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Friday, 28 May 1915

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - This morning, and indeed upon every Friday morning during this session, following the practice that has been in vogue for some time here, Ministers have asked that questions be postponed. There would be no great inconvenience in this if the Senate were sitting in normal circumstances, but' latterly we have been sitting on Thursdays and Fridays only, and the inconvenience of having answers to questions postponed has been rather great. We have been sitting on Thursdays and Fridays only largely because another place decided not to sit on Tuesdays, but on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. The numbers in another place are greater than ours, and measures necessarily take longer to deal with there than here. Therefore, the Senate cannot sit exactly the same days as another place. As each member in the other Chamber represents a single-electoral division a good number of members may deem it necessary to give their views on certain matters submitted to Parliament; but here, on the other hand, as each State is represented by six senators, very often the point of view of one State can be put by one or two senators representing it. Therefore, if we work with but the same assiduity or despatch as is displayed by another place it will take us a little less than half the time that is taken by anotherplace to deal with any particular matter. Therefore, since the number of sitting days in another place has been reduced, we necessarily do not need to sit so frequently. During the time I occupied the position of Minister in this chamber I first ventured to suggest that honorable senators who desired to obtain on Friday, answers to questions upon notice, should give notice of their questions earlier than Thursday. I did not lay it down as a hard and fast rule that if notice of questions were given on Thursday, they would not be answered on Friday, but I did stress the fact that in order to insure answers being forthcoming on that day, notice should be given on Wednesday, or earlier if possible. I would like to tell honorable senators my own experience in the matter of answering questions. The practice followed up to the time of which I speak was for the. officers of the various Departments, upon receipt of a copy of the business-paper, to cut out of that paper the questions relating to their Departments, and for replies to be prepared in consultation with Ministers. I adopted an entirely different procedure. I arranged that as soon as possible after notice of a question had been given, a copy of it should be transmitted to the Department affected, so that when the Senate was sitting on Tuesday or Wednesday morning, questions, of which notice had been given at the beginning of those sittings, were sometimes in the hands of responsible officers of the various Departments before the luncheon adjournment.

Senator Pearce - We do not have any luncheon adjournment on Thursday.

Senator KEATING - I am speaking of what happened when this Chamber waa sitting three or four days a week.

Senator Pearce - But we did not sit in the mornings then.

Senator KEATING - When we were dealing with the Tariff we sat from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and from Tuesday to Friday in each week. I am merely pointing out what was done then and what can be done now.

Senator Pearce - Take yesterday as an illustration. What could have been donethen?

Senator KEATING - I am about to point out what can be done to convenience both Ministers and honorable senators. If copies of all questions upon noticewere immediately circulated amongst the Departments concerned, the replies would be forthcoming the next day. Seeing that that procedure was adopted in 1908, when this Chamber was sitting four and often five days a week, there is all the more reason why it should be followed now when we are meeting only on Thursday and Friday. Before we again assemble probably events will have occurred which will occasion questions being put toMinisters by honorable senators. Many of these will be asked without notice, and' notice will then be required of them. If we do not meet until Thursday, notice will have to be given, and the time available will not be sufficient to permit of those questions being answered next day. In other words, before replies to them can be obtained, the news to which they relatewill be stale. I am strongly of opinion that by co-operation between honorablemembers and Ministers something might be done to facilitate the answering of questions upon notice. If necessary, an honorable senator might be required, when giving notice of a question, to supply a copy of it, which could be at oncetransmitted to the Department concerned. During my tenure of office as a Minister, as soon as the rough proof of the businesspaper for the following day was received, and long before it was corrected, thequestions upon notice were cut out by a clerk or messenger, and pasted on strips of paper, which were already addressed 211 blank to the Secretary of the Department affected, and which contained a request that a reply should be furnished immediately. By that means we were able to insure answers on Friday to questions of which notice had been given on Thursday - questions which involved a good deal of consideration before replies could be prepared. As far as possible, it is desirable that adequate notice should be given of questions which require time to answer. But when we are meeting only on Thursday and Friday, questions ought to be answered as expeditiously as possible, and without too frequent requests for their postponement. "To-day, replies to quite a number of questions upon notice have had to be deferred, with the result that by the time we meet again probably very little interest will attach to those answers. Indeed, events may transpire in the interim which will render those questions almost unnecessary. I want to guard against a regular recurrence of that sort of thing, and what I am now saying is more by way of suggestion than criticism. If honorable senators and Ministers will co-operate, I feel sure that we can make a better showing than we are making at the present time. A great number of questions of an urgent character are put to Ministers, but when replies to them have to be postponed for a few days their urgency disappears. If our Standing Orders will not permit of any other means of giving notice of these questions, we should cooperate with Ministers in the way I have suggested, with a view to insuring that such questions shall reach the departmental officials as soon as possible. I do not know what is the practice followed in another place in regard to questions upon notice, but I observe from their businesspaper for to-day that an asterisk appears "before quite a number of them - the asterisk indicating that they appear on the business-paper for the first time. I -assume, therefore, that they will be answered to-day.

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