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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 799

The PRESIDENT - I do not think you can make that assumption.

Senator CAVANAGH - Well, at least there was a request for a withdrawal. A point of order was taken and upheld insofar as you, Mr President, asked for a withdrawal. Today I talked with someone - and 1 do not want to relate a private conversation - who, I think, would be accepted by the Senate as an authority on Standing Orders. He acknowledged the right and the duty of an Opposition to condemn a Government in power. He said that it was one of an Opposition's rights and possibly it was a duty. Therefore, any reference to Mr McMahon, as the right honourable member for Lowe, which implied improper motives would be a breach of standing order 418, would be disorderly and would have to be withdrawn. However, if it were a condemnation of the Prime Minister, not as a member of the House but as part of the Government - the Administration - which we have a right and responsibility to condemn if we think we are justified in condemning it, that would not be a breach of the standing order. When an honourable senator condemns the Prime Minister he is not condemning Mr McMahon as such, nor is he condemning the right honourable member for Lowe as such; he is condemning the head of an institution which we have a right to condemn. I have no right to condemn Senator Wright, a senator from Tasmania, but 1 have a perfect right to condemn the Minister for Works for his handling of the Department of Works. I do not say this as a reflection on the honourable senator.

I tried to deal with this question on a high level when discussing it with Senator

Rae last night because I am anxious to have an interpretation of the standing order. Only by cases being decided do we know what the Standing Orders mean. We cannot give a literal meaning to the wording of a standing order. We find in Mr Odgers 'Australian Senate Practice' that we must be guided by precedent and decisions made in previous cases. There must be some doubt whether the request last night that Senator Georges should withdraw a statement was a justifiable request. Accepting that the request was justified and that the honourable senator was in breach of standing order 418, the length of the argument which ensued on the meaning of standing order 418 deprived the honourable senator of his right to speak in the Budget debate.

I suggested at 10.30 last night that you, Mr President, should put the question That the Senate do now adjourn', but your ruling was that the question would not be put until we had decided what you thought was the issue at that time. The question was not deferred until we had finished the Budget debate, in which we had been engaged, but until we had resolved a point of order. That subject was discussed for 25 minutes and Senator Georges did not participate further in the Budget debate. Because of the 25 minutes occupied in discussing the point of order, the time permitted to Senator Georges under the Standing Orders has expired. I raised this matter with the Clerk of the Senate today and he said: 'Yes, but there is justification for that. If the President had adjourned the Senate at 10.30 last night, when you came back today you still would have raised this point and 25 minutes of Senator George's time would have been taken up on it today.' I suppose that is a proper interpretation of the Standing Orders. Nevertheless, the situation is clouded with doubt. It is not my desire to humiliate someone or to suggest that someone was wrong, but I do ask for deep consideration of the Standing Order and, possibly, further consideration of it by tha Standing Orders Committee. If there is any ambiguity it may be possible to remove that ambiguity by altering the wording of the Standing Order.

Before all the confusion occurred Senator Georges had been proceeding with his speech on the Budget and had reached the stage where a remark that he made was considered to be objectionable to the Senate. I hope that he has now passed that point in his remarks. He has a story to tell on the Budget, but because someone wanted to raise a point of order and wanted to delay Senator Georges in making his remarks by asking for a proper interpretation of the Standing Orders, or perhaps was confused about the Standing Orders, the honourable senator has been deprived of his time to speak on the Budget. If there is any feeling that the honourable senator has suffered an injustice, the only way to rectify the situation is by granting an extension of time to the honourable senator when the debate on the Budget resumes. In view of the matters that I have put before the Senate tonight I hope that there will be sufficient honesty and sense of justice in the Government to give sympathetic and generous consideration to my suggestion that Senator Georges be permitted to continue his remarks in the Budget debate.

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