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Thursday, 3 March 1904

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I am strongly of the opinion that the motion in its original form should be adhered to. In former sessions Friday was usually set apart for the transaction of private business, and our experience of that practice was that the matters discussed were not sufficiently important to attract a large attendance of honorable members. Consequently I fail to see why we should, in the middle of the week, break in upon the continuity of Bills with which we have been dealing. In legislative measures I claim that it is advisable that as far as .possible there should be some continuity of thought. The frequent breaks which occurred in the discussion of important Bills last session were responsible for very much of the trouble which has arisen in regard to the form in which those measures ultimately passed. 'We never quite understood where we were. Now it is proposed to make an alteration in the order of business primarily for the purpose of suiting those honorable members who desire to discuss matters which are in reality so unimportant that they are unable to induce the Government to take them up. The three hours weekly which the Ministry propose to devote to the transaction of private members' business is obviously insufficient. On the other hand, the adoption of the Government proposal will obtrude a break in the conduct of public business. By setting apart Friday for the transaction of private business, honorable members who wish to do so will be afforded an opportunity to become thoroughly conversant with the provisions contained in the various measures which are submitted for their consideration. It is proposed that this House shall meet upon four days a week; but if I were to take advantage of the forms of the House and insist upon a quorum being present during the whole of the sittings-

Mr Thomas - But why do that?

Mr CONROY - Unless there is a full attendance of honorable members, we shall have legislation enacted in the interest only of a section of the community.

Mr Tudor - The others should be here.

Mr CONROY - I do not propose to discuss the question as to who are usually the absentees.

Mr Tudor - The honorable and learned member might just as well do so.

Mr CONROY - The honorable member seems to regard attendance in the chamber at half-past 2 o'clock, when the names of honorable members are officially recorded as a proof that those who are then present pay the greatest, amount of attention to their legislative work. As a matter of "fact it is not so. Some of the most regular attendants at the opening of the sittings of this House are most frequently absentees. We get no contributions to the general debates from them, If we are to have legislation for the whole community, and if honorable members desire to sit continuously, let us have three shifts a day of eight hours each. I unhesitatingly assert that the feeling of the people of the Commonwealth is that we are suffering from too much legislation at the present time. It is high time that we were afforded an opportunity to correct some of the mistakes of the past, and to study in detail all Bills which are submitted for our consideration. The proposal of the Prime Minister will create a blank in the conduct of public business upon Thursday afternoon. If there is to be any such blank it should occur on Friday. I am so convinced that honorable members cannot efficiently discharge their legislative functions if they are required to travel to and from other States at the beginning and end of each week, that I have made preparations to reside in Melbourne continuously during the sittings of the House. At the same time I cannot take part in enacting legislation upon four days a week and do the reading that is necessary upon the other two, although I have as much physical health and vigour as has any honorable member of this House. Unfortunately, some honorable members fear that if Parliament does not sit continuously the public may think that no useful work is being accomplished. In my judgment the worst kind of work is usually work which is performed when Parliament is in session, because it is so frequently engaged in enacting legislation in the nature of meddlesome interference with private enterprise. Our parliamentary institutions are declining in the estimation of the public. I venture to affirm that not a single measure was passed during the last Parliament which does not urgently require amendment. I must, therefore, protest against the motion which has been submitted. If there is to be any hiatus in the conduct of public business, by all means let it occur upon the last day of each week.

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