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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1974

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - The honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer) concluded his speech by using some mighty words, if I may say so. I happen to sit on the Opposition side of the House. As such I am the recipient of the tender courtesies of honourable members opposite when it comes to treating the Parliament as a debating institution. There are two honourable members with whom I wish to take issue briefly. I shall have to do so briefly because I am allowed only 10 minutes in which to speak. I wish to say to those honourable members on both sides of the chamber who reduced the time of speeches in this chamber that I think they have done the whole institution a disservice. But I shall have to leave that subject because I can speak only in a kind of shorthand this evening.

The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) made a telling denunciation of this institution and its membership. He said, I think, that the debates were inane, that the procedures followed were time wasting and that honourable members used the procedures of the House in an irresponsible fashion. I could perhaps explain exactly why some of these procedures are used. But I am not too sure that there is a great amount of personal abuse in this chamber. Is there that much personal abuse in the sense in which one normally uses the expression?

Mr Graham - Of course, not.

Mr BRYANT - 1 may denunciate the arguments put forward by the honourable member for North Sydney, but I still think he is not a bad sort of bloke. What I say has nothing to do with his personal qualities, which are estimable; it has only to do with his politics, which are terrible. I do not think I have done the Parliament a disservice by saying that. Most of the honourable members who participate in debates in this chamber are, in general, speaking on subjects which are not breathtaking in their excitement, but a good deal of preparation goes into their speeches. It is my personal view that, no matter how dull they are, they have a right to have their speeches heard.

I see that I have only 8 minutes left in which to speak. I would have much more faith in the concern of the honourable member for Bradfield and the honourable member for Isaacs for the Parliament as an institution if they were to just once vote against the gag. This afternoon I rose in this chamber to speak for perhaps 3 minutes about the Inter-Parliamentary Union. On the blue business paper it said that a debate might proceed on a report presented by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) on this subject. As a delegate on 2 occasions to conferences of that body I thought I could add something to the way in which the House treated the report. The gag was moved on me and every honourable member opposite, without exception, followed in a robot like fashion the dictates of their master. Where is the Leader of the House (Mr Swartz) this evening? It is his duty to be present in this chamber when the estimates of the Parliament are being discussed. That is all the time I have to spend on him. We have come to the stage where the Senate is the Parliament of this country.

Mr Chipp - His deputy is at the table.

Mr BRYANT - Is the Minister for Customs and Excise now the Acting Leader of the House?

Mr Chipp - I have been for about 3 months the Deputy Leader of the House.

Mr BRYANT - I have the greatest respect for the' Minister for Customs and Excise, who has some good parliamentary habits. But the man to whom we have to look for the duration of the debates on the matters listed on the notice paper, the man who exercises the authority on the business of the House, is the honourable member for Darling Downs, who is also the Minister for National Development. I think he is about the only immoveable feast on the other side of the chamber. He ought to be present at this stage. I do not care what else he is doing. The other Ministers ought to be present as well. The Public Service and the Press seem to have become the government. The House of Representatives has become almost redundant in the present situation; and' I say that with deep regret.

How helpless are we? Honourable members should for a moment take a look at the Standing Orders to see how they can convene this Parliament once it has gone into recess. It can be convened only at the call of the Speaker. If the Government decides that the Speaker ought not to call it the rest of us - the 123 of us - could not convene this House. We are continuously on the edge of dictatorship. I am not saying that a dictatorship exists, but the parliamentary system relies for its protection on the continuous extension of courtesies between the Government and the Opposition and the acceptance of the view that the other fellow's voice has a right to be heard. No matter how dull he may be and no matter how wrong he may be he has a duty to speak and a right to be heard.

It seems to me that this institution has 4 functions. There is the representative function, the executive function, the legislative function and the function which might be described as the scrutiny and surveillance of public activities in the general community. 1 do not believe it is possible to do any of those things effectively at the present moment. Certainly we have very little, if any, say at all in the executive functions of the nation. That has been pre-empted by the members of the Ministry. The rest of us may as well not be here for all of these purposes. Some 30 of the members of this Parliament have this God-given right. They have preempted it to themselves. The other 150 or so in this Parliament have no say at all in the executive direction of the nation. I do not blame the present- Ministry for what has happened, but I do believe that the parliamentary institution has reached the stage where it must change its style. Some honourable members opposite will agree with me on that aspect. I know that if we could get down to having some sort of a round table meeting we would come to some kind of agreement about this matter.

The honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass) made some very concrete suggestions about the legislative function of the Parliament. The representative function, which concerns us all, is I think the reason why we must protect the right to hear what the citizenry has to say, to speak about it in this chamber and to place it before the appropriate authorities. This works all right in some ways. We can take up the complaints of pensioners who come to us and assist them. But the rest of the members of the community feel as helpless as we do on the great issues that are of concern to them. Four Or five years ago we passed a referendum about Aborigines.

We may as well have done nothing about this matter because we still use the State functions to deal with them. Ninety per cent of the people of Australia said: 'Get on with the job'. Even with that powerful and overwhelming voice it has been impossible to get action taken in the direction in which so many of us reckon it ought to be taken. On the other hand, I think we have a fair number of facilities at our disposal to deal with the question of scrutiny.

There are a number of other things 1 wanted to say, but I have only 2 or 3 minutes left in which to say them. What I think I should do is take my time now and at some time in the near future go to Toowoomba, which is the homestead of the Leader of the House, which is a little more devoted to these matters on most occasions, and tell his community what he is doing to this Parliament.

I believe that this chamber is a committee of wasted talent. There are 125 of us. Over 50 of us have university qualifications of some sort. About 30 of us have had extensive trade union experience. Over 50 of us have had fairly effective military service. I have in front of me a little chart which was prepared by the Parliamentary Library for the Parliamentary Handbook. It lists 5 doctorates of philosophy, 21 bachelors of arts and a number of bachelors of surgery. In fact, we seem to be overrun by the medical profession. However, it will be some time before the medical profession catches up with the bachelors of law. Would it be impossible to employ that talent in some executive function directly connected with the community? I represent this Parliament on the Council of the National Library of Australia. I suppose it gives me 12i per cent of the executive direction of that very fine institution. It is the only way in which my talents, what there are of them, are employed in the executive direction of the nation on behalf of the people I represent. I hold the view that the people in the electorate of Wills have the right to some say in the executive direction of the nation in the same way as the people in the electorate of Lowe have through their representative. I would think that a lot more members could be placed in similar positions on other statutory corporations to that which I hold on the Council of the National Library.

I cannot say any more at this moment except that the best demonstration of the ineffectiveness of this Parliament is the appointment in the other place of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. One has only to read its charter and compare it with the charter of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is a ministerial study circle. The problem we have is that Ministers - I do not blame only this generation of Ministers - are completely possessive and are carrying on the ancient mythology of the feudal system that the government is something different from the parliament. In my view the parliament of Australia is the government of Australia. This total body is the executive instrument of the nation and what we have to do to resolve some of the problems of the community is find the machinery by which we can all have some say somewhere along the line in the executive direction of the legislative programme of the Parliament, while still paying a good deal of respect to the fact that the majority will should prevail. I am not quite confident of what the real answer is but I know that the present isolation of the executive direction of this nation inside the one-man ministerial system is totally inadequate and that reliance Upon the system to produce legislation has become irrelevant.

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

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