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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1661

Mr DALY (Grayndler) - Bearing in mind what you have said, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will proceed with my speech. I have no doubt that if I transgress the broad principles involved in this matter you will give me guidance. As the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) has said, recommendations Nos 1 to 6 deal with the Standing Orders as they relate to the functions of Assistant Ministers. (Quorum formed) This report provides for amendments to the Standing Orders to cover the functions of the recently appointed Assistant Ministers. At this stage I indicate that I intend to vote against each of these recommendations for one reason if no other, and that is that the Government has not given this Parliament any information regarding the activities, expenses or functions of Assistant Ministers. I believe that the incorporation of amendments in Standing Orders to cover the functions and activities of personnel in this Parliament for whom the Government will give no explanation is something which should be opposed. I point out that if the Assistant Ministers are to be accepted, and if they are to carry out certain functions in this Parliament, then possibly the Standing Orders will have to be amended, but before these Standing Orders are amended and the whole function of Parliament changed, I ask: Is not this Parliament entitled to some information about the activities of these people? On 24th February 1972 1 placed question No. 5081. on the notice paper. This is what I asked the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon).

(1)   What facilities, travelling expenses, staff, stamp allowance, telephones and other amenities have been provided to each Assistant Minister.

(2)   What sum in travelling allowance has been paid to each Assistant Minister to date.

On the same date I asked question No. 5082. It stated:

(1)   What accommodation has been provided for each Assistant Minister in (a) Canberra and (b) each State.

(2)   What is the location and telephone number of each office. 1 followed those questions with question No. 5396. I repeat the question for the benefit of the House. I asked the Prime Minister:

Is it a fact that he is anxious to avoid providing the information I sought concerning allowances to Assistant Ministers in questions Nos S081 and S082 which were placed on the Notice Paper on 24th February 1972; if not. will he provide the information without further delay.

I believe that the Prime Minister is covering up in regard to the activities of Assistant Ministers. To date, after a period of almost 2 months, we are unable to obtain any information concerning the allowances, facilities, privileges, staff, amenities and offices are available to them. Yet tonight in this Parliament we are asked to endorse proposals to amend the Standing Orders. The Australian Labor Party opposed the proposal to appoint Assistant Ministers in this Parliament. Now, for some reason or other, we can obtain no information about their activities. By way of passing reference I say that most honourable members know that Assistant Ministers were appointed not to assist the welfare and development of this Parliament but to give the Prime Minister the numbers in an evenly divided caucus; of the Liberal Party. I object to the Standing Orders being amended in order to provide the Prime Minister with security from attack from the rebels in the ranks of the Liberal Party at the expense of the public. The Prime Minister refuses to reveal details of the activities of Assistant Ministers. The situation is that they are the silent brigade. Very few of them have spoken in Parliament since they were appointed; in other words they were struck speechless by their appointment. Very few of them ask questions. We do not know where their offices are situated. We do not know who comprise their staff, what amenities or expenses they have or what they do. Yet today Parliament is asked to amend the Standing Orders in order to provide approaches in this Parliament to cover the activities of Assistant Ministers. The first recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee states:

(a)   That Assistant Ministers should not be allocated seats on the Ministerial Bench, but they should be seated at the table when they are in charge of debates on legislation or other matters.

It is news to me that they are ever going to be in charge of legislation. To date nobody knows what their functions are. The recommendation continues:

(b)   That motions or amendments moved by :m Assistant Minister need not be seconded.

I have yet to be convinced that the Assistant Ministers have any constitutional power in this Parliament at all. A former Speaker of this Parliament, the long since deceased Archie Cameron, refused to recognise Assistant Ministers because he said that constitutionally they had no rights whatever in this Parliament. If this is the case under what circumstance should we condone the amendment to Standing Orders? The report of the Committee goes on to state:

(c)   That an Assistant Minister should be entitled to take charge of a Bill in committee of the whole House and, following the committee stages, be entitled to more formally for the adoption of the report and the third reading. . . .

The report goes on in recommendations 2 to 6 to deal with the time limits for debates and associated matters. If Assistant Ministers and their functions had been clearly explained to this Parliament, if we were convinced that they were constitutionally acceptable and right in this Parliament and if we could obtain from the Prime Minister information regarding their activities, expenses, staffs and where they are located, I believe a case might be made out to accept them. But since 24th February the Prime Minister has refused to tell us what they dc. I say that he has something to hide. Public money is being spent on their activities but nobody knows for what purpose. That being the case, why should we amend Standing Orders? This would give the imprimatur to their appointment. It would indicate an acceptance of their activities.

What does the honourable member for Wimmera (Mr King) do as Assistant Minister? I do not think he has made a speech. Has anybody ever heard him make one? The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) has been as silent as the grave since he was appointed. If honourable members check Hansard they will find that very few Assistant Ministers have made a speech. Very few of them have asked a question. Nobody can find them. They must be sharing rooms with other honourable members and must be Assistant Ministers in name only. It is a colossal joke.

The fact of the matter is that even before they were appointed we had never heard of them. Yet now we are expected to accept them with all the dignity and decorum which results from their appointment having caused an amendment to Standing Orders. My suggestion to the Parliament is that until such time as the Prime Minister comes clean on this issue we should oppose the proposals which have been put forward. When all is said and done a very important principle is involved. If these honourable members are challenged in the High Court they might well have their seats declared vacant because they have accepted offices of profit under the Crown. This situation has never been challenged. Someone may well do it because there is no constitutional position in this Parliament which allows for the appointment of Assistant Ministers. Our Parliament is totally different from other Parliaments of the world. I suggest to honourable members opposite that they read the speeches made in days gone by when this matter was debated and when the late Archie Cameron clearly outlined to the former Prime Minister, Mr Menzies, the reason why the appointment of Assistant Ministers could not be accepted in Australia as being constitutionally correct.

I do not know what the position might be in relation to some of these Assistant Ministers, but what is the good of having them? When a recent Cabinet vacancy occurred, with 6 or 7 Assistant Ministers ready to take their place among the ranks of the doomed in the Liberal Party Ministry opposite none of the 6 selected as Assistant Ministers was appointed. The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) who was not good enough to be an Assistant Minister was good enough to be a Minister and he was appointed. The Minister for National Development is one of the few survivors of the Menzies regime. After 12 or 14 years as an Assistant Minister he was accepted into the ranks of Ministers. No Assistant Minister, except the Minister for National Development who is sitting at the table, has ever been appointed to anything other than an assistant ministership.

Are we to amend the Standing Orders to provide for this situation? Mr Hamilton, a former member of the Country Party, after 10 or 11 years as an Assistant Minister resigned from the Parliament in disgust. Mr Jack Howse, a former member for Calare, was appointed an Assistant Minister and resigned in disgust because he could go no further. The former honourable member for Franklin, Mr Falkinder, an able man if ever there was one, could do no better than Assistant Minister so he resigned.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What about Joe Gullett?

Mr DALY - Joe Gullett was another. He was not even appointed as an Assistant Minister because he had enough sense not to accept such a position. The Minister for National Development survived because he is one of those long-standing, determined types. He can wait. I have been told that if a person waits long enough everything comes. The situation today is that we are being asked to amend the Standing Orders to provide for a half a dozen Assistant Ministers who, even if appointed now, could not last until next Christmas because after that time they will not be seen here again. Yet we are asked to support this amendment of the Standing Orders.

I suggest that this motion be opposed. 1 summarise my reasons. Firstly we should do nothing until the Prime Minister tells the Parliament what these Assistant Ministers are costing the nation. Why should they be permitted to travel in official motor cars, receiving lavish travelling expenses and all that goes with the position? We do not know what they are doing. I have ascertained that one of them is sharing an office with the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner). What an hilarious two they would be together. I have asked where these Assistant Ministers can be found. If I want to see the honourable member for Boothby in his capacity as Assistant Minister, where do I go? What I must do is wait until I can catch him in a passage of this building otherwise I must share my secrets with the other 2 honourable members with whom he shares accommodation. This situation is making a farce of the Parliament. We are asked to amend the Standing Orders to provide for people whose activities are clouded in secrecy. They are ghostlike figures, seldom seen, except when the Prime Minister wants their vote in the Party room and then up go the hands. The Prime Minister's appointees, at the expense of the Australian taxpayers, give him the numbers to defeat the rebels in his Party. For my. part I am opposed to this motion and intend to vote against it. I have outlined the constitutional and practical reasons why this proposal should not be adopted and 1 hope that the House will not support the motion.

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