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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 1394

Senator CANT (Western Australia) - Mr President, I am not opposed particularly in any way to the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) but I have some doubts about the amendments moved by the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman). 1 ask myself: What price does the back bench senator pay in order to get business matters before the Senate for discussion? The first thing I note is that if the second paragraph of the Minister's amendments is adopted no senator shall speak for more than 30 minutes on a report unless otherwise ordered. Mention has been made of speeches by the Leader of the Opposition and of a Minister replying on behalf of the Government but in fact reports are presented by the chairman of the committee. Under existing circumstances the chairman is always a Government supporter, not a Minister.

There are no Ministers on Senate committees, f do not know why Ministers always should have this privilege. There are 60 senators in this place and all are entitled to equal rights. It is the back bench senators who do the hard slogging work entailed in producing reports, not the Ministers. 1 abhor this privileged position that some people want to introduce into al! these things. Senator Murphy is a member of a very important committee at the present time but in the main the Leader of the Opposition, because of his responsibilities in other fields does not sit on such committees.

This idea astounds me, particularly when I consider the history of what happens on Thursday nights. That is general business night - the night on which there is opportunity for back benchers to bring general business on for discussion. Back benchers pay a price to get discussion on a report that they have slogged over. Those honourable senators who have not been on committees in recent times perhaps do not realise the amount of work involved in conducting an inquiry and presenting a report.

The Minister referred to objection not being taken to the incorporation of second reading speeches in Hansard. In general terms I would not oppose such a proposition. However, if I am required to give an undertaking that any second reading speech may be incorporated I simply say that this should apply only to second reading speeches on Bills which do not originate in the Senate. I have been in this Senate only for a little while - not for a very long time - but I am not so naive as to believe that politics are not played here. When the Government wants to make political capital out of a second reading speech it will not seek to incorporate it. It will be made and, in particular, it will be made on a Wednesday when the message can be broadcast.

The PRESIDENT - Any government will do that.

Senator CANT - We are not children, Mr President. I think all of us would do that. However I am speaking at the moment - I hope I will not be speaking from this position for very much longer - from the position of a member of the Opposition. Perhaps other honourable senators have not thought of this but I realise that this is an election year. 1 realise that speeches will be made deliberately for propaganda purposes. I think a give-away Budget will be presented in August and that the utmost advantage will be taken to publicise that Budget in order to prepare the people for a possible election in November. This is the only undertaking I can give: I would not disagree with second reading speeches being incorporated in Hansard provided all except those on Bills originating in the Senate are incorporated. 1 can give no undertaking apart from that.

Even then I am in an awkward situation. If I may be so rude as to say this, the back bench senator is a member of the mushroom club. He knows little about what is going on or about what business is coming forward. He is not able to consult his colleagues on the attitude that will be taken. He may think that a certain speech or a certain ministerial statement should not be incorporated in Hansard. He has the power to say no. But the matter does not end there because by the use of the simple device of the suspension of Standing Orders he can be left alone on the Opposition side and the speech will be incorporated. This is another part of the price that honourable senators will pay in order to have a report debated in this place.

I realise that the Government has a responsibility to get ils business through this chamber and that therefore it must have certain protections. However, after having said all this, if honourable senators agree to give these advantages to the' Government the Government still will insist on having a provision saying that Government business shall take precedence over other business on Thursdays.

Senator Withers - That is only by means of a motion approved by the Senate.

Senator CANT - The honourable senator knows that the Government has the numbers lo do what it wants. Let us face it; it is the science of numbers that destroys democracy. Let us face up to what goes on. What is the Government giving when it says that these reports can be debated? I say to honourable senators that I can debate for an hour and a half any report that I choose at any time there is before this chamber a money Bill. I cannot be stopped from doing so unless the Standing Orders are suspended, and of course that can be done. So what are we giving away in agreeing to a time limit of 30 minutes when we can take an hour and a half? What are we giving away when we agree to the incorporation of documents in Hansard? We of the Opposition have certain rights in this place. I do not know whether all of them will be taken away from us, but avenues are open in which things can be done despite what the Government proposes by way of motion. Even if the motion currently before the Senate is carried I would not feel bound not to debate a report at the first reading stage of a money Bill.

In reply to Senator Georges the Minister said that second reading speeches and ministerial statements can be incorporated in Hansard but only on Thursdays. Senator Georges pointed out that these things are read when the Senate proceedings are being broadcast on Wednesdays. The minister agreed that second reading speeches and ministerial statements are to be incorporated in Hansard only on Thursdays. So the inference is that this course is being followed because of the political capital that can be made out of it. We of the Opposition do not have this opportunity. I have watched honourable senators opposite, and also my colleagues, making political capital on Wednesdays when the proceedings are on the air. I have tried to do it myself by making speeches when we are on the air.

Senator Young - Not without some result.

Senator CANT - I would hope that it was not without some result. But what 1 have indicated is as far as I want to go in giving any undertaking in relation to ministerial statements being incorporated. I would have been very hostile yesterday if Mr McMahon's statement on allowances had not been read in the Senate but had been incorporated in the record. So there are certain ministerial statements which honourable senators on the Government side, and, perhaps more so, honourable senators on the Opposition side, would like to have read out. I think that if the Minister is asking for undertakings he should be prepared to give some sort of undertaking on behalf of the Government - I realise it could be only a loose undertaking but though loose it must have integrity behind it - that if an honourable senator did object for other than mischievous reasons to a statement or a second reading speech being incorporated the minister would not move for the suspension of standing orders. I think that the Democratic Labor Party and the Australian Labor Party have co-operated with the Government in order to make this place work, and it will not work unless there is this co-operation. But I say to the Minister that he should consider again whether he could give an undertaking to the Opposition that in the event, of an honourable senator wanting a ministerial statement or a second reading speech read, for other than mischievous reasons, standing orders will not be suspended. With those reservations I express my opinion of the motion that has been moved.

Senator Gair - You are on your own.

Senator CANT - J do not mind being on my own. As a matter of fact, I have been on my own pretty well all my life. That does not worry me. That is all I have to say on that matter. I think that the Minister for Air. who is at the table, should take note of what has been said by the honourable senators who have spoken in this debate. I commend Senator Withers for his remarks. However, I think that perhaps the Minister might consider whether discussion of this motion should not be proceeded with at this time so that the Government can have a look at what has been said. I notice Senator Murphy shakes his head. That is not surprising. However, I am expressing my opinion as to what I think should be done and, this being a discussion on general business, perhaps I am not as tightly bound by loyalty to my leader as I might be on other occasions. I think thai the Government should have another look at this matter. If the Minister has taken notes properly, which I have no doubt he is capable of doing, f think that he should examine the matters which have been put forward by honourable senators and see to what extent he can meet the suggestions that have been made. 1 do not think anyone has been obstructive, but I think that if the suggestions which have been put forward in this place are met the debating of reports of committees will run more smoothly.

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