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Tuesday, 31 October 1967

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - Then I will speak to the motion. The subject before the House now is Customs Tariff Proposals No. 22, which the Government has introduced and which will no doubt in the course of the next sessional period undergo a closer examination by the House. I want to debate the matter for a few minutes at this stage to try to secure from the Government some indication of its plans for this evening. The blue sheet showed pretty clearly that this evening we would be debating Item No. 8 - Vietnam - Ministerial Statement. The Opposition is prepared to debate this subject. The galleries are full, but the Government will not proceed.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member is getting far removed from the matter that is before the Chair and that is the Customs Tariff Proposals. If he intends to talk on that subject, he should do so.

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - I submit that what I am saying is relevant, Mr Speaker, because you will agree with me that it is necessary for the Opposition to have some indication of the Government's plan. Not only was this indication given to us, but earlier today the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr McEwen) and the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) stressed the urgent necessity to debate Vietnam. It is quite unreasonable to imagine that the Opposition can organise its affairs to meet the Government in a debate as important as this if the Government suddenly changes its plans without giving notice to anybody. I submit that this is quite unreasonable. We ought to have some explanation from the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Swartz), his advisers or other Ministers for this very significant change in Government business.

The matter before the House is one of detail. If the Government wishes, I and other Opposition members will proceed to debate it. The Government could then be satisfied, because in the next hour or two we would be debating tariff proposals. This is not a course of action that I would choose. It is a course of action which seems to be forced upon the Opposition because of the absence of other items of business from the notice paper which the Government appears to be wanting to debate. Therefore, I submit that we deserve and require some explanation from the Leader of the House as to why he has substituted these customs tariff proposals, which are in some considerable detail, for other matters which the House was prepared to debate. I instance that I sought leave to discuss the matter raised by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Mr Stokes). The Government has put aside the debate on Vietnam, which it considered to be vital and urgent and which the Opposition is prepared to debate. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has a speech ready. Is the explanation that the Prime Minister (Mr Harold Holt) cannot prepare two speeches in one day? Did he have enough in the debate this afternoon on VIP aircraft? Is there some other explanation for the strange course of action the Government is taking?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I have drawn the honourable member's attention to the matter that is before the Chair.

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