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Wednesday, 22 March 1972
Page: 824

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - I oppose the adoption of this item. I draw the Committee's attention to paragraph 40 of this report. It is headed 'Reservation' and states:

40.   On some of the foregoing matters, where there was not unanimity, honourable senators reserved their position. Senator Cavanagh requests that it be recorded that he disagrees with paragraphs 10, 30 and 31 relating to time limits.

Paragraph 10 is included in item 4 of which we have adjourned consideration. We had gone through some states of debate when this item was before the Committee and a vote was taken in relation to the deletion of a standing order. We reached the stage of debating a motion moved by Senator Cant. Item 4 deals with the same matter of time limit, but paragraph 10 proposes that in relation to urgency motions the time be reduced to 10 minutes. It is now proposed to write into the Standing Orders something which has been the practice in relation to the time limit of speeches during broadcasts.

I refer the Committee to my contribution in relation to item 4 paragraph 10, when it was debated on 16th September last year. It will be found at page 840 of Hansard. Since coming into the Senate I have always been a back bencher and I am not prepared to take, away any rights or privileges which were contained in Standing Orders at the time I came into this place. I have found that there are insufficient rights for ordinary honourable senators. On no occasion will I be a party to curtailing those rights. I think that each honourable senator has a right under Standing Orders to speak for 60 minutes during a debate. Prior to my entering the Parliament an agreement was reached between the then parties that when the Senate was on the air speeches would be reduced to 30 minutes except in relation to one who introduced a subject or was the first speaker in reply. This is a gentlemen's agreement. During the. 10 years I have been here the only speaker who did not observe that agreement was Senator Kennelly. I think he had justifiable grounds. He said that any other honourable senator could say in half an hour what it took him three quarters of an hour to say. Nobody objected to his defiance of that agreement. But if there is an occasion when an honourable senator has some difficulty in expressing himself at least he has an opportunity to defy that agreement.

During my period here there was an occasion when I spoke in excess of the half hour. On that occasion there was an agreement with the Government. It was agreed that if the need arose during a debate someone could extend the gentleman's agreement which had been entered into without obtaining an extension of time. This would have been necessary had a time limit been written into the Standing Orders. Therefore honourable senators can see that on occasions it is necessary to breach the agreement. I do not think that we should amend a rule unless we can show there is some mischief which needs rectifying. If there is some abuse which it is desired to rectify, we should tighten the rule. No one can point to an occasion, other than the occasion I have mentioned, when the agreement has been breached. $ think that three quarters or possibly the whole of the membership of the Senate would have come to this place since the agreement: was originally reached. I take it that it was reached at the time when broadcasting facilities were installed in the Parliament. There can be no claim that we are bound by the gentleman's agreement, but everyone has honoured it and therefore there is no necessity to alter the Standing Orders.

I raised the question of the purpose of voluntarily reducing the time to half an hour when we are on the air. We are on the air on Wednesdays and the House of Representatives is on the air on the other 2 days when both Houses sit during the week. I was told that the reason for the agreement was that it would permit more honourable senators to speak on the occasion when the public could be listening to the speeches of the Senate. It was for the purpose of allowing more honourable senators from each side to make their views known to the listening public. I think that is a good idea. Recently at the end of the session we have adopted the procedure of sometimes sitting after the House of Representatives has risen. When that occurs the proceedings are broadcast from this place. I do not think that the agreement which was entered into for a particular purpose can be applied on the occasions when this chamber has unlimited broadcasting time. It is not then a question of having more speakers on the air because we are on the air for the length of time we stay here. I presume that on those occasions the agreement entered into will not apply. Therefore we are making a standing order which gives away that time. At present such a standing order should not apply. Under this item honourable senators are reducing rights which could be extended to apply to other occasions. I think the Senate should be very hesitant before it gives away a right which it has at present without proving that there is some justification for doing so. When the Standing Orders were being considered and when this particular item was brought forward for consideration, it was found that during the session prior to that time the average speaking time of an honourable senator was 35 minutes. Although on most occasions honourable senators have the right to speak for an hour, normally they do not speak for that time. Some subjects need a longer period in which to be explained than do others or one enters into a debate or an argument. Because an honourable senator - I may be guilty - finds it more difficult to make himself understood than do others he is justified in taking a greater length of time. But this is a right which we have now. A free vote is to be taken on the matter. There is to be no party discipline or control. I ask every honourable senator to ask himself: 'Should we reduce the rights which we have as honourable senators unless there is something wrong which needs rectification?' History will prove that there is no such wrong.

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