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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 770

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I intervene in the debate to support the views expounded by Senator Willesee. I do so because of the distortions indulged in by Senator Gair about the amendment moved by the Opposition. As Senator Devitt pointed out earlier, whichever schedule of hours is adopted we believe that the lessons from the previous session were not learned. I ask honourable senators to think back to the last day of the last session of Parliament. They will remember that we had before us a Bill dealing with social service portability and other Bills about which there were a lot of divergent views. We were virtually blackjacked into dealing with them in a very short time. We of the Opposition kept to our obligations. I can remember the Government Whip, Senator Young, asking how long I would be and I told him 7 minutes. Senator Bishop also compressed his speech. However it is not good to do this with a technical Bill. We have to report back to our organisations on the views which are ventilated. I think that Senator Devitt pinpointed the weakness when he pointed out how at the start of a session the Government tries to have the House of Representatives and the Senate in tandem. We have to wait for legislation to flow from the other place and, frankly, on occasions time is not fully used.

I want to mention a second point. 1 see no reason why even in the case of the Estimates we could not make far better use of the time of the estimates committees. If the Government had said tonight that it was proposed to have the estimates committees sit on certain days we would know where we stood but we have nol: been told. With all due respect to Senator Gair, arguing the point about seeking the date of the election is secondary to dealing with the backlog. I point out to Senator Gair, who is interjecting, that 1 will not be diverted from my point of view. In addition to my complaint about the Estimates and about how things were steamrollered through on the last occasion, there is another bad feature which has manifested itself on numerous occasions. We compress our batting order and then we find that at the death of a debate 2 or 3 Government supporters want to speak. The Government can have it either way. We of the Opposition can match Government speakers man for man, if the Government wants it that way. When our Whip, our Leader or the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Willesee) says to us: 'The Bill has had a fair airing and we want to taper off', Government supporters at times try to continue the debate. Senator McAuliffe would know the analogy of trying to lake the loose head. This is something about which we get very apprehensive. When the Minister or the Acting Leader of the Government come up with a proposal, my mind automatically thinks about whether we are to be outmanoeuvred on the point at issue.

I want to mention another aspect. Senator Gair or anyone else may get the impression that it is simply a matter of sitting here on our rumps in this chamber. The fact is that whether we are here or in our home State, most of us have a backlog of deputations to Ministers. Just because there is an election in the offing is not an excuse for any Minister to delay a long overdue deputation or a long overdue reply. Let us reduce these things to essentials. I have been waiting for 8 weeks for a detailed reply from the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr Nixon) about when he will introduce, with the assistance of State transport ministers and railway commissioners, an effective way of spreading tenders for railway rolling stock. This is not a debating point: it concerns job security and job continuity for people in at least 3 of the major States. These are things that concern me. If we are spending a week in our respective capital cities we can see Ministers there, or if it is a week in which the Senate is sitting we can see them here. It is a simple matter.

I am not taking a shot at Ministers in particular. Let me mention Senator Cotton, the Minister for Civil Aviation. I know that there are 3 members of the House of Representatives plus myself who want to see him and to inspect an area adjacent to Sydney (Kingsford-Smith) Airport. There is a backlog of these things. It is a matter of Ministers being much more clearcut. I am particularly concerned about the inability of the Minister for Shipping and Transport to make up his mind. These are things about which very important elements in the community want action. No matter when election day is, 1 would like to believe that when we are here the parliamentary machine is churning out decisions or that as a committee we can interrogate top departmental officials. All 1 say in advancing my argument is that if Senator Drake-Brockman had come up with a clearcut schedule we would have known where we were going, but we do not. All the other aspects of what Senator Gair said about starting an hour earlier are incidental. He knows, as a fellow boarder at Brassey House, the time at which I leave there, just as I know the time that he leaves. I think it is a complete fallacy to ask what one is doing at 10 a.m. when the House does not meet until 11 a.m. 1 think that most of us have plenty to keep us occupied, whether we are agitating with Ministers or dealing with correspondence or carrying out research. There is plenty for us to do, as Senator Gair well knows. 1 think that what he said was diversionary and that it was particularly unfair to my colleague Senator Georges. I think that on second thoughts Senator Gair will agree that it was unjust to attack him in that way. We of the Opposition consider that we have been offered a blank cheque to sign and we would like a lot more information.

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