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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2302

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - I have heard it said on many occasions that attack is the best defence. I have never seen it demonstrated so emphatically as it was demonstrated by the honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Whan) tonight. I understand that he was the chairman of the Australian Labor Party's rural committee. He was a member of the Joint Committee on Prices, and a prominent speaker in that Committee, which decided to recommend to the Government that a meat export tax should be imposed. He was the architect of the scheme. Tonight he has tried to deny it. He could not even convince his own Caucus and his own Minister of his arguments after having had the advantage of hearing so much evidence on this matter. If it were not for the Opposition members on that Committee there would not have been the sound approach that was made to the industry and to the Parliament. It was the approach of the Opposition members on that Committee which,

I believe, persuaded the Government to accept the reservations they had and the arguments they put forward for oppositing the meat tax.

As to what the industry thinks about the tax, is the honourable member for EdenMonaro so absolutely conceited that he thinks that honourable members on this side of the House who represent rural areas do not travel around their electorates to find out the reactions of the industry to this tax? Never in the time that I have been associated with politics have I heard a greater condemnation of any decision than that which accompanied the report, to which the honourable member himself was a party, concerning the tax. At meeting after meeting of meat producers, not only in my own area but in other areas as well I found meat producers threatening to keep their meat from the market in protest against the meat tax which the honourable member for Eden-Monaro so blithely tried to defend tonight. The Labor Party has made a hopeless mess of representing the industry. Even the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) demonstrated that. There are one or two other things I want to mention tonight. This was not the subject I intended to speak about at length. I could speak about it for a long time and I think that members of my Party would want me to do so. I merely say that the honourable member did a lousy job on the meat tax. I told the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) that I wanted to talk tonight about questions from this side of the House. I think that this demonstrates very clearly the generosity of the Australian Country Party, because it will not be long before we will be in government. While we have been in Opposition we have found out the problem and I think I should draw attention to it. The Government, or any government for that matter, has a very decided advantage at question time. Its members have the advantage of asking every second question. As you know only too well, Mr Speaker, the Ministers have the advantage of using this time to make political speeches which would be better made by way of a statement. Everyone in the House has spoken about that. The Minister for Services and Property - I thank him for it - drew my attention to the fact that, when speaking about this mater in an earlier debate, I understated the number of backbenchers and overstated the number of Ministers. I did not take into consideration the Ministers who are in the Senate. That was a slip on my part. I thank the Minister for drawing my attention to it. I am prepared to rectify that, but the point is that it made no material difference to the fact that Government members have a much better opportunity to ask questions than have members on this side of the House leaving aside the fact that Ministers take such an advantage of question time.

I ask the Minister for Services and Property to consider allowing 3 questions from the Opposition for every 2 questions from Government members. I think that he ought to grab the opportunity. Let me tell honourable members what the position is in regard to backbenchers. The Minister will find that my arithmetic is much better than it was before and a lot beter than his when he said that no Country Party member had ever been elected to this Parliament on first preferences. If he follows the example I have set, he will withdraw that statement and apologise to those members of the Country Party whom he maligned in that way. The number of Labor backbenchers, excluding the Ministers, is 45. The number of questions they have asked during this session is 1 39. The number of backbenchers on this side of the House, excluding the 4 leaders of the parties, is 54, and we have asked 90 questions. That shows a very great disadvantage. When I spoke before, some Labor members were fair enough to admit that this was true.

If honourable members look at the list of questions for the week ending 11 October - I have a copy of it - they will find that some Labor members asked 6 questions whereas the most an Opposition member has asked, leaving aside the leaders, is 3. So there is a very great difference in the total number of questions. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that I had made a mistake when referring to the number of Ministers. I hope that the Minister for Services and Property will recognise and acknowledge the bigger mistake he made in regard to the votes recorded in favour of Country Party members. When I was speaking the other night the Minister for Services and Property - the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) may give him some advice if he thinks that the Minister is not capable of handling the job - made some erratic statements. To use the words that he used so often when he was in Opposition, I say this more in sorrow than in anger. I say that a little more sincerely than he probably did.

On 26 September when he replied to what I was saying in a debate he said:

The honourable member has become a real democrat.

He was right there -

He said that the Opposition members should be allowed to ask 3 questions for every 2 from the Government side. We were lucky to be able to ask one question for every hundred from the Government side.

That is what he said. I do not know whether he maintains that, but that is what is in Hansard. So if the Minister is going to criticise me, as he has done, for inaccuracy about the number of Ministers in this place, which made no difference to the total number of questions asked by backbenchers or to the number of questions asked by members on this side of the House, he should look at his own record in Hansard. I repeat what he said:

We were lucky to be able to ask one question for every hundred from the Government side when we were in Opposition. Honourable members know that we would wait 3 weeks to ask a question.

Mr Speaker,you may know that during this last week I have been jumping to my feet to try to ask a question and I have asked only one question. I am not suggesting that you did not treat me fairly. I believe that you did, because there are other members of my Party who also have asked only one question. I am not suggesting that you, Mr Speaker, are not doing your very best to see that question time is used to the advantage of the Parliament. You have had great difficulty in doing that largely because of the blatant abuse of question time by Ministers whom you admit that you have to allow to answer questions in their own way.

I say to the Minister for Services and Property that what I said on the other occasion still stands. The figures show that there is no argument about the position. They are clear cut. Anyone can have a look at them. I will repeat them. Up to the week ended 11 October - I have not the latest document - the 45 Labor backbenchers asked 139 questions and the 54 members on this side of the House asked 90 questions. The Minister ought to have a look at this situation. If he does not do this, I believe that he will make history in this way: That will be the only Labor Party policy that will be retained when there is a change of government, and it will be the Minister's own fault.

Mr WHAN(Eden-Monaro)- Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr WHAN - I do. I have been misrepresented by the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett). I thank him for the praise he heaped on me, but he was completely wrong in claiming that I was chairman of the Rural Committee. I was not, nor was I chairman or secretary of the Joint Parliamentary Committee investigating meat prices. The honourable member for Maranoa, as have all other members of the Country Party, has completely failed to appreciate the fact that the Committee was formed-

Mr Corbett - I raise a point of order. I think the honourable member is going well past explaining the point of misrepresentation.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved.

Mr WHAN - He failed to appreciate the fact that the committee was formed to give advice to the Government. It was not a policy committee. How could it be if members of the Opposition were on it? I acted as an adviser on the committee, as I was asked to act. I was opposed to the meat tax on exports in every policy forum within my own Party-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think the honourable gentleman is now debating the question.

Mr WHAN - No. I was accused of supporting a meat tax in the Government Party. I have never at any stage supported the meat tax in the policy forums in the Government Party. Indeed it could be said that I was among those who led the opposition to the tax on every occasion the matter was raised within the Government Party. There is a marked distinction between being an adviser to the Government and acting in a policy capacity. I am not surprised that the Country Party, after so many years in government, has failed to make that distinction.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member is now debating the matter.

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