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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 147

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - I can only express my astonishment at the paradoxical position taken up by both sides of the House on this matter. On the face of it, it would appear that the Government would have every interest in shortening the time of divisions, because it has a lot of legislation to put before this Parliament and one would suppose that it was anxious, therefore, to get that legislation through as quickly as possible. Why, therefore, should it lengthen the time of divisions? It is said, of course, that this is a temporary measure only. Many of us are aware of temporary things that seem to have an inevitable tendency to become permanent, and one can hardly accept that as a reason. But this is not the reason why I rose to speak. I rose to speak because there is a quite important principle involved here. The matter is not trivial. The manner in which we take divisions and the time taken for divisions form a very important part of the working of Parliament. There are those, I think like the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who speak about electronic counting in divisions, as is done, for example, in the United Nations. There is the English system of members passing through the lobbies and being counted as they pass through. Then we have our system here.

One of the weapons, perhaps the only weapon, that an Opposition really has to insist upon being heard is the capacity to make use of the forms of the House to slow down the process of legislation, to block the Government, in effect to gum up the works. The time that is taken up, therefore, in divisions, among other things, or in having the count taken in a variety of ways is important to an Opposition because it is, as I say, the only way it can enforce upon the Government the right to be heard. It can make the working of the House so impossible that the government in the end prefers to let the Opposition have its say rather than make no progress at all because the Opposition uses the forms of the House, such as innumerable divisions and a variety of other devices, to block and slow down legislation. Therefore, I repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech: I am astonished at the paradoxical position adopted by the 2 sides of the. House. I would have expected the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) to wish to reduce the time taken in divisions. I would have expected the Opposition to wish to increase the time taken in divisions. However, that has not happened.

We have been told about loss of time. If loss of time in the taking of division were the only loss of time with which we had to contend in this place, I would think that not only we but also the public at large would be delighted. The loss of time that arises from futile debates on trivial matters lasting for hours is enormous compared with the trivial amount of time taken when the division bells ring for 2 or 3 minutes. As for dull broadcasting during the time when divisions are being taken, when all that people outside the place can hear over the air is coughing and sneezing and a murmur of voices, all I can say again is that if that were the only dullness with which the listening public had to put up from this place they would be delighted. Unfortunately, innumerable dull speeches going on for innumerable hours are the things that kill broadcasting from this place. We can forget about the time taken up by divisions.

So I say, as I have always said, that the method we have for taking divisions - this would include the time they take - is an essential weapon for an opposition. When people have raised that apparently progressive idea of taking divisions by electronic means, I have opposed it for the very reason that I have mentioned. This is the only device that an opposition has. I believe I am right in saying that I am the only member on this side of the House who has even been a member of an opposition. It is for that reason and because I and my colleagues in another place used this method to gum up the works that I am astonished that the Leader of the House does not realise that he is doing something against what is patently in the interests of the Government Party. I have sat in divisions in another place during the Committee stage of a Bill when there were perhaps 30 clauses and on each of the 30 clauses there were 2 divisions, first on the gag and then on the clause. I have sat there for 2 hours, with the ringing of bells and the counting of votes and nothing else. That was done to protest against the Bill that was going through the House.

We do not want to do that kind of thing here; I hope that we will be sensible. But I must repeat what I said at the beginning of my speech: I rose in my place to point out that the time taken in divisions involves an important principle and I, for one, stand for that time being as long as possible because I believe that this is the only weapon that an Opposition has. I hope that my colleagues will learn this.

Mr Erwin - Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to take a point of order on the honourable member for Chifley. He made a great to-do about the previous Government getting 17 Bills through by the use of the gag and the guillotine.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes - Order! What is the point of order?

Mr Erwin - The point of order is simply this: It was not 17 Bills-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! There is no substance in the point of order. A point of order can be taken only on a matter which relates to the conduct of the business of the House; it cannot be taken on a matter which arises from a debate in the House or from any subsequent debate in the House.

Mr Erwin - Then may I speak in this debate?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I call the honourable member for Ballaarat.

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