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Thursday, 15 December 1983
Page: 3937


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(7.26) —I will not detain the Senate for long, but I just want to refer to a matter which has been raised with my by constituents who are members of the Right To Life Association of Western Australia. Those constituents wrote to me because they had forwarded petitions to an honourable senator from Western Australia asking him to present petitions to the Senate regarding the Sex Discrimination Bill 1983. I might say I have also received a significant number of petitions from that organisation and those petitions have been lodged. This most recent batch of petitions were sent to me as the honourable senator concerned refused to present them because he disagreed with the Right To Life Association's stance on the Bill.

I thought it was worth raising this matter on the adjournment because the general tradition in this place as I understood it was that we did not, when our constituents sought to have us present petitions on their behalf, pick and choose between them on the basis of our views as to what the petitions contained . I have had a number of petitions sent to me, not by that particular organisation as it happens, where I have disagreed with the content. Indeed I have even had organisations write to me and say: ''Are you prepared to transmit our petitions and present them on our behalf to the Senate?''. I might say I have never sought authority for it, but it seemed to me that the apppropriate course was to accept them.

I simply draw the Senate's attention to the fact that, having now looked at Odgers's Australian Senate Practice, there does appear to be a fair body of precedent that suggests that honourable senators should present petitions even though they may have personal views and feelings which are contrary to those of the petitioners.

I refer to page 209 of, I think, the most recent edition of Odgers. I do not intend to read it. I think the statement of the principle is clear enough. The gloss that I would put on Odgers would simply be to say that I believe that, were we to adopt any other practice in this place, we could reach the situation in which substantial bodies of citizens who simply could not find a senator who agreed with them could be denied their constitutional right to petition this Parliament. I do not think any senator would in fact put constituents in that situation, but I do think it is undesirable that the practice we have had in the past of presenting petitions on behalf of our constituents, without identifying ourselves necessarily with the views of the petitioners, is one that we should seek to uphold. I raised this matter on the adjournment so that that practice and that particular statement of past Senate practice is drawn to the attention of honourable senators.