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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1005

The PRESIDENT - Earlier this afternoon I called Senator Cant to ask a question without notice. I must confess that I thought the power was going into another circuit and I was rather surprised to find that the question was addressed to me. I will reply to it, as I undertook to do. I thought that the honourable senator's question centred on the word 'bureaucracy'. There is no bureaucracy in the Presiding Officer's duty. If there is a bureaucrat, it is I, but I thought that I would be the last senator who would be accused of a bureaucratic approach to anything. However, I now wish to reply specifically. The general question of calls made by the President or Chairman of Committees involves a right that is centred in the Chair. Noindividual senator has a right to claim priority over any other senator. The practice in general terms, and it is one that I certainly follow, is to provide equal opportunity for every honourable senator alternatively from the right and the left of the chairin order to keep the debate going as well as is possible and to stimulate progressive argument.

As to the question of calling senators during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, I attempt to do what in fact I did last night; that is, to group the debate as much as I possibly can in order to facilitate the task of the Minister whose duty it is to reply. In other words, it gives him some time to consider the matters that have been raised by various senators in the debate. As to the priority or otherwise of honourable senatorsin this situation, it is true that all senators are equal, but it is equally true that,in George Orwell's phrase, some are more equal than others. I therefore accord priority to the Leaders of the parties; first to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, then to the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party. I shall continue to follow that practice.

As to the particularity of what occurred last night, I wish to reply as follows: Yes, Senator Cant advised me early yesterday morning of his wish to speak during the adjournment debate. Had he informed me earlier than Senator Murphy, the Leader of the Opposition? The answer is yes, he had, but I applied the rule of equality to Senator Murphy by calling him first. I then applied the general rule which I follow by calling Senator Webster who sits on my right, as distinct from Senator Murphy who sits on my left. I am glad to notice the difference. There are times when I would be worried if they sat together. Senator Webster then initiated a debate which triggered a whole series of demands and wishes from senators for acknowledgment by the President. I clearly discerned that the senators who were following Senator Webster were wishing to express a point of view which could be grouped in the way that I described earlier. I became increasingly worried because I realised that Senator Cant would find some difficulty in placing his debating material before the Senate.

I called up Senator Cant and apologised for putting him further down the list. Senator Cant, most generously I thought, indicated to me that he did not wish to keep the Senate sitting very much longer and he would withdraw. That is my explanation. I then said that I would call Senator Cant tonight to speak first in the adjournment debate, if he wished to do so. Perhaps Senator Murphy might accord some priority to Senator Cant in these circumstances.

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