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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 769

Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia) - The Senate is discussing a proposed change to our sessional orders which are laid down early in the session to govern the hours that we sit. The Acting Leader of the Government (Senator DrakeBrockman) has moved a motion to change the hours of sitting. I would suggest to him that if his motion is carried he might be well advised to make some slight alterations to the times proposed, otherwise there will be confusion. It is proposed that we shall meet at 10 a.m. one day and 10.30 a.m. another day. We will not gain much by doing this but there will be confusion, especially when we remember that a tremendous amount of work is now being done by standing committees and other committees. I say to him advisedly that it might be wise to give consideration to that point.

The Opposition has proposed an amendment in the terms read out by Senator Gair suggesting that a decision on extended sitting hours be postponed until after the date of the election has been announced. Generally speaking we have about 7 or 8 weeks notice of an election and that period allows some ambit into which we would be able to fit the business that we are required to deal with. On the last occasion that extended hours were proposed, as was mentioned by Senator Drake-Brockman when introducing this motion today, during the debate on the motion I pointed out that there was not a lot of business on the paper and that even that day we had assisted the Government by allowing much material to be incorporated in Hansard and by not pressing for questions on notice to be read out. While I was speaking Senator Drake-Brockman interjected and said: 'Sure, let us take this away for a week.' I think that was a sensible suggestion. With great respect to the honourable senator, I do not think that impinged on our commitments at the end of the session.

We are not masters of our own destiny. We must wait for business to come from what is euphemistically called 'another place'. Therefore there is not much that we can do about business to be dealt with. I have no doubt that we will have to sit additional hours and perhaps even additional days before this session is ended - I think this is a high possibility - but I think it is premature to extend the hours at this stage. At the moment the Government has one Bill on the business sheet. Because I am in charge of that Bill on the Opposition side I know that it will take about 5 minutes to deal with it from our side. It has already been through the Senate and has gone backwards and forwards between this and the other place. We have debated it half a dozen times. With all my faults, one thing I do not like doing is repeating things over and over. On the front of the business sheet there are 4 other items - 3 items standing in the name of Senator Murphy and one in the name of Senator Byrne. Senator Byrne knows that we intend to support him, and the other 3 matters are for references to a committee. Obviously these are matters that do not need to be canvassed up hill and down dale in such a way that we would take away the work that the committees are required to do.

On occasions we have allowed matters of this kind to be referred straight to a committee. If we agree that a matter should go to a committee then we should allow the committee to do the work. I suggest that before we rise tonight, if we wanted to, we could clear the decks of all the business now standing on the Senate notice paper. We are in a peculiar position. It reminds me of a factory which takes on a lot of extra hands although it does not have orders for the goods that it will produce.

This is the situation in which we find ourselves. We could clean up our business sheet tonight and tomorrow we could have nothing to do. If we look at the notice paper for the House of Representatives and analyse it, as I have done, we will find that about 20 items are listed. That might be a bit frightening at first. However, if we glance at the Bills listed we will find that they can be dealt with in four or five groups. For instance, one of them, the Soft wood Forestry Agreements Bill, will take about 3 minutes when it comes back here because we have discussed it and we know what we intend to do about it. It will be a better piece of legislation when it leaves here and everybody has finally agreed on it. There are other Bills such as those relating to States grants. They are the normal types of Bills that come forward every year. There is no real debate about these things. We certainly will not cut off grants to the States. Nobody would do that although they are the general types of Bills on which one can raise various issues. There again, there is nothing very frightening about them. Other Bills deal with such matters as nitrogenous fertiliser, home savings grants, apples and pears, and estate duty assessment. None of those are new Bills. They are merely amending Bills which are designed to increase the amounts that we have become accustomed to granting over the years. They have been introduced to catch up with inflation - a matter of updating - so there is nothing very radical about them.

If we had those Bills here on our plate tonight they could be disposed of very quickly. I say to those people who want to vote in favour of the motion that I think it will be necessary to pass it in due course but I believe it is being proposed just that much too early. Again I understand the apprehension because one likes to be ready. One likes to have one's bat ready when the ball is bowled. I appreciate that. But the Government proposes to create this situation into which we are to put ourselves. As Senator Murphy said this afternoon, it is the Peter Principle and we will have to fill that amount of time. Actually I think it was Parkinson's Law. I think I have the titles of my books wrong. The other one was about promoting people to the point of their own inefficiency.

I think that this motion is premature. If the Government does not want to accept the Opposition's amendment, which is only fixing a time, it ought to withdraw its motion or to hold it on the stocks until some time next week when we will know what the situation is. With a little bit of effort we could have our plate cleared by tomorrow. T think we could get it cleared tonight. Whatever is on our plate here, the special Bill which is coming in to deal with the decision of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory the other day will have to go through. I suggest it would be wise not to impose this proposal on honourable senators. Ringing the. bells would mean that we would have to bring honourable senators from party meetings and committee meetings to sit here and wait for work to be done. I think that the sensible thing to do is to let this matter stay on the stocks until next week.

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