliament-$4 billion worth of cuts right across the board. The State governments are affected, as is the sales of assets, and the welfare area. The whole thing was there for members of the Opposition at half-past seven last night. They could not sustain Question Time today on that statement. They had seven questions, and they could not get seven questions out of the mini-Budget. That gives some idea of the depth of intellect that sits opposite. What is the good of giving them Question Time? They could not get seven questions out of the mini-Budget. One could have brought a five-year-old kid in here from the electorate of the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) and he could have found seven questions to ask. We have this amalgam of the greatest talent, John Howard tells us, that he has available to him-22 of them sitting over there-and they could not get up seven questions to ask about the statement brought down by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) last night. Talk about brilliance!

John Valder told us yesterday that someone said the front bench is not representative, and he said: `There are 22 people there; it has got to be representative'. I had never thought of that; the logic of that had escaped me, and I am sure it has escaped the honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee), the honourable member for Higgins (Mr Shipton) and the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock), because they have had a few words to say about how representative the front bench is. But John Valder tells us that if there are 22 members, it has got to be representative. Next time we go on to our group meetings-Gerry's and ours and some of the others-we are going to say, `Listen, we have misunderstood how politics operates in this country. Instead of getting together to get some sort of collective view about what is best, we have only got to take one person's point of view'. John Howard has done that, backed up by Valder. But they could not do it, with all those brains, all this intellect! They sat there last night going through the papers, each of the shadow Ministers putting out his Press statement, and they could not think of seven questions to ask on the mini-Budget. What a display of brilliance-the most brilliant parliamentary Opposition we have seen for a long time! We had to ask the questions on our side to get the information out.

The honourable member for North Sydney, who is a Queen's Counsel, and who costs $5,000 a day to go and see, sat there last night going through it, and he has been here all day, but we never saw him on his feet-although he keeps taking points of order, because someone has given him the book of the Standing Orders and he thinks it is terrific. For example, he points out to Madam Speaker that a certain standing order stipulates that one's comments must be relevant. The honourable member says that every day, so he has that up there in his head, but unfortunately he cannot put a question in there with it because there is not enough room. He is unable to concentrate on Standing Orders as well as think of a question to ask. Today we had the disgraceful exhibition of the Opposition, having been given all the ammunition, as they call it, and having had the opportunity to watch all the interviews, to listen to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Treasurer, as well as other Ministers being put under the hammer last night, involving radio, television and newspapers, being unable to think of seven questions to ask about the mini-Budget. Opposition members had been through it all; all the journalists had put their views forward; and we even give them newspapers free of charge, so that they can think up some questions. The honourable member for North Sydney says that we are not being fair. Well, perhaps we should have a Question Time on football or volleyball, or something so that honourable members opposite can think of seven questions to ask. It certainly does not substantiate the Opposition's claims for a better go at Question Time when members opposite cannot even think up seven questions to ask on one of the most important statements ever brought into this House.

The honourable member for North Sydney raised the matter of the Standing Committee on Procedure report. I have told the honourable member that before the House rises there will be a debate in the House on many of those matters involved. All these questions can be resolved. I have also told the honourable member that it is the intent of the Government that the Opposition should have the opportunity to ask no less than seven questions. That is, if the 45 minutes that is allocated for Question Time can proceed normally, or a little longer, we will have no less than seven questions from the Opposition. But members opposite are not content with that. The honourable member for North Sydney has to put himself on display every day. Yesterday he took five points of order on one question, and then he goes crook that the 20 busiest people in Australia-the Ministers of the Government-cannot sit here for another hour and listen to him take points of order. The honourable member for North Sydney has never been a Minister, and the way he is going he will never crack it, so he might be surprised to learn that immediately after Question Time there are people in our offices waiting to see us about matters pertaining to the running of the country, and they think that that takes priority over our listening to the honourable member take points of order in the House. We will have to continue with that sort of procedure but, notwithstanding, honourable members opposite will get a fair go during Question Time if the honourable member for North Sydney has sufficient patience to sit in his seat and listen to the information being given to the people. I find that people who listen to Parliament get the information from Question Time that they require.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) -I call the Minister to order. I point out that it is not acceptable to have people on both sides of the House calling out at each other.

Mr Spender —On a point of order, Madam Speaker: I was called to order because I talked about Question Time, but Rin Tin Tin, the famous talking sheep dog, goes on about anything at all, and the Chair allows him to continue and to say anything. He should be pulled up.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The first point is that the honourable member for North Sydney is out of order in not referring to the Minister by his correct title.

Mr Spender —I am sorry. He looks so much like Rin Tin Tin that it is an easy error to make. I withdraw.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —I ask the honourable member to withdraw.

Mr Spender —I withdraw.

Government members interjecting-

Mr Spender —Calm down, fellows. I withdraw, Madam Deputy Speaker. I make the point of order that, if I am to be pulled up by the Chair-without any point of order having been taken by the Minister-because I am talking about parliamentary procedure, then when the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs engages in one of his exercises in buffoonery, which is amusing and which travels over everything that one could conceive of, it is your task to apply the same rule to him as is applied to us. That is the point.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —I call on the honourable member for North Sydney to sit down. He is out of order and that is the point. His point of order regarding relevancy is quite correct. The honourable member for North Sydney was given flexibility, and, because I gave him flexibility when he persisted in speaking about Question Time, I am watching very carefully, and I am extending the same flexibility to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in responding to the points that have been made by the honourable member for North Sydney.

Mr YOUNG —It is up to the Chair to conduct the affairs of the House and I am happy to support the Chair.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is true and I call the Minister.

Mr YOUNG —I do not reflect on the Chair, but the honourable member for North Sydney, in getting some parliamentary experience, will have to learn that when he says a few words and wants to be critical of the Government then the Government will defend its role and its stand. One of these days, perhaps before the honourable member is 100 years old, he might be on this side of the House and he will have all that experience behind him, and he will be able to thank me. He can get up in the House and say: `Look I want to thank Mick Young for having given me all this tutoring, free of charge, about how Parliament is conducted'. The honourable member cannot expect that I will sit here silently, like Rin Tin Tin or anyone else, and let him make his little speeches.

I just want to reiterate for anyone out there in Australia who has just turned on their radio that the Liberal Party Opposition has complained about the opportunities provided for the asking of questions during Question Time but today it could not think of seven questions to ask about the mini-Budget that was brought down last night. What a terrific team of intellectuals! Why did they not ask Bruce to do it. He could have thought of seven questions. He told me last night that he had lots of questions to ask, but the front bench will not let him ask those questions. The wets cannot get a say.

Mr Goodluck —On a point of order: I am not a wet.

Mr YOUNG —The Leader of the Opposition says that he has this big team of dries, but when they get together, such as in the case of their policy on the television matter, there is a bit of wet in there. I reckon that if the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) were an Indian they would probably call him Passing Shower or something, because he gets just a little bit damp when they talk about making decisions in there. So, the Government will continue to allocate, if there are no interruptions, a minimum of seven questions to the Opposition.

Mr Spender —A minimum?

Mr YOUNG —A minimum of seven questions. But if the firebrand from North Sydney, the poor man's Eddy Ward, continues to take points of order, well then, as the busy Ministers have to return to their offices to meet appointments 45 minutes after the start of Question Time or thereabouts-this applies especially to the Prime Minister-this will not be possible. If the honourable member for North Sydney co-operates with us, the Opposition will get its questions, and I hope and everyone in Australia hopes that in future there will be a lot more meat in the questions than has been the case over the past four years.

Question resolved in the affirmative.