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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1558


Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I think that it is fair to say that the pressures which have come on this Parliament and the fact that the membership of the Parliament at this stage of its evolution has not developed into a Canberra dwelling group - in the case of most of the major parliaments of the world members dwell in their national capitals - are not helping the standing of the Parliament or the level of debate here. But I think that it is somewhat unfair to say that the activities in the Parliament are altogether irrelevant. It is true that more amendments have been accepted in this Parliament in the last 6 months to 8 months than were accepted here in the last 6 years to 8 years. This is, I suppose, more an expression of the political needs of the day than the result of the force of the arguments. But it is not reasonable to blame the Parliament if the force of the arguments is not good. I think that members must accept responsibility for the present state of affairs.

Let me refer to the 2 most backward steps that this Parliament has made. The first was to provide broadcast relay facilities in the offices of members. This is an extreme convenience and I do not think that any member would give it up easily. But this facility does enable members to hear the debates without being physically present in the chamber. This fact must detract from the performance of speakers in the House. The other backward step is, as mentioned by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), the reading of speeches. It is much easier to appear to be a first class speaker if one writes one's speech in advance or someone writes it for one and then it is presented to the Parliament. This is a very easy thing to do. In fact, provided one is a good reader, one can be the most eloquent of persons. But this practice does not necessarily add to debates.

Possibly more important, the Parliament and the Parliament's performance of its duties are seriously detracted from by the role that the

Standing Orders, which after all are decided mainly on a free vote of the House, provide to the Speaker of the House. Under our Standing Orders, the Speaker does not have the right to reject a motion for the gag. The Speaker has very little right under the Standing Orders with relation to questions - the nature of questions or answers to questions.


Mr Hamer - We need a non-Party Speaker.


Mr SCHOLES - That is not easy especially from a House with 125 members. If we were to elect as Speaker of the House the member who had the most marginal seat in the Parliament and he were to become the non-Party Speaker of the House, his casting vote would be an extremely valuable vote in a House whose membership totals an odd number. Governments could fall on that casting vote. I do not think that the solution is quite as politically easy as the honourable member for Isaacs suggests. I am not naive enough to think that we can do it as easily. I would like to see such action made possible. But I do not think that in a House of 125 members, with the closeness of the contest at election time and the narrow margins by which governments are often elected, a solution of that type - the giving away of one seat - is one which any political party in this place will easily accept.

What has to be done if this Parliament is to process the business which it should process? We do have a number of committees. But we are reaching the stage where members are not able to give service to the committees that have been appointed and of which they are members. They cannot do so because of the limitations on their time. The proposition that I put to the Committee of the Whole is that it may well be that we need to alter the procedures used in the passage of Bills through this chamber. At the moment, because each matter has to be legislated and because the pressures are growing - the previous Government had this trouble, we will have this trouble, and future governments will have this trouble in far greater detail - Bills must be passed and debate must take place on those Bills. Yet, the Parliament should be the place where the really major debates of the nation can take place. That situation does not exist at the moment. I believe that some solution to this problem should be found.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.


Mr SCHOLES - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was making the point that because of the increasing pressure of legislation to be passed through this Parliament it is becoming more and more difficult for the Parliament to debate in any depth the substantial matters which should be debated in this Parliament. The time factor is not going to improve with the passage of years. It will get worse. The Parliament will bog down in a situation in which it will be dealing with nothing other than legislation unless other methods are adopted by which we may consider legislation that comes before us.

I would like to outline a proposal which I feel should be given consideration in regard to dealing with legislation in the second reading and Committee stages. At present all legislation is debated and passed through all stages in this chamber. This is not the case in all parliaments. I feel that it would be possible to devise a system whereby the House divided into 3 or more committees. I think 3 committees would most likely be an ideal number in view of the present number of representatives in this chamber. Under this proposal a Bill, having been introduced into the Parliament and the second reading speech having been made, would be referred to one of the committees where the second reading and Committee stages of the Bill would be completed. The Bill would then come back to the Parliament for report and passage through the third reading, which is the passing stage. Protection would have to be built into such a system to enable a major Bill to be dealt with in the House if the Opposition desired that it be dealt with in the House. I think that the best way of doing that would be by providing that if a Bill had reached the second reading stage it would automatically be referred to one of the committees unless, say, one-third of the members or some such number were to indicate that they wanted the Bill debated in what would be a plenary session of the House.

A committee system of this nature would not restrict the rights of members to debate legislation. It would not restrict the Parliament's control over legislation. Such a system may well furnish better debates on some of the smaller but important Bills which at the moment are rushed through the Parliament purely because of a lack of time. Obviously structural alterations to this Parliament would have to take place before such a system could operate. There would have to be committee rooms which could accommodate the 40 or more members who would participate in these meetings. It would be possible to adopt this system by the Parliament meeting for, say, an hour and then dividing into the 3 committees to discuss 3 matters at the same time. In this way better and fuller discussion of legislation could take place. When the legislation came back to this place I should think that debate would be restricted to the report stage and the third reading stage of the legislation. I think it is important that we look at means by which we can streamline the processes of passing legislation through this Parliament, at the same time enabling the Parliament to give adequate and proper consideration for the important matters that the national Parliament should deal with. I would like to deal with this matter more fully but I do not think that this is the appropriate time. Unless the Parliament gives serious consideration to how it is going to cope with the increased work load that confronts it, the Parliament will become a sausage machine, turning out Bills and dealing with little else. That is the evolution that confronts the Parliament, purely because of the increased pressure of work that confronts the Australian Government.







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