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Tuesday, 26 October 1971
Page: 2477

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - I move:

That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the honourable member for Corio moving forthwith the motion relating to aid for Pakistani refugees of which he gave notice on 12th October 1971.

Mr Acting Speaker,the real issues are the fate of the people of Pakistan in India, amounting to one-sixth of the world's population - the threat of war, the threat of starvation, the epidemic proportions of all the diseases there and the sheer misery of the situation. But the issue at this moment is the capacity of this House to discuss the matter. Therefore I believe it is necessary, in the light of everything that has gone on in the community - in the light of public demand and the way we ought to operate; - that the Standing Orders be suspended. I know that a lot of traditions, precedents and procedures prevent us from effectively doing anything as a House of Parliament in this instance. First of all the Constitution imposes limits upon what the House can do. It can consent to do something with money only on the initiative of the Crown.

Then there are the Standing Orders themselves which on this occasion prevent iw from discussing the matter. The Standing Orders allow the Ministers to propose the order of business. Ordinarily and traditionally the Ministers have that right. How this House functions is traditionally - and, I think, as custom has developed, reasonably so - the business of the Government. Then there are our own traditions which mean that the Parliament very rarely takes the initiative in such a matter. But I believe that we are in a special international and public situation and that the Parliament has to confront the issue in the same way as the rest of the community does. When my colleague the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) raised this matter a couple of weeks ago the Leader of the House (Mr Swartz) said that there was no need to suspend the Standing Orders in the way in which the honourable member wished to do because the matter would be brought on in the ordinary course of events.

All of us know that, with the best will in the world, that will not happen. The Government is committed to its procedures and has its business to do. One has only to look at the notice paper and see that the first notice under general business was given by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) on the last sitting day and that the notice given by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) was placed on the notice paper on 8th May 1970. In the ordinary course of business there will be no possibility of my colleague, the honourable member for Corio, speaking to the House on this matter, let alone having a discussion on it. Therefore, unless it is brought up now there is no chance of its being brought up.

I agree that we should accept the Government's right to adjust the business of the House and we have always done so. Standing Orders 101 and 105 give the Government this power. Section 56 of the Constitution lays down exactly the procedures by which funds shall be allotted for any purpose. Yet in the general tradition of the Parliament and the system that has been developed over the last 3 centuries the Ministers in the Cabinet decide what can be done. I do not think that we can withdraw our own responsibility in this issue. The 173 members of this Parliament who are not members of the Cabinet cannot leave it all to the Cabinet to decide. I believed that it is essential that it ought to be assisted in the task. I say that consciously. The Government has brought down its Budget. The allocation of funds had been worked out over months. As a member of the National Library Council, I know how carefully the budgeting is geared to the system of governmental needs. Therefore, when we are required to do something extra with finances it is necessary for the Parliament to express its will in an emphatic way. This is an unprecedented situation. The public response on this issue is greater than on any other issue that T ran tpc*\\ in so on - with a great deal of spontaneity from the community. What people say about Australian democracy is on public record. Donald Home had this to say:

It ls hard to escape the conclusion that is Australia parliaments are now mainly of ritualistic significance and the significance of the peculiarly parliamentary part of Australian democracy is quite slight.

I do not agree with him, but publicly that is the way that we are spoken about. In Don Whitington's book 'Inside Canberra' this passage occurs:

Freedom in Australia Is not dead, but it is in a deep coma, sedated by apathy, affluence and middle-class mediocrity.

The rise in public concern, and in many respects, dismay on this issue is unprecedented. Usually we get very few letters from our constituents about public matters. We get them about telephones for themselves or about pensions if they are pensioners and sometimes on a general issue of that sort, but in most instances all of us would say that nearly all of the representations that are made to us are on matters concerning people themselves. There are very few letters, very few callers and very few public manifestations of concern about wider issues, but on this issue Australians have decided to stand up and think for people other than themselves, and I believe that that is our task, too.

I believe that the parliamentary task is one of representation. What does 'representation' mean? It means: 'Holding the place of, and acting for, a larger body of persons in the work of governing or legislating; pertaining to, or based upon, a system by which the people is thus represented'; and on this issue I believe we have to speak as representatives in the strict sense of the word because one of the democratic dilemmas is to get governments to respond. It is not just a part of the Australian pattern of life; it is part of the democratic pattern throughout the world. Occasionally we can stop governments doing things. Occasionally there are furores and manifestations of public concern to stop governments acting. Unions can strike, but JUs- very difficult to make governments act my public life. There has been an unprecedented number of petitions. In this instance most of them come - although they have been developed by organisations and because the administrative system has taken over and is rolling on. We still have not resolved the question: How do you unlock the administrative processes and make governments respond? I believe that parliament has to do that. Our duties as members of this place transcend our duties as members for a certain area; they transcend the ordinary needs of the parliament itself and they transcend parties.

I did not discuss this with my colleagues on the front bench. I did not take the members of the front bench - my Leader and my deputy leader - into my confidence, and insofar as it has been traditional to do this in a situation such as this I offer them my apologies. But I stand here and speak as a representative as such, not representing any particular party or person in this instance and not particularly representing the electorate of Wills but, I hope, responding to all those people - the countless thousands in this country - who have demanded that we do something. We have to find some machinery for responding to the expressed wishes and needs of the community. So all this has to transcend the sovereignty inside Pakistan and India, the Standing Orders themselves, the Constitution, and all the precedents that we have always accepted. It has to transcend parties.

Therefore I believe it is important that this afternoon my colleague from Corio be given the opportunity to move his motion so that honourable members on both sides will be able to express their concern in such a way that - faced as it is with plenty of problems inside the nation such as pensioners who want more and schools that are in short supply - the Government and this Parliament itself can express themselves in such an emphatic way that whatever steps the Government takes financially the community will know that on this issue at least it has the Parliament on its side. I believe it is also an important issue that we face the question of what the Parliament is. I believe that the Parliament and not the Cabinet is the Government of Australia and that Australians govern themselves through this Parliament. It is with an opportunity such as this issue, which I believe has very little partisan political point about it at all on which none of us are concerned with lambasting the other side, that we should govern ourselves by this Parliament offering the opportunity to the membership to say emphatically that something must be done about Pakistan. Therefore we should suspend the Standing Orders, forget about the ordinary procedures and think of the suffering humanity and all its misery which we can, perhaps ameliorate by some governmental action in this situation.

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