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Thursday, 15 March 1973
Page: 620

Mr GARLAND (Curtin) - With this session of the Parliament now one-third completed honourable members can take the opportunity to look at the parliamentary behaviour of the new Government. This afternoon I accuse the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and other members of the Government of evasion, misrepresentation and treating Parliament and members of Parliament with contempt. In that accusation I certainly include the Leader of the House (Mr Daly), who is seated at the table. During the election campaign the Australian Labor Party made great play of its concept of open government. It implied that somehow, magically, government would be made more open in supplying information and in sharing with the people - and surely with the elected representatives of the people - the decision making process. What a joke that turned out to be. In a few weeks it has gone from open to slam shut government. This has been the quickest reversal in the history of the Australian Labor Party.

This Government is very fond of talking about its mandates, but there was no reference in the Governor-General's Speech, which was written by the Government, to a mandate for open government. There was no further emphasis on that. What is worse, this Government has been guilty of a great deal of cavalier treatment and arrogance in its dealings with the elected representatives in the Parliament. I instance firstly the Prime Minister who, in answer to questions yesterday, claimed or affected to agree on behalf of this Government that the questions asked by private members and the answers to them were important parts of our representative democracy. At question time his answers to questions without notice travel the whole realms of irrelevancy. It is obvious to all of us who sit here that the Prime Minister will not or cannot answer specifically. The superciliousness and arrogance of his manner are plain to all who see him. It is an obvious attempt to cover up his inadequacies -

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable gentleman is now reflecting on individuals. I remind him that to do so is not in accordance with the protocol of the House.

Mr GARLAND - I hope, Mr Speaker, that he will change his attitude so I will not have to comment in another way later.

The Prime Minister's attitude is being copied by his Ministers. I remind honourable members who were present at question time today of the copying of that behaviour by the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) and the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron). Let us look for a moment at the answers which the Prime Minister has given to questions on notice. Those answers were in the main peremptory, cavalier and arrogant. Questions on notice are a prime avenue for members of Parliament to obtain information. Over 6,000 questions on notice were asked last year in the last Parliament. They received very good answers, in spite of what the Leader of the House had to say the other day. I know the care with which that information was compiled and I know that often many or all government departments were consulted.

Let me refer to the Prime Minister's answer to question No. 227. He evaded part of the question. His answer was not fully responsive. He made an attempt to convince us that the conduct of other Ministers - Ministers of his own Government - was not his concern. Are we to ask all Ministers the same question and put 27 questions on the notice paper? The Prime Minister is responsible for the conduct of his Ministers and he must answer the question fully. Indeed, his answer to this question contradicted an answer which he gave to question No. 134 that I asked. What does he do? Give any answer irrespective of its accuracy, just to get it off the notice paper? Question No. 205 contained several questions seeking elaboration of Government policy and relating to the behaviour of Ministers. Such matters are the core of Cabinet responsibility and part of the constitutional practice in this country. The Prime Minister had the audacity to refer me to some Press transcript. Members of Parliament have the right to full, completely responsive answers to questions which are properly and formally asked.

A transcript of a Press conference is not an official parliamentary document. In any case, this one did not answer the questions that were posed. At that Press conference they were evaded or not answered. I ask for leave of the

House to incorporate in Hansard questions on notice Nos 227, 205 and 131 and the answers thereto.

Mr SPEAKER - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The documents read as follows) - (Question No. 227)

Mr Garland asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:

(1)   'Did he state in reply to question No. 134 (Hansard, 1st March 1973, page 196) that he signed substantive replies to letters and communications from Members of Parliament.

(2)   Has his attention been drawn to a telegram sent by Senator Durack, Senator Sim, Mr Viner and myself, on 4th January 1973, asking for an urgent calling together of Parliament to discuss matters of urgent public importance; if so, was it not acknowledged until 8th February and then either by Dr Wilenski or Dr Wilenski's secretary.

(3)   Will he reply to that aspect of question No. 134 which asked him to ensure that his Ministers personally sign letters and communications to all Members of Parliament, as was the former practice.

(4)   Will he ensure that, in future, answers to questions are fully responsive to all aspects of the questions asked.

Mr Whitlam - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   and (2) Yes.

(3)   and (4) These are matters for the individual Ministers concerned. (Question No. 205)

Mr Garland asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to the Press statement by the Minister for Overseas Trade on 28th Dec ember 1972 concerning the Minister's attitude to the policy of the United States of America to North Vietnam.

(2)   If so, did he, in his capacity either as Prime Minister or Minister for Foreign Affairs, depute the Minister for Overseas Trade to make this statement.

(3)   If he did not depute the Minister, did he know in advance that the statement would be made.

(4)   Does the statement represent the policy of the Government.

(5)   Has the Minister for Overseas Trade been assigned any responsibilities to assist him in foreign affairs matters and to help formulate policy; if so, what is the extent of those responsibilities.

(6)   Has he examined known left-wing attitudes to foreign policy and analysed their aspects.

(7)   If so, has his examination disclosed a similarity with the views expressed in the statement.

(8)   After the Minister made the statement, did he state that he had spoken to the Minister and mat no further statements would be made on foreign affairs by Ministers of his Government except himself.

(9)   Did the Ministers for Overseas Trade, Labour and Urban and Regional Development subsequently make strong statements.

(10)   Have members of the Government a consistent foreign policy.

Mr Whitlam - I refer the honourable member to my remarks on these matters made at my Press conferences of 9th January 1973 and 16th January 1973. (Question No. 131)

Mr Garland asked the Prime 'Minister, upon notice:

(1)   ls it a fact that in a despatch of press releases received by, Members on or about 30th January 1973 there were several pages of what appeared to be a transcript of an interview with either the Minister for Social Security or the Minister for Health which was without any heading or indication of who the questioner or answerer was.

(2)   If so, will he ensure that in future all material sent to Members is properly headed and identified so that it is clear who is making a statement, who is answering a question and under whose authority it is being issued.

Mr Whitlam - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   and (2) It is not possible to establish whether such an oversight occurred in the manner described by the honourable member, but every care is taken to ensure that members receive material in proper condition.

Mr GARLAND - I thank the. House. That will collate them. I intend to persist with this subject of obtaining satisfactory answers to questions. If I cannot obtain satisfactory answers by putting questions on the notice paper, I will take other measures in the House. In question No. 131 I asked the Prime Minister to continue the former efficient practice of the early and complete mailing of Minister's Press releases to members of Parliament. The Prime Minister tried to maintain that what had happened was an oversight. I tell him now, although he. is not in the chamber at the moment, that Press releases are still late. On 10th March I received one dated 21st February. They are still not headed properly. There are plenty of duplications. They are packed higgledy piggledy in envelopes. I do not doubt that if there is duplication and disorder there are omissions. Surely a Government which is responsible to the people for a Budget of $ 10,000m can be 100 per cent efficient in a simple thing such as circularising Press releases, particularly with the tremendous staff that it has available to it. What hope is there for the proper conduct of the affairs of this country if the Government cannot handle such a simple thing?.

The Minister for Labour answers questions which come within 2 categories - those which are arranged by him or of which he has been given prior notice by Labor supporters, to which he delivers at question time long prepared sermons which are full of bias and sanctimony, and those which come from other private members who are seeking information. Imagine the arrogance in the character and manner of a Minister who gives this answer to a question which seeks information in respect of the provisions of consent awards:

If the honourable gentleman will try to contain himself until the Bill is introduced, all will be explained then.

In answer to a complex question on prices and incomes he just said:

The answers to the 3-pronged question are yes, yes, no.

What arrogance is that? We know that, although the Minister has little judgment and although he is in an ideological strait-jacket of socialism, he has the experience and knowledge to answer; but he chooses to be contemptuous of members and of the Parliament. His answers to questions on notice are nothing short of an insult to the Parliament. 1 instance the answers that he has given to questions Nos 14, 15, 47 and 175. They are a disgrace. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard those 4 questions and answers.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted?

Mr Keogh - No.

Mr SPEAKER - 'Leave is not granted.

Mr GARLAND - The Minister made no attempt to reply seriously or responsively to those questions. The Minister for Labour, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Secondary Industry (Dr J. F. Cairns) and the Leader of the House cannot speak in the House without using unnecessary insults and epithets and childishly venting their spleen. The Prime Minister particularly is noted for this. He is easily the worst offender. Those members who watch him at close quarters know that he just cannot help himself. Recently the Minister for Secondary Industry, in a procedure as prosaic as the tabling of a report, had to sneer and jibe. Who has ever seen him give a smile, except for a vacant twist like that of some 20th century Mephistopheles?

The Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) has not been straight with this House. Recently he tabled a document which was prepared by the Secretary of . his Department. He tabled it without comment, making it clear to the House, by implication, that he accepted it. Only 2 hours later he was telling the Press that he had some reservations about it. The next day the newspapers were full of the story that 'Barnard rapped Tange on the knuckles'. The Minister denied that the next day, but we know where the story came from. What a farce! What is he prepared to say to the House? The Leader of the House, who is known well in this building for his great skill in manoeuvres both in and out of the House, is well on the way to creating a record for stifling the comments of private members by the use of the gag and the guillotine. The censure motion on which the Prime Minister permitted only 3 speakers to make-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired. Before I call the next speaker, I should like to point out >to the honourable member for Curtin that it is within the province of a Minister to answer a question during question time as he thinks fit. This was the practice followed by the late Archie Cameron, by Sir John McLeay and by Sir William Aston, and I intend to follow the same procedure.

Mr Garland - Mr Speaker, I was not intending to criticise you or your rulings in any way. I was criticising the Ministers.

Mr SPEAKER - You are not criticising me; I am only telling you the forms of the House.

Mr Garland - I am well aware of them.

Mr Daly - Mr Speaker, is it in order for me to make the point that the worst answers ever given in this Parliament were by the honourable member for Curtin when he was a Minister?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved.

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