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Wednesday, 22 August 1973
Page: 231

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - We certainly agree with what the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) said concerning the need for this Parliament to operate in an effective and democratic fashion. Yet that was the major complaint the Opposition parties put forward so vigorously during the first session of this Parliament. The opportunities which the Leader of the House recognises should be provided to the Opposition parties certainly were not provided in the first session this year. Despite the great air of bonhomie and sweet reasonableness that the Leader of the House exudes on this occasion, he knows full well that the parliamentary schedule which he proposes will place intolerable and unreasonable pressures on the Opposition parties which are, of course, denied the extensive staff resources and Public Service support facilities available to the Government.

Dr Everingham - It is SO per cent more than we had when we were in Opposition.

Mr LYNCH - The honourable gentleman knows better than to interject when he is out of his normal place in this House. But then, of course, he is in some trouble finding his place in the present Ministry, if one has regard to the disabilities indicated by the announcements which he has been putting down. The concern of the Opposition parties is that this Government may intend to steamroll legislation through the House, consistent with the approach and practice which it adopted last session.

We are conscious of the Government's legislative program and its desire to implement those measures for which it believes it has a mandate. We are not opposed to the concept of extending the sitting days. It is our objective to co-operate and work with the Government towards the effective functioning of this House. But that spirit of co-operation of which the Leader of the House speaks entails the provision by the Government of adequate time to examine the details of legislation in the Party committees, the Party rooms and in the Parliament itself. That time was not afforded during the first session this year. This Parliament cannot properly perform its constitutional role without effective legislative programming by the Government. We on the Opposition side are not prepared to allow the further derogation of the parliamentary system which we saw earlier this year.

The question of the rearranged schedule is not so much a question of extended sitting times, or indeed of extended hours on the sitting days. Rather, it is a question of the Leader of the House, backed by his extensive staff, providing the Opposition with adequate notice of those measures which are to come before this House. Honourable members will recall that, during the last session, 105 Bills were passed by this House in a matter of some 34 days, an average of 3i Bills a day. The guillotine was applied to 5 of those Bills and the debates were gagged on some 40 occasions. In spite of the strong objections raised by the Opposition, the Government forced through a record number of Bills, many of which were not subject to the minimum requirements of meaningful debate.

The Government now proposes to pass some 200 Bills during the Budget session - an announcement made by the Leader of the House, predictably not to this Parliament, but on an ABC radio program before the Parliament began its sitting. This means that Bills, many of which will be of major significance to the Opposition parties and the people of this country, will be introduced at an average rate of 5 a day. In the face of this pressure, it would be no less than reasonable to expect a high degree of forward legislative planning by the Government. We believe that that means that the Opposition parties in this Parliament should receive at least 14 days notice between the time that the second reading of the Bill is moved and the Bill ultimately is brought on for debate. I am referring of course to matters of major significance, not the minor matters on which there can be agreement. The adoption of sound planning procedures by this Government would provide the Opposition parties with the opportunity to process proposals for legislation through our committee systems, our executives and our party rooms. This opportunity was denied during the course of the last session.

Therefore, what is being said in response to what the Leader of the House has put forward is that it is not so much a question of sitting times as it is of adequate foreshadowing of proposals which come before the House for the purposes of scrutiny, analysis and determination of party position by the Opposition. As the Leader of the House knows full well - I do not take a point off him here - on Monday of this week it was almost impossible for the Opposition parties to ascertain the precise program which would obtain for this week.

Mr King - We did not even know when we were going to sit.

Mr LYNCH - We were not even certain as to the time we were going to sit. A number of debates have been brought on quickly for consideration by this House. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) introduced one measure yesterday with an expectation that it would be considered in detail today. This is the aspect which is far from satisfactory and this concept of planning, I believe, is the aspect to which the Leader of the House should direct his attention.

The Government's myth of open government, which has been so much proclaimed has, I believe, been adequately destroyed by what we saw during the early parliamentary processes of the first session. In fact, there was no proper explanation of Government policy given to this House in the form of ministerial statements in many significant areas of Government policy - areas of selfproclaimed Government concern - such as the environment and conservation, urban and regional development and, of course, a field very dear to the heart of the Leader of the House, immigration. The Leader of the House knows full well that he sits in the Ministry with a colleague who has been throughout the length and breadth of Asia proclaiming the concept of a new immigration policy for Australia. He also recognises full well that that policy has not been brought down in this House by way of a detailed statement. It has been sought; it has been called for. The Leader of the House may well have some problems with the policy which his confrere is developing.

All that is being said here in a simple way - the gallery has perceived the significance of the point - is that democracy as it relates to the functioning of the House is not being well served because, contrary to what the Government has put forward in relation to its concept of open government, it has denied that concept in question time. It has denied this concept by the manner in which significant questions of policy have been the subject of pronouncement outside the House and not adequately subjected to the cut and thrust of debate in this Parliament.

Any lingering doubts about - dare I say it - the concept of open government, frankly, have been totally destroyed or erased by the Prime Minister's recent vaudeville performance on the David Frost show, a venue to which he apparently attaches a far greater degree of significance than he does to the functioning of the national Parliament in Canberra. The Prime Ministerial predilection for making major policy announcements through the medium of television must lead to the conclusion that he has now become so transfixed by his own self-perception of brilliance that he no longer regards this House as an adequate forum for his pretensions. The Leader of the House, a man of integrity, a great statesman, knows this point to be of significance in the context of the absence of answers given by the Prime Minister during question time in the House yesterday. In fact, the Melbourne 'Herald' observed on 20 August:

The Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, in his extraordinary week-end television interview with David Frost, debased the processes of government in Australia.

Matters of major importance to the nation became in the hands of Mr Whitlam mere pop entertainment between the advertisements on one commercial TV channel.

The 'Australian' of the same day was equally condemnatory of the Prime Minister's abuse of Parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order!I suggest that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition might confine his remarks io the motion before the Chair. The matter he is dealing with now is hardly relevant.

Mr LYNCH - If I might say so without any offence - of course I would never seek to offend the Chair - the concept of the working of this Parliament, inherent in what the Leader of the House has put forward, is well reflected in the abuse of that concept by what the Prime Minister of this country said on television recently. I will close on that one point if I may have the forbearance of the Chair - the Chair now recognising the significance of that point. The 'Australian' on the same day said this:

When the Prime Minister of Australia returns from an important 3-week trip abroad and makes his first public statement on matters of national importance not to the people of Australia, not to the Australian Parliament, but to a lightweight English show business personality, he loses sight of the values he is there to represent.

This is the Prime Minister who said in his policy speech that one of his great aims for this country was to involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land. That is a promise which has been demeaned, not dignified, by the manner in which the Government has sought to approach the parliamentary processes during the course of the first session of Parliament this year - and we are concerned that it might well seek to repeat that performance now.

The Opposition believes that this motion has been moved precipitately. It has been moved without discussion and without consultation. Surely all the fine words of the Leader of the House about the need to consult, viewed against a background of no consultation on this matter, must sound - even to his great sense of the metaphysic - to be somewhat barren in their application and in their implication. He proposes to extend the sittings to include Mondays and, by commencing at earlier times, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, This will cut heavily, as the Leader of the House is patently aware, into the time allowed to the Opposition parties for committee, executive and party room discussions. It denies the Opposition parties an effective opportunity to analyse the legislation that comes before the national Parliament. We would hope that the Government is not now preparing again to use and abuse this House as no more than a means to exercise its numbers. It is unfortunate that the Leader of the House, having completed an extensive overseas trip to examine the operation of democratic institutions of government, is not prepared to give this House some evidence of his newly acquired enlightenment.

I foreshadow that at the end of these comments I will be moving an amendment which will omit the words 'on each Wednesday at half-past 11 o'clock a.m.' and substitute 'on each Wednesday at 2 o'clock p.m.'. The purpose of the amendment is to extend the opportunity for the Opposition parties to consider legislation in their party rooms. It is all very well for the Leader of the House himself to put the point that the extended hours of sitting will restrict the opportunity for discussion in his own party room. Of course, one can understand why this Government wants to deny its back bench members the opportunity to play an effective and meaningful part in the legislative process. What the Opposition is therefore seeking by the amendment is to have the period between half-past 11 and 1 o'clock on Wednesdays set aside as additional time for party room discussion. If the Leader of the House wants to make up time in some other way he is fully entitled to do so and he would be supported by the Opposition parties.

Mr Daly - What would you suggest?

Mr LYNCH - The Leader of the House could extend the period of the sitting. We are not opposed to extended sitting times, because extended sitting times provide an opportunity to criticise the appalling legislation which this Government intends bringing down in the Budget session. What we are asking for is reasonable time during which the Government will foreshadow the proposals which it is bringing down. That time was not provided in the first session this year and we suspect it is not now to be provided. I therefore move:

That paragraph (1) be amended by omitting the words 'on each Wednesday at half past 11 o'clock a.m.' and substituting 'on each Wednesday at 2 o'clock p.m.'.

There are other matters which the Leader of the House has indicated could be the subject of consultation. I welcome that approach. I hope he will regard those consultations with an open mind, that he will not be subject to the ruthless people who determine his fate in the caucus of the Australian Labor Party. Benign as he is, we know that he is subject to the determination of numbers outside this place. That is a matter of regret, because when one consults with the Leader of the House one knows, of course, that he is never totally the master of his own fate or that of this House. I hope therefore that when consultations are called for following an honest and genuine inquiry made in a spirit of cooperation between the opposite sides of this House - and that spirit must prevail - he will adopt a constructive and positive approach.

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