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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 1970

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Government in the Senate and Attorney) (General) - This is a simple motion to extend the hours of sitting in the Senate. I am pleased to understand that it has general support. I have taken into account what has been said by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson about the sitting hours at the end of the day. It might be sensible to fix them for 6 o'clock rather than 7 o'clock. We should endeavour to do that. I think we could at least consider it for next year. For myself I adhere firmly to the view that we ought to eliminate the night sitting of the Senate and sit all day and, if necessary, on more days. If we have to sit here for more days in the week and more weeks in the year, let us do so. But it is absurd to sit from 9 o'clock until close to midnightand that is what has been happening. As for the suggestion of co-operation I regret that this debate had to be used as a vehicle to enter into those matters. It was not really necessary when the motion was not opposed.

Senator Durack - Senator O'Byrne started it.

Senator MURPHY - He did so because it was opened up unnecessarily by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) in regard to a simple motion which was not being opposed by anyone in the chamber. We hear all the talk of co-operation by the Opposition senators, and they say 'Well, such and such a Bill has not been brought on'. How on earth can Bills be brought on when debate is taking place on other Bills and delays occur? True, there is a great legislative program- there is no doubt about that- and the utmost co-operation is expected. It is true that a great deal of business has been completed. It is also true that there has been a lot of unnecessary talk. Some talk has been necessary, but everyone here knows that there has been some stretching out of debate and, on some occasions, quite unnecessary debate. I do not think we need to go into that.

There has been talk of co-operation. Just look at what has happened. It is said that the Opposition has co-operated to the full extent. I will name 8 Bills- they are of importance to the Government and the people, and some of them vitally affect the democratic process- which have not even been given a second reading, let alone been dealt with in Committee. The 8 Bills to which I refer are: The Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2), the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, the Senate (Representation of Territories) Bill, the Representation Bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Bill, the Lands Acquisition (Australian Capital Territory) Bill, the Senate (Representation of Territories) Bill (No. 2) and the Representation Bill (No. 2). These Bills were not even given the courtesy of a second reading by the Opposition. In each case the Opposition defeated the motion for the second reading before the Bill could be considered in Committee.

The resumption of the second reading debate was deferred in relation to 4 Bills, including the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill and the Seas and Submerged Lands (Royalties on Minerals) Bill. That legislation was deferred from the previous sessional period until this sessional period. Those Bills had to take their place with the other items of our legislative program. Also the Compensation (Commonwealth Employees) Bill was deferred. The Opposition would not even debate that Bill during the first sitting days of this sessional period. The Trade Practices Bill was introduced into this chamber, but the Opposition would not even show the courtesy of having a second reading debate on that Bill and then going into Committee. The second reading debate on that Bill was deferred until next year. That Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives and it was passed. It has now been reintroduced into this chamber, and I am glad to see that some of the Opposition senators may be coming to some sense of public responsibility in relation to it.

I regret that this debate had to be used as a vehicle for a discussion of such matters. There is not the slightest doubt that, notwithstanding the enormous legislative program- I will agree that a good deal of legislation has been passed- the Opposition has shown that it is determined to defeat major matters in the Government's legislative program which was endorsed by the people in December 1972. The Leader of the Opposition has said that when the Senate holds up the Government's legislative program the right course for the Government to follow is to go to the people, to have a double dissolution. Under the existing system of the Senate election and the House of Representatives election being held separately and not synchronised, that situation would face any government at all that did not have a majority in the Senate. If a new government came in, whatever may be its political colour, should the Senate Opposition be able to say: 'We will knock out your major measures and then your only recourse is to abandon your legislative program which has been endorsed by the people and have another election'? That is not our democratic process.

No government which has been elected by the people to carry out a legislative program should be confronted by an Opposition which has not gone to that election but which happens to have a majority. Although the situation in the Senate has not changed, the Opposition can set about defeating the Government's program and can say to the Government: 'Your only recourse is to abandon what you are doing, break off your legislative program, and have another election'. That is the attitude of the Opposition parties in the Senate, particularly the Liberal Party and the Country Party. This attitude is bringing very much discredit upon the Senate. It is said that there is a feeling developing amongst the people outside that there is an attitude of obstructionism in the Senate. That feeling is exactly right. The Opposition is obstructing the Government. It is determined to oppose the Government in its legislative program, and its answer is completely insufficient for the people of Australia. The Opposition says to the Government: 'Abandon your legislative program and have another election'. It was saying that almost as soon as this Government came into office. That is all it says to the people in relation to the obstruction and the frustration which it is practising daily.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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