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Wednesday, 20 February 1980
Page: 119

Mr VINER (Stirling) (Leader of the House) - A very simple proposition is put forward on behalf of the Government as to why it wishes the House to proceed to the business of the day. The motion before the House concerning the invasion of Afghanistan must be recognised, as indeed it is, as being one of the utmost importance to the Australian public. I cannot think of any other matter of public importance which could transcend it. We had an extensive debate on it yesterday and the speakers' list for the Opposition includes 22 honourable members, among them the honourable members for Adelaide (Mr Hurford), Robertson (Mr Cohen), Prospect (Dr Klugman), Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), Shortland (Mr Morris) and others on the front bench. Also, some 26 private members on the Government side put their names on the list of speakers and wish equally a full opportunity to participate. They recognise the supreme importance of the issue.

Before the House resumed yesterday I informed the Manager of Opposition Business (Mr Hurford) that the Government intended to debate the matter of the invasion by the Soviet Union of Afghanistan at least yesterday and today. If enough members on both sides of the House wish to debate the matter further, I will facilitate debate on Thursday. That is what the Government proposes to do, for the simple reason that it cannot think of any other matter before the Australian public at the moment that is of greater importance than this one.

As to the future handling of matters of public importance, I have informed the honourable member for Adelaide that the Government considers that in normal circumstances Tuesdays and Wednesdays would be appropriate days for the handling of matters of public importance put forward by either members of the Opposition or supporters of the Government. Thursdays are traditionally set aside as days when private members can bring forward grievances and alternate Thursdays are General Business days when generally notices of motion given by private members are debated. In the minds of those private members they are matters of urgent public importance either to their constituents or to the Australian public as a whole.

Therefore, to bring some rationality and some efficiency into the handling of both Government and parliamentary business before this House, it is my view that as a general approach to the handling of matters of public importance they ought to be considered on Tuesday and Wednesday of each week. As I have said, having regard to the number of speakers on both sides of this House who obviously agree with me that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is a matter of supreme importance, I believe that it is proper that we facilitate debate on that matter as quickly as possibly and as a matter of urgency. That is what I propose to do. Therefore, I move:

That the question be now put.

Question put.

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