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Wednesday, 8 December 1971
Page: 4371

Dr MACKAY (Evans) (Minister for the Navy) (1:13 AM) - I would like to follow the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) because I believe that he has brought an element of common sense into this situation. I would like to remind the House of the way in which the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) dealt with this whole matter the day after the incident in question occurred, when he refused to accept the kinds of divisions that have been suggested tonight and fully accepted the fact that it was the Government parties' responsibility, and theirs alone, to ensure that the House was kept and that a quorum was present.

There has been tonight a lot of discussion as to the relative merits or purposes or objectives of the Opposition in exercising its function in what was called keeping the Government on its toes. Tonight it has been stated by the honourable member for Perth, who has just spoken, that a quorum is called not necessarily to bring about the collapse of the House so much as to cause great inconvenience to the Ministry in particular and to members on the Government side in general. This of course is recognised. During the 8 years I have been here it has been a fully recognised fact that this is one of the methods that an opposition has to harass a government. At a late hour of the night, and when the Opposition feels that business should be going in a way contrary to that which is being pursued, it is one of the legitimate devices for harassing a government. This is. as the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) said in his speech, one of the rules of the game as much as some of the things that can take place in a rugby scrum, and it is fully recognised. But on the night in question the honourable member for Grayndler will recollect that I came into the chamber immediately on the ringing of the bells. I had been immediately outside the door. I felt that there was something rather different about this evening. There were obviously a number of people who did not come into the chamber. I called out to the honourable member for Grayndler in a somewhat joking manner: 'What is the matter, Fred? Did you lose a toss in the Caucus meeting this morning?' In what I thought was mock horror at the suggestion that it was a put-up job, he replied: 'What a dreadful thing to suggest', or words to that effect. lt was my impression that there was a plan, and a successful plan, behind it. Perhaps the plan was more successful than was intended. But it was as a result of a deliberate action that the House was counted out.

Mr Reynolds - lt was because Government members did not turn up.

Dr MACKAY - I fully accept that, and the Prime Minister the next morning fully accepted it. It was the Government's responsibility. But the point 1 want to make is that, instead pf having a slanging match between the 2 sides of the House, the Leader of the House (Mr Swartz) has put before the House a motion which, I believe, states quite fairly the relative merits of the case. Certainly, as will be apparent to all who have read the evidence, there was an explicit statement that was untrue in the exact wording and verbiage that was used in the newspaper. In terms of the spirit of the occasion and in terms of the severity of the incident that was being discussed, 1 believe that the motion before the House sums up very nicely what should be the proper attitude of the House. Certainly a mistake was made. Certainly it was something that reflected on the House and went far beyond what could ordinarily be intended by the circumstances. But the dignity of the House is best served by simply noting that fact. That is the reason why I - and, I hope, a majority of honourable members - will support the motion moved by the Leader of the House.

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