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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1831

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Health) (8.0) - Notice of motion No. 1, which stands in my name, states:

That the Senate agrees in principle that Standing Order 64 relating to Urgency Motions should provide that the whole discussion on the subjectshould not exceed 2 hours.

It is interesting to reveal that I put the motion down on 2nd September 1970. That is a long time ago in anyone's book. The fact is that - this is rather a digression from the matter of substance, but I think it is relevant to bring out the point - new procedures have been introduced into the Senate by which, for instance, on Thursday mornings motions on the business paper pertaining to decisions or reports that have been put down by Senate committees, are dealt with. The usual form is that a report is introduced, the motion is proposed that the Senate should take note of it, and the debate is adjourned. Therefore, in one sense we are making some impact on the Business Paper in respect of items under the headings 'Orders of the Day' and 'General Business'. Equally during this sitting, pursuant to a promise which I gave to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) and by common consent, we have set about removing a whole host of items which have been on the notice paper under the 2 headings that I have just mentioned. This has cleared up to a significant extent a good deal of the business on the notice paper. So, in the fullness of time, the first 2 motions under General Business tonight, which are in my name, have come up for determination.

I think that it is appropriate also for me to say that I have always regarded myself, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, as one who has taken some initiative. If I may use the term in the totality of the family circle of the Senate, in some sense I have sometimes been the fall guy in respect of matters that I put forward. I recognise that whatever I do is done in my desire to facilitate the handling of the work and management of the Senate to the ultimate good of the Senate. Sometimes the Senate in its judgment says that I am not on the right target. When the Senate makes its determination, I accept that decision as the will of the Senate. I think that everybody recognises that I am expressing a point of view and that I am really putting up something on the notice paper for us to look at.

For instance, last week I gave notice of a motion that I proposed to move on Tuesday of this week in relation to sitting hours for the remainder of the autumn session. The Senate expressed its view on Tuesday last that what I had put down was premature. I was not here on that occasion; I was called away urgently. But I accepted that decision as the view of the Senate; it does not distress me. I had the obligation to put the matter up for consideration working on the basis that if nobody takes the initiative on these matters at some time our procedures must be retarded.

The motion under discussion relates to standing order 64 which is fairly long. I do not think that I should read all of it. I will paraphrase it by indicating that this standing order which relates to urgency motions says, in effect, that a certain course must be followed in relation to proposing a matter for discussion and moving an urgency motion. When the matter is raised, it must be supported by 4 honourable senators rising in their places. The time set aside for debate on an urgency motion is 3 hours.

The pattern of the Senate has changed significantly during the life of this Parliament. It has changed significantly in terms of the volume of work that we do as the second chamber, stemming from the other place. It has changed in pattern also in relation to our own initiatives in the Senate. These initiatives have seen the creation of some 7 special Standing Committees to which we have been referring matters for inquiry and report. Indeed, notice of motion No. 3 under general business for discussion tonight, standing in the name of Senator Devitt, is a motion for the appointment of a joint select committee. So, in addition to our committee work, motions are proposed in relation to the appointment of joint committees. I think that any honourable senator would recognise the demands that are being put upon our time, our efforts and our enthusiasm in order to perform the work that we, as a Senate, are required to do. It is obvious that, unless a significant and dramatic change occurs in relation to the days and times of sitting, we will be under tremendous pressure. So it is that I have proposed this motion.

I do not wish to speak at any great length on my motion because I think that we are all fairly well seized of the implications of it. The present programme followed by the Senate each week is along these lines: When the Senate meets on Tuesday, following petitions and notices of motion, question time is called on. The length of question time is not limited here as it is in the other place to three-quarters of an hour. Sometimes question time in the Senate runs for an hour and a quarter. With all the best will in the world and the co-operation that honourable senators give to the Chair, usually between one hour and one and a quarter hours are devoted to question time. Also, the Senate does not place the time limits on the length of speeches at the second reading stage consideration of a Bill that are imposed in the other place. If an honourable senator feels that he has a case to present he may speak for one hour and then obtain an extension of half an hour. In all, he can speak for one and a half hours.

Additionally, the work of the various committees is coming forward to the Senate by way of reports. These reports are the subject of debate. A new system has been introduced to enable consideration of these reports on a Thursday. Today was a classic example of what now happens. Question time lasted for one hour. Then the consideration of reports from Senate committees was brought on. Two hours was available today for this purpose and the Senate has agreed that such discussions should conclude 3 hours after the meeting time of the Senate. This means that it is not until 3.15 in the afternoon that the Senate turns to a consideration of Government business. The Senate has only the time between 3.15 and 5.45 to consider Government business because after the evening suspension of the sitting general business, which is not of necessity Government business, is called on. So, if honourable senators accept the concept that one of the objectives of the role of the Senate - the prime purpose of the Senate - is to deal with Government Bills and to pass judgment on the Bills that come to the Senate from the other place, on a Thursday approximately 2i hours are available for consideration of Government business.

The fact is that, whilst a couple of hours are available to discuss Government business on a Thursday, the Senate has reached a point in its history when it is confronted with the need for a little selfdiscipline in the management of its affairs otherwise it will face a situation in which the dates and times of sitting should be extended. I and others, particularly the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy), believe there is a strong feeling among senators that we should not sit later than the normal times for adjournment, which are 10.30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 11 p.m. on Wednesdays, unless there is absolute justification existing for doing so. So I have come to the view - this is not a party view but, as I see it, a view that I am putting forward as a guinea pig, if you like - that we should be looking to some of the problems that we have in attempting to meet the situation.

Bearing in mind what I have said about Thursdays, I turn now to Wednesdays. The Senate does not meet on Wednesdays until 3 o'clock. An hour is set aside for question time, which takes us to 4 o'clock. Then if we have an urgency motion to discuss, which takes up another 3 hours, we are again in the situation where it is half way through Wednesday night before we get to Government Business. The term 'Government Business' does not mean that it is exclusive to the Government. 'Government Business' means that Party leaders, back benchers and independent senators all have to face up to the responsibility of dealing with Bills introduced as Government Business. At the present time we have on the business paper the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in relation to which I know that the Opposition has some very keen debaters. The discussion on that Bill may go on for some days. Certain honourable senators are now conducting a private conversation. I might not be very interesting to listen to but I expect to have a little bit of quiet, otherwise I might as well sit down. It is hopeless for me to try to make a case if every honourable senator is making his own case privately.

Senator Byrne - What should we do if somebody comes across to discuss a matter with us?


The place to discuss it while somebody is on his feet, is out in the corridor. I am asking honourable senators to put their minds seriously to matters associated with the management of this place, our own place. There are no politics in this. If

Having said that, I will not press my case any further. I believe that there is a case which we all must consider in an individual way, not in a party way, because it is not a party issue. We could have an urgency motion every day, and we have to decide whether 2 hours is not a reasonable time. I believe that it is. When we are dealing with a complex Bill which has 200 clauses, if you like, or even a small number of clauses, the debate might go on, but in relation to an urgency motion I have the feeling that the debating time could be reduced by one hour. This would be helpful in the end, not only to me as Leader of the Government but to us all, because we all have a responsibility. Because a Government Bill is before the chamber, that does not absolve anybody sitting on the cross benches, behind me, or anywhere else.

Senator Cavanagh - This is not a government Bill.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSONNo, it is not a government BiH. I am not suggesting that the honourable senators who sit behind me, those who sit behind

Senator Murphyor those who sit behind SenatorGair will treat this as a government issue or as a non-government issue. This is a matter of free personal expression. Therefore, without wanting to labour the point, I suggest that my motion that we should reduce the time for debating urgency motions to 2 hours is valid.

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