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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1574

Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) - I will not take up too much of the time of the Committee. As a matter of fact, I was not going to speak at all, but I felt impelled to speak in reply to one or two of the remarks of the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who made statements in the typical manner of a member of the Australian Country Party. I will not say that his statements were hypocrisy, Mr Deputy Chairman, because you would immediately rule me out of order.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins) - I can assure you I would.

Mr ARMITAGE - But I would say that his approach to the question was insincere. I refer in particular of course to his statement that li hours should be allowed for questions without notice. I remember that when the honourable member for Kennedy was a member of the Government last year and I was sitting on the other side of the Chamber I rose time and time again objecting to the practice of the Right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), who was then the Prune Minister, of cutting question time short. I can recollect on one occasion when question time lasted for only 28 minutes or 32 minutes, I am not sure which. I used to sit on the other side and each day I would take a note of the time that was allowed for questions without notice and each day, we found that the time allowed for questions was getting shorter because the Government had a new lot of Ministers, including the honourable member for Kennedy, and they were frightened of answering questions. Accordingly, the time for questions was cut down and cut down until finally I had to stand and move for the suspension of Standing Orders. We then received justice for a fortnight - a whole fortnight - and then suddenly the time allowed for questions started to drift back again. It grew less and less and I think it was then that on one occasion question time lasted for only 28 minutes.

I think you would agree, Mr Deputy Chairman, that since this Government has been in office, the time allowed for questions has never been reduced below the normal 45 minutes. I have noticed this day by day because I am a man with some sense of justice and I have always felt that if I criticised the Opposition when it was in Government, I would have to take up the matter within my own Party if we were being deprived of an adequate time for questions. I think that you, Mr Deputy Chairman, would know that I would do that. So I have been watching the situation very carefully indeed and there is no doubt that we have been given a full 45 minutes for question time each day - something that was very seldom given to us during the course of the last Parliament, except when it was absolutely forced by public opinion, the Press and the members of this House. I thought I had to reply to the honourable member for Kennedy and the insincerity - I would not say hypocrisy - of his suggestion that question time should be increased to 1} hours. Honourable members cannot have their cake and eat it too.

It is remarkable how little critic sm has been levelled against the Government and the conduct of the Parliament during the period since this Parliament first met. In fact, I have heard the honourable member for Kennedy pay a compliment to the manner in which the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) has improved conditions in the Parliament since the beginning of this year. Without a doubt, he has abolished that ridiculous situation where we would be legislating at three, four, or five o'clock in the morning. This is something which surely the honourable member for Kennedy, when he was a Minister, should have done something about. I think that one of the great assets of this Parliament is that we now rise at 11 p.rn. and that we legislate when we have our wits about us. We no longer have that terrible spectacle, that we saw in the past, of honourable members with blankets covering them, and so forth.

Mr Daly - And every one a Liberal member too.

Mr ARMITAGE - Yes, every one cf them was a Liberal member. When we were in Opposition we never saw a member of the Australian Labor Party with a blanket covering him in this chamber. I think it is quite remarkable how the Leader of the House has improved the conditions in this Parliament since he took over that office.

I should like to make one or two other points. Firstly, I believe that this Parliament does not have sufficient powers. I know that some of the more conservative members of the Parliament would not agree with that but I think they have to be a little more logical. Everyone should realise for example that in New Zealand there is only one House of Parliament. There is no upper House; just a lower House. There are no States, but purely local government organisations. Yet we have not seen in New Zealand a situation in which it could be said that democracy has been damaged in any way and I think the New Zealand people would object very greatly to such a suggestion. We find that in the United Kingdom, where there are 2 Houses of Parliament but no States, there is a situation in which there are local government organisations. Admittedly, the House of Lords has greatly restricted powers. Once again, would anybody in this Parliament claim that the United Kingdom is not a democracy?

Mr Hansen - Since they wiped out the rotten boroughs.

Mr ARMITAGE - That is right and we must do a little of that ourselves. As the honourable member for Wide Bay has said, the United Kingdom has been a democracy since they got rid of the rotten boroughs - in other words, the gerrymander. Perhaps that may have to be looked at in this country as well, particularly in some of the States, including Queensland, the State from which the honourable member for Wide Bay comes. Even in the United States we find the central Government has far greater power than the Australian Government has. Nevertheless, the facts are that this Parliament has far less power than the parliament of practically any other democracy in the world. This is the reality of the situation because of the peculiar manner in which this country was first born. In effect, it came from 6 colonies to become one nation, with the very necessary need at that stage, unfortunately, to give and take. This has left the Commonwealth in a particularly different situation. For example, what other national government does not have the power to control prices? Australia is the only nation which does not have that power.

Finally, I should like to make one other appeal. There has been a considerable amount of talk tonight on the question of the new parliament house. I fully agree that it is well and truly time that there was a new parliament house. There is no doubt that, unfortunately, this building is inadequate for the increased responsibilities of the Parliament of Australia. I make one appeal on this issue: No matter where that parliament house is built this building should be retained. In the interests of posterity it should be retained. After all, it is the first Parliament House of this nation, Australia, and accordingly I believe that in the interests of future generations of Australians this building should be retained, not as a Parliament House but in the interests of the generations to come.

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