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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 3491

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister) - Mr Speaker,the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), in moving his first motion this morning, said that he would be impartial and dispassionate. He certainly made no such attempt in moving his second motion. The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), in seconding the second motion, said that he would never descend to personalities. Honourable gentlemen have seen a fine display of personalities from the right honourable gentleman.

Inevitably, there are certain procedural technicalities in the matters which have come under debate. The first thing that the Leader of the Country Party said was that he was speaking in support of the motion forthwith because if he did not do so he would not get his opportunity to speak. The fact is that any person seconding a motion can immediately follow the person moving it, and the person who seconded the first motion this morning deliberately reserved his right to speak. He could have spoken immediately. The seconder could have spoken this morning on the first motion immediately after the mover. The Government could have gagged him only at the cost of gagging itself. So let that be clearly understood at the outset. The seconder did not speak on the first occasion because he gave up the right to speak; and the seconder on the second occasion exercised the right of which the Government could not deprive him without depriving itself of the opportunity to reply to the mover.

Now, let us get these things quite clearly. This morning, as on last Wednesday night and as on last Thursday morning, there was a constant effort to bait and belittle the Chair. This morning there were constant references to your own conduct, Mr Speaker, in respect to the first motion moved this morning. Your conduct was completely correct, I would submit, and certainly in accordance with precedents; that is, a person bringing a matter of privilege is entitled to move, and normally does, that the matter go to the Standing committee of Privileges. He does not leave it for the Speaker to determine whether there is a prima facie case. If every matter in which a person thinks that inside the House or outside it he has been abused is to go to the Committee of Privileges, the Committee will be sitting the whole time.

Nobody in this Parliament has been so constantly vilified and traduced inside it and outside it as myself. That position I accept in good part because I know it is the constant effort of conservative forces in this country to belittle whoever may be from time to time the Parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party. This vilification, this traducing, goes with the job. It is well known that except at question time, and only then occasionally, I do not ask for the withdrawal of unparliamentary remarks about myself. Constantly during debates members of Parliament introduce and volunteer derogatory remarks about me. I do not dignify the people by asking for a withdrawal or, when it comes to my notice, by making a personal explanation. On this occasion, as I pointed out, there have been constant references to your somehow having given a wrong ruling this morning. You did not and, if you had, that could have been put to the test in the House.

But let met come back to the position of last Wednesday night. The point has been stated quite clearly as to what happened last Wednesday night. An attempt was made constantly to belittle you and to bait you. I will quote what I said last Thursday morning to describe the proceedings. I said:

In an attempt to frustrate the recording of the constitutional vote required -

On the Constitution Alteration Bills - 2 devices were used. Mr Speaker, the Opposition last night failed to say 'no' when you put the question on the third reading. The Opposition tellers whom you appointed refused to act. By those 2 devices it hoped to frustrate the recording of the absolute majority, which the Constitution requires.

This was a perfectly deliberate act by the Opposition. It refused to say 'no' when you, Mr Speaker, put the question. The tellers whom you appointed refused to comply with your appointment. This is what the Opposition did on all three of these Bills. A vast amount of parliamentary time was taken up insinuating that somehow you had acted in breach of the Standing Orders. You had not. As my colleague the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) pointed out, even when the Parliament was completely unanimous, when nobody said 'no', when Opposition tellers could be appointed because there was no Opposition - the Speaker of the day still had the votes recorded to show that there was an absolute majority in favour of the constitution alteration Bill as required by the Constitution.

Mr Speaker,if one goes through the whole of the proceedings land the divisions of last Wednesday night one will remember that there was this allegation that you had done something wrong. It was during the course of some of these numerous divisions that the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) came to the table and used the words which my colleague the Minister for Services and Property abbreviated this morning. There can be no doubt about the conduct of the honourable member for Barker last Wednesday night during the division. The House was full. He was not speaking on any of the Bills. He was not at the table. He came to the table and honourable members will remember his postures and his words. They are not recorded in Hansard because nobody chose to dob him in, and you, Mr Speaker, were tolerant of his conduct. This was the genesis of the whole business during these constant divisions that night. The honourable member for Barker was the aggressor. Honourable members, in a full House and with full galleries, were able to see and to hear the honourable gentleman.

The chamber that night was rowdy indeed. There is no question that it was a rowdy chamber. It would require a very innocent person to discount the explanation that everybody outside the chamber gives for our rowdiness. It was a perfectly human explanation, but we do ourselves no credit by protesting, over-protesting, that the obvious explanation had no basis in fact. It was a very rowdy chamber and among the rowdy people, among those who were noisiest and among those whose attitude was most obvious, was the honourable member for Barker. He got from his place to the table, and honourable members saw and heard what he did and said. It is not recorded in Hansard, but nobody would deny what he did and what he said.

The following morning, in answering a very long question by the Leader of the Country Party, I said:

I regret that my hospitality last night was abused.

Then I proceeded to give an explanation of those Opposition attempts to frustrate the constitutional vote being recorded. Hansard shows that the honourable member for Barker said:

On a point of order: On behalf of everbody on this side of the House, I find the Prime Minister's remark extremely insulting and demand a withdrawal.

You, Mr Speaker, said:

Order! There is no point of order involved.

Then, in view of the honourable member's aggression, on the Thursday morning, repeating in kind if not degree his aggression on the previous night, I proceeded to make my remarks.

I do not commit aggression in this House. The matters which the Leader of the Opposition dredged up in his impartial and dispassionate analysis of my conduct over the last 2 decades show that I am not the aggressor, but in fact I am on occasions prepared to repulse aggressors, and I did last Thursday. I made an aside across the table in answer to an aside that the right honourable gentleman made and then - I suppose it is fair enough - he dobbed me in. It was an aside across the table. Nobody heard it in the gallery. Nobody heard it in the chamber. You did not hear it, Mr Speaker. The Clerks did not hear it. It was not heard on the radio. The right honourable gentleman used a phrase across the table to which I had taken exception once before and I responded. These were asides. They were unmannerly asides. Mr Speaker, you said that you had not heard his aside. If you had, you would have asked him to withdraw it. I withdrew my comments and he would not withdraw his. Who is the well behaved member of Parliament in this respect?

If I were to comment on the interjection that has just been made it would be recorded. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), whose conduct was scarcely exemplary last Wednesday night although I believe he was as sober as I was last Wednesday night, has made an interjection which, if I picked it up, would disrupt proceedings and there would have to be withdrawals and so on. I am not so sensitive in these things and I will not dob him in as his Leader dobbed me in. If I say something unmannerly in this House or something that is out of order I will withdraw it. My comment was an aside in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, who would not withdraw his comment. I withdrew; he would not withdraw. Who is the big man in this case?

The fact is that last Wednesday night the Opposition did its best to disrupt proceedings. Honourable members opposite deliberately baited and belittled you, Mr Speaker. You took it coolly and tolerantly, as you always do. But there were circumstances which help to explain the rowdiness. There was an incident which people well remember. On Thursday morning this was revived by the conduct of the aggressor the previous night. Whatever my conduct may have been in the chamber, I believe that nobody can 'accuse me of conduct outside the chamber or in the corridors such as the honourable member for Barker perpetrated. He went out into the corridors and, in the presence of honourable members, used language, in a -very loud form, which would not be tolerated in the chamber. I responded in at least wholesome terms. Honourable members heard and saw him. They heard what he said and they observed how he was moving about. Then later on the radio-

Mr McLeay - Who are 'they'?

Mr WHITLAM - One has been identified. The honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) was mentioned this morning. I think they came into collision. It was not the fault of the honourable member for Phillip that they came into collision. On the Thursday, the Friday and the Saturday-

Mr Snedden - Mr Speaker, what is now being said is worsening the crime committed. As a point of order I ask you to ascertain whether the honourable member for Phillip is alleging that the honourable member for Barker was affected by alcohol at the time of the events out in the corridor.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved.

Mr Snedden - If it is alleged by the Prime Minister that this is so the honourable member for Phillip should state whether it is true.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved. This is a substantive motion. Some honourable member a short while ago called the Prime Minister a dingo. He would not have been allowed to call him that unless it were a substantive motion which was being debated. The Prime Minister's time has expired.

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