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Wednesday, 29 February 1984
Page: 177

Senator MISSEN(6.09) —I also oppose the motion because there is no urgency and no sincerity in the proposal which the Government is putting forward . Perhaps the only thing said by the Opposition side with which I disagree so far is the over-generous remarks of Senator Sir John Carrick on the subject when he, I think, put down the failure today of the Government to proceed early in regard to this matter as being due to slow thinking, that is, that the Government drew the conclusion that this matter was urgent only as the day went on. I think that Senator Sir John Carrick is being too generous altogether. Maybe the Government did not have the numbers at some time today to proceed with this matter and would have proceeded with it whether or not, for example, we were aware of the facts or even aware of what happened in the other House yesterday.

The fact that the proceedings are on air today is a very good reason for the spurious claim of urgency. It was thought that it would be undesirable to have the debate that was proposed for today, the substantial debate on the tapes, the Attorney-General's statement and the handling of that matter, and instead to break that up and try to make some political capital on another subject. Because we are on air and the public must suffer, the Government thought it worth while to bring on this spurious motion. As the urgency of this matter is being urged on us by the Attorney-General, let us look at the beginning of the motion which says:

While totally upholding the privileges of individual Members of Parliament--

We regret this and that. It goes into a long catalogue of remarks made in another chamber. Of course, it does not in any way uphold the privilege of individuals. In fact it is an attempt to repeat attacks, and probably find new ones, against a member of the other House. It is worth reminding honourable senators that we have in this chamber a standing order which I think is unique to this chamber, although I may be corrected if I am wrong. It is standing order 418 which says:

No Senator shall use offensive words against either House of Parliament or any Member of such House, or of any House of a State Parliament, or against any Statute, unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal, and all imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections on Members shall be considered highly disorderly.

Perhaps it is the Government's desire to do that within the terms of a motion and to launch an attack upon a member of the other chamber. I suggest that certainly the proposition and the attempt to push it forward are contrary at least to the spirit of our Standing Orders. Obviously it is intended to use them to do that very thing.

There are other reasons why there is nothing urgent about this matter. I suggest that in this chamber it is desirable that notice be given of matters to be moved. Plenty of matters on the Notice Paper require attention. Of course, what is lacking in this Parliament this week is legislation. The Government has come here quite unprepared even to fill out the week. Last night the Senate rose early because the Government had not prepared a legislative program sufficient to cover the day. The Government thought: 'How can we, on a day we are on the air, bring on a subject on which we might make some political capital since we have no legislation?' The people of Australia will recognise the inadequacies of this Government because it cannot find things for the Parliament to do after two months away from the place.

There is one matter that could have been dealt with, that is, the tapes and the Attorney-General's statement on them. That has hardly been advanced so far in debate. The Attorney-General has put down his long statement. Many of us want to challenge it in many ways. To ensure that we are not shut out entirely from this matter today we had to propose a matter of public importance for debate. Of course, it was confined to the Attorney-General's action. We could not go into detail and the debate was not of a length to enable us to go into detail about what was wrong with the Attorney-General's statement and the opinions that accompanied it. I suppose that the Attorney-General hopes to put some time between his statement and the replies to it so that we will not be recognised as refuting the things he has said.

I point out another factor which makes it so ridiculous to expect us to debate the matter now. Yesterday there was a very long debate in the House of Representatives on the subject. Were members of this chamber to go into such debate, we would not have the opportunity to study the debate that went on in that chamber. I did not have the time last night to listen to the proceedings in that chamber.

Senator Chaney —They have debated the same thing again today.

Senator MISSEN —Yes. If you are on a good thing, stick to it. That is the sort of policy of this Government now, and it keeps repeating it in hope that the people might think it is true. The fact is that the House of Representatives Hansard was not available until after 4 p.m. today. I have been trying all day to get it. I want to read the debate that took place in the House of Representatives to see what Mr Sinclair and others said on the subject, not because of the debate here but because I think it is important for us to know. But we could not do that. I have not had the time. I was devoting my attention to speeches in this chamber yesterday. Of course, had the Government had the opportunity to bring on this matter earlier this day and, I have no doubt, had it had the numbers, it would have closed off the other debate during the morning and tried to bring this debate on when no senators would have had a copy of the Hansard setting out what was said in the other chamber.

There is no urgency whatsoever in this matter. It really has no function in this chamber because it is an attempt to attack a member who is entitled in the other chamber, of which he is a member, to exercise his privilege and explain his position. The opportunity is there for honourable senators opposite to insult and to abuse a member of another chamber. They may be pulled up by the Chair. It may come within the terms of the motion. To bring on this debate today would only derogate from the standing of this Parliament and of this chamber in particular. It is clear that this is purely an attempt by the Government, lacking in sincerity and in business, to interfere with the privileges of a member of another chamber and merely to repeat a debate which has occurred elsewhere.

This matter has no great reference at all to the integrity of a judge-a judge of New South Wales, not a judge who has any responsibilities to this Parliament or on whom we would be expected to pass judgment. Right at the end of the motion there is a reference to the Senate recording its full confidence in the integrity, impartiality and competence of Mr Justice Cross. It is clear that that judge is being used by members of the Government here for political purposes. This is a completely invalid and insincere attempt by the Government to bring this matter on and to avoid a continuance of the debate on the tapes and the Attorney-General's actions which should be the matter debated and which the public of Australia are entitled to hear. I hope that we will not suspend Standing Orders to enable this charade to go on.