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Thursday, 8 November 1956

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I desire to take this opportunity of protesting against she farcical sitting of the Parliament which we have had to-day. I could have understood the Government's calling Parliament together to give honorable members information that was not available to them through the columns of the daily press in regard to the grave international situation. It appears to me that the only worth-while speech made to-day was made by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt). The speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) consisted only of a repetition of what one could read in the columns of the press over the past two or three weeks - a mere recital of generalities. There is no doubt that the House was assembled merely to give the right honorable gentleman an audience. And at what expense to the Australian community! Everybody knows that Parliament is not assembled without considerable cost being incurred. One of my colleagues and I, while sitting on the Opposition front bench, made a calculation of what to-day's meeting would cost.

There are 123 members in the House of Representatives, and there are 60 senators. Allowing for some absentees, I think it would be safe to say that approximately 160 members attended this special sitting of the Parliament. Varying air fares are incurred in bringing members here the short distance from Sydney or the long distances from other places. Allowing an average return air fare of £25 a member, which I think is rather conservative, the fares alone would amount to about £4,000. Adding to this the living allowances made available to members, and the cost of the employment of officers round this House while this sitting has been proceeding, it would be safe to say that the sitting of the Parliament to-day, which I regard as being an absolute farce, has cost the Australian taxpayer approximately £5,000, to say nothing of the great inconvenience caused to members in coming from various parts of the Commonwealth to attend the sitting. If any honorable member is honest with himself, he will admit that, if he goes into the Library and reads the early edition of the daily press, he will be further advanced on the international situation than he would be by listening to the speech made by the Prime Minister. The early editions of the press report developments which were not even told to this House by the Prime Minister. Therefore, I believe that, while a grave international situation exists, the Parliament should be on ready call. But it should not have been called together merely to provide the Prime Minister with an audience while he made a statement which he could have given to us, anyhow, by sending it through the post. He could have had it typewritten or roneoed and sent through the post to us.

For what reason did the Parliament meet? The House granted leave to two Ministers to make statements - the Prime Minister and the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Philip McBride). The House also granted leave to the Leader of the Opposition to make two statements. Because those four statements were made by leave, the Government did not permit any debate on them. As a matter of fact, it avoided debate. The Government did not want a debate on the statement of the Prime Minister on Egypt, lt was afraid to permit such a debate. In order to fill in the day - and that is all it was - the Government decided to allow an hour for questions. When the questions became a little awkward for Ministers, the hour was cut to 40 minutes. Everybody knows that the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs read the whole of his speech. He read it like a schoolboy in the second term reading an essay to the class. He did not even read it well. I -am certain that, from the way he read it, without emphasis at the correct places, it was difficult for any member of this House to understand exactly what he intended to say. We shall have to await the publication of " Hansard " before we know what the Minister said about the situation in Hungary. Anybody who listened to his speech - those who were able to keep awake while he droned along interminably - had grave difficulty in understanding what he said.

While I have the opportunity, I want to mention another matter. I understand that, provided there are no emergency sittings, this Parliament will re-assemble in approximately five months' time. Therefore, in the next twelve months, the opportunities for honorable members to voice opinions in this Parliament will be rather limited. I want to make reference to a most amazing statement made during a recent debate by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Casey) in his capacity as the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. The Minister made the amazing statement that in some country overseas - I do not think he mentioned where it was - an ingenious machine had been invented to create the varying climatic conditions that might be experienced in any part of the world, and that this machine could help the scientists in that great organization to determine pastures for introduction in some parts of Australia where they could be of great benefit to this nation. He said that this machine would cost £350,000, but that because of the present financial stringency, we could not afford that sort of money. I conclude, from that statement, that the scientists in this great country are to go without this machine, which even the Minister has said may eventually lead to the saving of hundreds of millions of pounds in this country.

Why cannot we afford £350,000 for the purchase of this machine? In my opinion, it is a small sum of money in comparison with the great benefit that the Minister said it would bestow on the Australian community. He submits that we cannot afford £350,000 for such an essential machine required by the scientists working through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, yet he has committed this country to the expenditure of approximately £34,000,000, to date, on assistance to other countries to increase their development. It appears to me that, if we can afford £34,000,000 to assist other countries to improve their living standards, we should be able to afford £350,000 for the purchase of a machine to help our own scientists to reach conclusions that would increase the development of our own country. The attitude of the Minister in this matter appears to be no different from the general attitude of the Government on these matters of expenditure.

I wish to refer to another matter because I was not given the opportunity to do so at question-time. I came into the House just before questions were concluded and I was awaiting my opportunity to ask a question. The Prime Minister cut short question time, although there was no apparent reason why he should have done so other than the fact that the Government wanted to avoid being embarrassed by questions from the Opposition. In actual fact, the Government had no business with which to keep the House occupied, even up to the normal time of suspension at 6 o'clock, and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) moved the adjournment.

If I had been afforded the opportunity, I intended to ask the Prime Minister whether there was any truth in the statement which had been conveyed to me that one of the guards made responsible for the protection of Vladimar Petrov had met with a serious accident, and whether that guard had been given treatment in Yaralla Repatriation Hospital. I wanted to know also, if the accident occurred, what were the circumstances, what injuries were suffered by the guard and whether there was any truth in the rumour that had been circulated that the prisoner, if he can be termed as such, or the protected - whatever designation is preferred - became violent and attacked the guard. I do not know what information the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is in charge of the House, can give us, but I think the Australian community is very much interested in this particular gentleman because it is responsible for his maintenance, and not merely his present maintenance. Evidently the arrangement is an indefinite one; it is to continue for an undisclosed period. If the Australian taxpayer is to incur expense in the provision of guards, accommodation, living allowance, clothing allowance and so on, we are entitled to be informed on these particular matters.

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