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Tuesday, 10 April 1973
Page: 1218

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - We have had recently the most unprecedented action that has even been taken in Australian democratic history. I refer to the raid on the Melbourne offices of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. That was quite unprecedented and undemocratic; it was an action which we would hope would never again occur in Australia. But the issues that have been raised from that incident have yet to be debated in this House and I propose to debate them later this afternoon. The purpose of this motion is to enable the Government to treat this Parliament with contempt. It is designed to enable the Government to abuse its numbers in this House for the purpose of stopping questions being asked which are designed to establish facts. None of those facts has been provided to this House or to the Senate. The only facts that we know are those that have been elicited by questions.

It is a sign of the discomfort that the Government has and of the concern members of the Government Party have about the handling of this matter by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that they wish them not to be subjected to questions. Everybody knows that in this House the Prime Minister consistently has refused to answer questions put to him about this matter. He constantly has evaded and prevaricated on this issue and has been nervous that yet another disclosure would be made to embarrass him, his Government and his AttorneyGeneral. The reason for the motion to suspend Standing Orders has no relevance whatever to engaging in the debate, for I assure the Government that we will co-operate in every way to bring on the debate. That was our intention as we walked into the House today. It so happened that we were not informed of the intentions of the Prime Minister until about 20 minutes before the House assembled today. This is just another departure from the way in which the affairs of the Parliament should be conducted. However, that time did enable me to make some inquiries about the precedents for abandoning question time. I have been advised by the Clerk that questions have been waived in the past for the following reasons: In relation to motions of censure or amendments to censure; at the opening of Parliament; historical reasons in relation to Budgets; and on other special occasions such as royal visits. There is no precedent for a government to take action to remove questions from the day's business to protect itself against probing questions; that is what question time is all about ,

I really believe that the Prime Minister had a dual purpose in mind in adopting this strategy. One reason was to avoid questions and the other reason was not to repeat the hitherto continual performance of his own embarrassment at not answering them. Those are the 2 reasons for the strategy. The Leader of the House (Mr Daly) came up with his characteristically irrelevant and unsupported arguments. He said that the Opposition does not want to face up. I can assure him that we will not only face up but will also demand a full debate in this House. A full debate does not mean what he has already forecast- 3 speakers from each side. If the issue is so important as to suspend questions, it is important enough (o be debated in this House until it has been fully debated. It is a matter of great cowardice on the part of the Government to adopt this course of suspending questions and then attempting to gag the debate. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, that the Opposition recognises in this move the whole future of parliamentary democracy in this chamber. We will not lose. If we have to fight every inch of the way, then fight we will, but we will not lose on this issue.

The Australian people are not willing to sit quiescent while a government attempts to use its power of numbers in this way. We will not put up with it; 1 give due notice of that. The Leader of the House referred to the brutal use of a majority in the Senate. The Senate debated this issue. It spent on questions on this matter a total of 6 hours. It debated this issue for nearly 3 days. Can it reasonably be suggested that the same course should be adopted here? It ought to be adopted here and we will be asking for it. The honourable gentleman said that the purpose of his motion is to bring on for debate item No. 9 on the notice paper which relates to a statement about Croatian terrorists. He said: 'Not a minute has been wasted'. The statement was made on 27th March and has been lying around since., waiting to be debated. We have been ready every day to debate it. The Government has put it off and put it off. Now its day of reckoning has come and we will co-operate in every way to bring about a debate on the 2 issues of which there is formal notice. One is the statement, the second is the proposal of the Prime Minister to move a motion expressing confidence in the Attorney-General. Another is the amendment I will move to the Prime Minister's motion, and that is to call for a judicial inquiry by 3 judges. All 3 issues can be debated together. We will give leave so that they can be brought on together and debated. Any suggestion that order of the day No. 9 on the notice paper cannot be discussed on its own is a matter for the Government. I have already indicated that if the Government does not want to debate it on its own we will cooperate to bring all the matters into the debate.

Questions need to be asked, and they need to be asked now - such questions as who declassified the document about the alleged invasion. Why was that declassification not made last Thursday instead of Friday as a throw-away line in a commercial television program? I want to know whether the Prime Minister has had the opportunity to refresh his memory as to whether any expression of concern was made by the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation as to the events on 16th March involving the AttorneyGeneral. There are a dozen questions which my colleagues want to ask, and the Prime Minister and the Government are the ones who are running away from them. They are running away from them because they have no answers. They have been put in disarray, and they are prepared, in the face of all precedent, to rob the Parliament of question time for the purpose of gaining some short term advantage in attempting to protect themselves.

As for ample time, the Leader of the House said that 45 minutes will be allowed to the Prime Minister and 45 minutes to the Leader of the Opposition. There is not a member on my side of the House who does not want to speak on this matter. Where is the feeling of open government? The Prime Minister sits in a red flush. He is not proud of the tactic he has adopted, and he has every reason not to be proud of it. Anybody else would feel ashamed of it. We oppose the suspension of Standing Orders.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Leader of the Opposition's time has expired.

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