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Thursday, 29 May 1969

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - We are dealing with a situation which is without precedent and with a matter which in many ways is unique among the matters that come before the Parliament. This is not an ordinary, normal matter; nor has it been presented to the Parliament in the normal way or for the usual purpose. This matter has been presented less to the Parliament than to the parliamentarians. The very fact that when this matter was entrusted by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) - my attention has been drawn to the remarks he made at that time - he indicated that it would be the subject of a free vote of individual parliamentarians - shows that he really divorced the whole matter from consideration by the Houses of the Parliament individually. Although as a matter of practical politics the votes were taken in the Houses individually and the matter was considered from House to House, the overall proposition was that this matter should be considered and determined by the Parliamentarians voting individually and divorced from any party affiliations.

The debate proceeded on that basis in each place. Votes were taken in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. They were not party votes; they were votes in pursuance of the charter that was given, namely, that they should be the individual expressions of the members of the Parliament. If that charter is to be pursued to its logical conclusion, one vote having been taken in another place and one having been taken here as a matter of physical practicality, the aggregation of votes should be considered as a mere matter of mathematics. The decision of the House of Representatives should have been added to the decision in this place. Then the overall conclusion would have been a decision of the parliamentarians.

But obviously there is no intention of pursuing this charter to its logical conclusion because the conclusion is not the one that is wanted in certain quarters. That has been made fairly obvious, if we look at the statement attributed to the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) and mentioned by Senator Wood this morning, although perhaps he gave it a connotation that I would not be prepared to give it. But obviously the decision of the aggregation of the parliamentarians has not been accepted.

So there is only one alternative. If the matter is to be decided by the parliamentarians and if the separate votes are not to be added together as a matter of mathematics, the only alternative is for the parliamentarians to meet together in toto, for the vote to be taken at that meeting and for that to be the outcome and the decision. 1 believe that this is no longer a matter merely of the prestige of the Senate or the prestige of the House of Representatives. This is now a matter of the parliamentarians discharging their duty and responsibility in the only way now available to them. Every other method has been employed. This is the only one now available to them if the determination of this matter is to be left finally in the hands of the elected members of the Federal Parliament. I believe that this is our duty, our responsibility and the trust that was reposed in us when the charter on this matter was given to us. We must pursue it to the end. We would be recreant to the responsibility entrusted to us if we failed to take the last available course to register the opinion of the Parliament as represented by the parliamentarians. Therefore, this becomes a matter not so much of responsibility as of firm and persistent duty.

I can see no great danger in this procedure. The Leader of the Government ^Senator Anderson) suggested that this would operate as a dangerous precedent. 1 cannot see that. This is a unique matter. It is a matter in which individual votes have been canvassed. There have not been votes on party lines or predetermined decisions. If this were a precedent, it would be a precedent for another similarly unique occasion. As an occasion such as this has arisen only once in 70 years, perhaps we can afford to wait another 70 years for the occurrence of a similar situation.

Senator Greenwood - The building of the next parliament house.

Senator BYRNE - Exactly. We should not be concerned with the possibility of this procedure being a dangerous precedent which at some future time might result in demands from the House of Representatives for it to join wilh the Senate iti reaching common determinations. After all, at that stage any matter would be decided ad hoc and on the merits - not merely to preserve the integrity, strength and independence of the Senate, but according to the circumstances of the case. Just as 1 believe that the circumstances of this case warrant and demand a joint sitting, the circumstances of another case might equally tell against a joint sitting.

For those reasons, and without unduly prolonging the attention of the Senate to this matter, I submit that this is a matter that we should pursue. I hope that the concurrence of the House of Representatives in this motion will be obtained and finally that the whole question will be resolved, the aggregated opinion of the parliamentarians will be discovered and the project will be enabled to go ahead. Therefore, I commend the motion to honourable senators and trust that we will have at least as big a vote for it as we had on the question going to the merits of the matter.

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