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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 155

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - 1 am amazed to hear the comments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), particularly the threats he made when referring to the parties on the other side being determined to mirror correctly the aspirations of the Australian people for he was a member of the Government which operated under the old time schedule. This led to an article being written in yesterday's "Canberra Times' which described this House as a repressed and demoralised institution because of the actions of the Liberal-Country Party Government, a minority government. How well did the then government, with its sitting hours, allow the Opposition to mirror correctly the aspirations of the Australian people, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition says? The article asked this question:

U the Government's legislative program to be handke! in the House in the same old way? That is, by about 70 meetings a year, with the legislation being bulldozed through by, the 'gag' and the 'guillotine*.

Let us not forget that the Government of which Mr Chipp-

Anil, incidentally, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was a Minister in that Government - was a Minister won its own way in the House of Representatives in the last Parliament (1970-72) by gagging debate no less than 223 times; in that time the House passed 414 Bills (all introduced by the Government) but such was the pressure to. hurry this process that of those Bills 322 were not even given a committee-stage scrutiny of their detail (the stage was omitted of all (he 414 Bills only 45 were seen worthy of the suggestion of alternatives by way of committee amendments: and in all of that legislation-making back-bench members from both sides had only II amendments accepted.

This is the record of that minority Government which now utters threats that if more sensible hours of sitting are arranged it will obstruct the meeting of the House because it cannot correctly mirror the aspirations of the Australian people. The suggestions were put forward by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly), a man of long experience in this House and a man who made delightful use of the adjournment debate for effective politicking and putting his viewpoint and that of the people he represents. If we examine the sitting hours that are proposed, we see, as the Leader of the House has already shown, that there will be more time for honourable members to speak on the adjournment. He has shown that there will be more time for debate because of the change in commencement times and the alteration of meal times. Why then is there this objection to the alterations that are proposed? Is it because the Opposition fears these extra hours of debate.? Does the Opposition worry because it may have to sit for more days over more weeks? Surely it is the business of Parliament to examine the extensive legislation that is put forward in an efficient and correct manner. This is all that the Leader of the House, on behalf of the Government has asked the Opposition parties to agree to, to make these conditions and to make the opportunities for amendments more open. There is more to it than just the matter of time. I have served not only in this Parliament but also in another. I have seen the deterioration of efficiency that long hours bring upon members. Debates become stultified. In fact they become incomprehensible in the later hours of night and the early hours of the morning. What people in industry and commerce would allow the sort of hours that are allowed in this House and expect efficiency of the people who are carrying them out? If honourable members opposite are not going to accept the commonsense arguments that have been put forward by the Leader of the House in support of a change that will allow adequate time for the adjournment debate and adequate time for the questioning and debating of legislation before the House I ask them to give some thought to the effect long hours have on them and on other members of the House.

I know that little thought has been given to this matter before. Perhaps that is why members of the present Opposition deteriorated so much in the last 3 years. They were so anxious to be sitting around the place talking in circles, gagging debates and not allowing proper consideration of legislation that they went into a state of decay from which it will take many years for them to recover. If we expect efficient work from honourable members we must give the proper conditions. The extra hours to be gained under this proposition are hours gained at a proper time of day. If after the trial suggested by the Leader of the House the arrangements are not effective, changes can be made. Perhaps honourable members will have to be absent from their electorates for more days than the 70 days a year that they are away at present. Perhaps they will have to journey to Canberra for more than the number of weeks than is the case at present. But at least in dealing with legislation over a reasonable spread of hours their health will not deteriorate, their senses and minds will not become befuddled and the legislation will receive the proper consideration that it should. One would hope that in this way the very extensive programme that the Government is putting forward can be critically examined and can be properly discussed.

I am disturbed at the Opposition's attitude to the schedule that is proposed. It seems to me that it is not a matter of the hours of sitting; it is a matter that because the Opposition can find so little else to do after its overwhelming defeat it wishes to waste the time of the House by opposing sensible measures on sensible conditions such as this. If this is the way members of the Opposition are going to behave during this Parliament they will make a very good-looking Opposition for many years to come. They will then welcome the hours that are suggested by the Leader of the House. The amendment should be rejected and the motion should be accepted by the House.

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