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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1643

Mr TURNER (BRADFIELD, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is addressed to the Leader of the House. As a member with an individual responsibility in this matter, I ask the honourable gentleman whether he is aware of the fact that the period of gestation of the Abortion Bill in England was at least 9 months from the time of its conception as a Bill presented to the House until its final birth as an Act of Parliament. Does he regard 31 hours of debate as an efficient means of dealing with a social question of very' great importance to a very large section of the Australian community or should it rather be seen as a travesty of democratic parliamentary government? I ask the honourable gentlemen in all sincerity whether he and his Party will reconsider the implications of such a farcically and tragically truncated debate, precluding all but a handful of members from expressing their views and debarring them from the opportunity of putting and voting on vital amendments, even to the second reading of the Bill, quite apart from a Committee stage which may never happen.

Mr DALY (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Services and Property) - The Government believes quite frankly that the debate on this issue could be spread over a lengthy period. But I point out to the honourable member that under this Government every issue brought forward by private members has been given time not only to be debated but also for a vote to be taken. That was never done under the previous Government. Had this Bill been introduced by a private member in the time of the previous Government, the debate on the Bill would not have extended beyond 12.45 p.m. and would then have remained on the notice paper until the dissolution of the Parliament. The Government has made its position clear. The Government has a legislative program to carry out and, naturally, time must be set aside for all measures. But unless members are prepared to sit indefinitely - say, right through until Christmas - it is impossible to allow full debate, on major Bills. All things considered, the Government believes, in view of the great public interest which has Deen expressed, that this measure should not be left without a decision being taken. We have therefore agreed as a Party that we will not interfere with the rights of members to vote as they think fit. But the Government, in charge, of the business of the House, has decided that a given time will be provided for debate and in addition time will be allowed for votes to be taken so that the views of honourable members on this Bill can be determined.

I suggest that if honourable members opposite are agreeable, we might even consider, say, a Friday, a Saturday or a Monday sitting to give more time to debating the Bill. However I do not think there would be much enthusiasm for this suggestion from the other side. But the fact is that honourable, members opposite will be given the opportunity in principle to declare their views on this matter. As I said, the time for debate could well De extended to cover days but if the honourable member for Bradfield has any suggestions as to how we could provide the time under the sitting hours of this Parliament to allow every member of this Parliament to express his views on this issue, I would be pleased to hear from him. Let me summarise by saying that the Government is doing something that honourable members opposite never did when they were in government. We will be allowing this issue to come to a vote and we will give honourable members the right to express their opinions and the right to participate in a debate and to reach a decision. This in itself is a democratic forward step.

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