Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 11 December 1973
Page: 2661

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - I thought that we were on the run home this week, to expedite the passage of Government legislation and to rise in time for Christmas. That was the Opposition's intention this week. But Senator Gietzelt cannot expect to make the accusations that he has made at about 4.30 on the first sitting day of what is perhaps the last week of sitting for this session and get away with them. Senator Gietzelt had a very interesting quotation from an article written by Sir Robert Menzies in 1968. 1 suppose one should always be wary when the devil quotes Scripture. I do not use that saying in the sense that Senator Gietzelt is the devil or that what Sir Robert Menzies said is Scripture. But if I may indulge in the same luxury, I too have a quotation. I wish to quote what was said on 13 March 1951 by the late right honourable Joseph Benedict Chifley, the then Leader of the Opposition in another place, when he said as reported in Hansard:

All this talk that we have heard about delays and frustration has consisted merely of millions and millions of words and nothing else.

So said the late J. B. Chifley on 13 March 1951 when referring to Mr Menzies' charges against the Opposition in the Senate. How true those words are today. Mr Chifley went on to say:

I make no apologies for the action that has been taken by the Senate towards several bills.

If we are going to throw quotations at one another, I do not think that we will get very far. When the Labor Party was in opposition in the other place but had the numbers in the Senate, it felt it quite right and proper that the Senate should be used to review legislation and to amend or defeat legislation with which it disagreed. Of course, now the boot is on the other foot and that Party has conveniently reversed its ideals on what are the rights and duties of this chamber. For the past year we have lived with a continual drone from the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) of frustration, obstruction, mandate; frustration, obstruction, mandate. But it is interesting to record that in his first year statement the Prime Minister referred to: evidence of unwarranted obstruction by the non-Labor forces in the Senate; their obstruction of the Government's clear mandate from the people to get things done.

That is what the Prime Minister said. But he went on to say that the year had been one of great industry and great purpose. He further said:

Never before in our history has such a wide-ranging, reforming program come before the Parliament.

He went on to outline the record number of Bills introduced into the Parliament and, furthermore, the record number of Bills passed by the Parliament. Could the Prime Minister claim this legislative record if, to use his words, 'the nonLabor forces in the Senate' had been truly obstructive? Of course he could not. The Prime Minister's charges are without foundation. They are baseless and the Prime Minister now stands like the huie boy who cried wolf once too often. Undoubtedly, the Prime Minister and his Government have found it unpleasant to have to submit their legislation for review by this chamber and to have it undergo scrutiny in the Committee stages. The Prime Minister and his Government must remember that the Senate is not here to rubber stamp the Government's intentions. As I have said before, the Senate is part of the legislative process of this nation, as is clearly stated m the Constitution. We would have been abdicating our duties if we had not acted in the way in which we have acted.

One ought to remember the record of this year. We have rejected some legislation because we believe that that legislation was not in the best interests of the people of this country. We have amended some legislation and, to the Government's credit, most of those amendments have been accepted. We have deferred some legislation so that it can be more fully considered. We have referred some legislation to committees for expert advice. Surely those actions cannot be seen by any reasonable person as being frustrating for frustration's sake or obstructionist merely to be unpleasant. I think the Government's dislike of the Opposition in the Senate comes not from a true belief that the Opposition has been frustrating or obstructing legislation but because it has kept the Government honest. We have made it keep its promises and pledges. We have not let it shirk its duties. As an instance of this I cite the case of the granting of 4 weeks annual leave to public servants. That is what the Government promised but it wanted to renege on its promise and grant the additional leave only to unionists. The first action of the Senate this year was to keep the Government honest.

I do not think the public believes that the Senate has been all that the Government has alleged it to be. As my colleagues and I go around Australia we find more and more people saying to us: Thank God for the Senate. Thank God for the Opposition parties in the Senate. It is only the Liberal Party senators plus the Country Party senators plus the Democratic Labor Party senators that stand between the exercising of arbitrary centralist socialist power in Canberra and the freedoms of the Australian people'. That is what is being said. It was said loud and clear last Saturday. Who was right then? What did the people do? They rejected the Government. I am sick and tired of honourable senators opposite complaining. The Government has had the opportunity since we on this side of the Parliament threw out the Commonwealth Electoral Bill for the second time in, I think, August to take all of us out. I say to honourable senators opposite: Put up or shut up. We have had nothing but constant whingeing from the Prime Minister down to even such an insignificant back bench member of the

Parliament as Senator Gietzelt. I say to Senator Gietzelt that if he has any influence in his Party he should get up at a Caucus meeting and demand that the Prime Minister take out the whole of this chamber. Pick up the challenge. Do not walk into this chamber in the dying hours of this parliamentary session and whinge and whine about what the Opposition has been doing for the whole of the last 12 months. The Government could have taken out half the Senate any day it liked since 1 July of this year.

Senator Cavanagh - But the senators could not have been changed before July of next year.

Senator WITHERS -That may be so. But the Government has not been game to put up such a proposition. Since 22 August it could have taken all of us out. The only reason why it would not take all of us out was that it would have had to take out all of those down below. Honourable senators opposite know what would have happened. They know what happened in the Balcatta by-election in Western Australia. They know what happened in the Victorian State election. They know what happened in the Parramatta by-election. They know what happened in the Greensborough by-election in Victoria. They know what happened in the New South Wales general election. They know what happened to the referendums last Saturday. They have seen the gallup polls and the Australian Nationwide Opinion Polls. They know that their standing in the community is continuing to slip. Honourable senators opposite saw the Prime Minister get done over by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Snedden, at last Thursday's Press luncheon. That is why they have lost all their courage. Of course they have been done over. They have been done like a dinner and they do not like it. The Prime Minister knew he had been done and he did not like it. Honourable senators opposite are all on the slide. They should not come into this chamber with mock heroics. I conclude by again quoting Mr Chifley 's remarks:

All this talk that we have heard about delays and frustration has consisted merely of millions and millions of words and nothing else.

Suggest corrections