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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1708

Sir WINTON TURNBULL (Mallee) - I was rather surprised to hear the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) say that he believes that what he said or asked in a question in 1970 or 1971 has brought about what is happening today. I have taken a great interest in this subject over a long period of time. If the House will put up with me for a few minutes I will read one or two things I have said. On 14th May 1968 at 4.53 p.m. I said:

The first thing about which I wish to speak is something which happens here very often. This is the presentation of petitions. In my view - and I think that many honourable members will agree with me - this is a complete waste of time. The time that is wasted is not just the time of the honourable member who presents a petition. Sometimes petitions contain hundreds of signatures. In fact, one petition which contained thousands of signatures was so large that it had to be carried into this House by five attendants, I think, when it was presented. What happens when a petition is presented? From what I can see - and I have watched this matter closely for 22 yearswhen a petition is presented no-one takes much notice. Then it disappears, probably down into the dungeons. This happened when a Labor government was in office and it has happened during the term of office of the present Government. The position has never changed.

It appears to me that people think when they sign a petition that the petition will carry weight and strength in promoting the objectives of the people, but this is not so. I make the suggestion that, if people desire to have petitions presented, the petitions should be presented to the appropriate Minister. Then they will be sure of getting a reply. Does any honourable member in this House know of any reply that has ever come from the presentation of a petition?

I mean since federation -

Has any Minister explained what has been happening as regards the subject matter of a petition? Of course not. Nothing really happens. Honourable members on both sides of the House will agree that this is the situation, no matter which Party is in office.

I am fortified in believing how right I was on that occasion by hearing Opposition members speak this afternoon, but when I brought the matter up at that time they were strangely silent.

Mr Martin - When was this?

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - I have been asked when it was. The date on the Hansard copy from which I have been reading is 14th May 1968.

Mr Grassby - I was not here then.

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - One honourable member is claiming that he was not here then. I will omit him. But most honourable members were here and they were strangely quiet on the subject. Let me say a few things about it. First of all, I believe that a petition should be presented to the Minister. I do not believe that the way proposed in the amendment is the right way to do it. Representations should be made to the Minister along the same lines as with any subject at the present time. What the Opposition wants to do is to read out a petition once, as one Opposition member suggested just now, and that will be enough. When I tried to say, in presenting a petition which had been presented yesterday, the day before and the day before that, 'This petition is couched in the same terms as the one just presented', Opposition members called out: Read it out'. Now some of them do not want it read out.

What the Opposition wants now, as contained in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio, is that within 21 days after the petition is presented - I take it that it will be presented in much the same way as it is presented now - the appropriate Minister should state what is happening and what is going to be done about the subject. It has been suggested by the honourable member for Stirling that the Minister need not give a definite answer but may say: 'We are having a look at it'. What good would that do? He could keep putting it off. Honourable members know that nearly every petition that is presented concerns a matter of Government policy. Some of the petitions may be based on wrong premises. I have received petitions and I have written back to the people who sent them in or to the person beading the list saying: 'I have received the petition. You headed it to be presented in the Parliament so you gave me no chance of doing anything else, but I think it is a waste of time altogether presenting the petition.' This was especially, so in the case of the petition relating to post offices. Before 80 per cent of these petitions came in the Postmaster-General had said:

As to the closure of small non-official post offices, a meeting was held on the south coast of New South Wales some little time ago. Unfortunately, following the meeting, a Press report was issued which suggested that a Post Office spokesman had indicated that all non-official post offices would be closed. That is incorrect. No such statement was made. In point of fact, the then Director of Posts and Telegraphs in New South Wales, who is now the Director-General, represented the Post Office at that particular meeting. He has assured me that no statement of that nature was made at the meeting.

Because it was thought or printed in some journal that certain post offices were to be closed down, people up and down Australia presented petitions. This was a waste of time for the people who signed and those who had to collect the signatures and for the people who wrote the petitions, because it did not do any good at all.

Mr Armitage - That is absolute nonsense.

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - I do not want to debate the matter of post offices; but, in the electorate I represent, if . the closure of a post office is pending the district post office manager will meet the constituents in the area adjacent to the post office and discuss the matter with them.

The honourable member for Corio has proposed as an amendment that the responsible Minister have 21 days in which to report back to the House. What would the Minister say when he reported back? The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) is continually interjecting. Although it is rather difficult not to refer to interjections, lately I have tried to ignore them. However, when I am trying to put forward a case that 1 believe should be put forward, just as I will not interject on honourable members opposite, I would like them to give me a hearing.

Mr Armitage - That is nonsense.

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - Of course, to that statement, the honourable member for Chifley interjects: 'That is nonsense'. Therefore, I should not get a hearing in this House.

Mr Armitage - Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I did not say that. I was talking to the honourable member for Riverina.

Mir DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! There is no substance in the point of order.

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - The honourable member for Chifley said that he did not say it but that he was talking to the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). Of course he was talking to the honourable member for Riverina. He said it to that honourable member. It was heard by honourable members on this side of the House.

Mr Armitage - Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I have been misrepresented. The only point-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved.

Mr Armitage - I did not say it. I just said to the honourable member for Riverina--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Chifley has the right to take action by making a personal explanation when the honourable member for Mallee has finished his speech. There is no point of order involved.

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - I want to say only one thing more on this subject. If the honourable member for Chifley was speaking to the honourable member for Riverina on a different subject, that is altogether different. But, if he says that he did not say That is nonsense' to the honourable member for Riverina, I will have to make a fresh assessment of the honourable member for Chifley. He should put himself straight on that.

When the period of 21 days which is provided for in the amendment had almost elapsed, the Minister would come into the House and say that petition No. 356, or whatever lt might be, was a matter of Government policy. What is the good of that to anybody? After all, it does not matter whether the Labor Party is in office or not. I know that if it was in office it would also do this. Ninety-five per cent of the matters raised by petitions are matters of policy. Furthermore, what is the good of just reading out a petition requesting that something be done unless the mem bers have a chance to debate the petitions and tell the Parliament why these things should happen? One of the great things about Parliament is the debate which takes place on various subjects. When an honourable member raises a subject he should debate it. I am debating now the amendment which was moved by the honourable member for Corio relating to the provision of a period of 21 days and I am saying that this provision is completely futile because, after all, the subject of the petition will probably just be a matter of policy.

I want to make a deal with or give a guarantee to members of this Parliament that, if I so desired, I could bring to this Parliament within 2 sitting weeks a large petition asking that certain members of this Parliament be politically annihilated. Honourable members know that this could be done simply because people sign petitions not realising what is proposed in them. I could also get petitions signed regarding the economy that would not benefit the very people whom the people who signed them wanted to benefit. Honourable members know that one can get any petition signed. One can stand on a street corner in Melbourne or somewhere else and ask someone whether he will sign the petition. He will ask: "What is it about?' He will be told that it is about the Vietnam War and he will agree to sign it. No matter what side the petition supports, some people will sign it. Everybody knows that, and honourable members cannot deny it because it is right. It could be about pensions or about something else, but it may not bear any relationship to reality. A few people who really want something changed after due consideration sign petitions.

Before I close I should like to refer to what I said earlier. When a petition is signed, it is just a straight out request and it does not give me or any other member on either side of the House a chance to debate the question. All that honourable members are doing is presenting the petition. They are letting the Government, the Cabinet or somebody else who is unknown decide what shall be done and come back into the House and say that it is a matter of policy. Therefore, under no circumstances would I support the amendment because I think it is a further waste of time. The scheme which operates in New Zealand was put forward. I will not say that the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) altogether supported it, but he did put it forward as a suggestion. I do not know how many people on committees and how many weeks it would take to operate this system. The petitions would have to be referred to different committees and they would be sent back to the House with recommendations. When the House received the recommendations, I take it that they would be debated. When a recommendation is put before this House a decision is not immediately made as to whether the recommendation will be accepted or not. Honourable members would cry out for debate on the matter and I would be one of the first to do that. How long would the system take? We would be sitting here, and the whole year would not be long enough.

There is a bad flaw in the amendment. Let us suppose that about a fortnight or a week before the House was to rise 40 or 50 petitions were presented to the House. How would the Ministers report back to the House within 21 days? The House would not be sitting.

Mr Scholes - The amendment provides for 21 sitting days.

Sir WINTON TURNBULL - I know that the amendment specifies sitting days, but the point is that the Ministers would hot report back for 3 or 4 months. I am not wrong on this. If the House had only 14 sitting days to go before it rose and the petitions were presented, the remainder of the 21 days would recommence when the House resumed its sitting. The honourable member's head is shaking, so it seems that I am right. After this period of time, the matter raised by the petition would have become stale because, for instance, the Government introduced something in its Budget which made unnecessary absolutely the subject of the petition. All this debate is a further waste of time and the amendment will not receive my support.

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