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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1576

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - 'Earlier in this debate there was some talk about the advantage of being able to ask supplementary questions. The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) followed on the discussion by the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) in relation to question time and perhaps it would be appropriate if I were to begin my remarks on the estimates for the Parliament toy referring to question time. It is true that the amount of time that has been allocated for question time in recent times has been approximately 45 minutes. But the allocation of this amount of time does not mean that it is necessarily the right amount of time. Question time is one of the most valuable times in the Parliament and certainly one that is most appreciated by the public whom we as members of Parliament are here to represent. If people want question time I think serious consideration should be given to the extension of the time. What has the fact that it might have been cut back, as has been claimed, got to do with the assessment of what is the right thing to do? If we are going to accept what has happened in the past as a measure we will never make progress or develop a better system.

There is one interesting point that I want to make with regard to question time. I believe that greater consideration should be given to the Opposition at question time. I know that in the years when we were in government and when I was sitting on that side of the chamber I did not raise this point. Perhaps if I had been generous enough I should have done so. Perhaps I did not feel the necessity to do so because when I was in government I found that I was able to ask questions quite regularly. Since I have been in the Opposition I have found it extremely difficult to ask a question. I have often wanted to ask questions but I have not done so because 1 did not want to waste the amount of time provided.

Mr Hansen - I have the same problem.

Mr CORBETT - I am pleased to hear the honourable member for Wide Bay being fair enough to make that point. I would like the Parliament to look at the situation. I hope that the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) will spare some time to listen to what I am putting up now. I think that at the present time, the Government after electing a Speaker, has some 66 members of Parliament. Correct me if I am wrong. I did not check this completely. I think it is right.

Mr Hansen - That is right.

Mr CORBETT - Then there are 27 Ministers, so that leaves 39 backbenchers on the Government side. On this side of the chamber when the new member for Parramatta comes in there will be 58 members. If one works on the basis of 58 Opposition backbenchers as against 39 Government backbenchers one finds that the Opposition asks one question to every li questions asked by honourable members opposite.

Mr Hansen - You have 4 leaders whereas we have only 2.

Mr CORBETT - The honourable member for Wide Bay points out that the Opposition has 4 leaders whereas the Government has only 2. That might make the position worse. I will leave that to one side. As the honourable member was generous enough to confirm my previous comments perhaps I will let him get away with that interjection without being nasty about it. I believe that, in the light of that circumstance and in the interests of Parliament as it will go on through the years, it would be reasonable if the Opposition were allowed to ask 3 questions for every 2 asked by honourable members on the Government side. I think that that would be fair enough. One finds that for every question there is a Government Minister on his feet. Do not tell me that those Ministers do not take the opportunity to score political points when answering questions. They may answer them in the manner in which they choose. There is no restriction on them. On careful examination one will find that question time is very heavily weighted on the side of the Government. I do not think that is the way it ought to be. The Opposition is here to provide some sort of criticism of the Government. I hope that it is helpful criticism, although sometimes it may not be. I do not think it is unreasonable that at question time at least 3 questions should be allowed to the Opposition against 2 for the Government, and that would apply at any time. Even then I believe that the advantage would still be with the Government. This is something worth having a look at.

I turn now to the committees. It has been my privilege for a number of years to serve on one of the statutory committees, the Public Works Committee. I see the former chairman sitting up there with the dignity for which he is always noted. I refer to the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly). Now I serve under the very genial and capable chairman, the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton). I am very proud, as I am sure every member of the Public Works Committee can be proud, of the fact that this Committee has looked at all its references from the point of view of what would be in the best interests of Australia. That is borne out by the fact that certainly during the time I have been a member, which is now 4 years, the Committee has never divided on party lines. When I see the shemozzle that sometimes happens in this chamber as a result of completely party outlooks it is refreshing to be a member of a committee which is prepared to look carefully and clearly at and to study in depth, as far as it has the time to do so, the problems which confront that committee, and to bring down to this Parliament and to the Government of the day the decisions which the Committee has arrived at, looking at its references from the point of view of what would be in the best interests of the nation. Only a week or so ago my predecessor in office, Mr Brimblecombe, passed away. He was a former member and chairman of that Committee. Even before I came into the Parliament he spoke very highly of the work the Committee did and the cooperation it always received in trying to arrive at the best decision.

I want to pay tribute to the officers of the Parliament. I have found them to be very helpful even at times of great strain. Their advice and impartiality reflects great credit on them. I join with the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury) and others who have mentioned this point. It is to their very great credit that they keep up a standard of asssitance and maintain the dignity of this Parliament day in and day out, even at times under great strain. I would also like to pay a tribute to the Parliamentary Library staff.

The Library service is of tremendous advantage to members of Parliament. I have been treated with unfailing courtesy and consideration at all times when I have looked for some assistance from the Library staff. I am very happy indeed to pay them the tribute which they so justly deserve.

There is one other point I would like to make and in this I may be chided with being somewhat parochial. I believe it is necessary when we have in the Parliament a party which is not a major party but which represents quite a large section of the Australian community, that its voice should be heard in major issues that come before this Parliament. Today, because of the way the Parliament was conducted, the voice of the Country Party was not heard in the debate on the Constitution Alteration (Incomes) Bill. The Deputy Leader of the Country Party (Mr Sinclair) spoke for only a minute before he had to sit down because the guillotine was applied. Surely it cannot be in the best interests of the Parliament that a Party which represents quite a large section - I reject completely the actual percentage of votes that were recorded in our favour because we did not contest all the seats in the Parliament -

Mr Martin - About 20 per cent.

Mr CORBETT - I did not hear the criticism from over there. I do not know who said what but I think that might be a worthwhile interjection. It indicates that he is scared of us. I do not know that that was the point. I believe that insufficient time is allowed for debates of great importance and we cannot be sure that the voice of the Parliament generally will be heard if the number of speakers is limited. I know that the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) had his name down to speak, but unfortunately he had to leave. But then the Deputy Leader was not able to speak. I believe that this is an important point. I make a plea to the Leader of the House to see that as far as it is possible at least one speaker from the Party is heard on matters of importance. I can recall the debate on the States Grants '(Water Resources Measurement) Bill, which vitally affects my own area, which includes the headwaters of the Darling River basin. Not one member of the Country Party was able to say a word about the Bill. I believe that with our practical experience we could have made a worthwhile contribution to the debate on the need for the expansion of water resources measurement.

Mr Kelly - Were you gagged?

Mr CORBETT - The time was limited and I did not have an opportunity to speak.

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

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