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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1682

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - Senator Murphyin his capacity as Senator Murphy has put down a very persuasive and, on the face of it, a very attractive argument. I think the $64 question was asked by Senator Drake-Brockman. This afternoon we are debating not where the parliament house ought to be- that would be irrelevant to this afternoon's debate- but by what method the site ought to be determined. We have a proposition from the House of Representatives that it be determined by a joint meeting of the members of the 2 Houses. As all honourable senators know, another proposition is being floated by Senator Wright, namely, that the decision as to where the site ought to be should be determined by an Act of Parliament. As I see the position, we have 2 competing propositions- one a joint meeting of the 2 Houses, and the other the normal introduction of a Bill and its passage through both chambers. I said that Senator Drake-Brockman asked the $64 question. I believe that he highlighted the difficulty of having a joint meeting.

On the night of 29 May 1969, when the then Government announced the decision that the new and permanent parliament house would be in a certain place, the Senate erupted, as I recall it from reading the Hansard again. There was cross-voting all round the chamber. The simple resolution was that the Senate take note of the statement with disapproval. The motion was carried by 41 votes to 13. Some very angry things were said that night and I was among those who said angry things. I said that the matter should be decided by an Act of Parliament and 'not in the arrogant, dictatorial executive manner in which it has been resolved tonight- by a statement from the Prime Minister'. That was one of the angry things which I said. What we were taking exception to there -

Senator O'Byrne - When was this?

Senator WITHERS -On 29 May 1969. What the Senate was taking exception to that night was a decision of the Executive. If we agree to the 2 Houses of the Parliament meeting together, what happens then? Does the Executive accept the decision of that meeting? It is assumed that it would. How does it put that decision into effect? Does the Government introduce into the House of Representatives a Bill to fix permanently the site? Does this mean that a senator is bound to vote in this place according to the way that the majority voted at the joint meeting? At the joint meeting I may well vote for site A, and site B may be carried by the joint meeting. A Bill is introduced to promote site B. Am I in conscience bound to support that site, as a senator sitting in this place considering a piece of legislation?

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - Not necessarily the same people.

Senator WITHERS - Not necessarily the same people. I think that is where Senator Drake-Brockman put his finger on the weakness of the proposition for a joint meeting. On 29 May 1969 I said- I did not realise that I had said it until I re-read Mr Bullock's paper which he prepared in 1970 and for which I think we are indebted- that I believed that the proper way to resolve this question was by the introduction of a Bill and its passage through the 2 Houses. I asked the Government whether it would be prepared to allow me to promote a private member's Bill. I could not get an answer that night, of course. The next day I asked the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson this question:

I ask the Leader of Government in the Senate a question relating to the debate on the statement about the site of the new and permanent parliament house. Can he advise the Senate whether the Government is prepared to introduce a Bill to give effect to its decision so that, if a disagreement arises between the 2 Houses of Parliament, the matter may be resolved in accordance with the proper constitutional procedures?

Senator Sir KennethAnderson, speaking in his capacity as Leader of the Government- I say that in fairness to him- said:

Last night we dealt with a statement by the Prime Minister which made abundantly clear that the Government had decided on the site, having regard to the impasse that had arisen because of the different views expressed in the 2 Houses. The Government will not bring in a Bill. The Government having already made the decision, that decision remains.

Much the same sort of situation could arise out of a joint meeting. I think this is is where the rub comes. I appreciate the attractiveness of Senator

Murphy's argument. It seems a reasonable, sensible and practical thing for members of both chambers, who realise more than anybody else that the facilities in this place are totally inadequate for the 1970s, that the new and permanent parliament house has been necessary for at least 10 years, if not longer, and that something ought to be done-

Senator Poyser - It has been necessary since 1912.

Senator WITHERS -It has been necessary for a long time. We are anxious to see something started. I think that is the view shared by all people connected with the Parliament. We all appreciate the dilemma in which governments have been placed because of the disagreements over sites, and it is fair enough to say that the matter ought to be resolved. So the message which we have received from the House of Representatives is, on the face of it, an attractive and sensible way of resolving these difficulties. But I have come to the conclusion that, attractive as that solution may be, it in itself will create greater problems than presently exist.

Senator Murphy - It could hardly do that.

Senator WITHERS - With respect, I think it would, because all the other problems would arise thereafter. The Bill presented by Senator Wright, I think, does the correct thing. However, I do not think the area he has proposed is large enough. I think it should go down to the lake and cover the whole of the parliamentary triangle so that the National Capital Development Commission cannot put its own head office where it wanted to put parliament house. I would reserve the whole of the parliamentary triangle this side of the lake as an area in which nothing could be done without the permission of the Parliament. However, I believe that what Senator Wright has urged is the correct method, namely, that Parliament itself shall decide where the house shall be and shall lay down certain conditions as to what can happen within that area.

Senator Murphy - What if the 2 Houses disagree?

Senator WITHERS -If the 2 Houses disagreed, then I think that eventually the members themselves would be forced to compromise and that one House or the other would give way. I could well start off convinced that site A is the only reasonable and proper site. If we came to such an impasse, I am not such a pigheaded person, as honourable senators know, that I might not be prepared to change my mind. 1 am always open to persuasion. I think that could happen. I do not think that we would necessarily reach an impasse again. I think that what we ought to be well aware of is that many things have happened since May 1969 when this matter was discussed. Somebody gave me the statistics- I think they were used in the debate in the House of Representatives- which show that of the members of the House of Representatives who voted on this question on the last occasion, in 1969, only 60 per cent are presently in that chamber. I have not worked out the mathematics for this chamber, but we all know that in 1971 quite a change occurred in the membership of this place; quite a number of new senators came in and quite a number of old senators retired. Now nobody is quite sure, firstly, how those who voted last time will vote this time and, secondly, how the new senators will vote. In the Senate the site which was the popular choice last time might not necessarily be the popular choice this time.

Senator Devitt - What was the popular choice last time?

Senator WITHERS -Capital Hill bolted in by a mile. That is not to say that the same thing will happen again.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - There is one bloke who had a vote which he can change because he now has a free vote.

Senator WITHERS -That is right. It may well be that the Senate will come to the same conclusion. However, I think that the best way of resolving this is by legislation. I do not want to get involved in what could be thought to be the constitutional arguments or the relationships between the 2 Houses, but I come down on the side of a Bill and against a joint meeting on this very simple proposition: I believe that is the simplest, cleanest and best way to resolve this problem.

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