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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 312

Mr DONALD CAMERON(5.32) —I just want to make a comment on the setting up of the Standing Committee on Procedure. It is almost a farce in that on Monday the Government made far reaching decisions about the availability of opportunities to both its members and members from this side of the House. It made those decisions when the proceedings of the House were not being broadcast, as is the case today. Once again, when a change is made it is made under the cover of darkness and silence. Dramatic changes are being made to procedures which have existed since at least 1907. I do not say that because something is old it must be kept, but a very valuable procedure which existed in this Parliament has been changed. Having abolished that procedure, the Special Minister of State (Mr Young), trying to cover up for the changes that were made, proposes to set up a committee.

If the sorts of changes that were made in this Parliament on Monday had been made in the Queensland Parliament by the Bjelke-Petersen Government, or had been made by the Fraser Government, the Press Gallery would have been writing about it in large stories in every newspaper in Australia, but because the 'got-them-in-the-pocket' Hawke Government did it, under the administration of the Special Minister of State, hardly an article appeared throughout Australia. The Government set about making changes which have far reaching effects on the way this Parliament and its procedures work. Having done that, the Government has decided to set up a committee to look at the procedures. I give the Minister marks for being very devious and very clever at casting smoke screens. But I ask: Why on earth are we to have a procedures committee when the changes that the Government desired have already been made?

Talking about procedures, when I first came to this Parliament there was a thing called an adjournment debate which went on for as long as members of the Parliament wished. There was absolutely no limit. Some nights it went for two hours. They were very interesting nights. Members from both sides of the House raised issues, and the differences which existed were thrashed out in debate. Early in the 1970s-I think it may have been by the Whitlam Government but I will not blame it-limits to the adjournment debate were introduced. The debate was limited to one hour and speeches of members of parliament were limited to 10 minutes. That was the new procedure. Then people started to say: 'Why do we have to hang around here for an hour?'. Consequently, it was changed and only five-minute speeches were allowed and the length of the debate was only 30 minutes.

Mr Young —Who did that?

Mr DONALD CAMERON —Who did it?

Mr Young —It was the right honourable member for New England.

Mr DONALD CAMERON —The right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair)? Is the Minister telling me that it was the right honourable member for New England, of the National Party of Australia, the Party which helped increase the size of the Parliament when it joined with the Government? I do not believe that that is possible. I just cannot accept it. The other day, the Special Minister of State, who is now sitting at the table, told this Parliament that the Government is to increase opportunities in the adjournment debate by lengthening the period of debate by 15 minutes. What is proposed is that the debate increase from 30 to 45 minutes. We are all supposed to clap with glee.

Mr Gear —You should.

Mr DONALD CAMERON —The honourable member says that we should. Government members have been fed like mushrooms. They have been kept in the dark. They do not know what they have lost. In the period of this Government, back bench members of this Parliament have been pushed more and more into obscurity, almost into oblivion. Government members do not know what is happening to them. When the new members arrived, at the first Labor Party meeting the Minister at the table told the party room: 'This is good for you'.

I see in the chamber the honourable member for Lilley (Mrs Darling). I dip my lid to her for the expertise she developed with 'notices without motion'. She brought to this House a way of using the system which had never previously been used in this Parliament. What amazes me is that on Monday she sat silently and voted out the old system of notices of motion which she had used so well to her advantage. The Minister said how terrible it was that Ministers had to sit on the front bench each day and listen to notices of motion when they had more important things to do. In the two and a bit years of this Government, it has lost sight of the people. Those notices of motion so often reflected the aspirations, hopes, disappointments and views of the people. Yet the Minister told this Parliament that it was not fair to make Ministers listen to notices of motion. Admittedly, there were occasions when frivolous notices were given, mainly from the Government side of the House congratulating football clubs for getting back into leagues and things like that.

Mr Goodluck —Mainly from the other side.

Mr DONALD CAMERON —The honourable member for Franklin should not say too much because a couple of frivolous ones came from him in the past. Generally speaking though, the notices of motion were of high content and high import. Yet the practice of giving notice of motions has been abolished because the Government was being embarrassed politically. Members on this side of the House were honed to such an extent that they even made the honourable member for Lilley look an amateur. We had developed the skill to perfection and were utilising it. We had the Government on the run. It even resulted in the diminution in the number of seats this Government has as a result of the redistribution, when the Government thought it would come back with a walloping majority of 50 or 60.

I have taken the opportunity to say those few words. Last night, less than 28 hours after the promise of a 45-minute adjournment debate, we saw the debacle of the adjournment debate suddenly being cut to 20 minutes. That reminds me of the figures presented by the Manager of Opposition Business, the right honourable member for New England, when he showed that in about 1983-I am going on memory-the House sat for 49 nights and there were only about 27 adjournment debates. In 1984 it was even more disastrous when Mack the Knife slashed the opportunities. I have been in this place for a long time-the Leader of the House would probably say for too long-but the fact is that, after one has been here for a while, one learns and understands the importance of procedures. One also appreciates better than others do why governments of the day attack such opportunities; it is because they do not suit a government. Governments do not wish to be embarrassed.

I believe that last Monday, 25 February, will go down in history as one of the sad days in our democracy. The Minister stood up, described giving notice of motions as an antiquated procedure, did not bother to refer it to a procedures committee but abolished it that day. I have to steal this opportunity-I am not even on air; only the seven people in the Gallery will even know I said this and will wonder why the Opposition has been silent-to register my protest. I believe we should recommit that matter and put it to a vote.

I am not one who keeps on speaking when he has nothing more to say. I just believe that the Minister should be known as Mack the Knife. Even one of my staff members, in Canberra for the first time, said to me: 'Isn't he ruthless? Isn't he a gagger of democracy?' I said: 'That's the man who couldn't even fill in a Customs form, yet he has been expected to take up responsibility for the procedures of this Parliament.' With those few words, I register my protest-

Mr Jacobi —You had the worst record ever when you were in government.

Mr DONALD CAMERON —Worst record! Did I have the worst record because I brought in a lot of motions? I was going to sit down, but the honourable member for Hawker has provoked me. I raised many an issue that was important to the electorate through that procedure. But I will not go through that matter again. It is a crying shame that the baby has been thrown out with the bath water and that we are to go through this farcical situation of establishing a committee-

Mr Ruddock —Tell us about the videos.

Mr DONALD CAMERON —It was the only opportunity that we ever had to raise the subject because the Minister at the table introduced legislation in the middle of the night when media representatives were in bed and our proceedings were off air. That was the only opportunity members of this Parliament had to expose what the Government was doing in relation to those changes and to let the public know about them. As a matter of fact, I have never had so many petitions in my life as I did on that subject-

Mr Ruddock —That's right. We are still getting them.

Mr DONALD CAMERON —The honourable member for Dundas has agreed. He saw it too. Anyway these are the opportunities that have been taken from us. I wish that the honourable member for Hawker who is trying to interject would be quiet, but I can understand his disappointment because there are now four factions in the ALP-the left wing, the centre left, the right wing and the honourable member for Hawker, who is the sole member of the left right out. Many of us have a very high regard for the honourable member and feel sorry for what happened to him because he wanted to stand tall and non-aligned.

Question resolved in the affirmative.