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Wednesday, 23 November 1960

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HigginsTreasurer) . - in reply - I think that the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) has flattered the Opposition by comparing the nauseating performance that we have witnessed this afternoon with the " heroics " as described by Mr. Chifley in 1949. A member of the Opposition has said that the Government has treated the Opposition with contempt. On to-day's performance, the Opposition is entitled to be treated with contempt, not only by the Government, but by the people of this country. Certainly, the Leader of the Opposition will give no thanks to his supporters. He rose on this matter and expressed himself briefly and temperately. He registered an Opposition point of view. He well knew that there was a time limit applying to the discussion of the Crimes Bill. But his supporters have confirmed what the Government had believed yesterday, namely that the Opposition thought that probably the Crimes Bill discussion could finish last night. However, in order to give more debating time, and so to meet the request of the Opposition, the Government was prepared to carry the debate on to dinner time tonight. Now what has happened? An hour or more of the extra time that we made available for the debate on the Crimes Bill has been dissipated in this footling demonstration by the Opposition. The Opposition's complaint is without any substance. It comes from an Opposition which, already this year, has shown itself vulnerable on the very point to which attack is directed at this time. If honorable gentlemen opposite seriously believe that private members' business should be immune from the kind of interruption which I have proposed to the House, why is it that so often in the course of this year they have chosen private members' day in order to raise a matter of urgency, thus, by caucus decision, depriving members on both sides of the House of the opportunity to deal with private members' business?

At times, I have urged the spokesman for the Opposition to leave the matter of urgency until another day so that private members could exercise the right given to them under Standing Orders. But that suggestion has been brushed aside because Opposition members wanted to raise their matters at a time when they would have a good press or when they would be on the air. What do they care about the rights of private members in those circumstances? I have made the claim more than once in this place that at no time in recent history - certainly not during the last 25 years when I have had some personal experience of these matters- have private members of this Parliament had more opportunities to speak provided by a government.

Mr Bryant - You should look at the statistics.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - Not only have I looked at the statistics, but I have been a member of Parliament since long before the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) came here. As has been shown by the honorable member for Mallee, the most ruthless and oppressive treatment was handed out by a Labour Government when we sat on the other side of the House. It is from some recollection of what went on in those days that I claim that the Government has been far more considerate of the rights of private members than any previous Government - in my time, anyhow. The Opposition has now frittered away an hour of the time available for the consideration of the Crimes Bill. Of course, the real justification for the Government acting in this way is that we are reserving time for what, in our judgment, are matters of greater importance which are to come before the Parliament and which are necessary for the Australian people at this time.

Not only has the Opposition frittered the time away in this fashion this afternoon; it has also, by going through this childish performance of forcing divisions on the gag, and forcing divisions on amendments which it knows are going to be carried by overwhelming majorities, simply burnt up the substantial time that otherwise would have been available for discussion of the Crimes Bill. In other parliaments the Opposition maintains its good sense. Take the House of Commons as an example.

In that gathering the Opposition will register a viewpoint and be content to have that viewpoint on the record. It knows that it will not make its viewpoint any better understood by the general public simply by going through this childish performance of forcing a division when it knows that overwhelming numbers will be recorded against its views. Instead, it uses the time available to it for sensible, analytical discussion.

Why cannot honorable members opposite show some maturity in these matters and use the time available to them in a more constructive and valuable way? I do not think anybody inside this Parliament - certainly in the Government ranks, whether in the Liberal Party or the Country Party - is going to be fooled by this show put on by honorable members opposite, who hold their arms out and appeal for a display of independence on the part of honorable members who sit behind the Government. We do have independent minds on our side of the House. We do have men who, having expressed an opinion, are prepared to support their opinion by their vote. Their actions may not always give comfort to the Government. I would have to search my memory, however, to discover cases in which honorable members opposite, who were opposed to something that their own party had decided, had come forward and supported by vote the opinion that they expressed with so much conviction.

I think that honorable gentlemen on the Government side know that the Government would not have taken this course of action unless it believed that in the time available to us there were more important matters to be dealt with. What humbug for honorable members opposite to say, "Let us go on sitting until Christmas". They will say that in the Parliament, but they do not say that to me in the corridors.

Mr Ward - Who speaks to you in the corridors? I do not talk to you in the corridors.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - That is acceptable to me.

Mr Ward - Well, put us to the test. Who has spoken to you?

Mr Jones - Name them or prove yourself a liar.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member will withdraw that remark.

Mr Jones - I withdraw it.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - I am not prepared to accept the views of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) as a fair sample of Opposition opinion. Obviously the Opposition does not accept his views as a fair sample of Opposition opinion, if one can judge from the support it has been prepared to give him. I have had member after member coming to me.

Mr Ward - Who are they? I do not think you are telling the truth.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Mr HAROLD HOLT - They have said, " We thought that the Parliament was going to rise on 24th November. We have made commitments."

Mr Ward - I do not think you are telling the truth.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for East Sydney is continually interjecting. I have already warned him, and I must now tell faim that if he does not desist I will take action.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - I will let honorable members search their own consciences on this matter. There are many amongst them who have said they had the impression that the Parliament was going to rise on 24th November, that they had accepted commitments in their electorates and elsewhere after that date, that they then found that the sitting time was going to be extended to 1st December, they now find that it appears likely to be extended to 8th December, and that they have been put to a good deal of inconvenience because of these developments. Certainly there are many honorable members on this side who have expressed those sentiments.

Members of the Cabinet will be coming here on Cabinet business probably until Christmas Eve, so it would cause them no great inconvenience if the Parliament remained in session. But there is a problem for some honorable members, many of whom speak proudly of the number of electors they represent, in getting back to their electorates and dealing with their constituents. It is only a few weeks or a few months ago - a matter of weeks only, relatively speaking - when I put to honorable members opposite a proposal which would have enabled us to spread the sitting days with more convenience to many honorable members, and would have provided more actual hours of discussion in the weeks in which we would have sat. But honorable members opposite said that they did not want the proposal which would have given us more discussion time.

Mr Whitlam - Your own party knocked it.

Mr HAROLD HOLT - No, it did not. The matter was not dealt with finally until honorable members opposite had made it known that they did not want a revision of the sitting programme which would have provided more time for discussion of the matters before us. When the Labour Government was in office, and Mr. Chifley was dealing summarily with a motion similar to the one now before the House - and he gave far less information about it than I have given to-day - he simply said, "We have electorates to attend to and we do not want to be here all the time". Apparently that was good enough for the Labour Party in Mr. Chifley's day, but it is not good enough when this Government is in office.

I think the best service we could all do the Parliament would be to terminate discussion of this motion and get on with the business before the House.

Question put -

That Government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.

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