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Wednesday, 20 December 1905

Senator Lt Col GOULD (New South Wales) - I think that Senator Dawson was on safe ground when he took exception to this proposal. The Standing Orders Committee are not in absolute agreement in regard to it, and I am one of those who have not looked upon the proposal with any degree of favour. It must be borne in mind that the whole question was first referred to the Standing Orders Committee, and that, in a report which was laid on the table of the House, they pointed out that they were unable to make any suggestion. The outcome of that was that a motion was submitted by Senator Pearce that the Committee be instructed to prepare a standing order containing a provision substantially in agreement with that now before us. That motion was agreed to. But the point is, that in the first instance the Standing Orders Committee were not in favour of taking action, and that in the next place, in submitting theseproposed standing orders to us, they have simply followed out the decision of the Senate. The standing orders are certainly open to the objection indicated by Senator Dawson - that they take away the protection that should be accorded the minority. At present, we require not only that leave shall be obtained to introduce a Bill, but that it shall be read a first and second time, considered in Committee, and finally read a third time. A discussion may take place at any of these stages, so that there is ample opportunity for honorable senators to consider, and reconsider the principle involved in any Bill submitted to us. If we are going to allow instructions to be given to a Committee of the Whole to consider amendments which are not relevant to the subject-matter of the Bill, but are relevant to the subjectmatter of the Act that it is proposed to amend, it will be possible to have a second reading debate without the protection afforded by the preliminary stages through which a measure must ordinarily be taken. All that will be necessary, in order to introduce entirely irrelevant matter, will be to give notice the day before the second reading of a Bill is agreed to. This will not only take away the protection now given to a minority, but will relieve the Government of the day from the responsibility rightly attaching to them in matters of legislation. Senator Trenwith has shown that by motion, an instruction could be given to a Government to introduce legislation dealing with a particular question. If the Government recognised that failure to carry out the instruction would involve a Ministerial crisis, all that they would have to do would be to say to their supporters: "We are not prepared to stand or fall upon a principle of this kind, but if von can secure its insertion in an amending Bill that we will introduce, we will accept it." In that way, the Government would be freed from responsibility, and run no risk. I aim not desirous to see Ministers relieved of responsibility in every direction, but we know that they are being relieved of it by alterations in practice and procedure. Again, the proposal enables instructions to be given to deal with matters that probably would not otherwise be dealt with. It is all very well to say that fifteen members of the Senate would have to support the motion. But let honorable senators bear in mind that when a matter having no party complexion was brought up, a minority of honorable senators who had considered the question might, by argument, be able to persuade the majority to vote with them. If, however, the matter was brought up whilst those who were capable of so influencing honorable senators were away, a* fair expression of the opinion of the Senate would, not be obtained. On the other hand, if the proposal were formally embodied in a Bill, instead of being made the subject of an instruction to the Committee of the Whole, those honorable senators would be able to make their arrangements to be present, and to state their opinions. There are other objections. As a member of the Opposition, I point out that these suggested standing orders will enable an Opposition to "stone- wall" a Bill to a greater extent than is permitted by our present Standing Orders. Four of five senators might submit instructions which would have to be considered after the second reading of a Bill, and those instructions would be debated night after night, with the object of defeating the Bill to which the minority was opposed. Such standing orders would play directly into the hands of an Opposition. The Senate ought to be enabled to deal within reasonable bounds with all matters that are brought forward. I have always set my face against standing orders affording opportunities to " stone- wall," or delay the transaction of public business. I shall always do so. But if, while I sit in opposition, a standing order deliberately gives me .opportunities to " stonewall," and block legislation that I do not like, I shall probably take advantage of it. It should be realized that we are now dealing with rules that have been in operation for many years in other parts, and have been found to work satisfactorily. The reason why a change was made some years ago in the House of Commons was to avoid the possibility of rushing through the second reading of a Bill which members did not think would be brought forward for consideration. If a Government chooses to bring forward a Bill, well and good. It takes the responsibility. If a private senator desires to submit a proposal, and cannot secure an opportunity upon a Bill, it is always possible to take the sense of the Senate upon a motion. But do not let us destroy all Ministerial responsibility, or give additional opportunities for " stone-walling," and interfering with the proper course of proposed legislation. It has been suggested that in regard to a matter of this kind, upon which there is much difference of opinion, it is a mistake to come to a conclusion on almost the last day of the session.

Senator Givens - Has not the matter been considered by the Standing Orders Committee ?

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- But the members of the Committee are not agreed.

Senator Trenwith - This proposed standi rar order has, been considered bv the Committee under pressure. The Committee did not recommend the alteration in the first instance ; but the Senate asked that th» subject should be reconsidered.

The PRESIDENT - The Senate 'did not ask,, but instructed, the Committee.

Senator Lt Col GOULD .- In view of the divergence of opinion in the Standing Orders Committee, and in the absence of many honorable senators., it would be much better to postpone the further consideration of the subject until next session.

Motion (by Senator Millen) -

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