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Thursday, 8 November 1956

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - After I proposed the motion for the adjournment of the House this debate was precipitated by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who made the charge that to-day's proceedings in the Parliament had been farcical, and that the Government, in effect, had treated the Parliament in a cavalier fashion in bringing it here to-day. The word " cavalier " was in fact adopted by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). The honorable member for East Sydney indicated that the Government had deliberately prevented the opportunity for debate on the statements made, and had stifled discussion. I do not think any one who has been a member of this House for any reasonable length of time would regard the honorable member for. East Sydney as other than a completely biased and dishonest critic of this Government. But I believe it important on an occasion such as this that the facts should be recorded, and that the Government's stand-point should be clearly known. The first fact that I want to put on record is that at no point of time did the Government deny, or seek to deny, the opportunity for debate by its own supporters or by the Opposition of the statements presented by the Prime Minister- (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), who is acting for the Minister for External Affairs. That fact was known, or should have been known, to every member of the Opposition. In discharging my responsibility to assist in organizing the proceedings of this House, and I made it known to the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is Deputy Leader of the

Opposition. Subsequently, I personally reaffirmed that fact and informed the honorable member for Melbourne and the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) that if the Opposition wanted a debate it would have it. I made that statement while the bells were ringing for the assembly of the House, which was the latest time at which it could be made, and I made it also at the earliest available time.

Mr Ward - To whom did the Minister make it?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - To the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Melbourne.

Dr Evatt - It was made just as we were coming into the House.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - That is so, but I had also made it at the earliest possible time, which was when the honorable member for Melbourne spoke to me this morning on the telephone from Melbourne. I had also indicated to the honorable member last week that the Government contemplated a debate continuing at least until 11 p.m. to-day.

Dr Evatt - That is not so.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - It is of no use for the Leader of the Opposition to shake his head at me and say, " That is not so ". Those were the arrangements made. The honorable member for Melbourne will not deny that I left the Government party room to see him. I might just add, in confirmation of what I am stating, that the Prime Minister told Government supporters what he had in mind in the way of a statement, and what the Minister for Defence proposed to say. He put it to the members of the Government parties at a joint meeting that if a debate was desired it would be held. The members of the Government parties took the general view that the position was so confused that the facts were not by any means clearly known, and that we could, therefore, only offer opinions, as members of the Parliament, which could not be said to be firmly based on fact and that, in those circumstances, a debate was not likely to prove very useful. They also took the view -and this was regarded as the decision of the party - that if members of the Opposition wanted a debate, then a debate was to be conceded to them.

Those are the facts. It was after that decision was reached by the Government parties, Mr. Speaker, that, having previously told the Opposition's deputy leader that a debate would be held, I then went to the Opposition party room and told both the Leader of the Opposition and his deputy that if they wanted a debate they need only move that the paper be printed, and a debate would then proceed on that basis.

Mr Ward - I do not believe it.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I did not expect the honorable member for East Sydney to believe it. But I am not addressing the honorable member; I am addressing you Mr. Speaker, and I am putting a few fact? on record. Quite apart from that, of course the honorable member for East Sydney re f erred to these proceedings as " futile ". He said that we had had only 40 minutes of questions. The normal procedure is to have 45 minutes of questions. It was quite obvious to the Prime Minister that there was not a great deal of interest in the questions being put by honorable members, after the Parliament had been sitting for mam weeks and, indeed, had been re-assembled only to provide an opportunity, should an opportunity be desired, for a discussion on these important international questions.

Mr Makin - Is there not reason why we should come back next week?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The Prime Minister has said he would consider having the Parliament meet next week if the Opposition wants to come back, and if the Leader of the Opposition presses for a meeting. It is purely out of consideration for honorable members that we do not propose to call them here unless there is something substantial for them to discuss. To-day, there was something substantial for them to discuss.

Mr Ward - Then why would you not let us discuss it?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I would think. Mr. Speaker, that one of the very substantial matters which would be discussed to-day, and on which individual view-points would be made known, by both the Government parties and the Opposition party, was in relation to the practical and immediate question of whether or not Australia would be willing to participate in an international force set up under the auspices of the United Nations.

Mr Ward - That was not discussed.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Did you not discuss it in your party room? lt was certainly discussed by the Government, and it was touched upon by the Prime Minister in our party room. I should have imagined that to be a matter of sufficient consequence, not merely for calling the parties together, but for calling the Parliament together in order to indicate just where Australia stood on that particular matter. So there was one matter of substance, and I have no doubt that if any matter of corresponding dimensions were to arise over the next week or so the Prime Minister would certainly arrange, through you, Mr. Speaker, for the Parliament to he called together.

Dr Evatt - That is understood.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Of course it is understood, and the assurance has been given. Quite apart from that, there have been eight speeches - mine is the ninth - on the motion for the adjournment of the House, which would rather indicate that some honorable members, anyhow, have welcomed the opportunity provided by the sitting to address the House.

Reference was made to the fact that, subject to abnormal circumstances which might arise, and subject to emergencies, the Parliament was not likely to meet for another five months. I do not know whether the impression sought to be conveyed was that the Parliament was, therefore, not going about its business satisfactorily, or doing enough. If that was the implication, I think it might be as well to put on record the fact that this year has been a record year in the history of our federation in respect of the volume of legislation passed. No fewer than 113 bills have been passed by the Parliament this year, which is an all-time record. In addition, the time of the sitting next year has been affected by the fact that a conference of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization is being held in Canberra, and the accommodation and facilities of Parliament House will be required for the purposes of that conference. That is not to say that members of the parties will not be conferring before that time. We have our party meetings arranged for February, and no doubt honorable members opposite will also be making their arrangements.

It has been customary, Mr. Speaker, al this time of the year to express good wishes from both sides of the House to honorable members, and to those who have assisted us in the work of the Parliament. The fact that we have not had a formal or lengthy comment along those lines on this occasion is merely a reflection of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We regard ii as a probability, and not an improbability, that the Parliament will be meeting again before the end of the year. If it does not so meet, we shall all be the better pleased. [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House for extending my time on the motion of the Leader of the Opposition. I wan to say only that if, in all the circumstances, it is not found necessary to bring the Parliament together that state of affairs will, 1 am sure, give us cause for satisfaction, and will most certainly be in keeping with the approaching spirit of Christmas and the peace and goodwill which should obtain at that time. If, unhappily, we must be brought together before the end of the year, there will be a further opportunity for reference to what has been clone here, and to the service that has been performed on our behalf by all those concerned, from yourself, Mr. Speaker, down through the officers of the House to the people who have served us in the parliamentary refreshmentrooms and elsewhere in this building. But. in the event of our not sitting again before the end of the year. I take the opportunity now of saying briefly, but very sincerely, on behalf of the Government and members of this Parliament, that we have all appreciated the service which has been given to us in all those different directions, and to convey also to all members of the Parliament, and to all members of the staff, our very best wishes for a season in which, we hope, the spirit of peace and goodwill will be established.

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