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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1675

Mr DALY (Grayndler) (Leader of the House) - I move:

That, in lieu of the times fixed for the meeting of the House in the resolution of 1 March 1973, for the remainder of this period of sittings, unless otherwise ordered, the House shall meet for the dispatch of business on each Tuesday at ten o'clock a.m., or such time thereafter as Mr Speaker may take the Chair, on each Wednesday at eleven o'clock a.m. and on each Thursday at ten o'clock a.m.

The purpose of this motion is to provide additional time for dealing with the growing pressure of government business that must be dealt with before the end of the sittings. In addition to the Bills that are already before the House, we expect to have a considerable number of new and important measures introduced in the next week or so. I know that the proposed new arrangements will cause some inconvenience, not least, I might say, to Ministers, as we shall now be obliged to have Cabinet meetings on Mondays rather than Tuesdays, as at present. Nonetheless, I am sure the changes I propose will be preferred to such alternatives as sitting beyond 11 p.m., Monday or Friday sittings, or extending the length of the sittings. In particular, I believe that members would wish that, if at all possible, we should be able to continue the system introduced at the beginning of the sittings whereby the House adjourns each evening at 11 p.m. I may not have won universal acclaim for the way in which 1 have run this place, but I have had no complaints on that particular score.

It is proposed that the House should now sit for an unbroken period of 4 weeks to Thursday, 24 May, before adjourning for the winter recess. I hope that we can look to the co-operation of all members in achieving this objective and that we will not need to consider further extensions to the sittings in order to ensure that the House deals with the Government's program of legislation. The revised sitting arrangements I am now putting before the House are much in line with the arrangements under which the House operated for most of the 1972 Budget sittings. Members who were present at that time will recall that these arrangements, introduced by my predecessor as Leader of the House, the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp), worked quite satisfactorily. I might mention that the Australian Labor Party, in Opposition, did not oppose the introduction of those sitting arrangements.

It might be interesting to honourable members if I were to point out some comparisons between the Budget sittings of 1972 - the last under the previous Government - and the current sittings. In the 9 weeks of the Budget sittings of 1972, the Parliament passed 81 Bills - rather more, I might say, than average. In the 10 weeks planned for these sittings we should exceed that figure somewhat. In the Budget 1972 sittings, grievance day was held once, and general business not at all. We do not intend to take time away from private members. Indeed, by sitting half an hour earlier on Thursdays we have added to the time for grievances and general business.

The new sitting times for the House as from next Tuesday, once this motion has been passed, will be: Tuesdays - 10 to 1, 2.15 to 6.15, 8 to 11, with the adjournment moved at 10.45; Wednesdays- 1 1 to 1, 2.15 to 6.15, 8 to 11, with the adjournment moved at 10.15; Thursdays- 10 to 1, 2.15 to 6.15, 8 to 11, with the adjournment moved at 10.15.

If I might just elaborate on this point slightly, I should like to say that at the commencement of the Parliament, I indicated to the House the desire of the Government to allow reasonable time for discussion of legislation and advised that it was the wish of the

Government to debate legislation at reasonable hours. The change of Government has therefore been remarkable for a number of things, quite apart from the huge legislative program which has been implemented. I list a few of them: The Parliament has not sat beyond 11 p.m. or into the early hours of the morning; adequate time has been given for questions, matters of urgency and adjournment debates; adjournment debates have taken place at a reasonable hour on 3 nights a week and in fact, on some occasions, the time set aside for this purpose has not been availed of by members, and only on one occasion due to deliberate disruption by certain , members of the Opposition, was it not possible to adjourn the House at 10.15 for the adjournment debate as intended; private members' business has been called upon on all occasions and sometimes extended and a vote taken on all occasions; and the Grievance debate has been called upon on all occasions.

I might say that the members, staff and officers of the Parliament have benefited because of the sane and sensible sitting hours which have been decided upon. For those who might be interested in the curtailment of debates, I point out that in the twenty-seventh Parliament the gag was moved on 222 occasions by the honourable members who now sit opposite. In this Parliament on only 18 occasions has the gag been moved to curtail debate, in some cases because of the obstruction of honourable members who sit opposite. The number of Bills to be introduced will no doubt be a record at the time this session finishes. I mention, because I have heard it said otherwise, that the purpose of these changes is not to curtail debate but rather to extend the time and at reasonable hours provide for full and frank discussion and at the same time get the legislation passed.

I hope the members of the Opposition will co-operate and subscribe to this point of view. Members on both sides of the Parliament have heavy commitments and I believe it is our task to fulfil our responsibilities in the Parliament, but at the same time not unduly prolong sittings for political purposes. There have, of course, been occasions during the session when disruptive tactics by the Opposition have I would say wasted considerable time. This, of course, is a parliamentary tactic that is quite within the province of those who sit opposite. I remind the House, however, that the Standing Orders provide for the Government to retaliate should this occur regularly in order to ensure that its legislative program may go through.

Contrary to what may be thought by some, the decision to curtail the sitting hours to 11 p.m. was done in the interest of commonsense and consideration to members, staff and all concerned. It has been beneficial and in order that our program might be completed, I would appeal to the Opposition for a measure of co-operation in our efforts to carry out the Government's legislative program. Without therefore wishing to curtail the activities of members I ask that they be selective in the subjects they discuss, thus providing not only for more effective debate but also for the passing of outstanding legislation. I also mention that it is hoped that these hours will ensure that Parliament will adjourn on 24th May but in any case, it is intended that the House will remain in session without any breaks until the recess and the program is completed. I also mention for the benefit of honourable members that the Budget session will commence on 21st August 1973.

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