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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1968


Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) -I do not intend to reply to the personal invective and criticism of the previous speaker, the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull). On the contrary, I hope to make some constructive and, as far as I am concerned, sincere criticism of the procedures of this Parliament. I believe that if ever there was a time when it was necessary for us to try to build up the image of the Parliament amongst the public, today is that time. No doubt Press criticism of the Parliament is degrading and it is having a serious impact upon the confidence of the public in the democratic procedures of this Parliament. For that reason I believe the time has arrived for some form of committee of inquiry to be established to determine the future procedures of this Parliament. I say this as, like many other parliamentarians, I am deeply concerned at the growing inability of the Parliament itself adequately to cope with the mass of legislative and administrative detail which comes before it. Unless something is done to correct this situation I believe that the government of this country will fall more and more into the hands of the bureaucracy, as happened in France between the 2 World Wars and just after the Second World War. We had the spectacle in this House during the dying hours of the last session of 17 Bills being guillotined through and the debate on a further 3 being gagged, with only the barest minimum of discussion. I am open to correction, but as I recollect it was stated that one Minister had only 2 minutes to explain his Bill in the debate on the motion for the second reading.

Amongst those Bills which were rushed through were very important items of legislation such as industrial legislation and amendments to the Trade Practices Act. Is it any wonder that these items of legislation are not as effective as they should be. and would anybody claim that the legislation concerned had received the full and careful consideration of this Parliament as required in a parliamentary democracy? Of course not. What really happened was that the Executive and the bureaucracy made the decisions without involving the great body of this Parliament.

The fact is that this Parliament is still working under much the same procedures in 1971 as it worked under in 1901, the time of federation. Let us have a look at the responsibilities of this Parliament in 1901 as compared with 1971. In 1901 there were 9 Ministers, including the Prime Minister, the other ministries being External Affairs, Home Affairs, Trade and Customs, Defence, PostmasterGeneral, the VicePresident of the Executive Council, and 2 Ministers without portfolios. Today there are 27 Ministers. In 1901 we had no Department of Civil Aviation, no Navy that was established in 1911 by a Labor Government no Royal Australian Air Force, no Repatriation Department, no Department of Social Services, no organised Commonwealth marketing schemes in primary industry, no medical and hospital benefits legislation, no Commonwealth education and science legislation, no uniform taxation, no restrictive trade practices legislation, no uniform marriage or divorce laws, no Commonwealth Department of Housing no external territories responsibilities, no industrial legislation, no national service, no national development responsibilities, no departments covering Aboriginal affairs, the environment and the arts, no tourist activity responsibilities, no shipping and transport responsibilities including Commonwealth ships, and no organisation relating to trade and industry. In addition the massive tariff legislation which was introduced in the late 1920s to develop a semi-industrialised economy was not in being at that time; nor were the Commonwealth and Reserve banks, TransAustralia Airways and Commonwealth control over the note issue.

These are just some of the responsibilities which this Parliament has today and which it did not have in 1901, and there would be more. Is it any wonder that we are clogged down in masses of legislation which is not being properly considered by this Parliament. Are not all members of the Parliament concerned that we have to wait up to 4 weeks on the Opposition side of the House, as mentioned by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), before we can level a question without notice at a Minister? Would anyone oppose the proposal that question time be extended to allow the Ministry, the Executive and the bureaucracy to come under the scrutiny of the Parliament, the public and the Press? Surely these are matters which should be considered urgently by some form of committee of inquiry.

I believe also that the provision of a research assistant with the necessary stenographic staff and office accommodation for each parliamentarian would be a good way to commence correcting the steady growth of the superiority of the bureacracy of the Parliament and would enable parliamentarians to call upon research assistants to conduct research into various phases of government and thereby equip them to level constructive criticism in respect of the day to day administration of government as well as government policy. This would make far more effective parliamentarians, a far more effective Parliament and, much sounder government of Australia and would help towards increasing the power of the Parliament over the bureaucracy - surely a vital necessity for the future of Australia. 1 can recollect the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) saying at this time last year that he believed that some of the best work that a parliamentarian does is outside this chamber when he is dealing with electors and the day to day electoral representations that they put up to him. 1 believe that this is the case because the machinery being used in this Parliament is completely out of date. It is not a matter of attacking the traditions; it is simply common sense that the machinery being used in this Parliament is completely out of date in this year of 1971. We are still using the procedures that applied in 1901. Surely the time has arrived when this Parliament should look seriously at this matter. It is a very great issue affecting the future of democracy in Australia, and unless we are prepared to grapple with it, unless we are prepared to set up some form of committee of inquiry so that this matter can be researched fully and common sense decisions arrived at, it augers very badly indeed for the future of this Parliament and it augers very badly indeed for the respect that the public has for the forms, traditions, and activities of the Parliament.







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