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Thursday, 8 September 1949

Mr THOMPSON (Hindmarsh) . - I am sure that we have all been very interested in the debate that has occurred1 on the motion of want of confidence in Mr. Deputy Speaker. Opposition members must admit that they have had a good opportunity, having been " on the air " all the afternoon, to vent what they consider they should say about the rulings that you have given, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I say right away that some of -your rulings have appeared to me to be very harsh, but honorable members must look at the position to see the cause of the rulings that have been given. I had fairly long experience in the House of Assembly in South Australia, under a very fine Speaker, and I was in opposition for many years. There were occasions when we got " hot under the collar " about some of the rulings of the Speaker, just as honorable members of the Opposition get " hot under the collar " about some of the rulings that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, give. Sometimes we were inclined to jump off the deep end, as it were, and make remarks that were not strictly in accordance with the Standing Orders.

This motion of want of confidence in Mr. Deputy Speaker is the result of a series of incidents on the 17th November, 1948, when the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) and the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Beale) were named and suspended. All honorable members will agree that since the inception of parliamentary broadcasts, it has been necessary for the occupant of the chair to keep a tighter rein on honorable members. Members of the public who listen regularly to the broadcasts have complained to me of the manner in which honorable members behave when another honorable member is speaking. In those circumstances, we should appreciate the difficulty of Mr. Deputy Speaker in maintaining order and decorum in the chamber. The suspension of the honorable member for Richmond did not come like a bolt from the blue, but resulted from a growing determination by honorable members opposite to take the utmost latitude that the Standing Orders allow. Honorable members opposite have complained during this debate of Mr. Deputy Speaker's interpretation of the Standing Orders from time to time. If Mr. Deputy Speaker were to interpret the Standing Orders strictly, honorable members would be considerably more circumscribed in debate than they have been up to date. On many occasions honorable members have been granted the greatest possible latitude, and Mr. Deputy Speaker has shown ifr. Thompson. remarkable forbearance towards those whose conduct has been unruly. Some honorable members have expected that conduct which has not been parliamentary would be condoned. A series of incidents may culminate in the suspension of an honorable member. The situation may be likened to the last straw that breaks the camel's back. An isolated incident rarely results in the suspension of an honorable member. He is usually named following a series of incidents in which he, and perhaps others, try to take advantage of the Chair. I shall cite an instance. This afternoon, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) tried to make a farce of the proceedings. The honorable gentleman will agree that his remark about endeavouring, by ridicule, to prevent a repetition of these incidents sums up his contribution to the debate on this motion. From time to time, the honorable member severely tests the patience of the occupant of the chair.

Mr Beale - Ridicule is not forbidden under the Standing Orders.

Mr THOMPSON - I am speaking, not of ridicule generally, but of the tenorof the speech that the honorable member for Balaclava made this afternoon. I invite him to read the Hansard report of it, and I am sure that he will chuckle at his amusing remarks.

The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), who submitted this motion of want of confidence in Mr. Deputy Speaker, is not always careful about the way in which he refers to other people. He is not reluctant to go as far as he possibly can in expressing his views. I consider that, at times, the occupant of the chair is most lenient towards him.

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have not noticed it.

Mr THOMPSON - Possibly there are occasions when Mr. Deputy Speaker is very lenient towards me. Honorable members complain that Mr. Deputy Speaker is too harsh, and does not give them a chance. If they will consider the position fairly, they will find that they are responsible for what happens. Some honorable member have been suspended on more than one occasion. Indeed, they seem prone to be suspended.

Mr Beale - That is not true.

Mr THOMPSON - The large .majority of honorable members have not been suspended because when they are called to order by Mr. Deputy Speaker, they obey the Chair. But when an honorable member attempts to defy the Chair, he must accept the consequences. The honorable member for Warringah made out a good case regarding the Standing Orders. However, I shall not condemn Mr. Deputy Speaker because of the occurrence which the honorable member for Warringah has cited. Mr. Deputy Speaker has called certain honorable members to order a number of times before he has named them. I do not include the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) in these remarks. However, some honorable members were continually warned by the Chair that if they persisted in their conduct, they would have to accept the consequences. These occurrences have not been rare. Certain honorable members opposite consistently take the greatest advantage of the Standing Orders that they can but ultimately, Mr. Deputy Speaker's patience becomes exhausted. Their suspension is the result, not of an isolated incident, but of a culmination of events.

Mr Rankin - No Government supporter has been suspended during the last Three years.

Mr THOMPSON - Supporters of the Labour party have been suspended by Mr. Speaker when an anti-Labour government has been in office. I have not examined the records to ascertain whether more Labour party supporters have been suspended than members of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party.

Sir EARLE Page - When we were in office, the House suspended a Minister.

Mr THOMPSON - I have a fellow feeling for the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), because as the chairman of various organizations in South Australia, I have had to take action against members for whom I had great regard. I do not think that members of the Opposition expect that the House will agree to this motion of want of confidence in Mr. Deputy Speaker. But the debate has allowed them to voice their views about the manner in which the occupant of the

Chair has interpreted the Standing Orders.

Mr Beale - We do not expect to get any further than that.

Mr THOMPSON - The honorable member for Parramatta agrees with me.

Mr Beale - The debate allows us to tell the public about the position.

Mr THOMPSON - The purpose of the motion, then, is to enable members of the Opposition to convey to the public their grievances about Mr. Deputy Speaker. 1 shall be candid with the honorable gentleman. Because I considered that the Opposition was getting more than a fair proportion of the publicity, I intervened in the debate to state the other view. I do not think that honorable members opposite expect members of the Parliamentary Labour party, who nominated the honorable member for Darling as Mr. Deputy Speaker, to desert him now. Honorable members opposite have claimed that Mr. Deputy Speaker would be protected by the Australian Labour party no matter what he did whilst in the chair. However, if he were to do things that the Government considered to be wrong, or to the detriment of the Parliament, which warranted his removal from office, the Government would take the required action. Honorable members on the Government side of the House are in a " box seat " so far as this matter is concerned. An honorable member opposite - I think the honorable member for Warringah - referred to an occasion in 1935 when the late Mr. John Curtin moved a censure motion on the Chairman of Committees. Although T cannot recollect the details of the voting on that occasion, I do not doubt that honorable members of the non-Labour Government then in office would have voted against the motion. No matter what the Chairman of Committees had put forward they would endeavour to vindicate him irrespective of the opinions of honorable members sitting in Opposition. The motion that has been moved by the honorable member for Wentworth reads -

That this House has no further confidence in Mr. Deputy Speaker on the grounds -

(a)   That in the discharge of his duties he has revealed serious partiality in favour of Government members;

Honorable members opposite will be interested to learn that on numerous occasions I have heard Government members complain that the Opposition has received preferential treatment. In their view, in many instances, Mr. Speaker, or Mr. Deputy Speaker, has shown marked partiality towards members of the Opposition. At times even Ministers have been " sore " because they have not received from the Chair that consideration to which they thought that they were entitled. If, as honorable members opposite have claimed, the Chair had been unduly partial towards Government members, surely those complaints would not have been voiced. Although Government members have not been suspended, there have been many occasions when they considered that Mr. Deputy Speaker had been less lenient with them than he should have been. I do not think that honorable members opposite can support the charge of " serious partiality ". In fairness, the honorable member for "Warringah did not emphasize the alleged partiality of Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the honorable member for Warringah is the only member of the Opposition who has spoken on this motion who has advanced a real case. However, despite his criticism, I am convinced that Mr. Deputy Speaker has been most generous to the Opposition on many occasions. Members of the Opposition have claimed also that Government members have been permitted with impunity to make comments of a nasty nature relating to the Opposition. Since I have been a member of the Parliament, however, I have heard more nasty criticisms made by honorable members opposite than by members occupying the Government benches.

Mr Spender - The honorable member must be deaf in the left ear.

Mr THOMPSON - Perhaps I may be a little hard of hearing in one ear, but I still manage to balance matters very well. On that score I do not consider that the Opposition have much to complain about. The second ground stated in the motion reads -

(b)   That he regards himself merely as the instrument of the Labour party and not as the custodian of the rights and privileges of elected Members of this Parliament;

That is a very serious charge for the honorable member for Wentworth to make, and it has not been supported. If honorable members opposite wish the people of this country to believe that charge, they should advance statements of fact to substantiate it. What is meant by the phrase "merely as the instrument of the Labour party"? My experience has been that Mr. Deputy Speaker has been strictly fair in the matter of giving the call to honorable members on both sides of the House. It cannot be justly claimed that he has always deliberately given the call to Government members in preference to honorable members opposite. Although the honorable member for Parramatta has asserted that he has not always received the call when he was entitled to it, I point out that Government members also have not at all times received the call when they expected it. Of course, the honorable member for Parramatta may be quite right in his assertion; but I remind honorable members that on many occasions Government members have been kept waiting for a call whilst Opposition members have been given the opportunity to ask questions or address the House. I consider that the charge of partiality in this connexion could not be sustained. The third ground stated in the motion reads -

(c)   that be constantly fails to interpret correctly the Standing Orders of the House.

In that connexion I must say in fairness that my opinion of the meaning of the Standing Orders does not always coincide with the interpretation placed on them by Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In that case the honorable member should come across to this side of the House.

Mr THOMPSON - Surely the honorable member for Wentworth would not transfer to the Government side of the House merely because he agreed with an isolated contention of mine? I point out that no matter who occupies the chair there will always be occasions when some honorable members will not agree with his interpretation of the Standing Orders. To contend that Mr. Deputy Speaker should not further enjoy the confidence of this House on the ground that some honorable members do not agree entirely with his interpretation of the Standing Orders is ridiculous. I can recall occasions when I have been present as a spectator in other assemblies when the Chairman's interpretation of the Standing Orders of those assemblies was not in accordance with my thoughts. In any recognized assembly there must always be differences of opinion about the meaning and intention of the rules governing that assembly. The fourth ground advanced by the honorable member for Wentworth in support of his motion reads -

(d)   of gross incompetency in his admin istration of parliamentary procedure.

That is a matter of opinion. It is something that we have to abide by. I- remind honorable members opposite that whenever a bad deal is made cither by the Government or the Opposition, we have to stand by it. If while the leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) were absent his deputy did something which showed that he was incompetent, honorable members opposite would have to grin and bear it.

Mr Harrison - I am glad that the honorable member acknowledges that fact.

Mr THOMPSON - I remember on one occasion, when the honorable member for Wentworth was Acting Leader of the Opposition during the absence of the right honorable member for Kooyong, he referred to another honorable member as a " junior ". I remind the honorable member for Wentworth that although he, himself, is junior to the Leader of the Opposition, we do not consider that he is not the right man to put a case for the Opposition.

If I had my way, the Standing Orders would provideforthe immediate determination of disputesregarding rulings from the Chair,but ourpresent Standing Orders make nosuch provision, Honor- able gentlemenopposite have nowbeen ableto say what they were not able to say when theoccasion arose. Iam sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker,having listened to what theyhavesaid, willgivegreat consideration to their remarks.If he comes to theconclusionthat theyhave made out acase whichshows that he haserred, I am surethathe will be man enough to realize that perhaps he was a little too harsh with them.

I support the amendment to the motion that has been moved. The honorable member for Warringah read the part of the amendment which refers to the determination of the House to uphold the dignity and authority of the Chair and said that the Opposition supported that portion of it. I do not support the motion that has been proposed. I think that if we were to accept it we should lower the dignity of the Parliament. If the members of the Labour party, as a party, voted for the motion, after allowing Mr. Deputy Speaker to remain in occupation of the chair since last December, we should not be worthy of our places here.

Mr Spender - You are not.

Mr THOMPSON - Whether I am worthy of my place in the Parliament is a matter of opinion. At the last general election more Australian people thought that I was worthy to represent them in this chamber than was the case in respect of any other honorable member. My worthiness to be a member of the Parliament is a matter that is determined by the electors. I am here to do what I believe to be best in the interests of the people, and I consider that it would not be in the best interests of the people to vote for this motion. I believe that, in the interests of democracy and our parliamentary system, it is right and proper that honorable members opposite should have had an opportunity to air their grievances regarding the way in which Mr. Deputy Speaker has acted, but, now that they have done so, I shall vote against the motion.

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