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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 582

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(2.58) —There are three substantive issues before this House today. The first and the most significant issue was the desire expressed by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey) to make a statement to this House which went hand in hand with the correspondence which you, Madam Speaker, have read to us. That request was put to you formally and in a way which I suggest should have had precedence before this House was allowed to proceed to the matter now before us. I will return to that in a moment.

The second and equally significant matter is that judgment is now to be passed without that honourable member having had the opportunity to speak. All of us within our democratic system know that we uphold above all else the right of individuals to hold and express a point of view; and after that point of view has been expressed for either agreement or disagreement to be made upon that statement.

Madam Speaker, you, above all, are the person in this place who is supposed to be the custodian of democracy. You, above all, are the person who is supposed to protect the rights of individual members. You, above all, Madam Speaker, are expected to allow members within this House to exercise those rights for which they are elected. You, above all, are expected to consider and allow points of view-from whatever side they might come-in order that justice may be dispensed according to that responsibility with which you were elected.

The third point of view and the third essence of this debate is that I am concerned, as on another occasion, that it would seem, while this matter was raised, quite properly, by you at the earliest opportunity immediately after prayers, the Leader of the House (Mr Young) has read to the House from a typewritten motion. Madam Speaker, I suggest to you that if judgment is to be passed within a court of law, if judgment is to be dispensed within the practice and procedure of any democratic system, it should not be done in haste; it should not be done by a Minister having heard an early announcement and suddenly rushing out and saying: `Well, he'll be good for seven days'. It should be done after proper, adequate and dispassionate consideration of the nature of the offence, having heard whatever remarks might be made by the person in his cause, and having then, without rancour, bitterness or prejudice, determined what might be a fair response.

That third concern, relating to the adjudication upon this process, goes to the whole fundamentals of the exercise of the rights of a democratic system. We, unlike other systems, have inherited an opportunity to be able to express our point of view freely and without favour. It is for that reason that privilege is accorded to the members of this place and, irrespective of the remarks made by the member, Madam Speaker, your responsibilities are to ensure that justice is done-that members within this Parliament are not denied the right for which they have been elected. Members, within their parliamentary rights, are given certain responsibilities and it would seem that in respect of that third matter-that is, the extent to which there has been presented to this House as a fait accompli a judgment on a typewritten motion by the Leader of the House-an opportunity for consideration of this matter which presumably every other member of this House has not had, has been given to one member. Madam Speaker, I put it to you that this forum is quite apart from any function that members of the Government might exercise as a result of their majority within it. This forum is not their forum; it is the members' forum and you, Madam Speaker, are the custodian of the responsibilities of each and every one of us. That third point concerns me greatly.

The first issue, concerning the character of the remarks by the honourable member for O'Connor and the nature of the proceedings, needs first to be put in perspective. I believe all of us yesterday were disappointed that the man who for the time being, albeit temporarily, is Treasurer of the Government did not accede to your request when requested to do so on successive occasions. Having said that, I do not support the character of the personal remarks made by the honourable member for O'Connor. But that has no real import in this present debate. Madam Speaker, you need to undertake as part of your responsibilities to ensure that you have heard the honourable member's point of view. It is not mine; it is not that of any other member of this House; it is the point of view of the honourable member for O'Connor. Madam Speaker, he did the honest and gentlemanly thing in writing to you. He did the honest and gentlemanly thing, beyond that, in seeking an opportunity to respond within this Parliament by requesting that he be allowed the opportunity to give to this Parliament whatever answer he might have for whatever statement he has made.

I think it important, therefore, that the character of the offence be divorced altogether from those other two issues. Madam Speaker, I think that the honourable member's having apologised, as his letter to you has done, is also material in the second and third parts of my concern. Madam Speaker, in this world no one of us is perfect. Why, even the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), we are told, has his faults. It is important that if somebody apologises, particularly in this forum, an opportunity be given for people to accept that apology. Madam Speaker, I think it ill becomes anyone in the exercise of responsibility in this place on the first count not to hear the apology and, on the second, not to receive it. Madam Speaker, I think it is a great pity that you, in the exercise of your function, seem not to be prepared to hear the honourable member for O'Connor. Madam Speaker, I think that having heard whatever the honourable member might say-for no one of us will hear it until he has had the opportunity to express it-you should not reject hastily an apology if properly given. This proceeding before the House can well threaten the whole stability of the Constitution and of the democratic process--

Government members interjecting-

Mr SINCLAIR —This is not something one should regard lightly. Labor members guffaw and carry on. They have little regard for the rights of the ordinary man. They have little concern for the people whom they purport to represent. They have little worry about the elderly widows or their children. They carry on without regard for the rights of individuals. It is important that the honourable member for O'Connor be given the opportunity to express his point of view, to be heard, and for dispassionate judgment to be passed upon it. I do not mind that Government members have so little regard for the democratic process. Indeed, I think that their present behaviour rather puts them in the position of contempt in which we hold them all. It is sad that in a matter like this--

Madam SPEAKER —Order! Honourable members on my right will cease interjecting.

Mr SINCLAIR —I think that it would be wise, Madam Speaker, if they themselves remembered that there are occasions when they too could be in this position, namely, having a point of view and being refused the opportunity to express it, having given an apology and then that apology being completely ignored, and then having peremptory justice administered to them. I believe it important that this House consider those three points. The first is that we are not at this time in a position to pass judgment on anything the honourable member said, for his point of view has not been heard. Secondly, it is critical that he, having been honest, decent and responsible enough to have written to you and asked that he be heard, is denied that opportunity.

Thirdly, there is an equally fundamental and important point, and that is whether there has been in any way collusion. I seek from you, Madam Speaker, and from the Leader of the House an assurance that prior to the sitting of this House this day there has been no deliberation between any member of the Government and yourself on this matter. If there has been, the people of Australia can know that there can be no confidence that your position is being exercised with the total dispassion that we expect of you and believe necessary for you to undertake and maintain the authority which you now seek.

Madam SPEAKER —I resent and reject the implication.

Mr SINCLAIR —Thank you, Madam Speaker. Then, it is important that we know how the Leader of the House was able to prepare a motion, have it typed and present it to the House, judgment having been made and the honourable member for O'Connor not having been heard. It is the Government's fault. So the Government decides that it does not matter that anybody on this side of the House might have a proper point of view to express; it does not matter that justice is ignored; it does not matter that a member has written asking that his point of view be considered; what does matter is that he be silenced whatever. That type of rough justice illustrates the type of government we have in this country. It is one that has no manner of concern for the ordinary Australian. I think that it is illustrative yet again that the sooner the Labor Government of Robert James Lee Hawke is defeated the better Australians will be.