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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 1967

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) - The Australian Democratic Labor Party will support the motion. This is one more example of the degree to which we are prepared to cooperate in facilitating the passage of legislation after it has been properly examined and dealt with. I have noticed statements in sections of the Press which appeared to me not to have very much consistency. On one day we read that the Senate is frustrating the Government and holding up legislation. The next day we read claims by the Labor Government that Parliament has passed a record number of Bills. Both statements cannot be right. We cannot be creating records in the passage of legislation while at the same time not co-operating in getting legislation through. I regret to say that there is a certain testiness about some of the Government's comments. I would not mind the Government's saying that it objects to the arguments which we have put forward in regard to the necessity for fuller examination of certain Bills but I object to the statement that we have no right to take adequate time to examine these Bills. Of course we have the right.

I do not think anybody will be high-pressured by testy statements that we ought not to be doing this or that in relation to a particular Bill. We look at what is happening in another place and see Bills which can have a very serious effect upon the economic life of this country, having the guillotine placed upon them. A Bill which might have 162 clauses, many of them of considerable importance, is hurried through the House of Representatives which is told: 'It will go through in a couple of hours whether you like it or not'. There is an urgent need for the Senate, when such a Bill has not been properly examined in the other place, to see that it is properly examined by this chamber or by the instrumentalities which are available to this chamber.

I am glad that we are retaining the system whereby we close at 7 o'clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays, even though we open a couple of hours earlier. The system of closing at 7 o clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays will certainly extend the lives of many honourable senators who are sitting here today. It is more normal to do business during the day and complete it at a time of night which gives honourable senators an opportunity for some rest even though, in some cases, they have to sit on committees or to examine Bills which have been placed before Parliament. I have never seen such a flood of legislation come before a Parliament as we have had.

I have made 2 Press statements that we were suffering from legislative indigestion, suggesting that it was unfair to be pouring all this legislation onto the Senate. I made these 2 Press statements and I had hardly a word published. I was interested to note that last Saturday the Leader of the Liberal Party (Mr Snedden) and the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) in the other place made statements which were practically repetitions of what I tried to say on 2 occasions which the Press ignored. It gave wide coverage to what the 2 right honourable members had to say. I do think that we might have got a place in the sun- I do not mean the 'Sun' newspaper, but a place in the sun generally- when we made 2 statements. Apparently our statements were ignored but those by other people were given wide publicity. I ask honourable senators to look at the nature of some of these Bills. We have gone to a good deal of trouble to examine Bills. We do not want to throw them out without a proper examination. I had 32 deputations in relation to the Schools Commission Bill. I saw all sorts of people. In relation to the Bill dealing with the Australian Industry Development Corporation even Dr J. F. Cairns has paid tribute to the fact that we have seen members of his Department and obtained information in relation to the Bill.

Senator Lillico - He said that we are holding it up but it has not been brought on.

Senator McMANUS -I know. We are accused of holding up many Bills and they have not been brought before us. We have not even seen them. Let us take as an example the Bill in regard to the AIDC. The other day I read in the newspaper that Dr J. F. Cairns had suggested that the Government might not persist with one of the proposals in relation to money being made available on forced loans from insurance companies. We have not even received the Bill. We read in the Press that the Bill will probably be altered. Then we are attacked in the Press by people who say that we are holding up the Bill. But apparently the Government has not even yet decided what will be in the Bill.

My Party has only 5 members in this chamber and there is a tremendous amount of legislation. I understand that we will get Bills on divorce and Bills on human rights. Honourable senators can imagine the effect that a Bill covering human rights will have and the amount of examination that will be necessary. I do not know how a Party with 5 members can be expected to cope with all this. I only say that I agree with the statement attributed to Mr Clyde Cameron when, the other day, in addressing a meeting he said that he felt that it might be wiser if the Government concentrated on three or four major Bills each year. I think that there is a bit of commonsense in that.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSON (New South Wales) (3.41)- I want to speak only very briefly. I will support the motion but there are a number of caveats which I want to issue. When I spoke on the occasion of Senator Murphy's previous motion I indicated that generally I was in support of the shorter sitting times. I certainly support the concept that we should not be sitting late at night. Traditionally down through the years- this is my own experience- when we come to the end of a period of sittings there is a need to extend the sitting hours in an attempt to accomplish the Government's legislative program. That has always happened and, in the generality, the Opposition has always supported this principle with an exception which I will refer to in a moment and which seems significant. Equally, I believe that when we come to the end of a sitting Government business should take precedence. There is an attitude of mind which we in the Opposition acknowledge in relation to this as we have already shown during some of the sittings in the present Budget session. So I am in support of the motion with the caveats which I issue.

I think that 7 o'clock is an impossible hour to finish. I go along with the concept that we might even start earlier and not continue until 7 o 'clock to get the end result which the Government wants. To me 7 o'clock is in between heaven and earth because of the normal times for meals, our association with the other place, and so on. If we have an adjournment debate at 7 o'clock it might easily be half past seven before we adjourn. Of course this ruins the concept of any work in the evening. That is the sort of caveat which I issue in relation to this matter. I just add one or two other points. I agree with Senator Withers, Senator McManus and Senator Drake-Brockman about misleading, and what I would like to call inspired, reporting in relation to the conduct of this Senate. Reference has been made to the fact that Bills which were not even before us have been said to be delayed by the Opposition. I am sure that Senator Murphy will appreciate this. By way of interjection he referred to the delay and deferment caused by this side of the chamber in relation to the Trade Practices Bill.

In the context of the motion which we are debating I think I need to remind the Senate and Senator Murphy, in relation to the problem of the buildup of Bills now that we are coming towards the end of the session of a motion dated 1 June 1972. 1 remember this well because I was sitting in the chair in which he is sitting now. It was under Order of Business at page 2474. Senator Murphy, the Leader of the Opposition as he then was, moved by leave:

That Government business after order of the day No. 10 be postponed to the first day of the next sittings.

So I with a somewhat inquisitive mind went to look at the Orders of the Day for that day, 1 June 1 972; and I put a line under item No. 10. 1 notice that the business paper went on to item No. 25. Senator Murphy, of course, had moved that all items after No. 10 be postponed until the next session which would have been the Budget session, because this was . in June when we were finishing the autumn session. I feel bound to say to Senator McManus that as I understand the division, the Democratic Labor Party supported the then Opposition, and the motion was carried. lt is a matter of different times, different situations. But the point is that on that occasion the then Opposition deferred until the next session something like 15 items on the notice paper. Certainly there were a lot of motions there to take note of papers. But there were in fact 5 Bills, on two of which Senator Douglas McClelland had taken the adjournment of the debate. However, there were 4 Government Bills including the Softwood Forestry Agreements Bill 1972, the Industrial Research and Development Grants Bill 1972 and the Salaries (Statutory Offices) Adjustment Bill- I am sure that we will all remember the last mentioned, Senator Murphy, because that Bill was very hurtful to some people. Then followed a whole series of other items.

The point about it is that there is an element of need and justification for these proposed hours of sitting, because we are coming towards the end of the session, and ever since Federation there has always been an effort made to lengthen our sitting times to meet it. I go along with it. I have some reservations about the rearrangement of the sitting times. I am in favour of the concept of not sitting so late at night. I just want to repeat in conclusion that I believe that we are rather putting the cart before the horse in this matter. I would think that the whole set of proceedings of the Parliament in the contemporary world in which we live and in the situation of the last decade where the pressures of the 3-tier system of government in Australia are such that we have to start looking at the parliamentary sessions and start cutting out some of the things- they are of the Westminster concept, I know- that we always practice. I believe we must look at them. Consider divisions alone. If we had here a computerised or electronic division counting system, then if we were in a situation of a heated debate or a succession of divisions we could save 1.5 or 2 hours in any single day in terms of time that we spend on divisions.

There are other matters that I could discuss. Honourable senators have heard me on them and I do not need to canvass them again. However, what I do believe and what I say to you, Mr President, and to the Leader of the Government in the Senate is that I think that one of our committees- whether it should be the Senate Standing Orders Committee, I do not knowshould be looking at whether we as Parliamentarians should not, because of the pressures of parliamentary life in this country, because we are in the big league, if you like and because ours is a country which has tremendous legislative and administrative problems to solve, be looking at our procedures to see if we cannot shorten some of them so that we can give our attention to the main responsibility and the main purpose of government rather than waste the time, which I believe we sometimes do, on these matters.

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