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Tuesday, 27 May 1969

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - I oppose the motion. Last Thursday the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson) was kind enough to indicate that he would move such a motion, so we arc not taken by surprise. I oppose the motion because a great deal of Opposition business, involving matters of considerable importance, has to be dealt with. Under General Business, for instance, there is the Constitution Alteration (Democratic Election of State Parliaments) Bill which I introduced in November last year. That Bill is at the second reading stage. The Government has not indicated its attitude to it. The second order of the day is a part heard matter relating to Antarctica. The third matter is the Independent Schools (Financial Assistance) Bill 1968. This emanated from the Democratic Labor Party, which has indicated that it is very anxious to have the matter dealt with. I have indicated before and I indicate again that the Opposition agrees that this Bill should be brought on. What our attitude to it will be, when it is heard and a vote is taken, is another matter altogether. We will be interested in what the Government has to say. I am making an open statement to the Democratic Labor Party that we will not pose any difficulties. At all times the Democratic Labor Party has known that, as far as we could, we would facilitate the bringing on of that matter.

There are a number of other Bills and motions - motions in relation to defence, etc. - and all kinds of other matters on the list that are of importance. Some of them are part heard and some of them merely notices of motion. Some of them are of long-term importance; some of them are. of very great importance to the nation even in the immediate future. I make these comments also: This Parliament has witnessed, during this session, a lull in proceedings - it may not have been so evident in the Senate as elsewhere - in the sense that the Government has not been anxious to bringon any kind of business. Certainly some of that lull was taken up here by the initiation of debate on the Hoffmann affair and other matters. Elsewhere the slackness of the Government was much more evident.

Each session we witness the tendency to withhold legislation at times when it could be dealt with, and then a rush to get the legislation through at the end of a period such as this. Inside and outside Parliament it is stated openly that this is not an accident and is not due to difficulties with parliamenttry draftsmen, but rather that the Government wants to push matters through without any real parliamentry debate. Certainly this Government is not alone in this field. The practice has been followed in other parliaments in this country and elsewhere and by various political parties which have been in government. I think it is time this practice came to a stop. The Parliament is starting to break down in dealing with legislation and in such a situation this Parliament, like others elsewhere in the world, will face the same kind of dissent that is being expressed in the universities and other institutions in society. Unless we manage our business so that we are able to deal efficiently with the affairs of the nation there will be increasing disenchantment with the institution of parliament and increasing attempts to have matters dealt with outside parliament.

It is obvious that a lot of the business on the notice paper, much of it emanating from the Government - even General Business because that includes ministerial statements on matters of great importance - cannot be dealt with tonight, this week or even the following week - if the session were extended. It will not be dealt with before the end of this year. This is just not satisfactory. It means that Parliament is not handling its affairs efficiently and the solution of these problems will become irrelevant unless the Parliament finds some way to handle its business. One of the ways is to subdivide, to set up committees and to start to handle business in this manner. If we continue with the present system, without sufficient time to handle our affairs, trying to siphon everything through two chambers, we will' create a classic bottleneck. It is really a classic in the sense that everything has to go through a chamber where only one person can speak at a time. We will not be able to handle our functions in this way. We must subdivide and have the Senate, as an institution, working in a number of ways simultaneously. Committees can sit and do the hard work, the detailed analysis that is necessary of Bills or other matters, and when the committees have digested them sufficiently those matters could come back to this chamber for ultimate approval. I think this is the way Parliament will have to start to work. .

The motion is only a palliative; it is not the way to deal with the backlog in Government Business. To take 2i hours off General Business is no solution at all. In the interests of the Government as well as ourselves, I think the proposal ought to be studied more deeply. I do not want to criticise the Leader of the Government for moving the motion because similar action is being taken in other parliaments. It is being taken in the various State parliaments. I suppose that if we were in government we would do the same, if we followed these traditional and inefficient ways. I think the change has to come, in the interests of everyone and in the interests of the nation. I ask the Government to reconsider this motion. Some time ago I saw a public statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) suggesting an inquiry into the way in which

Parliament was being run and whether or not some improvements could be made. 1 suggest that such an inquiry ought to be pursued and perhaps ought to be pursued on a more general basis. This is not a matter of a party political nature; it is a matter of how the Parliament should best be run in the interests of the nation. 1 oppose the motion because I do not think the extra H hours will solve the problem or add materially to the time available. We could probably add extra time by cutting short debates.

Senator Anderson - I might ask that that be done, too.

Senator MURPHY - We will co-operate wilh the Government in any reasonable way. I have suggested other ways. Speeches on virtually non-controversial matters could be shortened, speeches which have been delivered in another place could be incorporated, and draft speeches could be circulated to honourable senators in sufficient time for them to have an opportunity of reading the speeches. 1 see no real reason why second reading speeches should not be incorporated in Hansard instead of being read in a way that does not contribute greatly to the debate. There may be other ways. If the Government is reasonable, we will be reasonable.

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