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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 1965

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) -The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Withers) has used very extravagant language, but I believe that the people of Australia and the Senate would be grateful if the truth were presented. Senator Withers said that Senator Murphy had lopped off 3 hours 45 minutes sitting time per week. I have before me the sitting times of committees. I remind Senator Withers that a total of 63 hours in the last 2 months has been spent on committee work. There has been a departure from the traditional way of handling the Estimates. They were normally debated in the Committee of the Whole. Now the various Estimates Committees sit in different rooms on this side of Parliament House. I point out that Estimates Committee A sat for 15 hours 1 1 minutes, mostly on Mondays and Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That time should be added to the sitting hours of the Senate. When Senator

Withers said that we lopped off 3 hours 45 minutes per week he was actually giving false and maliciously misleading information because the proceedings are being broadcast. We have used up time that normally is devoted to the sitting of the Senate, but in a slightly different form- that is, in the sittings of the committees.

I have the figures for Estimates Committee B. It sat 5 hours on a Tuesday night after the Senate rose at its normal time. Estimates Committee C sat on Tuesday and Thursday nights on 4 occasions, and sat 13 hours 55 minutes. Estimates Committee D sat on 2 occasions, and sat 6 hours 7 minutes. Estimates Committee E sat 10 hours 8 minutes. Estimates Committee F sat 11 hours 49 minutes up until last night when a special Committee meeting was held. It lasted for about 2 hours. It was brought about by filibustering and steamrolling by members of the Committee who asked repetitive questions to a nauseating extent.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! Senator O 'Byrne, were you a member of that Committee?

Senator O'BYRNE - No.

The PRESIDENT - You have no right to refer to the Committee in approbrious terms.

Senator O'BYRNE - I was in the chamber, and I heard the nauseating repetition for the purpose of keeping important officers of the Public Service here and for the purpose of trying to score political points off the Government.

I think that the hours referred to in the motion are reasonable hours for us to sit. We are extending the hours. If necessary, we have the flexibility to sit on Mondays and Fridays in the next 3 weeks. A lot of honourable senators have commitments in their home cities and their home States. Many of them even like to see their families occasionally during the parliamentary sittings. If we can get on with the business and if Senator Withers thinks he can prove that he is not talking double talk, we will put him to the test and see whether we can get through some of the non-controversial parts of the legislative program and then perhaps spend extra time on the controversial issues.

I appeal to the Senate to look at the situation as it exists. The people of this country have given us a mandate to introduce legislation. That mandate may have ended, in the minds of honourable senators opposite, but it remains as between the Government and the people. The Senate has its function, but it certainly has no right to frustrate the mandate that the people gave the Government. In due course the Opposition will be brought to book. It will have to give an account of its stewardship. The people of Australia will make their decision. In the meantime it is our job to try to adjust this country to the needs of our time. It has been asleep, dormant and retrogressive for 23 years. It is about time we received some co-operation from Opposition senators in the implementation of our progressive policies. I support this motion to extend the sitting hours. I think the hours are sensible and I hope we can get on with the job of implementing our very important policies for the advancement and betterment of Australia.

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