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Tuesday, 6 September 1960

Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, I do not desire to continue with the theme on which the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has dwelt. I suggest, however, that the press should take his words to heart. There is no doubt that over the years the press, in leading articles and various reports, has attempted to belittle members of the Parliament and has tended, perhaps at times unintentionally, to make the people believe that the members of this Parliament get great benefits from their position - benefits that in fact they do not get. Lots of people think that members of the Parliament get their meals in this building free. That is the impression the people are given by the publicity that constantly appears in the press.

Only recently I went into a hairdresser's establishment in my own district for a haircut. I had known the hairdresser since he was a lad. While I was in conversation with him he said, " But members of Parliament do not pay taxes ". As it happened, I had with me one of the slips that members receive every month giving details of their salary payments. I showed it to the hairdresser and pointed out that for the month deductions from my salary for income tax amounted to £44 and for retiring allowance contributions to £21 13s. 4d. All honorable members get these slips, and they know what information is shown on them. The hairdresser was amazed. He said, " But you do not have to pay that, do you? " I said, " I do. Those are my actual payment; so that over the year I pay twelve times £44 in income tax." Some other honorable members may pay even more. I mention these things this evening, Mr. Temporary Chairman, because I think that the members of the press staffs should realize that in writing down members of the Parliament they are doing Australia a very great disservice indeed. 1 should like now to deal with one or two other matters in this discussion on the remainder of the vote for the Parliament. The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) this afternoon discussed the committee system and dealt with various committees appointed by this Parliament. He referred in particular to the committee system as it operates in other countries, and contrasted it with the system of committees that we have in this Parliament. For years, I served in a small State Parliament. In the House of Assembly in South Australia, of which I was a member, there were only 39 members. When 1 became a member of this Parliament in 1946, the House of Representatives had 75 members, and the number was increased later to 124. My experience of the workings of the Parliament has been that with greater numbers we get less of that democracy which has been mentioned this evening by the honorable member for Lilley. My experience in this National Parliament has been very different from my experience in the South Australian Parliament. We hear talk here to the effect that members of this place represent the people and put before the Parliament the people's case for what they need. Indeed, we on this side of the chamber put the case for the great majority of the Australian people - for the great masses of the working people. I know that Government supporters will say that a lot of workers vote for the Government and that if this were not so it would not be in office. We acknowledge that. Nevertheless, we on this side of the chamber are here officially to represent the great masses of the workers. Yet I have never known the Government to accept one amendment put forward by the Opposition in respect of any measure introduced in this Parliament, whether it be industrial legislation to control the working conditions of the people, legislation with respect to the arbitration tribunals, or legislation regulating activities in the industries in which the seamen and the waterside workers are engaged. Yet Government supporters talk about democracy and the expression of the wishes of the people with a view to having them acceded to.

Since this Government took office in 1949 I have not known it in one instance to accept an amendment proposed by the Opposition in respect of any legislation. Two or three years ago, when we were dealing with social services legislation, I put forward certain suggestions for improving it. After I had completed by speech some Government supporters came to me and said that they would have liked to support my proposals, but that the Minister in charge of the bill had more or less directed them to support the Government.

Mr Turnbull - Labour did that too when it was in office.

Mr THOMPSON - I am not talking about what Labour did. When Labour was in office and was passing measures which would benefit the people the then Opposition wanted to defeat them, but we won. The Opposition of the day forced us into doing something of which the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) now complains. It is a different story altogether. When an anti-Labour Government is in office and we can see that it is not doing what it should for the workers, we propose amendments to the legislation which it introduces, but our amendments are rejected. The honorable member for Mallee is completely lost in the Mallee when he talks as he does. However, one cannot go very far in the fifteen minutes which is allotted to honorable members in this, debate, so I shall turn to other matters.

If the Parliament were increased in numbers the democratic aspect of the parliamentary institution - the right of every honorable member to have his say and to try to get something done - would shrink. To illustrate my point, let me refer to what happened two or three weeks ago. An hour or two before the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) came into the chamber and introduced the Budget, there was a meeting of the Government parties. The Treasurer said, " This is the Budget; this is what the Government proposes," and every honorable member opposite now stands behind the Budget although some may criticize it very mildly. Therefore, it is not a democratic budget; it is the Budget of the eleven men who form the batting team. Not even the other Ministers who are not in the Cabinet had a say. I repeat: The bigger the Parliament the less chance will the backbencher have to state his views.

We have to stick up for Parliament and help it to express the wishes of the people. The honorable member for Batman mentioned committees. I have been a member of the Public Accounts Committee for the last eight or nine years. This committee was formed because Parliament is too big to deal with all the details of Government expenditure announced in the Budget. This committee inquires how money voted by the Parliament is spent. I am sure that honorable members will agree with me that the committee has done valuable work. Even the newspapers have expressed their appreciation of it. The Public Accounts Committee commenced operations under the chairmanship of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Bland) who is present in the chamber to-night. He devoted practically all of his time to ensuring that the committee would work in the best interests of the country and in accordance with Parliament's wishes. Professor Bland was congratulated by the Parliament generally, and by honorable members personally, for the work that he had done as chairman of the committee and when he retired from that position there were many expressions of regret.

The Public Accounts Committee has been (Instructed by the Parliament to do a certain job, and during the time that I have been a member of the committee we have done our job. We cannot decide matters of policy, but when we investigate the way in which various departments have expended the money that has been appropriated by the Parliament - whether there has been overspending or underspending - we become, as it were, the watchdogs of the Parliament. The committee is formed of members of both sides of the House. It is an all-party venture. We do what we can to ensure that the wishes of Parliament are given effect, and I repeat that we have done a good job.

Another committee which is doing great work is the Public Works Committee which decides whether Commonwealth funds should be expended on public works and, in fact, whether the works are really neces sary or desirable This committee is particularly valuable to the Parliament.

However, I would not like the Australian system to go as far as does the American system which has been mentioned by the honorable member for Batman. Some years ago I visited the American Congress and noticed that the House did not go into committee to discuss each bill clause by clause, as we d'o. Instead, it merely adopted the reports of the committees which had been set up to discuss the various measures. The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) was with me on that occasion. The American system is very different from our own. Although committees can be of immense benefit to the Parliament, I would not for the world adopt the American principle by which committees become practically the deciding bodies. Of course, the American House of Representatives consists of 400 or 500 members and detailed discussion of a bill is practically impossible. This bears out my contention that the bigger the parliament the less chance individuals have to shape policy.

Since I have been a member of Parliament I have not taken every opportunity, as perhaps I could have, to lambaste the Government on various matters. Instead, I have endeavoured to advance proposals which would benefit the people of this democracy. I am pleased that some of the suggestions which I have made have been adopted.

I believe that people outside can get a wrong impression of Parliament. Parliament is a body which represents the people. We have been sent here to do a job. I do not like to hear one honorable member assail another honorable- member. That is just as bad as the newspapers running down the Parliament. I was very sorry to hear recently a Government supporter make the worst attack on a member of the Opposition that I have ever heard. The honorable member who made the attack has accused the press of writing down the Parliament, but I say to him that his speech did a lot to write down the prestige of this Parliament. I do not speak out of nastiness, but I hope that the honorable member will read the speech that he made and realize that he should change his attitude if he wants the people to look up to the parliamentary institution and to the members who represent them. If we have anything against an honorable member, let us tell him about it straight out, but in so doing there is no need to lower the prestige of the Parliament. I have always believed that the parliamentary institution is the mainstay of our country. Unless that institution legislates in the interests of the people, it will not last.

Honorable members on the Government side often criticize the New South Wales Government. I say to every worker in the community, and to the man who earns £5,000 a year and still received his 28 per cent. marginal increase, that they should thank the Labour Government of New South Wales for blazing the trail. It blazes the trail every time. It is blazing the trail now for a 35-hour week. Government supporters condemn the New South Wales Government and if we dare to support that Government we also will be condemned. When the Labour Government of New South Wales blazed the trail and had the working hours reduced from 48 to 44 a week, the Liberal-Country Party governments condemned it. When the Labour Government of New South Wales blazed the trail and had the working hours reduced from 44 to 40 a week, Liberal-Country Party governments again condemned it again and forecast dire results. But Australia has gone ahead because the New South Wales Government has endeavoured to do its best for the small people - the backbone of the community. If the working man has not much to live on, the small corner storekeeper cannot make much to live on either.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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