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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1556

Mr TURNER (Bradfield) - I could not have spoken against a better backdrop to Parliament than the proceedings of today. Were I able to speak with the tongues of men and angels and were I Demosthenes, Cicero and Winston Churchill rolled into one the purpose of my speech would be absolutely nil this afternoon. At the last count there were 10 people in this House. This is typical. The people included yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker, 4 people in the public gallery, 2 in the Speaker's Gallery and one person in the Press gallery. Did I have all this eloquence, all that I said would be of no avail whatsoever. I repeat that this is typical of this Parliament.

This afternoon we were debating one of the greatest, most towering questions before the world and the people of this country - inflation. It is causing devastation; it could blow our whole society apart. We had2½ hours to debate the problem. Members of Parliament talked about meals on wheels and things of that kind with which everybody agreed but everybody had to say something so that his remarks could be reported in a local newspaper. As I said, I could not speak against a better background than that about Parliament. As I sat here during the divisions this afternoon a horrible picture came into my mind. I recalled going along the Kokoda Trail over 30 years ago and seeing a shallow grave with maggots bubbling above the ground in which was a stick with a tin hat and a meat ticket on it. A man was dead. The sight was horrifying; the stench was nauseating. 1 thought: That is what this Parliament is. It is dead. And I was nauseated by the smell of it.

What is Parliament? One does not have to be versed in etymology to know that the word Parliament' comes from the French word parler' which means to talk, to speak. It is government by discussion. Both sides of the Parliament should be heard, not just one side. Not just what Government supporters say in the Caucus room or what we say in the Party room should be heard. I have often been influenced by what has been said from the other side of the House. Is this a parliament? Are we concerned any more with debate or discussion - discussion between the people's representatives? We could not care less. What has Parliament become? It is simply the means of giving legitimacy to the decisions of alternate juntas. That is all Parliament is today.

It is not only this Government that has made it so. When we stand at the bar of history we shall all be guilty.

I remember when Sir Eric Harrison was the Leader of the House. He would come into the Party room and use the expression: 'I must have the Bills'. In other words he was saying: Cut out debate. Do not worry about discussion as long as the Bills go through'. Parliament is merely a machine for giving legitimacy to the decisions of the junta. That is what is happening to our Parliament. I take the minds of honourable members back to the Roman Senate. I suppose we should not regard anything such as the Roman Senate as being relevant to today because it was a long time ago. Augustus was conscious that mankind is governed by names and knew that if the people were assured that they still possessed their ancient freedoms they would submit to slavery. So, the Senate remained. The Senate was mentioned with honour to the last days of the Empire, but the Assembly which once had been the arbiter of the world was suffered to sink into obscurity and oblivion. That is precisely what is happening to this Parliament. The Parliaments of Simon de Montford, Charles I, Walpole, Gladstone and Disraeli and Sir Robert Menzies are not necessarily the Parliaments of today. The name remains. Mankind is governed by names. We shall have a parliament right to the end. The decrees of Roman emperors such as Nero, Caligula and the rest of them always went out bearing the proud letters SPQR - senatus populusque Romanus - in the name of the Senate and the Roman people. But they were just decrees of dictators and nothing else. Everything that goes out from this Parliament to the last days of our democracy will have the usual old heading concerning the Queen, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

What has brought this about? A whole host of things but I have not the time in 10 minutes to go into them all. One matter is the reading of so called speeches. Of course, a reading is not a speech at all; it is a lecture, something which is read. Nearly every member who has spoken today was reading from little pieces of paper. If one listens to a speech broadcast from this chamber one knows when a member is reading. One knows that his heart is not in it. He just reads from bits of paper. There is no meeting of minds.

That is the beginning of the problem. That is the reason why no members come into the chamber. Why should they? I do not myself. The speeches are too dull and too inconsequential to matter. The Parliament has handed public debate over to the media. That is what is has done. Parliamentary debate matters no longer. We have handed debate over to the media.

Let me go through in detail one or two small areas of concern. I mention first the farce of our timetable. Nobody knows what is to be the business today, this afternoon, this evening, tomorrow or next week. Nobody knows what is to be the business; as a result, nobody can prepare speeches. Take the situation today when, without any warning whatsoever, this matter of the proposed referendum came into the House in the form of a Bill. Take the example of question time. Answers, under the Standing Orders, are supposed to be relevant to the questions asked. Any man - he does not even need to be a Reg Swartz; he could even be a member on the front bench on the other side- can talk for hours, being relevant, albeit, but wasting the time of the chamber; and the Speaker has no power over him.

Questions range over every field. The first question may be about Aborigines, the next question about prices, the following question on the post office at WOOP WOOP. the next question about brucellosis or about a peanut marketing board. No opportunity is presented at question time to go in depth into any matter whatsoever. We just do not have supplementary questions. We do not do this as it is done in the House of Commons. Nobody can probe a subject in depth. Question time has become a farce. I repeat that it is nothing but a farce.

The time available for questions is limited to 45 minutes. Yes, I know that we who are now on this side of the House started this practice when we were in government and I will not be unkind as to the reason. But I remember that in the past, when Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister, question time ended when, quite evidently, most people had asked the questions that they wished to ask. The period available for this purpose was entirely flexible. Now, on the dot, on the second, the guillotine falls.

First reading speeches, of course, were abolished long ago. I remember that we had them in the New South Wales State House. They were valuable because members could express broad view on whatever the topic happened to be before the Bill itself was actually introduced. But never in my time here have we even had first reading debates. I turn to second reading debates. These are often limited, as we saw today, to 3 speakers from each side on the most towering problem of our time. We had 3 speakers from each side!

The Committee of the Whole has become an absolute farce with most members fastening on to perhaps one clause and delivering a second reading speech on it. There is no real Committee consideration in the Committee of the Whole in this chamber. The debate has become an utter farce. At the second reading stage, each Bill should be referred to a Committee which acts in the fashion of a real committee, where officers are present, where the matter being legislated on can be gone into in depth. But no, we turn the Committee stage into a farce.

As to other committees - well, the House of Representatives has practically none. I remember the House of 'Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation - wildlife is very important - but I cannot remember many other committees of the House of Representatives. The Senate has a committee system - by accident, by a happy chance - because the Opposition felt that this was the best means of embarrassing the Government. It could do so by appointing committees. Some members of the present Government when on this side of the chamber rather enjoyed it. But this system too will be buried as soon as it can be buried.

I mention next ministerial statements. We had a statement on defence after the Government had reduced our defence forces to next to nothing. That statement was answered by one member who was the spokesman on this side on defence matters. We have had no debate on that subject since. Perhaps we willhavea debate on the Defence Estimates with 10 minutes allotted to each of 5 speakers. The same situation arose in regard to the Karmel Committee report which has turned our whole education system upside down. We had a ministerial statement from the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) and a statement in reply from this side. White papers or green papers are practically unheard of.

As to the use of our time, what do we do? We waste it talking for hours and hours about matters on which we all agree, for the purpose of getting a bit of material in our local news papers. As to the essential matters, we push them through as we did this afternoon in 2½ hours. Those factors must ultimately have a great effect on the quality of Parliament. People worthwhile will not bother to come into the House of Representatives. They may for a while continue to go into the Senate. But we have killed Parliament.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Luchetti) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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