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Thursday, 1 March 1973
Page: 157

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - Like the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Lynch) 1 share his concern about the implications of this measure. I share his concern at the threats made to this place by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly). Initially let me talk about the motion that is before us and the amendment to it which has been moved on behalf of the Opposition. I think it is true that from time to time amendments to the Standing Orders of this place are necessary, and no-one would deny that once we have instituted an order to relate to the proceedings of this place we should not regard it as being sacrosanct and there should be opportunities to adjust it.

I am grateful to the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) for referring to an article which appeared in the Press this week about the proceedings of this House, the standards of this House and the degree to which, it is said, the capacity of individual members of Parliament to participate in the proceedings might be eroded. In many ways I find myself in disagreement with the article. But if it is true - and the honourable member for Scullin apparently feels it to be so - it is important to see in what way members of Parliament can protect their rights. Essentially i as private members we all in this place know that there are very few opportunities to talk in broad terms on matters that affect one in terms of one's philosophy, the manner in which a government is behaving or matters affecting a particular electoral interest. Of course, a few occasions are given for these matters to be raised during the Grievance Day debate. But I think the most important of all the occasions available to us is not through the moving of urgency motions but through the opportunity given to us in the adjournment debate.

I am very grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the statistics of the time that was made available by the previous government for the maintenance of debate by private members. One thing that comes out of that analysis is that there was no restriction placed under Standing Orders on the length of the adjournment debate. It is true that changes were made. The practice during most of last year was that the House as of 11 p.m. set aside the business of the House for the time being and then approximately an hour was spent on the adjournment debate. Th;re was no hard and fast rule drawn but essentially about an hour 2 nights a week was available to us to speak on the adjournment. The significance of the Opposition's amendment is that we wish to avoid a situation in which henceforth there will not be any flexibility. The Government proposes to insert rigidly into the Standing Orders of this place the restraint that one night a week the length of the adjournment debate will be 15 minutes and on 2 nights a week it will be 45 minutes. This will be the only time that will be available to honourable members of this place to speak on the adjournment and raise matters of importance to them.

If the honourable member for Scullin believes, as he apparently does, that there is an erosion already of the rights of members of this Parliament, how little it becomes him now to support a measure that will restrict those rights. It is important that there be available on the maximum possible number of occasions opportunities for private members to raise matters that are of importance to them and matters which relate to the exercise of their roles as members of this place. I believe that any suggestion for a restriction in the form suggested in the second part of the motion of the Leader of the House is anathema to anyone who is seeking to improve the function and opportunities available here. I do not find anything objectionable with the first part of the motton. I can see the necessity for the Government, in view of the legislative programme that is before us, to obtain what additional hours it can out of the normal sitting day. Indeed, I . suspect that those who will suffer most from the changes will be Ministers themselves, because one of the real difficulties in the exercise of Ministerial responsibility is both to perform as one should in this chamber and also to attend to the pile of paper work and the necessary deputations and other factors that demand so much of one's time as a Minister. But so be it. But 1 find the second part of the motion quite contrary to the attitude that I believe all members of this House should have as to the time that should be available to each and every one of us to raise matters of principle and matters of concern. The best and most suitable time to raise such matters is, of course, on the adjournment.

The other matter which was raised early in the speech of the Leader of the House related to the attitude that he as Leader of the House would adopt in the conduct of the debate on this matter. It ill behoves the Leader of the House, so early in this session, to start wielding the big stick. It is very true that this morning we debated a matter of very significant concern to the Australian people. It is equally true that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) during this debate raised matters of issue which affected 2 of the front bench spokesmen of the Opposition, knowing full well at that time that they were to be denied the opportunity of responding to him. It was suggested by the Leader of the House that one of their names is not on the batting list for the Address-in-Reply debate. Perhaps if he had been in the House last night he might recognise that the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has already spoken in this chamber in that debate and under the Standing Orders he is denied the opportunity of speaking again.

The point I make is that it is important that on every possible occasion the Opposition should not be denied opportunities to raise matters of significance and of public importance. This morning the Government chose to deny us the right to a full and open debate on matters of that character. Therefore it ill behoves the Government to spend the time, as it did, in criticising our reaction to a further curtailment of the opportunities that will be available to us on future occasions to speak on matters that are of concern. There is no better opportunity to speak on matters of this character than on the adjournment. For that reason 1 believe that the amendment which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has moved should be supported.

Motion (by Mr Nicholls) proposed:

That the question be now put.

Question put.

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