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Thursday, 27 February 1975
Page: 884

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - Mr Speaker,you come to the Chair in unique circumstances. They have never previously occurred in this chamber. I know of" no precedent in any other Westminster Parliament. Today the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam), the Leader of the Government, the Leader on the ministerial side of the chamber, was seen by the chamber to intimidate your predecessor. He was seen to speak to the former Speaker in circumstances which made it abundantly clear that the words used were abusive. It was apparent to us all that the Prime Minister was intent not only on the destruction of a man but also he was totally reckless as to whether he also destroyed this institution- the Parliament. He not only intimidated the former Speaker, he also took unto himself the role of answering for the Minister for Labor and Immigration (Mr Clyde Cameron). As the galley copies of Hansard show, your predecessor said:

Order! I ask the Minister for Labor and Immigration to apologise to the Chair. I ask the Minister for Labor and Immigration to apologise to the Chair. I ask the Minister for Labor and Immigration to apologise to the Chair. Order! Is the Minister going to apologise?

The Prime Minister said: 'No'. He answered for the Minister for Labor and Immigration. Tonight I received a telegram. I accept it in good faith. It is addressed to me and it reads:

Telegram as follows sent Jim Cope with copy to Gough Whitlam: Congratulations on your courageous stand in tendering your resignation as Speaker of the House in view of the unprincipled action of the obviously incumbent member for Hindmarsh in his autocratic and demogoron actions. His attitude in Parliament is synonymous with the inactivity of giving proper realisation to the needs of the unemployed in various parts of Australia and particularly at Ingham in north Queensland. I repeat congratulations.

It is signed 'Edgar Williams, President, Australian Workers Union'.

Not only did the Prime Minister abuse, intimidate, destroy and answer for the Minister for Labor and Immigration, but he also interfered in the duties of the Leader of the House (Mr Daly). It is a well established practice of this Parliament and of all Westminster-style parliaments that when the Speaker names a member the Minister at the table- according to our practice, the Leader of the House- stands and moves that the member named be suspended from the service of the House. It was clear to us that the Leader of the House moved to do so in accordance with the tradition. It was equally clear that the Prime Minister interceded to prevent the Leader of the House from taking that course of action. Mr Speaker, the Leader of the House acted in a quite different way from your predecessor, Mr Speaker Cope, for Mr Speaker Cope acted courageously, according to principle, but the Leader of the House did not. He resumed his seat and offered no support whatever to your predecessor, Mr Speaker Cope.

Mr Speaker,I am sure you are well aware that the Speaker's role is to protect the institution of parliament. Throughout history Speakers have come reluctantly to the chair- as you were, by tradition, dragged to the chair tonight. In the early days of parliament a Speaker ran the risk of death, and that was why he came so reluctantly. Mr Speaker, I wonder whether that was why you came so reluctantly tonight. Do you have the fear of death upon you if you act against the wishes of your Party? The role of the Speaker is to protect the parliament and the institution of parliament. In this Parliament, as in all Westminster-style parliaments, there is a government and an opposition side. All the standing orders, all the practice and the whole of the conventions of the Parliament are built around a government and an opposition side.

It is the duty of a Speaker to uphold the traditions of the parliament, to maintain a balance between the government and the opposition and to make sure that the opposition is not disadvantaged in any way, for to disadvantage the opposition is to cripple the democratic parliamentary system. Therefore, Mr Speaker, you have a heavy duty upon you. I ask you: Can any Speaker control only the Opposition? The answer is clearly no. For the Speaker to be a successful Speaker and to maintain the practice of the Parliament he must control, without fear and without favour, both the Opposition and the Government. When he ceases to control the Government he ceases to serve the interests of Parliament and will cease to have the support of every member of the Parliament as he should. Nothing will be served by his being kept in office only by members of his own Party wishing to support the Government.

From today's performance it is clear that a Speaker under the present Prime Minister will need to have very great courage to stand for the principles which he is elected to uphold in this chamber. As the present incumbent in a long series of Speakers, not just in this Parliament but in the history and the tradition of Parliament, you, Mr Speaker, must have the courage of principle, as your predecessor disclosed today he did have. But, other members of this House disclosed today they did not have the courage and conviction of principle. Mr Speaker, you come to this office greatly disadvantaged. The reason you come greatly disadvantaged is that you cannot, on today's performance, expect to have the support of the Government members in this House if you, in the discharge of your duty, believe it is necessary for you to discipline a member on the Government side. You are seriously disadvantaged. I say to you, Mr Speaker, that you should declare forthrightly and show by every action that you take that you do have the courage of the commitment and conviction to principle that this Parliament will function with full recognition of the rights of the Opposition and the Government and the obligations of the Opposition and of the Government.

Mr Speaker,in the course of the conduct of your duties I think you will have to make sure that the answers given by Ministers to questions are relevant to the question asked and are short. In that way there is no reason why this Parliament should not, in the 45 minutes of question time, average more than 20 questions. Mr Speaker, a very important duty for you to fulfil is to see that the Government is not allowed to have Ministers fed with a succession of Dorothy Dix questions so that they can make statements on policy at question time instead of making such statements by leave after question time, thereby giving the Opposition an opportunity to respond. This Parliament will not be able to work until the blow which was delivered to it today has been corrected.

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