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Wednesday, 22 August 1973
Page: 229

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

(1)   That, in lieu of the times fixed for the meeting of the House in paragraph (1) of the order of the House of 1 March 1973, for the remainder of this period of sittings, unless otherwise ordered, the House shall meet for the despatch of business on each of the following Mondays, viz: 17 September, IS and 22 October and 12 and 26 November, at two o'clock p.m., on each Tuesday at eleven o'clock a.m., or such time thereafter as Mr Speaker may take the Chair, on each Wednesday at half-past eleven o'clock a.m. and on each Thursday at ten o'clock a.m.

(2)   That paragraph (2) of the order of the House of 1 March 1973 with respect to the adjournment of the House be varied by omitting 'at fifteen minutes to eleven o'clock p.m. on each Tuesday' and inserting in place thereof 'at fifteen minutes to eleven o'clock p.m. on each Monday and Tuesday'.

The motion I have just moved is to enable the House to adopt a number of changes in the sitting arrangements for the sittings. The changes, if agreed to by the House, will begin to operate from Tuesday next, 28 August. Details of the proposed arrangements have been made available to honourable members but it may be helpful if I summarise them. Firstly, we propose that when the House resumes on Tuesday, 6 November after a week's adjournment, it will sit for 5 weeks, taking us to Thursday, 6 December. Of course, we might need to review the tentative termination date later in the sittings. Secondly, we propose that starting from Monday, 17 September the House should sit on Mondays for half of the sitting weeks. The dates proposed are 17 September, 15 and 22 October and 12 and 26 « November. The House will meet at 2 p.m.. when it sits on Mondays.

Thirdly, it is proposed that the House sit earlier on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays it will meet at 11 a.m. and on Wednesdays at 11.30 a.m. Honourable members will recall that in the latter part of the autumn sittings the House met at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and 11 a.m. on Wednesdays. This caused some difficulties and it is now proposed that there be slightly later meeting times. Fourthly, the arrangement whereby the House rises each night not later than 1 1 p.m. will continue. On Mondays and Tuesdays the adjournment will be moved at 10.45 p.m. and on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10.15 p.m. Finally, meal arrangements will be the same as in the autumn sittings, namely, from 1 p.m. to 2.'1 5 p.m. for luncheon and from 6.15 p.m. to 8 p.m. for dinner.

I am sure honourable members will be fully aware of the need for the changes which the Government is proposing. The Government has a heavy legislative program to put before the Parliament. In fact the number of Bills that we intend to introduce, and with which I will deal later, is expected to exceed by a considerable margin the number of Bills that the Parliament normally passes in a whole year. Obviously this will place strains upon the Parliament. The Government is anxious that these strains be kept to a minimum, while providing opportunity for adequate debate of its important legislative proposals, and that the interests of honourable members and of the staff, of course, be preserved as far as it is possible to do so. I am sure that I will have the support of the House for these proposals.

The Government examined carefully all possibilities. The first conclusion it reached was that the arrangement whereby the House rises at 11 p.m. each night should continue. Late night sittings are an imposition on everyone concerned and I am sure nobody would wish to return to them. Of course, the earlier meetings in the mornings will cause some inconvenience but honourable members must expect to put themselves out to some degree if the Parliament is to implement the reforms for which the Australian people have asked. The Government appreciates that Monday sittings will reduce the time that members can spend with their constituents but additional time must be found for sittings, and meeting on some Mondays appears to be the most reasonable solution. I believe that Friday sittings, which the Government also considered, are less convenient to honourable members and less useful to the Parliament because the House cannot sit beyond midafternoon.

I refer now to private members' time. The previous Government made it a practice during the Budget and Estimates debates to take over Thursday mornings for Government business on the rather strange ground that honourable members could debate matters of their own choosing during the Budget and Estimates debates. The Government does not propose to continue this bad practice. On Thursday mornings general business and grievance debates will be held as usual. I should mention, in this regard that during the autumn sittings problem) were experienced occasionally when the Government sought to ensure that the House had the opportunity to bring general business matters to a vote. Some honourable members felt, rightly or wrongly, that they were being forced to vote on matters that they had not had adequate time to consider. It also happened on a couple of occasions that general business was extended into the afternoon period thus taking away precious time from Government business. To avoid these problems in these sittings I suggest to the House that it would be more suitable if when the normal time for general business expires and it is not practicable to take a vote on the matter before the House the debate be adjourned. At a later stage, if it is so wished, the House could arrange a special Friday sitting devoted entirely to dealing with outstanding business debates.

Before I conclude, and having given this explanation, I should like to give honourable members some idea of the legislative program that will face them in this session in order to substantiate the need for some change in sitting times. The number of Bills to be presented during this session will approach 200. Honourable members will agree that a legislative program of this magnitude will necessarily require more hours of sitting and more days of sitting. The proposal must be considered in the light of the fact that the average number of Bills for a full year during the last 5 years has been about 133. The highest number passed in a previous Budget session was 93 in 1968. Generally Bills were spread fairly evenly between the autumn and Budget sittings. For the benefit of honourable members I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard figures supplied to me by the Clerk concerning the number of Bills presented. I might mention that I am not using these figures for political purposes. This is interesting information for honourable members.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -


Mr DALY - I thank the House. This session the House will have twice as many Bills as usual to debate. True, some of them will be the subject of cognate debates but if they are all completed within the time set down the Parliament this year will have passed a record number of 320 Bills. A legislative program of this size naturally means that the Parliament must sit for longer periods. During the last 5 years the average number of days on which Parliament sat was 55, the highest number being 74 in 1971. The proposals I have outlined provide for 44 sitting days in this Budget session and a total for the year of 78, which is the highest number for some years. This gives an indication of the program before the Parliament. This program must be carried out. It would present difficulties if we adhered to the old hours.

Since this Government was elected it has endeavoured to give the fullest possible opportunity for private members in this Parliament to express their views on subjects with which they are concerned. Several desirable reforms have been attempted. I mention a few. The House now adjourns at not later than 1 1 p.m. General business has always been called on and grievance debates have been permitted. Adjournment debates have been held each night and attempts have been made to allow a reasonable time for discussion of legislation. Honourable members know that this is factual information. I withdraw any criticism of the previous Government at this stage. I think members opposite would agree with me that these are desirable moves. The previous Government probably did not introduce such reforms during the last session it was in office because of its legislative program but they are necessary if members are to be able to express themselves. I might mention that the Australian Parliament sits about onethird of the time that the Congress of the United States of America, the House of Commons of Canada and the British House of Commons sit. Recently when I was abroad I took the opportunity to study the proceedings of those legislatures. They sit almost constantly throughout the year with breaks here and there in certain circumstances. I do not know how they arrange such sittings or what is done but there appears to be reasonable agreement between all parties on matters appertaining to debates and discussion. Arrangements are made and respected, but from what I can see that is not possible in many respects in Australia.

I believe that the Parliament will have to sit longer hours. I hope later this year to be able to submit for consideration by the Government a program which may extend the sittings of this Parliament for an additional 2 months next year in order to avoid the inconvenience to some honourable members that will result from the proposed sitting hours. I have been a member of this Parliament for a long time but the procedures broadly are the same as they were when I first entered this place. In this enlightened age there must be change. Many of the time-wasting procedures will have to disappear otherwise honourable members will be required to remain here from Christmas Day to Christmas Day. I believe that ultimately consideration on an all-party basis must be given to amending the Standing Orders and our procedures so that Bills which are considered to be of major importance are debated instead of minor Bills which sometimes occupy valuable time. I do not criticise honourable members for being obstructionists, for putting their points of view or for demanding their right to speak. After all, that is part of our parliamentary procedures but in the interests of the whole Parliament I believe it would be better if procedures could be laid down whereby Bills that matter can be discussed in preference to subjects that do not matter. I instance the occasion when the House spent 90 minutes debating whether an additional minute should be allowed for the ringing of the division bells.

I have made some constructive suggestions. Later I shall move a motion relating to our committee system to institute procedures which have been adopted in other countries to streamline the proceedings of the Parliament and to enable business to proceed more smoothly. It is a matter for the Parliament to decide whether it wants it or not. But these things will have to be done if the Parliament is to get through its work. The changing of hours is even more inconvenient for the Government than it is for the Opposition. The Cabinet sits sometimes on Sundays and on Monday mornings. Our Party meeting has been put forward li hours to meet the proposals put forward in respect of Wednesdays because there is a realisation that this is the only way in which we can get through the sittings in reasonable hours. Otherwise honourable members will have to go back to the old days of sitting all night.

I just make those broad observations. I commend the proposals to the House. We believe that they represent the best available compromise between the interests of individual members and, of course, the staff, and the need to provide sufficient time to deal with our legislative program. I hope that honourable members on both sides of the Parliament will give their co-operation to these proposals and the ensuing business to ensure that it goes through the Parliament objectively, constructively and with full discussion. I am one who believes that the public thinks we are now fairly well off here and that parliamentarians are doing pretty well. Honourable members on both sides of this Parliament are under close scrutiny. Many members of the public think - probably rightly so - that we do not sit long enough or often enough. I suggest that today, when honourable members opposite are considering what attitude they will adopt to these proposals, they give due consideration to public opinion on this issue and not vote against the extension of the sitting hours of this Parliament to which is needed to enable it to put through legislation which is vitally important and which the people are entitled to have fully discussed in reasonable hours, at reasonable times and with proper and adequate consideration. I commend the proposal to the House.

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