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Thursday, 21 March 1968


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock (LYNE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Order! I urge the honourable member for Lang not to develop his remarks into a debate on the 'Voyager' Royal Commission. I can follow the point that the honourable member is making in using the Voyager' disaster as an illustration, but I suggest that he has mentioned the 'Voyager' situation sufficiently.


Mr STEWART - I have finished with my remarks on the 'Voyager' disaster. Two Ministers of the previous Ministry were dismissed; one was the honourable member for Higinbotham, who was Minister for the Navy, and the other the honourable member for Fawkner (Mr Howson), who was Minister for Air, and whose dismissal could have been due to the fact that he was badly burned over the use of VIP aircraft. It is a sorry state of affairs that a Minister who was doing his best to protect some of his senior ..ministerial colleagues should get the blame for the criticism that was directed at the Government over the use of VIP aircraft. But I do not think that was the reason for his dismissal. We have to look for another reason; so we look to see what these two former Ministers, who were dismissed from the Ministry, have in common. They have two things in common. Both of them are young men, somewhat inexperienced in the Ministry, and both are reputed to have been active supporters of the Minister for Immigration (Mr Snedden) in the Prime Ministership dogfight. They can be regarded as casualties of war. They were dismissed from their portfolios because they backed the wrong horse in the Prime Ministership race. I am reasonably certain that they have been treated more harshly than the Vietcong girl who was tortured recently. They would much sooner have been given the water treatment and allowed to retain their portfolios than be dismissed from the Ministry. I mention this subject because I think it shows that their dismissal was vindictive and narrowminded. If the reason that I advance for their dismissal is anywhere near the truth I pose to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the Prime Minister the question: Why is it that the Minister for Immigration, the Minister for External Affairs (Mr Hasluck) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) were retained in the Ministry?

It was clearly stated by the Prime Minister when he was first appointed that he intended to mark off the page and start anew. He gave the impression that he would create new portfolios in the Ministry and put new members in it. Various alterations in the Ministry were anticipated by political commentators of all shades of opinion, but only three new Ministers appeared, one to lake the place of a Minister who was retiring and the other two to take the place of the dismissed Ministers. Who were the two new Ministers who replaced the dismissed Ministers? They were the greatest rebel in the Senate, Senator Reginald Wright, and the greatest rebel in the House of Representatives, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth). As backbench members, both used to howl and perform at regular intervals. The honourable member for Mackellar, now Minister for Social Services, has been as quiet and as innocuous as a lamb since his appointment to his portfolio. We have not heard a bleat from him. His ideas on the aboltion of the means test, and increases in rates of pension and other improvements in social services, already have been broken down. However, one thing has been learned from the appointment of the honourable member for Mackellar and Senator Reg Wright and that is that the formula to foe followed if a person wants to achieve ministerial rank in Liberal circles is to become a rebel. Selfishness and disloyalty are two of the qualifications desired. The lessons of the success of the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) and Senator Wright have certainly not gone unheeded in Liberal ranks. I have already encountered a cave of now dissident, but previously loyal, members of the Liberal Party, having seen them in secret conclave a few nights ago. The new motto of the Party is: 'Up the rebels, down with loyalty'.

For the past few elections one votewinning source - a great vote winner for Liberals - has been criticism of the Labor Party structure, including our Federal Executive and Federal Conference, and accusations that Labor parliamentarians are under instruction from an outside body. Whatever may have been said in this regard, nobody has at any time been able to suggest that the leader of any other political party has instructed the Labor Party as to who is fit or unfit to be our leader. On the contrary, however, one pronouncement from the Leader of the Country Party was sufficient to send every Liberal member scurrying to his burrow. It was also sufficient to make the most ambitious man in this Parliament forgo an opportunity to achieve his burning ambition to become Prime Minister of Australia. The Liberal Party showed the world that it was not master of its own destiny by being-, frightened into submission by the threatsof the ageing Country Party leader. The selection of Senator John Grey Gorton as Leader of the Liberal Party marked a. great day in the history of the Country Party. It showed who was master in the Government of this country. To my mind, the Liberal Party has not come out of the election of the new Prime Minister in a good light at all. Let me now quote this, passage from the GovernorGeneral'sSpeech:

After Mr Holt's death, in the discharge of my responsibility to ensure the continuity and stability of government in Australia, I took steps to swear the Right Honourable John McEwen, M.P., as. Prime Minister on 19th December 1967. Mr McEwen served as Prime Minister until 10th. January 1968, when, Senator John Grey Gorton having been elected the Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr McEwen tendered his resignation as Prime Minister, and I summoned Senator Gorton and swore him as Prime Minister.

Subsequently, Senator Gorton resigned from the Senate on 1st February 1968. On 24th February 1968, within the period of three months allowed, under Section 64 of the Constitution, for a Minister to hold office without a seat in either House of Parliament, he won the seat of Higgins and on 28th February was again sworn as Prime Minister.

That passage reads very well and smoothly. It gives the impression that there were no hitches in the proceedings at all, that everything was plain sailing. It certainly gives the impression that the vacancy for the seat of Higgins having been announced, the changeover of the Prime Minister from his position as a senator to that of the member for Higgins was easily done and was almost commonplace. I feel, however, that this is not the fact. I question the procedure that was followed in this instance in declaring a vacancy in the seat of Higgins. I cannot find anything to show that the Speaker has the right to declare a vacancy when the person occupying the seat has not resigned or has not been declared dead. The Victorian law demands that a body be produced before a pronouncement of death can be made. The course of action followed in this matter was designed to restore the Prime Ministership to the Liberals as quickly as possible. The Country Party may have got its way over the leadership of the Liberal Party, but the Liberals were not going to allow the Country Party to hold the Prime Ministership a minute longer than was absolutely necessary even though it might be necessary to slide round the Constitution to do so. Though it is most unlikely that the same set of circumstances will occur again, I should like a definite procedure laid down to cover such a position as resulted from 17th December last. I question whether the procedure followed was constitutional. I shall leave it at that, making no further statement on the topic.

Last Tuesday night I listened to the speech delivered by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) in this debate. I agree with much that he said, but I feel that many of his remarks were completely out of perspective. The type of men he wants in this Parliament do not necessarily make good parliamentarians. In my fifteen years in the House I have known members of great wealth and intellect, and some with only one of these attributes, and I firmly believe that they have been no better members, either inside or outside the House, than the member with the lowest intellect and the lowest bank balance. I agree that the efficiency of backbench members of Parliament can be improved. Even without extra staff, if members could be given more time to spend on their parliamentary duties, with less time on public relations work in their electorates, they could become more efficient members in this House. But any member who refuses to tend his electorate and neglects his public relations work is courting electoral disaster.

One has only to look at the changes of members in this Parliament election after election to realise that many members who have worked hard are defeated, and sometimes those who have worked hardest of all are defeated. So public relations do count, and they count considerably. I have had an office in. my electorate for the 15 years that I have been in Parliament, and even now I am still accused of not being seen around the electorate often enough. In the last election campaign my Liberal opponent who, I think, is a solicitor - he must have some intellect, certainly he has better educational qualifications than I - canvassed various parts of the electorate, and in those areas he cut back my majority. I have deduced from this that public relations are an essential part in the process of retaining one's seat in this House. Whether a member has the greatest intellect in the world, or whether he has a great deal of wealth and can afford to pay somebody else to do a lot of the work for him, it will still be found that unless he is seen and does something in his electorate the people will replace him very quickly. I wish I had more time to develop this theme.

I agree with some of the remarks of the honourable member for Bradfield on backbenchers in this House. In 1960 or 1961 I was perhaps one of the first to make constructive suggestions for improving the efficiency of backbench members of Parliament. The Prime Minister at the time (Sir Robert Menzies) took no notice. I repeated these suggestions when the late Harold Holt was Prime Minister, but he too took no notice of them. I only hope that more encouragement will be given to the honourable member for Bradfield and any other honourable member on the Government side who thinks that backbenchers can do a better job for their constituents by improving either the committee system or staff facilities, or in some other way making it easier for us to do better work in the Parliament. I am all in favour of this.

The Parliament is anxious to hear our new Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) make his first policy statement. Nobody seems to know when this will be, but when he does make the statement, the Labor Party wants to hear him explain how he reconciles the statements by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury). The Treasurer says that real wages are rising and the Minister for Labour and National Service says that they have not risen for the last 3 years. Which interpretation of the State of the economy does the Prime Minister propose to accept? We want to hear him explain also why he has retained the Treasurer in his most important post as chief director of economic policy for this nation when the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Country Party (Mr McEwen) believes that the Treasurer is unfit to be leader of the Liberal Party. We are entitled to hear his opinion on the Deputy Prime Minister's proposal for an Australian Resources Development Corporation, which the Deputy Prime Minister abandoned last year because of misrepresentation of his proposal by the Treasurer and agents for the Treasurer.

We are entitled to hear what the Prime Minister thinks of the dangers of our growing dependence on overseas investment. This topic was mentioned last night in an address by the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Trade and Industry, to the Mining Industries Council. We would like the Prime Minister to tell us why he has done nothing about the promise made by the late Mr Holt, in his Senate election policy speech, regarding Commonwealth aid for school libraries and pre-school training centres. These were matters which the present Prime Minister, according to Mr Holt, was investigating when he, the present Prime Minister, was Minister for Education and Science. We would like to hear the Prime Minister explain why he gave a misleading explanation, according to Sir Robert Menzies, about the Government's slashing of research grants to the University of Melbourne. The people of Australia want to know exactly where the Prime Minister stands on the question of our commitment in Vietnam. Is the present commitment the permanent limit, as he said on the 2nd February, or is the commitment subject to increases as he implied in later statements? The Prime Minister should tell us why the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairhall) is still not in a position to tell us the total cost of the Fill aircraft when he promised that he would present this information to us in January. Is the only reason why Australia is not getting out of the commitment to buy these aircraft the fact that it is now too late to withdraw?

These and lots more, are questions which should be answered by the Prime Minister. I think he has shown a discourtesy to the House in not up to this stage speaking in the Address-in-Reply debate. I do not think he intends to speak later. If he replies to some of the questions I have posed then he will have told the Australian community a great deal more than is contained in the Speech delivered on behalf of the Government by his Excelency the GovernorGeneral last week in the Senate.

Sitting suspended from 5.47 to 8 p.m.







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