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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 817

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - There has been so much noise from the other side of the chamber and criticism of the Country Party attitude that I felt that it might be as well for me to add something to the remarks of the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) and the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr Nixon).

Mr Daly - Tell us whether you will take the salary.

Mr CORBETT - Your curiosity will be satisfied in due course. The Country Party accepts that the salaries of members of the Australian Parliament have fallen well behind the relative positions of those salaries at the time of the last adjustment of parliamentary salaries. Because of this, we recognise fully the need for an increase in parliamentary salaries. An increase is fully justified. There is no argument as far as we are concerned on that aspect of the matter. The point that I should like to make in connection with this legislation is that the Labor Party has taken the opportunity in this Bill to try to denigrate the Country Party. It also hopes, Mr Deputy Speaker, by this measure to try to drive a wedge between the Liberal Party and the Country Party. This was mentioned in the Press only tonight. If those honourable members opposite who are trying to interject would only listen to me they would hear what I have to say.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I am Mr Speaker, not Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask the House to note that in case the salary increases come about.

Mr CORBETT - I did not wish to demote you, Mr Speaker. The Labor Party has endeavoured to gain some political capital by its action. The Country Party is determined, so far as it is within its power, to maintain the status of the Country Party in this Parliament. We will not be a party to any lessening of our status. If the Government thinks that by introducing such a precedent in conjunction with a salaries Bill it will weaken our attitude in this respect, it has badly misjudged the calibre, the standing and the principles of the Australian Country Party and the honourable members who represent it in this Parliament. We will not weaken simply because we may suffer some penalty if we do not weaken. We have taken the stand as is expressed in the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Country Party.

The Country Party always has been prepared to fight for its standing within the Parliament. We appreciate the attitude taken by our Leader, at the time when the new Parliament had not been called into session in attempting to establish the position of the Country Party in this Parliament. We believe now that we should stand, as we have done, as a team and support our Leader in this matter. We feel that he has played his part. It is up to us now to show, as the honourable member for Gippsland has said, . that this amendment represents a unanimous decision taken by the Country Party. It has been moved with the intention of showing this Parliament and the Australian people that the Leader of the Country Party was fighting, not for his personal rights but for the Country Party to be accorded its proper status in this House.

The outstanding feature of the Australian Country Party throughout its history in this Parliament has been its solidarity. That has been exhibited again in this case. We stand solidly behind what we believe to be right for the Australian Country Party. We are prepared to do that whenever we feel it is necessary to do so, and that is what we are doing tonight. I believe that there is a growing dissatisfaction with the Government. It has shown many weaknesses. Rebellions have occurred in the ranks of its Ministers. It has presented conflicting views. The Prime Minister has had his job cut out trying to hold his Government together. The Government probably realised that the only real hope that it had of being returned at the next election would be to cause a division in the ranks of the Parties opposing it. It has grabbed this opportunity to try to do just that. It feels - I think rightly so - that unless it can demonstrate to the people of Australia that there is not the unity on this side of the Parliament which is necessary for effective government, it will not be returned at the next election. This legislation represents a miserable attempt to promote that angle. No matter how one looks at it, it is hard to explain this action of the Government in any other way, especially in the light of the letter written by the Prime Minister to the Leader of the Country Party, and in the light of the whole history of our Party in this Parliament.

The leader of a third Party always has been recognised in a much stronger and more satisfactory way over the years than is proposed in this Bill. The provisions of this Bill represent a new approach. No doubt the Government has its reason for this approach, lt is not just to gain the paltry saving which is achieved by reducing the salary of the Leader of the Australian Country Party. We know only too well that the eminence of the positions of office holders in this Parliament is gauged in relation to the salaries and allowances that they receive. We will not have the office of the Leader of the Australian Country Party reduced in status just to satisfy some of the ideas of the Government. We are not prepared to allow that. Honourable members opposite may make as much noise as they like. They can scream about it as much as they like. Country Party members have their views and we will have them heard.

If honourable members opposite do not accept that argument, perhaps they might accept another theory which was put to me this afternoon, namely, that the Prime Minister and the Government have some fear of the growing acclaim that the Leader of the Australian Country Party is receiving throughout this great nation. He has been referred to in many circles as one of the great Australian statesmen. The tactics adopted by the Prime Minister, if my theory is right, represent shrewd thinking. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) in particular is noted for his astuteness in this field. I am glad to be able to nail the possible basis of this action. I believe that the Prime Minister would have been most pleased if he had been able to get away with this tactic without the true position as we see it being ventilated. This is what we have done. All we ask for is what the Prime Minister himself accepted earlier - an equality. We have not asked for anything more than the Prime Minister agreed was reasonable. All we have asked for is for the Leader of the Australian Country Party to have equality with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Surely that is reasonable enough. We told the Gov.eernment about our attitude on this matter and we put up a fair and reasonable proposition which the Government turned down. We are not prepared to take the Government's decision lying down, and we are not going to.

Honourable members opposite will find that we are on our feet tonight in defence not of Mr Anthony as such but of the Leader of this Party and the status and standing of the Austraiian Country Party. I cannot emphasise that too strongly. This is where members of the Country Party stand. I endorse the points made in the excellent speeches by the Deputy Leader of the Country Party and the honourable member for Gippsland in putting the position of the Country Party before the House. I wanted to put forward a number of other arguments in support of the case of the Country Party. However, I will not be able to do so because I have limited my time to 10 minutes. T believe that what has been said already has amply demonstrated the solidarity of this Party. Members of the Country Party are prepared to accept whatever penalty might be attached to taking this stand, which we believe to be fair and reasonable. But the Government has ridden roughshod over our proposition. It could have acceded to our request but now it is not prepared to do so.

We are not opposing the Bill as such. We believe that the salaries and allowances provided for in this Bill are overdue and should be provided to members of the Parliament. But we cannot accept the position in which we have been placed by the Government. I say that the Government deserves the severest criticism for the miserable attack which it has made on our party through our Leader.

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