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Wednesday, 21 September 1960


Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- The Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) did not reply to a question which has been asked consistently by several honorable members on this side of the chamber. It is this: Why, for the first time in the history of the amendments to the Social Services Act, has a message from the Governor-General been introduced? Hitherto, a message has never been received before a bill was introduced. Hitherto, a message has never been received after the second reading stage and before the committee stage. We want to know why a new procedure has been adopted on this occasion in relation to a bill which every year, without fail, comes before the House. The Minister either does not know or will not tell us the reason.

The Minister stated that I had a copy of this bill before he introduced it. That is true. There is an arrangement between the Government and the Opposition that the Opposition will not be required or expected to resume a second-reading debate until it has had an opportunity to consider its attitude to the bill on a Wednesday when the House is sitting. The Minister made his second-reading speech on Thursday night, 8th September, the night on which the House went into recess for one week. It was expected that the debate would be resumed by us last night. As I have said, the House did not sit last week so the only sitting Wednesday on which the Opposition could consider its attitude to the bill was on Wednesday, 7th September. Accordingly, we received a copy of the bill at about 9.30 on that morning so that the Parliamentary Labour Party executive could consider it first and then caucus could consider it at its meeting at 10.30 that morning. Neither the Minister nor any one on his behalf told me at that time that a message would be coming in from the Governor-General at any stage. The Minister gave no indication whatever that there would be a departure on this occasion from the practice which has applied in previous years when we have been asked to deal with proposed amendments to the Social Services Act.

Another question, which would seem to flow perfectly naturally from an appropriation bill, was asked of the Minister. Apparently, the law is that no one in the Legislature can move an amendment to an appropriation measure which will increase the appropriation. We therefore ask: How much is the appropriation? The Minister either does not know or will not tell us. All he does is to require us to infer that X pounds are being appropriated, and he therefore asks you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to rule in due course that we cannot move at the committee stage any amendment which would involve the expenditure of X-plus-1 pounds. But he does not know or will not say how much X pounds is. The position is quite farcical when members must calculate the effect on an appropriation when the Minister himself does not know how much is being appropriated.

The Minister for Social Services is not in the Cabinet, but he is a Minister and is therefore one of the Governor-General's advisers. The Governor-General has sent a message to this place on the advice of the Minister among others. Yet the Minister is unable to state the basis of the message which is sent to us. He should at least know and be prepared to divulge the reasons why on this occasion a message of this kind has been transmitted to us at so early a stage in the consideration of a measure such as this. This kindof thing has never happened before. Surely no one can assert that there is no legal basis for the past procedure. Nobody has ever challenged the legality of appropriations or payments which have been made under the terms of earlier social services bills. A message of this kind from the Governor-General has never before been transmitted to us prior to the committee stage of a social services bill and nobody has challenged the legality of what has been done before.

We know perfectly well that although the courts can invalidate what the Parliament finally decides, the courts do not and cannot supervise the way in which the Parliament goes about making its decisions. If the Parliament does not receive a message like this, it can still pass a measure which will be valid in the eyes of the courts. Why cannot we on this occasion follow the same procedure which the Parliament has always followed and which nobody in the Parliament or outside it has ever challenged hitherto? The unfairness of what is being done, Sir, is that we are now to be precluded for the first time from moving at the committee stage amendments with respect to precise timings, qualifications and amounts of social service benefits.

The interpretation for which the Minister contends is an extremely fortunate one for the Government. It is a very clever device. If the Minister is allowed to get away with this, Government supporters cannot be pinned down and made to declare themselves on the very things which, outside the Parliament, they always proclaim and on which, inside the Parliament, they always betray their promises. This is a mere subterfuge to prevent criticism of the Government and to enable it to escape from the responsibility of living up to its protestations. I submit that the Minister for Social Services should be required to explain or divulge - or at least learn, if he cannot explain or will not divulge - why the customary procedure has been altered on this occasion, this being the first time that such a thing has happened.


Mr Galvin - I rise to order, Mr. Temporary Chairman. Further to the point raised by the honorable member for Chisholm, I ask you whether it is in order for the procedure of this chamber to be so altered as to prevent honorable members from giving expression to their views, the sole purpose of the alteration being to enable the Governor-General to depart on a visit to Western Australia. This alteration of the procedure will prevent honorable members-


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member must not make reference to Her Majesty's representative.


Mr Whitlam - On the point of order, Mr. Temporary Chairman: I submit that the honorable member for Kingston was not reflecting on the Governor-General. He was reflecting on the GovernorGeneral's advisers.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order! I ask the committee to assist the Chair. If honorable members expect to receive explanations, they will have to give attention to the proceedings and refrain from interjecting. With respect to the point raised by the honorable member for Kingston, I point out to him that he cannot make observations such as he has made without offending against the rules of this place.







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