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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 1370

The PRESIDENT - As there are no further questions, I turn my attention to 2 questions which were asked earlier today. I refer firstly to Senator Cavanagh's question which was directed to me about a quarter of an hour ago. Senator Cavanagh's question contained 2 parts. Firstly he asked whether I had any power to curb questioning. The answer is no. The other matter that he raised with me related to the incident last night during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate. In relation to the first matter, I make it clear that my investigations indicate that since I have been Presiding Officer by favour of the Senate, the number of questions asked and answered has risen beyond the number asked and answered in the days of my predecessor. In the interest of the Senate, when I sense that it is becoming weary of questions, I seek to persuade honourable senators to hold their questions over. In no instance have I refused to call any honourable senator, as I recollect, who desired to ask a question. My mode of persuasion, when I have this sense of the feeling of the Senate, generally takes the form of saying that there seems to be time for 3 or 4 more questions. If half a dozen senators stand I say that I will take 6 more questions. This has been done by me in no way as an attempt to curb the inalienable rights of honourable senators, for the Standing Orders provide no limit to the time available. I am aware that the Presiding Officer is no greater than the whole and no more important than the parts. I understand Senator Cavanagh's wish to uphold the proprieties of the Senate. When I sat above the tree line, before I occupied this chair, I was as vigilant as he to see that the rights of honourable senators were protected. I give honourable senators an unqualified assurance that in the Senate my interest is not in any way to curb or inhibit the rights of honourable senators. That relates to the issue raised by Senator Cavanagh in respect of questions.

I deal now with the incident last night during the adjournment debate. I am conscious of and receive from time to time from honourable senators complaints about the increasing work load that they are bearing at present as a result of the advent of the committee system. I am also aware of, for example, the matters raised by

Senator Willeseeabout the notice paper being cluttered and filled with matters which are the need and necessity of the Senate. I mention that only as an indicator. All of us are aware that the Senate is staggering under a work load that is beginning to exhaust all honourable senators. Last night I felt, perhaps wrongly, that the Senate had reached the stage at which it wished to end the proceedings. I called the Minister for Air, Senator Drake-Brockman, who had moved the motion for the adjournment of the Senate, not with any malice but simply because I saw him first. I also saw Senator Cavanagh appear, but only over the head of the Clerk sitting at the table. I can assure honourable senators that I am here to discharge the obligations that they have imposed on me to live and preside within the Standing Orders of the Senate and according to the customs and practices of the Senate.

I now turn my attention to the question asked of me earlier by Senator McManus. It is true that Senator McManus gave me a circular which has been issued by a group of people styling themselves the Radical Action Movement and having their headquarters apparently at 57 Palmerston Street, Carlton, Victoria. The circular deals with proposed activities in relation to the SEATO conference to take place in Canberra in June. Therefore, I think that I must elaborate on the answer that I gave to Senator Brown yesterday. The circumstances are that the preparations for the conference were initiated in April last year. The Presiding Officers have agreed with the Executive Government that Parliament House should be provided as the venue for the conference. I indicated to Senator Brown yesterday that there will be no impediment placed by the presence of the SEATO conference on the movement of honourable senators and honourable members, except in one area on the House of Representatives side. I make it clear to honourable senators, as I made it clear to the House Committee this morning, that I have forbidden the alienation of any area on the Senate side to the SEATO conference.

I am slightly disturbed at what appears to be a belief that Parliament is a public place and that the environs of Parliament are open to the public. I think I should inform honourable senators that, although the precincts of Parliament House have never been defined in the Commonwealth jurisdiction or the Commonwealth Parliament as they have, for example, by the Parliament in Victoria, to which Senator McManus referred, honourable senators are aware that under section 49 of the Constitution, the powers, immunities and priviledges of the Houses of Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia are the powers, immmunities and priviledges of the House of Commons. Therefore, it is interesting - and I think I can inform honourable senators of this - that the House of Commons has always been vigilant in regard to the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. Following the events of 1696, the House of Commons, from 1709, has introduced at the beginning of each session a sessional order instructing the Police that the area near the Palace of Westminster must always be kept free and open in order that the Lords and honourable members can have free ingress and egress from the Palace of Westminster to discharge the duty for which they take their seats in Parliament.

So far as I am concerned, I consider that that power which is inherent in the House of Commons is transferred to the House of Parliament here in the Commonwealth of Australia. I assure honourable senators that, if any attempt is made to prevent the free movement of members of Parliament, whether a SEATO conference is in existence or not, I shall exercise, together with my colleague Mr Speaker in another place, our authority to see that these privileges of the Parliament are retained.

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