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
Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2398

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesMinister for Customs and Excise) - Generally in relation to this matter, honourable senators will be aware that very many considerations have touched the responsibilities of other Ministers as well as my responsibility as Minister for Customs and Excise. Primarily, the Department of Customs and Excise carries out the policy determination. That is why I was quite cautious in my statements as to what should happen in areas other than in the administrative areas. This matter was raised by Senator Jessop. I shall refer the observations made by all honourable senators, insofar as they do not come within my area, to the Ministers responsible.

Proposed expenditure passed.


Proposed expenditure $9,952,000.

Senator SirMAGNUS CORMACK (Victoria) (3.2)- I rise to address myself to the question of Parliament. I do so on the basis that, in the second instance, this emanates from the report of the Senate Estimates Committee A. At page 9 the Committee deals with the question of appropriations for Parliament. It points out that this matter was previously referred to in the report from the Committee appointed by government senators, and so on. It has a fairly lengthy history. It originated as a matter of constitutional importance in 1963 when Senator Murphy sat somewhere near where I sit at the present moment. Such are the changes which take place in Parliament that he now sits at the table and I sit here. But the subject matter which he raised at that time is quite pertinent. It comes out quite clearly in the report of Estimates Committee A with which we are dealing now. There are references to the fact that the estimates for the Parliament are a non-amendable item of the estimates in the Appropriation Bill. In other words, the Senate is subjected to a financial opinion which states that the Senate cannot look after its own appropriations. If the Senate does not approve of the amount of money which is allocated for Parliament, all it can do is request the House of Representatives to reconsider the matter. Therefore the Senate is not master of its own business. I well remember- Senator Murphy will not object if I remind honourable senators of the essence of his argument which was put at that time and with which I agreed; I have agreed with it more firmly as the years have gone by- the argument that the appropriations for Parliament are not an ordinary appropriation and certainly not an annual appropriation. Parliament, which is the source of money being extracted from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, should be in the position of determining what its own appropriation should be because, conversely, one can easily imagine circumstances in which a government of the day could decide to inhibit the Senate by cutting down its appropriation. For example, the Government could consider that a select committee was examining something which was uncomfortable and it would certainly not provide money.

This matter was raised during the hearing of Senate Estimates Committee A. I read the transcript with a great deal of interest. Notwithstanding that I am talking of a constitutional issue, the facts are that during the time that I have had the responsibility of asking the Department of the Treasury for money I have never had any difficulty on behalf of the Senate in obtaining the money required. But that is not the problem. The problem is that the Senate at the present moment is constitutionally pinioned by putting all the appropriations of Parliament into the ordinary annual services of the Government. Having said that I go on to raise other matters to which I think I should make the Senate privy. The parliamentary systems all over the world are under pressure of one sort or another. Yet under a Westminster system of government, such as we have in Australia, or in the States of Australia New Zealand, Canada, or the United Kingdom, the parliamentary institution has a great cloth of history with its own warp and woof. But in the cloth there are threads which are permanent.

The pattern of the cloth is changed by the horizontal threads. It changes with the needs of the community which parliament represents.

Here in our country we live under a constitution which happens to be written. Of course the written Constitution is not the all determining factor. We are also involved in three other elements of the Constitution because, constitutionally, applications can be changed by the judicial judgment of the High Court of Australia. The Constitution charges the High Court with that authority. The Constitution practice can be changed by fiat. I give an example. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has determined that the Bills in the House of Representatives should be described as Bills of the Parliament of Australia and that the parliamentary offices in the capital cities where we have our representatives will be know as the Australian Parliamentary Offices notwithstanding that the Constitution refers constantly to the Commonwealth of Australia. But I am not arguing that point. I am merely illustrating that there exists a capacity to change traditional elements, nomenclatures and attitudes by fiat. There is a fourth method by which constitutional practice can be altered. I use the word practice' quite deliberately because practice is the warp and woof of parliamentary history. We constantly find ourselves involved in it. We are involved in it this afternoon as a Committee of the Whole debating the reports of the Estimates Committees. This is practice. We have inherited this practice and it exists wherever there is an effective Westminster type parliament. But practice can be changed by administrative processes.

I wish to cite as an illustration an incident which happened only this week. On Monday there was a memorial day service at the Australian National War Memorial. In accordance with the Table of Precedence, which is a table issued by the hand of the Sovereign, the representative of the President of the Senate was designated in the program issued by the Prime Minister's office to take a certain seat. When the representative of the President went there to take his seat he found that the cards had been changed and that the chair that was normally occupied by the President or his representative had been switched and that he was put below the representative of Mr Speaker. This is an illustration of practice being changed by administrative intervention. I understand that a letter from the Prime Minister's office came on the morning of the service instructing that this miniscule change should take place.

The Constitution begins in this sort of way: There shall be a Parliament of the country which will be composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and traditionally in the Westminster system the President of the Senate, in this case, or the President of the Canadian Senate or the President of the Legislative Council of South Australia, for example, would take precedence of Mr Speaker. This is part of the historical fabric of parliament. I raised this matter on, I think, 4 October this year, when I mentioned to honourable senators that the Table of Precedence is not a matter that lies within the competence of the Prime Minister to alter. The Table of Precedence is approved and authorised by the Sovereign. All my investigations indicate that there has been no change in the Table of Precedence in Australia. Yet by administrative practice the Table of Precedence has been altered. I have the gravest objection to this. I have the gravest objection to it as a senator.

I have the gravest objection that the President of this Senate who has honourably served the Senate should be put in a position where he is constantly, by administrative decision, placed below a place that the Sovereign herself accords to the President of the Senate. I object to this traditional and historic pattern being upset by some clerk in the Prime Minister's office. As far as my investigations indicate, a letter instructing the trustees of the War Memorial on this was not signed by the Prime Minister. I do not even know whether it was a letter or a telephonic communication. But the facts are that the historical Table of Precedence has been altered by administrative practice. Therefore I wish to inform honourable senators, because this is not a matter than can be decided here in an intervention by myself on a debate on a report of Estimates Committee A, that I shall seek an opportunity next week if the Senate will accord me the opportunity to give notice that I shall address myself to the Senate and move a motion in the following terms:

(1)   That the following Address to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second be agreed to:


We, Members of the Senate of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, request Your Majesty not to alter the Table of Precedence of the Commonwealth of Australia (as contained in the Commonwealth Gazette of 30 April, 1953 at page 1 107) in any way that would vary the precedence accorded to the President of the Senate in accordance with long established custom'.

(2)   That, pursuant to Standing Order 368, the foregoing Address be transmitted to the Governor-General by the President, with a request that His Excellency cause the Address to be forwarded to Her Majesty for presentation.

Suggest corrections