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Tuesday, 18 April 1972
Page: 1719

Mr DALY (Grayndler) -] want to say only a few words about the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). With other members of the Parliament I welcome changes that have already been proposed in the Standing Orders relating to the presenting of petitions because I believe it is an overdue reform, and I can see no reason why, having gone so far, those who drew up the Standing Orders should not accept the very commendable amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio. With other members of the Parliament 1 have been concerned at the growth of petitions presented. T wish to make particular reference to certain insinuations that were made, in the best of spirits no doubt, by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) and the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) in regard to 1947, the time of the Labor Government.

The history of petitions is very interesting in that when the Liberal Party is in government its supporters generally do not present them. I say that for the simple reason that between 19 J 1 and 1940, according to the document we have here - a period of 30 years - 94 petitions were presented, or an average of 3 per annum under Tory governments, with the exception probably of a couple of years in that time. Then we find that between 1951 and 1969, a period of 19 years, 642 petitions were presented, or 48 per annum. In 1970 and 1971, 1,217 petitions were presented, an average of 608 per annum, which shows the growth of petitions. I am particularly interested in 1947. Everybody knows that in 1947 highly paid executives of the private banks and the Liberal Party went the length and breadth of Australia and were paid per signature to collect signatures against the bank nationalisation proposals.

The honourable member for Mallee said that people will sign anything, and that is why be does not present petitions. But even he was roused from his reverie by the agents of the private banks at that time. I am advised today that the honourable member for Mallee presented one petition to Parliament from the electors of his constituency of Wimmera, as it then was, on 3rd October 1947, and the subject of the petition was the bank nationalisation that had been proposed. In other words, the roaring lion in opposition is very tame on the government benches. Although the honourable member said that anybody will sign a petition, he was prepared to present one at that time, not knowing who signed it, in an endeavour to wreck the Labor Government.

As I understand it, the presentation of petitions is one of the longest and best established practices in a democracy. As the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) mentioned earlier, if you go back as far as democratic history goes, you will find that this has been the right of the electors. Consequently, today when we are reforming the Standing Orders, is it not only reasonable and fair that some action be taken once petitions are presented to Parliament? Even though the honourable member for Mallee might think anybody will sign a petition, they will not.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.

Mr DALY - Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio to the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee dealing with petitions. As many of the many thousands of persons who were listening to me before the suspension of the sitting might not have heard the actual text of the amendment, J will read it. The honourable member's amendment states:

That the following words be added to the question: "subject to proposed standing order No. 132 being amended by adding the words

The Minister shall, within twenty-one sitting days of the presentation of a petition or the presentation of the first petition of a series of petitions, notify the House what acion has been taken with respect to the petition'.".

I repeat that I cannot see that the adoption of this amendment would do anything but improve the very desirable amendments with respect to petitions which are to be incorporated in the Standing Orders.

Petitions are most effective in many respects. People go to great trouble to present them - that is, people apart from those who are paid to do so sometimes such as when the Liberals paid certain people to sign petitions in relation to the 1947 banking legislation. But normally petitions are presented on a wide variety of matters. Perhaps I might make passing reference to the subjects on which petitions have been presented in order to show the power of the petition. I instance the legislation that will shortly be debated in this Parliament regarding the portability of pensions. Dr Constanzo of 'La Fiamma', the Italian newspaper, collected 75,000 names on a petition. He did not present the petition to the Parliament. He presented it to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) and the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay). It nearly frightened the life out of them and they brought in the legislation almost overnight. That example shows the power of petitioning. So it is with respect to Parliament. Although petitions presented to Parliament may sometimes be taken not so much flippantly but as something to be discarded they can be very effective.

I notice for instance, that petitions cover a wide variety of things. In the autumn sittings petitions were presented dealing mainly with kangaroos, education, pensions, censorship, aid to India, contraceptives and Lake Pedder. It is interesting to see that contraceptives head Lake Pedder off by 7 petitions. But the fact of the matter is that a wide variety of subjects are covered by petitions. What is wrong with knowing what happens to petitions once they are presented? Surely one of the Assistant Ministers could tell us where the petitions end up. Surely someone on the Government side could say what happens to them. If we do not receive a report on what has happened to the petitions the amendment to the Standing Orders would be only a new process implementing the old methods. The purpose of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio is to show the importance of petitions.

In a debate on the Standing Orders Committee's report it is worth studying the details associated with petitions down through the years. Petitions have been important from Federation. For instance, in 1901 alone, 224 petitions were presented. So the power of the petition was recognised as long ago as that. The power of the petition is recognised in the House of Commons and in all democratic parliaments. Therefore, it is most desirable that we should do everything we can to improve the handling of petitions.

I hope that the House will see fit to support the amendment. Might I ask Government supporters to vote on the amendment in a non-party way. I echo today my regret, more in sorrow than in anger, that non-party votes in this Parliament inevitably find every Liberal voting on the party line. They do so practically without exception. It will be an historic day - even on a vote concerning Standing Orders - when one Liberal sees fit to support commendable amendments in respect of things that are important to all democracies, particularly to this Parliament. Why should the honourable member for North Sydney for instance not vote for the amendment? Tonight he gave forth in respect of petitions presented in relation to the 1947 banking legislation. He forgot to mention that 93 petitions were presented at that time, and the Labor Government duly considered them, and gave all the consideration necessary to them. But in accordance with our policy naturally we proceeded with the legislation, but tonight I ask Government supporters to see whether they cannot vote with the Opposition on some of the proposals in these amendments.

It is a waste of time having non-party votes if supporters of the Liberal Party, despite their independence that we are told about are to be regimented, even on simple things like the Standing Orders of the Parliament. Here is a chance in an election year for the honourable member for North Sydney to be a real statesman, to vote without fear of expulsion and to cross the floor and vote on the important things and the really emotional issues of the Standing Orders. What an effect that would have in his electorate if he could see fit to act in this way! He will be welcome on this side of the Parliament for the simple reason that no other supporter of the Government has seen fit to support us in these proposals.

I finish on that note, expressing in a non-party way my request for support for the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio, and so ably supported by members on this side of the Parliament. Might our new silent knight from Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) see fit on one occasion to cast a very intelligent vote for something put up by the Labor Party.

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