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Thursday, 18 May 1972
Page: 1842

Senator POYSER (Victoria) - I listened with great interest to Senator Young's contribution to the debate. Usually his contribution to debates in this chamber is worth while, but apparently he is no Einstein when it comes to arithmetic. He tried to tell us tonight that if Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson's motion were carried it would mean that a minimum of 14 speakers could participate in an urgency debate.

Senator Cavanagh - He meant if the time limit on speeches were cut down.

Senator POYSER - But we are not debating that tonight and that decision will not be made tonight.

Senator Young - I rise on a point of order, Mr Deputy President. For the sake of clarification I think I should point out that I made those comments merely in reply to Senator Cavanagh's remarks and that I pointed out that a reduction in the time limit on speeches was not involved in this debate.

Senator POYSER - I accept Senator Young's apology. The position is if the majority of the honourable senators in this place were to vote tonight in favour of the motion it would mean that the Senate could be restricted the opportunity to participate in an urgency debate to 8 speakers. We cannot say what is going to happen next week, next year or in 10 years' time. What concerns me is the fact that the rights of honourable senators are being niggled away at continually. It appears as if the Senate is trying to get in line with the other place insofar as the restriction of the length of debates is concerned.

Senator Mulvihill - A closed shop.

Senator POYSER - A closed shop, yes. We could get into the situation where all public debate in this chamber is cut out and where in a corner of Parliament House which is not readily accessible to the public the business of the Senate is carried on. I would object most strongly to that. I am not prepared to vote for this motion nor will I vote for the contingencies that Senator Young has indicated will follow. Some honourable senators in this chamber could not change their mind in 10 minutes let alone make a speech; yet it is proposed that we should be confined to a time limit of 10 minutes when speaking on a matter of urgency that a political party or an Independent senator in this chamber has brought before the chamber. The Senate is being asked to agree to the proposal that the initiator of a debate on a matter of urgency be required to confine his argument to 20 minutes and his supporters or opponents be required to confine their remarks to 10 minutes. That is what Senator Young has been saying to us tonight. If this motion is carried it will follow naturally that every speaker in an urgency debate will have his peaking time reduced by one third to conform with the 2-hour limit. Such a situation should be regarded as intolerable by a House which over the years - certainly since I have been a member of it - has prided itself on the fact that it is not tied to the kind of restrictions that exist in another place.

We could be called upon to conform with it chapter and verse if we agree to accept this proposition. The other place has foolishly reduced the speaking time of each speaker on a Bill to 20 minutes. We could eventually get somebody saying in this place: 'If members of the House of Representatives can put their argument in 20 minutes why can we not do the same?' Eventually we will get to the stage where we come into this place, finish our business as quickly as possible, put on our hats and go home. That is not the role that the Senate should play. We should oppose any inroads into the present conditions. I am an old trade unionist. I never gave away any of the conditions of my fellow workers for some other gain. One should not give away one's conditions in order to make gains. This motion could result in a short-circuiting of the processes of public debate; a short-circuiting of the processes of democracy and a short-circuiting of the opportunities of members of this House to express their views adequately and properly. I venture to say that no serious argument can be adequately submitted in 10 minutes. Virtually all one can say in that time is: 'Hullo, how are you, and goodbye'.

The Senate has not been embarrassed by the fact that at present urgency motions take 3 hours to dispose of. At the end of a session the Senate may sit for one week longer than the other place, but that is not because we talk for too long in this place; it is because the Government of the day - and it may well happen when the Labor Party is in government - builds up a great pile of Bills for presentation to the Parliament in the last fortnight of a session. Usually in that great pile of Bills is a Bill on a very controversial subjct which takes several days to debate, with the result that perhaps 20 minor Bills have to be put through in the remaining time. The reason for that is not because we talk for 3 hours On an urgency motion; it is because of the system that has been operating for centuries in politics - certainly since federation in this country. Governments do not carry Out their proper role and introduce legislation into the Parliament in an orderly manner.

The position today is that the Senate has 2 Bills on its notice paper for debate. One is the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, which will come before this House next week. The dairying industry Bills were disposed of today. The Government has no Other business at this stage, unless further legislation has been introduced in the last One hour and 5 minutes. So what is the reason for the hurry and rush to cut back our speaking time and the time limit of debates on urgency motions? If urgency motions were being debated in this chamber every day of the week and honourable senators were being facetious about their use of the privilege of initiating an urgency debate, I could understand why the Government would try to curb the length of such debates. But the simple fact is that this privilege is very rarely taken advantage of. It is not used to try to make political capital. Certainly honourable senators have not abused the privilege of moving urgency motions. Such debates take 3 hours only. It has now been proposed that the time limit be reduced by one-third and Senator Young has suggested as a natural corollary to agreeing to such a proposal that there should be a reduction of onethird in the time limit of all speakers in such a debate, lt would be making a joke of the whole procedure of democracy if this motion were carried. I oppose it strenuously. I hope that the Senate is not foolish enough to carry it.

Senator YOUNG(South Australia)- I wish to make a personal explanation, Mr Deputy President. Senator Poyser reminded me that my arithmetic was not very good. I did a quick mental calculation at the time. I took one hour and 20 minutes to be 120 minutes and divided that by 10. Unfortunately the figure arrived at by doing it in that way is not quite the same as the figure I would have arrived at if I had divided 80 minutes by 10. What Senator Poyser has said about my arithmetic tonight is correct.

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