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Friday, 28 May 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) . - In regard to the remarks of Senator McDougall, I can only assume, from what I have read of the recent elections in Queensland, that possibly the unpopularity of the Ministerial candidates rendered it necessary that they should have an armed guard. But no application for armed protection was made to the Department by any Ministerial candidate. No such guard was supplied with departmental approval or consent. I can assure Senator McDougall that guards of honour are not allowed. Even the Minister has not the distinguished honour of being received by an armed guard. However, our rifle clubs are subject to very much less restrictions than our military forces, so that the guard may have been supplied without reference to anybody. Probably it was. I am quite sure had the matter been referred to the Commandant he would have said they had no right to provide the guard. With regard to the question raised by Senator Keating, I recognise that his desire is to facilitate the conduct of public business; but I would point out to him that I think he was a little bit unfair, though probably not intentionally so, in drawing an analogy between the time it takes to answer a question now and the time it took when the Senate was sitting all day for several days in the week. It is hardly a fair analogy. Under the present circumstances there will be delay. I would like to draw attention to his own question No. 4, which appears on the notice-paper. Suppose that question had been sent direct to a Department, even then it could not have been answered to-day, for the reasod that it must be sent on to the Railway Department.

Senator Keating - My complaint is not with regard to any specific question.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator knows that many questions cannot be answered on the following day, because owing to their nature it is necessary sometimes to refer to the other States for the information.

Senator Keating - In giving notice of questions I have frequently left the date blank, not knowing when the Senate would sit again.

Senator PEARCE - As regards the procedure which the honorable senator outlined, I have ascertained that it has not been the custom for some considerable time. Apparently it was dropped when the honorable senator went out of office. The procedure, however, seems to be a good one;, but frequently it happens that questions are asked on the spur of the moment, and honorable senators are then asked to give notice. Only one copy is handed to the Clerk, who has to get the- business-paper for the next day ready as soon as possible. That goes over to the Government Printer, and it seems to me that when the first pull of the proof comes back it might be submitted to the secretary to the Minister, who could then distribute the questions to the Departments concerned.

Senator Keating - That is what was done in the time I refer to.

Senator PEARCE - But I would point out that even when we assemble at 3 o'clock in the afternoon the questions would not reach many of the Departments until the next day, because, as a rule, they close at 4.30, though I am sorry to say the Defence Department does not close at that time now. Honorable senators will see, therefore, that we would be no further forward under that system than we are at present. The only other course appears to be to provide that two copies be handed in.

Senator Bakhap - That is the practice in some of the States at the present time.

Senator PEARCE - But unless it is provided for by our Standing Orders Ministers have no power to require members to do that, although it seems to me to be the best procedure. But even then a question asked on the Thursday frequently could not be answered on the Friday, because we are going through an abnormal time at present. Members know why we are only sitting two days a week, but when normal business is resumed no doubt we shall be sitting three days a week, and many of the difficulties that have arisen of late will then he obviated.

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