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Thursday, 2 June 1960

Mr CHANEY (Perth) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker-[Quorum formed.]

Mr CHANEY - While the quorum bells were being rung the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), by asides which the Chair properly ignored, demonstrated how our late hours of sitting turn ordinary human beings into savage, bad-tempered and grumbling individuals. No member of this Parliament could agree with the present hours of sitting unless he was an ambitious back-bencher who hoped the strain so imposed on Ministers would decimate their numbers. I have spoken about this matter before. We must act like civilized human beings in the conduct of the business of this House. The hours and days we now sit are iniquitous. They date back to the time when Parliament was not a democratic institution, but was composed of people who had normal occupations and at the end of their day's work went along to legislate, subject to veto by somebody else. If we accept the fact that Parliament is now a democratic institution, we must also accept the fact that some adjustment has to be made in its sitting hours.

Under the present system we sit for about four weeks and then have a week in our electorates; and in those four weeks there is a rush backwards and forwards, to and from Canberra; and the further away one's electorate is, the worse the rush becomes. Then, instead of sitting at a civilized hour, we start in the late afternoon on two days of the week and invariably sit until the early hours of the morning or at least till midnight. I cannot see anything wrong with sitting for two weeks in Canberra and then having one week in our electorates and, during each of the two weeks of sittings, having five-day sessions, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It may be said that that would not allow the Cabinet, or committees, time to sit; but the reverse is the case, because at the present time it is quite unfair for Ministers to have to attend a Cabinet meeting when the House is sitting. They want to be in the House while bills are going through. If we reverted to civilized sitting hours, Cabinet and committee meetings could be held at night and members could get a reasonable amount of sleep and rest. As a result, Parliament would be conducted in a much better fashion.

In answer to any one who says that we cannot change our present hours of sitting because they are conventional and customary, I say that we should do what we wish if we believe that it would be in the best interests of members and of the country. Although I have been here for only a relatively brief period, I think that any honorable member who looked at the " Parliamentary Handbook ", noted the photographs of members and the dates they entered this House and then looked around the chamber would see a totally different set of people sitting here to-day.

Mr Curtin - You look very sick.

Mr CHANEY - Some people work here and subject themselves to strain and stress, and after a time it catches up with them; but if one sits down and relaxes and does nothing, one will never age, and the honorable member knows that. Nothing has happened to him in the period he has been here. I believe that for the benefit of every one in this House it is time the Government had a close look at this matter. It should be more realistic in arranging our sitting hours. Honorable members would then have a chance to infuse fresh and original thought into our debates instead of being absolutely knocked out by the conditions under which we now sit.

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