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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 798

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - Mr President, I wish to reply to the answer which you gave a few minutes ago to a question that I asked you this afternoon. I sought to make a statement when you had completed your reply, as I thought thatI had justification for making my attitude known, but there was not enough decency in the Government forces to permit me to have the freedom of speech which, we hoped, operated in this chamber. I was not granted leave to make a statement. Therefore I take the first opportunity available to me to comment upon your answer to my question. I do so not for the purpose of canvassing your judgment but in order to emphasise the importance of the position of the Chair when it is asked for a ruling.

If we study the 'Australian Senate Practice', written by a person whom we recognise as an authority on Senate procedures, we find that a lot of the operations of the Senate is the result of precedents that have been established. Of course, if what you said today, Mr President, in regard to your ruling last night is accepted without a challenge and remains a procedure of this place to be adopted whenever similar circumstances arise in the future, the proper course to take, if one is concerned about this, is to submit a motion to disagree with your ruling. I will not take that course today because I do not have sufficient facts about the question to support a motion of disagreement. But I do respectfully ask that consideration be given to the wording of the sessional order whereby the President must put - it is mandatory - the question 'that the Senate do now adjourn' at 10.30 each evening other than on those evenings when the proceedings of the Senate are being broadcast.

We have to consider how much standing order 426 supersedes some decision of the Senate. Of course, this raises the question of whether standing orders supersede a decision of the Senate from time to time. Mr President, perhaps I could raise some doubts in your mind in regard to the matter on which you have ruled. Perhaps what I put forward could guide you on a future occasion when a question of this type arises. I wish to put forward 2 points. First, I want to give some consideration to the answer which you gave to my question and, secondly, I want to make some comments about what happened last evening. 1 want to determine whether a grave injustice is being inflicted upon a member of the Senate.

I believe that at the commencement of each session sessional orders are formulated and are adopted by decision of the Senate. One sessional order states that at 10.30 p.m. on non-broadcasting days the President shall put the question 'That the Senate do now adjourn'. This sessional order precludes any other consideration and removes the matter from any standing order we have adopted.

The importance of this procedure is commented on by the Clerk of the Senate at page 130 of his book 'Australian Senate Practice'. He wrote:

Until 1950 the procedure for adjourning the Senate was regulated solely by the provisions of the Standing Orders, except for a sessional order wilh respect to adjournment on Fridays. Following a disagreement between a minority Government party and the majority Opposition party in regard to sitting arrangements. . . . The Senate adopted, on 25th May 1950, a sessional order proposed by the Opposition fixing the time at which it shall be mandatory for the question for the adjournment of the Senate lo be put from the Chair.

In the Clerk's opinion it is mandatory for the President to put from the Chair without a resolution the question 'that the Senate do now adjourn'. Therefore this sessional order, which was adopted in 1950, supersedes other procedures. Mr President, you have placed your reliance on standing order 426 which states:

All Questions of Order and matters of Privilege

And I believe that a question of order arose last evening - which have arisen since the last sitting of the Senate, until decided, suspend the consideration and decision of every other question.

If we accept that the wording 'of every other question' includes something decided by the Senate as a whole under sessional orders obviously this is a correct decision. One would have thought, and one would be forgiven for thinking, that questions arise in this Senate, as outlined in the Standing Orders, in regard to a Bill, a motion or an amendment and not in regard to the taking of a point of order, an infringement or matter irrelevant to the question. A point of order could be that matter was irrelevant to the question and if it were irrelevant to a question obviously it would not be a question. But only by the interpretation that the word 'question' is a point of order was there justification for the ruling given last night.

I am not challenging your ruling, Mr President. I think for the time being we will leave it as it is. Therefore, without challenging your ruling I say that although you were justified, we should throw some doubts on it and ask that if this question should arise again more serious consideration be given to it. We have to consider whether we should follow the precedent that you have established this evening or again consider what is the true definition that should be given to the word 'question' in the Standing Orders and whether it should be extended to a notice or a question of order that arises during the course of a debate.

The other point I want to raise - and this is why I asked the question this morning - concerns Senator Georges. Last night he tried to raise a matter. The Senate decided that Senator Georges had made some imputations against the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon). This action was challenged under standing order 418. I think that in giving your ruling, Mr President - and I would think you would be advised by the Clerk - you considered that Senator Georges' words were an imputation against the Prime Minister and were a breach of standing order 418 and therefore you were justified in seeking a withdrawal.

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