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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) .- Do I understand, Mr. Chairman, that no request has been made in relation to this item?

The CHAIRMAN - That is right.

Senator WRIGHT - Then, I move-

That the House of Representatives be requested to omit the following item under Division No. 318 - Electoral Branch, sub-division 4 - Other services, item 01 - " University of Tasmania - Grant for Research into Senate Electoral Arrangements £5,000 ".

I rose to put the matter in order and to notice the argument advanced by Senator Wood and Senator Sir William Spooner. This argument aggravates my opposition to this item because in 1962, following Senator Sir William Spooner's leadership in rejecting the proposition that there should be an inquiry into this matter, we voted against it with a feeling of confidence. Now, 18 months or 2 years later, he asserts the propriety of his colleague pursuing such an inquiry by a method which has been subjected to severe criticism. But the main point is that this Senate, under his leadership, voted against the inquiry and that he now asserts the propriety of his colleague persevering with the same inquiry.

Senator McClelland - A case of the Executive placing itself above the Parliament.

Senator WRIGHT - Exactly, showing contempt for this chamber in a matter which is of peculiar interest to this chamber. It is infinitely worse when we realise that in the ordinary course of business we should be able to expect that once we vote that such an inquiry should not be undertaken, a colleague of the Minister who previously led that opposition should not himself institute the same inquiry without reference to us and by a means which would not be acceptable to any responsible House of Parliament.

I feel some measure of sadness when I hear degrees from colleges in Pennsylvania paraded in the way they have been and coupled with 12 years experience in research into Tasmanian electoral systems, including perhaps some excursion into New South Wales on a subject about which I do not know anything. How evident it is that if a Senate select committee had been set up it would have received the earnest attention of scholars in political science in every university of Australia, on not only the constitutional side but also the electoral and political side, just as the Senate select committee which was set up when the proposal to resolve deadlocks was the subject of inquiry received submissions from scholars versed in every element of that subject. If a select committee had been set up we would have received a report from our own colleagues together with the evidence of a multitude of scholars. We would not have been confined to the inquiries of one particular scholar with quite limited advantages and as to the moulding of whose judgment other scholars in Australia would have not the slightest interest. Just imagine one scholar charged with this research expecting others developing this field to turn aside and submit their thoughts to him for his interpretation to this Parliament.

Then there is the point Senator Mattner raised which, I must confess, had entirely escaped me. But it is a point for consideration. Unless this scholar is to be expected to make a report on such material as would be available to any other scholar it is, I think, pertinent to say that he might intrude into matters which would constitute a breach of privilege.

Senator PROWSE(Western Australia) [9.42.1. - I rise to oppose the point of view that has been expressed by Senator Wright and to support the point of view advanced by Senator Sir William Spooner. In 1962 the Senate rejected the submission that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into Senate voting, and not that an inquiry should be held into Senate voting. The Senate did not reject the proposition of an inquiry. I cannot see how the rejection by the Senate of the Opposition's motion at that time has any bearing on what seems to me to be purely an administrative act. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) is in charge of the Department concerned. If he desires to inform the Government on a change that has taken place over the last three years in respect of Senate voting and examine new factors which must be taken into consideration he may quite validly depute some officers of his Department to undertake that task, he may employ new staff or he may take the course he has followed, of making a grant to somebody outside his Department to supply the advice he seeks. I can see no implication that the Minister has done anything other than a purely administrative act for which he has full authority.

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