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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 449

Mr SINCLAIR(10.38) —The Opposition does not oppose the motion, but there are a few observations that I should like to make about the proceedings of this House as they now occur. The first observation is that this is the first of the sitting weeks under our new sitting hours. Under these new sitting hours we begin at 10.00 a.m. We all noted that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) did not bother coming into the House for the commencement of procedures, nor did most of the Ministers. The people of Australia need to recognise the indifference that the Prime Minister has to this place and the fact that the hours were changed not for the convenience of honourable members but so that Ministers could hide away in their offices somewhere and not bother to attend the principal forum of the nation. I can well understand the Prime Minister's concern, for his performance in this place has not been adequate. It is quite apparent that he is always a little tender on those many issues on which he varies from the policies of his party. I think it is most unfortunate that neither he nor many of his senior colleagues have deigned to come and join us at the beginning of this sitting. One would hope that in future, with these changed sitting hours, we might see some of the Ministers in this place. Indeed, even now, Mr Speaker, as you will know, there are large areas of vacant places--

Mr Kerin —I am here.

Mr SINCLAIR —The honorable member is a junior Minister. I know he is here. He is not a member of the Cabinet. That is again one of the matters that the people of the bush have registered. The second matter I wish to comment on is that yesterday in this place we had only 10 questions. I have asked for a record of the number of questions to be prepared, but I think--

Mr Rocher —We didn't have any answers.

Mr SINCLAIR —I do not think there were any answers, if one is honest, as my colleague said. I think it is of interest that, on page 692 of the Senate Hansard of 24 May 1982, your colleague, the President, examined the statistics of the questions that had been asked over recent times. Might I ask whether you, Mr Speaker, might in the same light consider the number of questions asked and perhaps, at your convenience, make a statement to this House along the lines of that made by the President. It seems to me that the nature of Question Time is important. Ministerial answers have been not only largely irrelevant but also far too long. We know something of the verbosity and the waffle of the Prime Minister.

Mr Hayden —You are reading my old speeches.

Mr SINCLAIR —Yes, I am, actually. By God, they are accurate now! They were totally inaccurate then. I think it is quite unacceptable for the members of this place to be treated with the indifference and contempt that Ministers are showing during Question Time. It is quite essential that Ministers provide brief , accurate answers to questions. I believe the number of questions asked yesterday was, if not a record low, very close to a record low. It is essential that we have brief answers to questions and that 16 to 18 questions should be asked in the three-quarters of an hour allotted to Question Time. This is, of course, of particular importance because we now have a designated time for questions. Instead of Question Time being at the commencement of business it is now at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. So Ministers have all the morning to swat up on whatever smart replies they might see fit to provide. They have an opportunity at Question Time to provide brief, accurate answers. After all, questions from the other side of the House are highly structured. Yesterday, every question from the Government side was a Dorothy Dixer. The answers were tailored for the purpose.

If Ministers are to provide those answers in that order, surely to goodness they can practise in the morning so that at the 2 o'clock Question Time we can have brief responses instead of those rather extended replies to which we were subjected yesterday. Mr Speaker, perhaps I might impose on your kindness and consideration to prepare a response for this House in the manner of that provided by the President and to which I draw your attention on page 692 of the Senate Hansard of 24 May last.

The third matter is that the result of this motion will be a specific refusal to give the members of this place an opportunity to discuss General Business until the Appropriation Bills have passed all stages of this House. The Opposition recognises that this is a usual motion, as my colleague the Leader of the House (Mr Lionel Bowen) has suggested. But I think we need to recognise that , if there is a long Budget debate-that is, not long in the sense of the time allotted to it, but long in that it stretches out over the weeks while the Government introduces and tries to pass its legislation-the Government will be hiding behind this motion to deny us the opportunity to introduce private members' Bills, to introduce General Business and to discuss matters as we properly might do in this place. General Business is for private members. General Business enables members of the Opposition to canvass the many notices that are already on the Notice Paper. Only this morning some excellent notices were given by members of the Opposition, and we seek to have the opportunity to debate them. This motion will deny us that opportunity until the Budget is passed.

I ask the Leader of the House whether he can ensure that, while the debate on the Budget is an extended debate, we do not spend all our time talking about Bills so that the Budget debate will not conclude until a couple of months time when perhaps we will get on to talking about some of those notices of motion. We seek adequate time to debate the Budget and an assurance that not many Bills will be intruded. If Bills are intruded, it will take longer to finalise the Budget. As a result of the passing of this motion we will be denied an opportunity of debating those many motions which honourable members from both sides of the House have already put on the Notice Paper. The Opposition does not like the fact that the product of our passing of this motion will be to deny us that opportunity. However, we accept that the motion is common practice and therefore we will not oppose it. Mr Speaker, if the Government is to adhere to these changed sitting hours and changed practices in the Parliament, Ministers certainly need to attend this place at the commencement of proceedings. I am disappointed that even now, some little time after I have commenced, after you have said prayers and petitions have been received, the majority of the Ministry is still absent.