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Tuesday, 12 September 1972
Page: 1183

Mr DRURY (Ryan) -The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) referred to the disenchantment of certain people in relation to the Parliament. I believe it is true. I believe too that the answer lies mainly in our own hands in this place. Although not entirely, I believe it does to a considerable extent lie with us to improve the situation. Like previous speakers. I am intending tonight to make a few observations and to make, I hope some constructive suggestions as to ways in which we could help to make this chamber function more efficiently and more effectively. Before I do that 1 would like to recount briefly an experience I had last week. 1 was invited by Brisbane radio station 4BH to participate in one of i!s regular open line programmes, the subject to be discussed being privilege and members of Parliament. Rather unhappy com- i88w72--JJ- f431 parisons were drawn between the way members of this House require people outside it to appear before the Privileges Committee in respect of statements about members of Parliament, whereas members of Parliament under cover of privilege in the House sometimes make statements that are hurtful and disagreeable to people outside Parliament. I could expound on that subject to a considerable extent. All honourable members are aware that the Standing Orders provide that the conduct or character of a person outside Parliament must not be reflected upon at question time and can be approached only through a question placed on the notice paper. In that way the matter is not made known to nearly so many people as are matters raised at question time.

My experience on the radio programme helped to bring home to me something that I have been hearing off and on in the last two or three years. I refer to the growing opinion in the community that the conduct and standards of this House have deteriorated in the last few years. Whether that is really true is hard for us as members to judge, but when one hears people outside Parliament making such comments it makes one take notice. When we are discussing the estimates for the Parliament for the next 12 months we are given an opportunity to have a good look at ourselves and at the institution of Parliament with a view to making constructive suggestions to improve the situation.

We have an obligation to the nation. We are here as elected representatives of the people to play our part on the national stage. We all make mistakes, but if we all do our honest best in the interests of the nation I do not think anybody fairly could ask mor of us. It is our duty to maintain respect for the institution of Parliament. Parliament is an important part of our national heritage. I have said in previous debates of this nature, and I again say unhesitatingly, that Parliament is one of the 2 main bulwarks we have against tyranny in this country. The 2 main bulwarks of democracy and the freedom of the people to express themselves and to conduct themselves within the framework of the law are Parliament and the law courts.

In this current session we are sitting extra hours in order to avoid the end of session rush that we all hate. We are doing our best to avoid one of the factors that in the past has helped to bring Parliament into disrepute. On occasions we have sat until the very small hours of the morning, even almost daybreak towards the end of a session. The Leader of the House and all honourable members are most anxious to avoid that situation. We do not earn any sympathy from anybody outside Parliament when we conduct the affairs of the nation in that fashion. The effort we are making in the current session by sitting longer each sitting day to avoid the usual end of session rush will be, I hope, productive. I am sure we all hope that.

I wish to make a few short observations and suggestions about the way in which we as members might improve the efficiency of the Parliament. T remind honourable members, as a simple illustration, of one way in which in recent months we have improved the efficiency of the Parliament. On the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee the House some months ago agreed to revise the procedure for the handling of petitions from citizens of Australia. I believe that the new method has proved to be a success. It saves a good deal of time when the petitions are co-ordinated and read by the Clerk at the table. As we all know, the Clerk indicates the member who has presented each petition. In that way it is not necessary to have members rising one after the other and taking from 15 to 20 minutes of the first part of each sitting day to present petitions, many of which are the same as petitions presented earlier. By that important move we have saved time and, after all, it is the nation's time.

I believe that we could all exercise a little more restraint in certain other areas. One that comes to mind concerns the raising of matters of public importance. I do not want to be party political on this matter. I would be among the very last in this place who would want in any way to cut down, truncate or minimise the rights of members. I am simply suggesting that we should all consider that this is one way in which we might save some time of the House. The matter does not arise while we are debating the Budget because members can raise any matter at all in the debate on the Budget, but during other sittings we have had upwards of 2 hours debate on matters that have been said to be matters of urgent public importance but that very often could have been raised in the debate on the motion to adjourn the House instead of taking up valuable debating time earlier in the day. If an important measure is awaiting debate it seems to me that on balance it should have priority unless a matter has arisen which is genuinely of urgent national public importance and must be debated that day.

I turn now to motion for the suspension of Standing Orders. By reducing the time allowed for speeches on such motions we have taken a step in the right direction. We have not spent as much time in this session on such motion as we did in the previous session. With reference to standing order 91 I believe that we could all exercise more self-discipline. That applies to me as much as it does to other members. Often we keep an eye on the clock and even though we have made our main points, if a few minutes remain to us we follow the human tendency ' to keep on talking for our allotted time notwithstanding that we are repeating ourselves and not raising fresh points. Self discipline in that direction would be to the advantage of the House.

As all honourable members are aware, question time has deteriorated considerably. In many instances questions and answers are too long. Some questions are much too involved for Ministers to answer at question time. Quite frequently questions are asked at question time that ought to be placed on the notice paper. That is another way in which we could improve the procedures of the Parliament. I think we would all be repaid by rereading standing orders 142-153 and chapter 14 at pages 15-18 of the book called 'A Short Description of the Business and Procedures of the House of Representatives' written by the Clerk. I am not excusing myself from any of these charges. I believe that we are all guilty to a greater or lesser degree.

Mr James - Not I.

Mr DRURY - I am not referring to anyone in particular. If any honourable member sees himself with a halo around his head, good luck to him, but if most of us are honest with ourselves we will admit that we could improve the efficiency of the Parliament by imposing a little more self discipline. My final point relates to points of order, or so-called points of order, which are constantly being raised. They are not really points of order. As a deputy chairman I have had some experience of this matter. It has come to my notice very forcibly. Howadays there is a tendency for members on both sides of the House to raise points of order that really are not points of order at all. I invite the attention of honourable members to May's 'Parliamentary Practice', which is the Parliamentary bible.

Mr Foster - That should be spelt m-a-z-e.

Mr DRURY - The honourable member who interjects is one of the chief offenders in this place in breaching Standing Orders. i suggest that he listen to me and apply his mind to improving the efficiency of this House. The interjection of the honourable member for Sturt illustrates the point I am trying to make. A point of order relates only to matters of business before the House and must pertain to Standing Orders. This provision has been abused quite frequently by some honouable members.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Corbett) - Order) The honourable member's time has expired.

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