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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2268

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - I suppose that, with the Victorian election to take place on Saturday, we must expect Labor members from Victoria to make speeches of the character of the speech made by the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins).

None of it warrants answering and I certainly do not propose to answer it. The Grievance Day debate represents one of the few occasions when private members have an opportunity to speak on any subject. I take this opportunity to accuse the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), as Leader of this Government, of debasing this parliamentary institution. I recognise the gravity of that charge, but I believe that it is warranted by the evidence which I shall now produce. 1 mention, firstly, the need in a representative parliamentary democracy of this character, which this Parliament represents in Australia, to keep it the major forum for political debate and discussion in this country. Indeed, this Parliament, with all its imperfections, is the major expression of democracy in Australia. With all its faults, it certainly is the greatest forum in this country. When it meets it is the centre and the forum of expression of opinion on all the great matters facing the Australian people.

We have already seen this Government, which claimed that it would bring in a procedure of open government, in a very short space of time - it is only 5 months since the election - even give up defending its position in that respect. It does not bother any more to claim that it has open government.

Before the election honourable members opposite promoted that whole principle with great vigour. I can understand that a new government of this kind will have great new policies, with which not all will agree. Honourable members opposite may wish to be vigorous. But this is our democratic system. It is our procedure. There are many procedures and forms of this House which, if used properly, safeguard the people of this country and provide an opportunity for proper criticism, examination and debate. These forms and procedures must be respected if we are not to lose, one by one, the rights and freedoms which have been built up in this country and if we are not to see them whittled away. For instance, this Government talks about having received a mandate. I say, briefly, that there is no such thing as a mandate for specific policies. In spite of all the talk we have heard, I challenge any member of this House to point to one constitutional authority who will give him support for that principle.

I come now to my specific charges. The Prime Minister has circumvented the forms and traditions of this House by the use of Press conferences. He holds them frequently.

I do not mind that. But he uses them as the occasion to make the first announcements of Government appointments and policies. Those who have seen him on television know that he treats the questions he is asked relatively seriously - not without some evasion, but relatively seriously. He gives the journalists an opportunity to follow up their questions. They are in a position to examine him and to take up his evasions. But when this House is sitting he evades questions as much as he can. He uses his type of wit. It is hardly humour; it is more a scathing approach. He avoids one question after another.

He has not instituted one debate on foreign affairs, yet he is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs. He has taken on this double task which, as we know, is too great for any man - even the present Prime Minister. He claims to be discharging that task properly. We know that many changes have been made in the foreign policies of this country - when that was stated the other day Government supporters cheered - and yet he will not allow debate, discussion and criticism of those great matters in this place. He controls the business of the House through the Leader of the House (Mr Daly). The Leader of the House is a harsh man. He is known in this place for being very tough about the proceedings and for always talking about members. We have before us at this time many Bills of great policy significance and of great importance to the people of Australia. Inadequate time is being provided to debate them. This has been mentioned several times in this House. However, much bluff, and perhaps counter-bluff, is involved, I believe that much more time ought to be made available to debate these great matters and great policy initiatives brought forward by this Government. If necessary, let the House have more sitting days. 1 know that the Leader of the House is likely to say, either to my comment or to some of the others that have been made: 'Oh, they do not really mean it.' Speaking only for myself, I say that I do mean it. I ask anybody in this House who thinks he has something more important to do than to stay in this place and debate these great issues to stand up in this place and tell this Parliament and the people of Australia what it is that is more important than debating great issues such as the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, the Pipeline Authority Bill, the Australian National Airlines Bill, the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill and the Prices Justification Bill. A number of other important ones have been introduced, but I have singled out what 1 think are the most serious.

A method of debasing the influence of this democratic Parliament is the use of the Press conferences, which would circumvent much of the decision making and discussion on public issues that affect this country. I refer to the lack of introduction of matters. I have already mentioned foreign affairs which, of course, covers a wide range. There are many others, but these are the major specific matters.

And look at the way in which the Prime Minister fails to answer questions asked without notice during question time by members of this House. Honourable members should read the quality of the answers to questions placed on the notice paper. The Prime Minister has had weeks to answer and to think up answers to those questions. Read the quality of answer that comes forward from him and his Ministers. Although he is inclined at times to say 'That is not my responsibility; address this question to the Minister concerned', as Prime Minister he is the head of the Government. He is responsible for the behaviour of his Ministers, both in public and in private. As Prime Minister he is responsible to answer for them. These great matters have been raised by various members of the Opposition, including my colleague the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) and the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke), but the Prime Minister just evades the whole question.

It is all right for Government supporters to interject. They know very well that I have only 10 minutes in this debate so I cannot spend time, as I would like to do, replying to interjections. But I believe that some Government supporters themselves are concerned about the issues that I have raised. I believe that every honourable member should be deeply concerned about what is going on in this place. It may well be said that former governments have done this, that and the other. All right, use that cheap jibe if you want to, but I am saying to this House - and it is going into the record - that I do not support the Government's actions. I believe that large matters of policy and great new matters are being introduced - I do not think any Government supporter will try to tell me differently - which are worthy of greater debate than ever before. We should remember that there are more Bills coming before this Parliament and that every session there are more than ever before. We simply have to sit longer or think of a better way in which to have debates. Let not the answer of the Prime Minister and this Government be: 'Oh well, we will dampen it down as much as possible because of the criticism that might ensue.' That is no way to conduct the affairs of this country. I conclude my remarks on the note that as far as I am concerned, in the proceedings which will take place in the years to come, I am for a more open government. I am for a fuller debate of the great issues that face the people of this country.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! In regard to the opening remarks of the honourable member for Curtin, I did not take much notice at the time but, on consideration, I feel that the honourable member cast personal reflections on and imputations against the Prime Minister. Whether they be cast against a Prime Minister or a backbencher, this is not permitted. So I warn the honourable member that in future, should he make such reflections, he may have to apologise.

Mr Garland - I raise a point of order. I believe that I have given evidence for what I have said. I have said it seriously and deliberately and if you, Mr Speaker, want to make a speech on the subject in a debate I suggest you should stand on the floor of the House and give it.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! No point of order is involved. The Chair is in complete charge of the proceedings of this House. I am warning the honourable member that in future this will not be tolerated.

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