27th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr SPEAKER (Hon. Sir William Aston) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the Postmaster-General’s Department, Central Office policy of centralising Post Office affairs and activities under the various titles of Area Management, Area Mail Centres, Area Parcel Centres and similar titles is resulting in both loss of service and lowering of the standards of service to the Public, directly resulting in the closing of Post Offices which is detrimental to the Public interest.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will take immediate steps to:
Call a halt to all closing of Post Offices and reorganising within the Post Office, until full details of the proposed savings and all details of alteration to the standards of service to the Public are made available to Parliament, and
Initiate a joint Parliamentary inquiry into the Postmaster-General’s Department, to assess the degree on which it should be run as a normal business undertaking and to what extent its unprofitable activities should be subsidised as a public service charged more correctly to National Development.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Similar petitions were presented by Mr Kevin Cairns, Sir Winton Turnbull, Mr Keith Johnson, Mr Hansen and Mr Duthie.
Petitions severally received.
– I present the following petition:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition from certain residents of the western suburbs in the Sydney Metropolitan area and surrounding districts respectfully showeth:
That due to an expanding passenger air travel business together with larger and more powerful jet aircraft, aircraft noise has already become a serious problem for people living in the vicinity of airports.
That jet aircraft operations have a detrimental effect by way of air and noise pollution on the environment and airports should be situated so as to preserve the environment of populated areas.
That protest should be made against the proposal to establish an international airport at Richmond owing to the detrimental effect it would have for the environment there and in surrounding districts.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that this House take appropriate steps to ensure that the Government does not proceed with the proposal to site the second, twenty four hour international airport for Sydney at Richmond or anywhere else in the far western suburbs of the metropolitan area.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
A similar petition was presented by Mr Armitage, and was received and read. A similar petition was presented by Mr Luchetti.
– I present the following petition:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned electors of the Commonwealth of Australia respectfully showeth:
That on 10th December 1948 Australia signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, Article 25 reads: ‘Everyone has the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age and other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.’
Yet, 23 years later, in our country of great national wealth and abundance it is to the nation’s shame that many thousands of our people live in a state of being inconsistent with the dignity and worth of the human person - languishing in poverty and want, neglect and the lack of proper care necessary for their health and well-being.
We, the undersigned, respectfully draw to your attention that the conscience of the nation is not at ease while the records of our country show that social services are not comparable with that of other advanced countries administering such services, therefore, we call upon the Commonwealth Government to immediately legislate for:
Base pension rate - 30 per cent of the average weekly male earnings, all states, plus supplementary assistance and allowances based on a percentage of such earnings. Unemployed benefits equal to the foregoing.
Completely free health services to cover all needs of social service pensioners - hospitalisation, chronic and long-term illness, fractures, anaesthetics, specialist, pharmaceutical, hearing aids, dental, optical, physiotherapy, chiropody, surgical aids and any other appliances.
Commonwealth Government to promote a comprehensive national scheme in cooperation with the States and make finance available to provide for the building of public hospitals, nursing and hostel-type homes necessary to effectively meet the special requirements of aged people, in conjunction with a comprehensive domiciliary care programme to enable aged people to stay in their homes.
Mental illness placed in the same position as physical illness.
Substantial Commonwealth increase in the $5 subsidy a day per public bed pensioner patient in general hospitals.
Ten per cent of Commonwealth revenue to local government for general activities which now include social welfare, health, conservation and other community needs. Commonwealth subsidy for the waiving of rates for pensioners.
Commonwealth Government to increase the non-repayable grant to the States for low rental home units for pensioners.
Royal Commission or other form of public enquiry into Australia’s social welfare structure that Australia may be brought into line with accepted world standards of the most advanced countries.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
A similar petition was presented by Mr Garrick.
– I present the following petition:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled:
The humble petition of the undersigned employees of Ansett Airlines of Australia respectfully shows our complete unqualified support for Sir Reginald Ansett and the Board of Directors of Ansett Transport Industries.
We do here express our most vehement opposition to any attempt to wrest control of the company Ansett Transport Industries from the present Board of Directors to that of Thomas Nationwide Transport
Your petitioners humbly pray that the Federal Government and its leaders will institute all such measures as may be deemed necessary to prevent any takeover of this company until such time as the Federal Government is satisfied that the national interest of the Australian people is best served by such a takeover.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– I wish to inform the House that the
Treasurer, Mr Snedden, left Australia on 14th April to attend the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank in Vienna and to visit the United Kingdom, France and Japan for discussions on economic and financial matters. He is expected to return to Australia in early May. During his absence I will be Acting Treasurer.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Did the Minister state recently that it is for the unions to solve the problem of demarcation disputes? Is he aware that it is the policy of the Australian Council of Trade Unions to encourage union amalgamation and that such amalgamation will lessen industrial unrest from demarcation disputes? Will the Government therefore give an assurance that taxpayers’ money will not be used in any court action designed to block union amalgamation? Will the Government also give an assurance that any money thus used to buy Democratic Labor Party support will be paid by the Liberal Party and not by taxpayers?
Opposition Members - Hear, hear!
– It is all very well for certain members of the Opposition to say: Hear hear’ in this chamber. The fact is that what the honourable gentleman displays is a complete lack of appreciation of the need for adequate membership control in the trade unions of this country. This Government has always stood for a strong trade union movement, but I might add that it has stood not only for a strong trade union movement but also for a responsible one and one which is responsive to. the needs of the members who constitute those trade unions. Therefore the answer to the second part of the honourable gentleman’s question about the Government’s capacity to fund challenges to various developments which concern trade unions is that of course there must be opportunities for making those facilities available unless the unions are to continue to be controlled by their officials. What the Government has done recently, as was outlined comprehensively in a Press statement which I do not repeat here, has been to provide an opportunity for such challenge to take place and to be effective. In other words, in relation to union affairs,
Justice not only must be done but must in fact appear to be done, and that is precisely the situation.
The general question of amalgamation is a matter that touches the legislation which I will be shortly bringing into this House, and therefore properly I do not comment on it in advance except to indicate that, as was also outlined in a Press statement, which probably the honourable gentleman has not bothered to read, the legislation will certainly take into account questions of trade union amalgamation. The thrust of the honourable gentleman’s question - ‘thrust’ is perhaps not an appropriate word to use in relation to the honourable gentleman - concerning demarcation disputes is a question that he might more properly refer to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. As I have said in this House, demarcation disputes at the present time are responsible for 1 1 per cent of the strikes that take place in this country. My colleague, the honourable member for Isaacs, recently drew attention to the fact that the West Gate Bridge project in Melbourne was costing, at the time at which he stated the information, approximately an additional $11,000 a day because of an industrial dispute. The SI 00m project being undertaken by John Lysaghts (Australia) Ltd at Westernport was also delayed for many months. Are these not matters which more properly ought to exercise the concern and attention of the honourable gentleman?
– I wish to direct a question to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is no doubt aware that members of the Jewish community in Syria are being subjected to persecution, including deprivation of human rights. He is also no doubt aware that various protests have been made against this state of affairs and that endeavours have been made to alleviate the great suffering of Syrian Jewry. I ask the Prime Minister whether he will make suitable representations through appropriate diplomatic channels and the United Nations Organisation to alleviate the desperate plight of Jewish people in Syria and ensure for them the preservation of their human rights.
– I believe it is basic to the thinking of all members of this House that they believe in the preservation of the rights of the individual under the Declaration of Human Rights, and above all I think I can emphasise for members on this side of the House that we deplore antisemiitism no matter where it might be practised. As to the second part of the question, I think the honourable gentleman should know or at least the House would know that on several occasions we have raised in the United Nations this question of discrimination on religious and other grounds and we have in particular drawn attention to the plight of Jewish people. I will discuss this problem with my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ensure whether by diplomatic means or through the United Nations we can take action to try to protect the rights of these deserving people.
– I ask the Prime Minister a question which refers to yesterday’s unemployment figures which show that more than one in 3 of the unemployed are under 21 years of age - 36,540 in number - and that of that number 9,769 were school leavers who still had not found their first job. This is an increase of 78 per cent over the situation of school leavers 12 months earlier. I ask: Has the Government decided to take any special steps to deal with this situation which is so discouraging to these young men and women and so burdensome to their parents on whom they are still dependent?
– The first comment I could make is that the guesses that have been made by people like the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the trade union movement, Mr Bob Hawke, have turned out to be amazingly wrong, thank heavens. I think that to raise a question like this does no good to the Australian community and is making too much politics out of the problem of unemployment. Nonetheless, Sir, if you look at the substantial reduction that did occur in the crude figures - that is of 17,000 unemployed - you will see that while it is not as good as we had hoped, and we hope for better in the months to come, under the prevailing conditions it could be regarded as along the lines the Government wants to achieve. Naturally, if we ever felt thai more in terms of economic policy would have to be done we would be only too happy to do it.
As to whether anything special is to be done, the honourable gentleman should know that at the Premiers Conference we took decisive action to reduce the unemployment rate in the Commonwealth. In his statement of Tuesday last the Treasurer also indicated additional lines of Commonwealth action to ensure that we have an impact on the unemployment figures, which I have previously stated in this House, is an act of faith so far as we are concerned. One of the cardinal objectives of this Government is to keep unemployment as low as we can. I personally am watching these figures very carefully and if I felt that our plans were not likely to be achieved over a reasonable period of time the House could rest assured that I would be anxious - more than anxious - to take action.
– Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs confirm that there are still approximately ISO Australian soldiers serving in South Vietnam? Has the Minister seen reports of a decision reached by a certain Victorian body indicating that that group prefers a communist victory in Vietnam? Is that pro-communist group affiliated with any Party represented in this chamber? If so, does that Party pose as the alternative Government? Finally, will he assure this nation’s armed forces that, while this Government continues in office, not even one Australian soldier need fear being ratted on?
– It is true that there would be approximately ISO Australians - either instructors or persons connected with the instruction and training of Vietnamese and Cambodians - still in South Vietnam. Indeed, there are more than that. Very substantial Australian aid programmes are in progress in South Vietnam and we have there hospital personnel and people concerned with our aid projects such as the water supply system to Saigon. The House of course is aware that we are still assisting our friends and allies in South Vietnam although our troops have so recently withdrawn from that area. In this context it is quite clear that there has been a blatant invasion by North Vietnam; indeed, its troops are out of their own country attacking others not only in South Vietnam but also in Laos and in Cambodia. North Vietnamese troops are attacking and killing in Cambodia and they are attacking and killing in Laos. They are attacking and killing in South Vietnam our friends and allies. In these circumstances, we see clear support from certain sections of the Australian Labor Party for this blatant, aggression against our friends and allies. Those sections of the Australian Labor Party are not only supporting this aggression; there was also a report that the honourable member for Lalor was calling for an end to the Australian-American alliance. I suggest that not only is this disgraceful in itself but also it reflects the deep feeling amongst a very substantial section of the Australian Labor Party which would be consistent with the aims and the objectives of the communists who are attacking and which would be extremely hostile to our friend and ally, .the United States. This is the significant thing: This section of the Australian Labor Party which has such dominance in the definition of the Party’s defence and foreign affairs policy has this attitude.
– What special action has the Minister for Labour and National Service taken to see that migrants and persons unemployed for the first time in their working lives are encouraged to register with the Commonwealth Employment Service and to apply for the unemployment benefit to which they are entitled? Is he satisfied that current unemployment figures for these groups represent accurately the extent of unemployment within them?
– I have no reason to doubt any of the figures which are placed before me in relation to the employment of migrants in the Australian community. If the honourable gentleman has any particular matters in this direction that he would like to query with me, I would be most happy to receive information so that the questions can be made matters of investigation. So far as I am aware, there are adequate provisions for migrants in the hostels in which they are received on arrival in Australia for it to be quite certain that they are well advised of the conditions which apply in the employment market. In fact, as I recall from my former portfolio, most of the migrant hostels have special employment officers who are trained for this purpose and who, if they are not multi-lingual, at least have language translation facilities available for the purpose that the honourable gentleman has mentioned. The figures I have at present indicate that throughout the March quarter of this year the numbers of migrants in hostels awaiting initial job placement were substantially lower than the levels for the comparable period in 1971. Between March 1971 and March 1972, of course, the number of migrants in hostels showed a decline, but I am referring basically to the question of employment. Of the 434 migrants, 217 had been awaiting placement for less than 4 weeks.’ However, if the honourable gentleman has a particular matter which is of concern to him, I would be more than happy to have it checked out, because I realise the Government’s heavy responsibility to ensure that migrants who are brought to this country have adequate employment opportunities available.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I pose it in the belief that, although the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is showing some strategic Interest in the Indian Ocean, there does not appear to be any significant permanently based naval presence from any country in the Indian Ocean at this time. Might, it not be an appropriate time to work towards some form of Indian Ocean agreement that would prevent or limit development of naval facilities by outside powers, and is not this a very pertinent proposition which would fall within the competence of the United Nations to sponsor?
– It is Commonwealth Government policy that we should work towards an agreed balance and effective agreement relating to the presence of naval forces in the Indian Ocean, no matter which nation might provide them. We have been interested also in proposals that have been put by the Prime Minister of Ceylon relating to a zone of peace and we have in the United Nations ensured that we have participated in debates relating to this mat ter. But there is a strong division of opinion on this among member nations of the United Nations with a majority favouring but many disagreeing with this idea of Mrs Bandaranaike. Consequently the United Nations has not been able to achieve part of the objectives of the proposal. It is absolutely sure that, if anything were to emerge, not only the littoral states but also the great powers would have to participate and take part in an agreement of the kind I have mentioned. I could, of course, ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to give further consideration to what could be done in the United Nations, but because of the debates that have taken place recently I doubt whether there would be very much prospect of success.
– I address my question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Can he say whether all employment districts have participated in the extensive telephone campaign through which his Department has been encouraging employers to register job vacancies? Is he satisfied that vacancies registered in this way are of the same value as vacancies registered spontaneously? Can he say to what extent they have slowed down the further alarming decline in vacancies evident in the figures for March? Is he conducting a similar special effort to boost registration of persons seeking jobs or entitled to unemployment benefits?
– I must say that it is a change to receive from the Opposition a question in relation to the labour market, a matter which I would have thought was of very real interest to the Opposition. It is noticeable that this is a matter which tends to go by default at question time, so I welcome what the honourable gentleman has said in this respect. The question in the first instance was whether the telephone campaign which has been initiated by the Commonwealth Employment Service in relation to the location of additional job vacancies applies to all offices. This is an area of responsibility which is part and parcel of the normal responsibilities of every officer of the Commonwealth Employment Service, but it is true to say that special campaigns have been initiated in particular employment areas where the difficulties have been such as to cause this initiative to be taken for quite proper reasons with which I am sure the honourable gentleman would agree. As to whether vacancies have the same value, I find that a difficult question to comprehend because any job vacancy has the same value to a person who is seeking employment. To that extent the answer to that part of the honourable gentleman’s question is yes. So far as the recent figures are concerned, the honourable gentleman should recall, because no doubt he has studied the figures which were released on Monday of this week, that one very significant aspect of those figures was the unusually high rate of notifications of job vacancies and of placements. If my recollection of the figures is correct - the honourable gentleman may correct me because he appears to be reading a document at the present time - job vacancies notified during the month of March averaged 17,000 per week, which is well in excess of the normal job vacancy notification rate of 15,000.
– Only 29,000 for the month.
– If the honourable gentleman listens he might learn something. I say that without any sense of offence to him. In March there was an average of 17,000 per week as against the normal figure of 15,000 per week in previous years, so here the honourable gentleman can see, in summary, that a new initiative has been taken to meet circumstances which, of course, are clear to us. That initiative has been a particularly successful one.
Br SOLOMON - My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Science. Is the Minister aware of recent disruptions and property destruction at La Trobe University? Can he make clear, as reports have not, whether the University administration has acted with fortitude in this situation? Are means being explored to control such behaviour, which, as distinct from reasoned argument or verbal protest, is the antithesis of the function of a university?
– I think that over a long period of time the La Trobe University Council has behaved with responsibility and a considerable degree of firmness, although this does not always appear to be the case. The present difficulties might stem from a period 12 months ago when demands were put upon the University Council by some part .of the student body. Then on 19th July the student Labor Club moved 2 motions. One condemned the Council and said that if the demands were not met the Council would be boycotted or blockaded, and the first blockade occurred at about that time. As a result of that, 8 of 10 students charged were excluded from the university for from 16 months to Ik years. There were further disturbances and incidents in October, and at the end of October a further 24 students were charged. Some again were excluded from the university and others were fined quite considerable sums of money.
I think that throughout the university has shown firmness, and if anyone wanted to criticise what it has done perhaps it would be in relation to the 2 recent occasions on which the administration building was taken over by a certain number of students. Hie first occasion, I think, was about 28th March for 50 or so hours, and the second occasion was about 12th April for about 2 days. One might have been able to argue that it would have been better to call in the police immediately and exclude the students from the administration building, or get the police to do that. The university believed that it had been firm and thought it best to let the invasion of the administration building die away, as it had done on both occasions.
But the University Council and the Vice-Chancellor, I think, have shown a degree of firmness throughout the last 12 months in very difficult circumstances. I think that this does not always get through in the reporting of what happens. Only a small minority of students is involved, and I believe that by and large the public is fed up with the small number of students disrupting university activities. I would hope that that small number will accede to the wishes of the great majority of students who clearly want to get on with” their own responsibilites and work.
– Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs prepared as soon as possible to challenge the honourable member for Lalor to an hour’s public debate on Vietnam on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s television programmes? Could the Minister answer yes or no?
-I will consider it, but 1 am a little concerned with what the honourable member for Lalor might say. I have just received a transcript of what he said on the programme ‘PM’ on Friday night last. Perhaps the House would bear with me if I just mention it.
– Mr Speaker, is this not irrelevant to the question?
-Order! The Minister would be out of order if he brought in irrelevant matter when answering the question that was asked.
– This would be one of the factors which would be a determinative when I was making my decision. I was asked whether I would consider this matter. I will consider it, but this is one of the factors I would like to take into account. It is a matter which, I suppose, anyone who is going to appear on a public platform with the honourable member for Lalor would have to consider carefully. However, as the honourable member for Lalor will know, I have been on a public platform - at the time in an area bordering on my own electorate - debating with him, and I do not think he has any doubt that if necessary 1 will be prepared to debate with him.
– I address my question to the Minister for Housing. Is it a fact that $3,350,000 was made available to Queensland for the construction of dwellings for aged pensioners under legislation assented to in September 1969? Is it a fact that up to 30th June 1971 Queensland had spent $108,554 and had constructed units for 18 pensioners out of a total of 1,433 units built throughout the nation in the same time? Has the Minister approached his colleagues in Queensland about their disgraceful, record? If so, what was the response? What progress is now being made? If he has not taken any action to assist age pensioners in Queensland, why has he not done so?
– I must thank the honourable member for Brisbane for asking me this question. The States Grants (Dwellings for Aged Pensioners) Act was designed to operate for 5 years. I am not certain of the amount to be allocated to Queensland during that period of 5 years but I presume his figure of about $3. 3m would be substantially correct. It is true that the Queensland Government was slow to construct its first dwellings under this programme but in recent months - over the last 6 months or so - it has speeded up construction considerably. That construction will be proceeded with and I am quite certain that the Queensland Government will expend the appropriation which has been allocated to it for this 5-year period. In the last part of his question the honourable member referred to ‘the disgraceful record’ of the Queensland Government. I think he will appreciate that that disgraceful record will be under examination at the State election when that Government will have, in fact, a magnificent victory.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service a question supplementary to that asked by the Leader of the Opposition. I refer to the figures recently released by the Minister covering the employment situation for the month of March. Do these figures indicate an improving trend in the labour market? What are the prospects for the period ahead? Will the Minister comment in particular on the working of the rural unemployment relief programme?
– The honourable gentleman quite properly queries a matter of concern, namely, the unemployment figures for March. These figures were released on Monday of this week. The honourable member asked whether these figures show an improved trend in the labour market. They certainly do. The improved trend in the labour market is clearly evident from the March figures. They show an unusually large fall in the absolute level of unemployment, a relatively high level of notifications of vacancies and placements, a more favourable employment situation in the country areas and a stronger demand for adult males in the metropolitan area. Certainly there was a marginal change in the seasonally adjusted figure, which increased by .02 per cent; but, as the Prime Minister has made clear during question time, we are committed to the whole concept of full employment as a cardinal aspect of social and economic policy. We certainly would prefer to have seen a fall in the seasonally adjusted figure and it is the Government’s objective to ensure that such a fall takes place in the period ahead.
The honourable gentleman will be well aware of the diverse economic measures which the Government has taken recently. I am confident that they will result in a strengthening of the rate of economic growth with a consequential effect upon the labour market which, I am confident, will see a strong demand for labour in the period ahead. One can say this against the background of an improved psychological outlook on the part of the business, financial and the stockbroking communities, and also against the background of a much better world economic outlook and a more favourable employment and economic situation in the rural sector. The final question the honourable gentleman posed related to the rural unemployment relief programme. As I recall the figures for the month of March, approximately 12,500 persons were employed under this programme. That will denote to the honourable gentleman and members of the House the success of the programme.
I>r CASS - I address a question to the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts. Is it a fact that in the setting up of a committee to study the role of crafts as art forms in Australia no person was included from the ranks of craftsmen in Australia or even anyone currently and primarily associated with contemporary craft activity in Australia? In reply to a question on this matter from the President of the Crafts Council of Australia did the Minister indicate that it would be improper to include on the committee someone associated with or practising craftsmanship as such persons stood to benefit from the inquiry? Finally, could the Minister review this decision bearing in mind that in the past committees inquiring into various subjects usually have included individuals intimately associated with the subject of the inquiry?
– I have already answered a question on this matter from the honourable member for Sturt. The members of the committee have a wide knowledge of the arts in all its forms. The chairman is a member of the Council for the Arts. Another member is a member of the Art Advisory Board and another member has particular knowledge of Aboriginal arts and crafts. I have informed the Crafts Council of Australia already that I would expect its members to make representations to the committee and that they will have a full and open opportunity to put all their views to the committee. Therefore, they will have a wonderful opportunity to make representations on behalf of all their members throughout Australia. I believe that this is the best way in which to have a full hearing of the needs of these important people in the community. The first meeting of this committee will take place on 26th April. I believe that once the bearings are under way the members of the Crafts Council can be very well pleased with the hearing that they will receive.
– I ask the Minister for National Service to explain to the House why it is that when the number of registered unemployed as indicated by original data is higher than the seasonally adjusted figure, he quotes the seasonally adjusted figure, and when the reverse position is the case he then quotes original data. Will he explain why the seasonally adjusted figures - the figures he was using when the original data showed that 130,000 people were unemployed - now show an increase in the number of unemployed compared with February of this year, whereas in the previous 2 years there was a fall in the seasonally adjusted total of registered unemployed? Will the Minister also explain why it is that for the year ended January 1972 - the last available figures - the number of people employed in the work force showed an increase of 0.89 per cent compared with an increase of 4.2 per cent for the same period of 1970 and 3.7 per cent for last year? Is it a fact that on these trends the total number of extra people who could expect to obtain employment will be 39,000 for the period to which I have just referred compared with 188,000 had the trend of 1970 remained unchanged?
– I am afraid that the honourable gentleman does me far too much credit if be has any expectation that I have in my mind the minutiae of detail that he has given in relation to the labour market.
Id relation to the specific question in the honourable member has asked both sides of the House will understand that they are matters which are more properly dealt with in writing and I will provide the honourable member with written answers to them.
In relation to the specific question in the first instance as to why I use one set of figures at one time and another at another time, referring of course to the variance between the absolute level of those unemployed and the seasonally adjusted figure, I am sure the honourable gentleman knows full well that whenever the figures are released for a month - approximately in the middle of the month - both sets of figures are used. Comparisons are made with the preceding periods and I have had no complaints or objections whatever on the basis of their presentation. The honourable gentleman knows that the document in which the figures are contained runs to approximately 19 pages but if he feels that there is any amplification of particular matters which he would like to see exposed in those figures that is not included in the normal sense, I shall be happy to provide that information.
But the honourable gentleman makes great play of the seasonally adjusted question. I remind him, as I have said here before, that the Government recognises full well, because it was after all in its own employment release, that there has been a rise in the seasonally adjusted figure. We have made this perfectly clear and there has been no intention whatever to hide it. In fact, what has the rise been? The rise has been .02 per cent. I do not take any degree of comfort from that fact although I remind the honourable gentleman with every degree of reasonableness that that cannot be seen to be in any sense an absolute increase. But there is an increase and we are determined-
– What are you doing to reduce the figure?
– If the honourable gentleman will wait for the answer, I repeat that we are determined to reduce the seasonally adjusted rate. So far as the March figures are concerned, as we have made perfectly clear they do not show an improving trend in a number of significant areas. I do not repeat them again. They do so against a climate of improved business confidence, confidence in the finance field and in the broking field.
But if the honourable gentleman wants to confuse himself about figures, let him recall the figure of 170,000 which was used by the Leader of the Opposition. That figure was absurd then and it is seen now to be so absurd. One might well ask the honourable gentleman how it was that he could possibly have captivated in his mind the absurdity of a level of that type. This figure clearly could not have been reached. This is typical of the general desire of the Opposition to seek to spread gloom in this area. We do not hide the facts. We are not complacent about them. But I say to the honourable gentlemen: Put the matter in perspective and bear in mind that there are 2 important and significant effects which take place on the labour market. The first is the level of industrial disputes and the second is the high cost of labour in this country.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. What progress has been made towards the establishment of a task force in Western Australia?
– This matter of permanent accommodation for the third task force in some permanent place in Australia has been under consideration for quite some time. I know that the honourable member for Canning and many others in Western Australia are quite interested in the possibility that the task force might be established there. Let me assure him that Western
Australiais certainly still under consideration. However, as honourable members can well imagine, the provision of permanent accommodation for a task force requires fairly lengthy consultation between a number of departments. It is not easy to arrive at a decision. Finally, I would say to the honourable member that Western Australian is still very much in the hat.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy a question. Does the honourable gentleman permit The Little Red Schoolbook’ to be circulated among naval cadets or read by them?
– The honourable gentleman’s question is obvious in its intention. I do not believe that anyone has a harder job in this nation that has the Minister for Customs and Excise in the portfolio that he administers. He stands directly in the path of attempts made from many quarters and for many motives to put into this nation a type of literature that we could well do without. In following through his duty he has been less than assisted by many honourable members who sit behind you, Sir, and who have spoken on subjects such as drugs and who have not backed him up in administering his portfolio. He will get full support from the Navy.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Does the Minister regard ‘breezy iconoclasm’ as a useful attribute for administration in foreign affairs? This phrase was taken from a newspaper editorial. Does he agree with me that the ability to discern between documented and hearsay evidence, and at least a nominal sympathy for old-fashioned patriotism, may be more desirable qualities in such a sensitive area of political operation?
– I understand that the phrase ‘breezy iconoclasm’ has been used by editorial writers to describe the approach to foreign affairs of the Australian Labor Party spokesman on foreign affairs, the honourable member for St George. I doubt whether this term would accurately describe the honourable member’s approach. After all, iconoclastic activity is more likely to be directed against things in
Russia than anything else and I doubt whether these activities would accord with the honourable member’s views. As to breezy iconoclasm, while there are qualifications, such as getting on with one’s fellow men, which are very valuable in the Department of Foreign Affairs, other qualities are necessary. I would place intelligence, integrity, efficiency and a deep concern for the interests of one’s own country as very important in this area. I believe that we have these qualities in our Department of Foreign Affairs. In addition we have great professionalism and morale is high. The only time I have seen morale drop suddenly in the Department was on the occasion when I visited Singapore during November last year while returning from Saigon. I was then at the High Commission and gathered together with the whole of the staff listening to a broadcast from Melbourne of the Melbourne Cup. When it was found that I held Silver Knight in the sweepstake there was a sharp drop in morale at the High Commission, but that was the only drop in morale that I have noticed while I have been Minister.
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Honey Industry Bill 1972.
Income Tax (Reduction of Additional Tax) Bill 1972.
Commonwealth Teaching Service Bill 1972.
Discussion of Matter of Public Importance
– I have received letters from both the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. I have selected the matter proposed by the honourable member for Corangamite, namely:
The need for the Government as a matter of urgency to make a statement on the plight of the people of South Vietnam in their courageous defence against the blatant invasion by North Vietnam and its serious implications for the security of Australia.
I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places.)
– It is regrettable that there should be a need to propose for discussion this definite matter of public importance. I should have thought that its critical implications for the future of South Vietnam due to the full-scale invasion by the North were self evident and that its critical implications for the future security of Australia would have been obvious to everyone. However, recent statements from Australian Labor Party spokesmen indicate that there is a need for the Government to clarify this issue and provide an opportunity for all sections of the Opposition to state where they stand in relation to it. The first point I make is that even the Australian Labor Party would agree that the people of South Vietnam are facing a critical situation. The second point is that this has been brought about by aggression from the north, and the third is that this combination of circumstances has serious implications for the security of Australia.
No doubt the Opposition will claim that the recent resolutions from the Victorian State Council of its Party are not ALP policy. The people of Australia can be forgiven for wondering just what is the policy of the ALP in this regard. It is not the first time the impression has been given that many members of the ALP are not so much interested in achieving a peaceful settlement in Vietnam as they are in supporting a military victory by the forces of North Vietnam. I hope that the Opposition speakers in this debate will not stretch the credulity of this House by asking us to believe that the war in Vietnam is merely a civil war; that in fact there has been no invasion. There is overwhelming evidence to show that the latest North Vietnamese military action is in reality invasion in the conventional military sense.
No longer is there any pretence that this action has widespread support amongst the local population. What sort of local population would have highly sophisticated armoured weapons, guided missiles and the aircraft that have reportedly been used. Make no mistake about it. This is indeed a blatant attack by one country with the deliberate objective of overrunning and subjugating another by the force of arms. What need would there have been for such an invasion if, as some Opposition members claim, there was widespread local support for the communist cause? The reaction of the local population brings back memories of refugees fleeing before the Nazi invasion of Europe in the 1940s. If this is a liberating army, where are the flags waving in the villages and hamlets to welcome it? One effect of the invasion is to drive the civil population from their farms and homes, leaving everything, to seek refuge in areas controlled by local South Vietnamese forces.
It is preposterous for the Opposition any longer to call this a civil war, to pretend that it has large scale backing at the grass roots level. This blatant attack, an echo of the blitzkrieg tactics of some 30 years ago, demands a statement from the Government so that all Australians and the rest of the world may be left in no doubt as to where we stand in condemning this attack by North Vietnam to achieve by military means what it has been unable to achieve by other means, including the now familiar subversive and terrorist tactics of the socalled war of national liberation. In this situation it would have been expected that all sections of the Australian community would have been prepared to recognise the valiant efforts of South Vietnam to maintain its identity and territorial integrity. Yet we have the extraordinary spectacle of officials of the Party aspiring to govern Australia openly and loudly identifying themselves with the forces of communist aggression and openly and loudly calling for a North Vietnamese military victory.
While a significant section of the ALP openly gives its support to North Vietnam, the Australian Government has a duty to make our position as a nation quite clear. If we fail to do so, our alliances , and relations with our friends, whose mutual cooperation and respect are vital to -the maintenance of peace and stability in our region, will inevitably be undermined. There is an urgent need to re-assure our friends that while this may be the policy of the left wing of the Opposition it is not Government policy. One is forced to ask whether it is in fact the intention of the increasingly powerful left wing faction in the ALP to undermine our efforts to maintain stability in this region. Let us not forget that ALP policies, both foreign and domestic, are made not by the elected parliamentary representatives but by the Party organisation outside Parliament itself.
This House should closely examine the implications for the future security of this country of the previously demonstrated links between events and policies concerning the notorious Victorian Branch of the ALP and statements by leading members of the Federal Parliamentary Australian Labor Party. The policies and attitudes of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) himself on foreign affairs and defence follow the dictates of the left wing Victorian ALP as predictably as night follows day. In June 1970, for example, the State Conference of the Victorian ALP resolved unanimously to encourage young Australians to refuse to ‘fight in a dirty war in Vietnam’, and signed a declaration confirming its intention of defying the Crimes Act by such encouragement. Just 3 months later we had the spectacle of the Leader of the Opposition advising national servicemen to give written advice that if they were ordered to Vietnam they would not obey that order.
The ALP Federal Conference, at the insistence of Victorian delegates, gave support to the Moratorium movement. It was not long before we saw the Leader of the Opposition flirting with moratorium activities outside this very Parliament. The Victorian ALP then endorsed a draft resister as a candidate for the Federal election. The Chairman, Mr Crawford, gave the order that the ALP should be proud to have him as a candidate’. The Leader of the Opposition has been equivocal on this issue, but I have never seen a statement from him repudiating the candidate. Indeed, the candidate himself has been quoted as saying that he believed he had the support of the Leader of the Opposition. Now the Victorian ALP has completely unfurled its true colours and called for a military victory by the North Vietnamese communist invaders. How long will it be before the
Leader of the Opposition falls into line with this declaration and adds further weight to this gross distortion of Australia’s policies and humane and strategic interests? Only recently we heard the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) calling for public demonstrations in support of North Vietnam - calling for support for a country against whose aggression Australian troops, in association with our allies, and those of South Vietnam have recently been fighting - for a military victory by those against whom we have been fighting in areas where we still have military advisers, civil aid teams and medical teams.
I have seen no public repudiation by the Australian Labor Party of the honourable member for Lalor for calling for support for North Vietnam, for an end to the American alliance. In the radio programme PM’ on 14th April, after the recent debate in this House on the issue of Vietnam, the honourable member for Lalor, in answering a question as to what the Leader of the Opposition thought about his views, is recorded as saying:
Well, Mr Whitlam told me after I sat down that I had just made a very compelling speech indeed.
There are many other examples of the ALP’s dislike of America and examples of its support for countries whose whole philosophy is completely opposed to our own. One example is the opposition to the United States bases such as North West Cape, Pine Gap and Woomera. Here again we see the dominance of the left wing resulting in the formation of official ALP policy. What nonsense it is for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) to claim that there is really not much difference between the defence policies of the Opposition and the Government.
Finally, we have the Leader of the Opposition when he visited China last year supporting, as I understand it, the substance of the 7 points put forward by the provisional revolutionary government of South Vietnam for settling the war there - proposals which the President of the United States has reportedly described as joining with your enemies in order to destroy your friends’. In these circumstances, Mr Speaker, I feel that the House is entitled to hear from the Government its attitude to the present situation in South Vietnam and how it regards the situation in relation to Australia’s security.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Swartz) - by leave - agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition speaking for a period not exceeding IS minutes.
– The proposal of the Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Street) does not go far enough. It calls upon the Government to make a statement - an urgent statement. The Government should be called upon to take action. The resolution refers to the plight of the people of South Vietnam. What has a statement, however urgent, got to do with relieving their plight, their sufferings? The Government should be called upon to take action to end those sufferings and then to help rehabilitate that nation and to neutralise it thereafter. There is only one way in which it can be done - by ending the war; by stopping the bombing and the burning, the training and the supplying; by ending the war on the ground and ending the war in the air.
A statement! Hansard is littered with Government statements on Vietnam since May 1965, when troops - a battalion - were first sent to Vietnam. Indeed, over the preceding decade from Dien Bien Phu onwards there have been many statements and references to Vietnam, but none of them has said anything about ending the war. None of them has said anything about the action that Australia could take to end the war. From the brave drum beating of May 1965 to the pathetic claim by the Minister for Defence (Mr Fairbairn) that Vietnamisation had succeeded - a claim that he made in a ministerial statement only 3 weeks ago - Government statements have harped on one theme and one. theme only, the continuation of the war until a solution was brought about by military means. Statement after statement has denounced peace negotiations. Over the opposition of this Government the peace negotiations were at last started. There was then a reduction in the level of suffering of the people of Vietnam. Against the opposi tion of this Government the National Liberation Front was. recognised as a principal party to the negotiations. Treachery!’ the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) then declared. Against the opposition of this Government the bombing of North Vietnam was stopped. ‘Treason!’ declared the present Prime Minister at that time.
A statement! A statement as a matter of urgency! That is what Government policy on indo-China has come to - empty words as a substitute for any action. The truth is that the Government has no meaningful policy now on Vietnam. There are 2 ways and only 2 ways of carrying out a policy towards another country - military means and diplomatic means. The Government never had any diplomatic policy. It has abandoned its military policy. It has exactly no policy about Vietnam - either region - or about Laos or Cambodia. Is it proposed by the Assistant Minister, or by any member of the Government that the troops should go back? The matter for discussion refers to the ‘serious implications for the security of Australia’. If there are serious implications for the security of Australia in what is going on in Vietnam now the. Government should, if it believed it, send the troops back, should send the Navy back, should send the Air Force back. It will do nothing of the kind. Military intervention is out of the question and every member of this House knows it.
Let me refer to diplomatic means. We are not a small and insignificant country, as our Foreign Minister said not many months ago in the United States of America. We did in fact send an experienced, distinguished diplomat with the personal rank of ambassador to attend and observe the Paris Peace Talks in May 1968. He. was withdrawn in August 1970, the very month when President Nixon decided to restore American representation at those peace talks to the highest level. We withdrew at that crucial period. That is the faith this Government has in diplomatic means for ending the war in Vietnam, to relieve the plight of the people of Vietnam. Since May 1970, 2 motions, each of them giving a proper basis for diplomatic action, have been on the notice paper. One was to be moved by the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and the other was to be moved by the Deputy Leader of the Liberal
Party, who was then the Foreign Minister and who now is the Prime Minister. Two men at the. highest level on each side of this House in May 1970 put identical motions on the notice paper, both proclaiming the principles of the Bandung Declaration, namely, non-interference in the affairs of other countries and the right of all countries to determine their own future and, moreover, expressing the view of the House that there should be mutual and reciprocal withdrawal of all foreign troops from Cambodia with international supervision under the United Nations or the Cambodian International Control Commission. Honourable members will recognise the quotation from the. Geneva Agreements, which covered 3 countries - Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. These motions have never been put to a vote; nor have they been extended to the other 2 i countries, namely, Laos and Vietnam. Now everybody knows that the Bandung Declaration is respectable because in Peking, where he followed me, President Nixon supported the Bund ung Declaration in his joint communique with Premier Chou En-lai.
The Assistant Minister assisting the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Street) who proposed this discussion of a matter of public importance - I suppose I must compliment him on his maiden speech in that capacity - referred to the 7-point proposals made by the Government in North Vietnam. It is true that I cabled our Prime Minister from Peking that I knew, on the highest authority, that these were authentic. The ground for saying that was that these were the first proposals from Hanoi which had been expressly supported by the Government in Peking. For my pains, the Prime Minister said that I was putting the case for the enemy. When I was free to say who had given me the opinion, I was able to reveal that it was the French. Ambassador in Peking - the most experienced diplomat from Europe in all the affairs of China and of that region. The Prime Minister has stated that he had sent a cable back to me. It was like the letter to Mr Vorster; it was never sent. So, our Government has never taken any action in the diplomatic field.
But diplomatically there are things that the Government should be doing - things that it never did when its influence could have been more effective than it is likely to be now. We could and should make our opposition to the renewed bombing of Hanoi known to the American Administration, as has been done already by France and as will be done by most of America’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Why should we be less vocal on this point than the many leaders of the United States itself? Or are Senators Muskie, Humphrey, McGovern, Kennedy and Mansfield, representing not only the largest party in the United States and her Congress but the overwhelming majority of the United States Senate, guilty of ‘treachery’? We could and should be representing to the Soviet Union that her massive and continuing support for North Vietnam is a massive contribution to a continuation of the war, to upgrading the level of violence of the war and the continuation of the bloodshed. We should say to these 2 great powers that their sole achievement in IndoChina has been to put into the hands of confronting sides of a single country the means for infinite and unending self destruction. We should call upon them both in the name of humanity to stop.
Nothing has characterised the hypocrisy of this Government over Vietnam more than its silence and its acquiescence on the role of the Soviet Union. Russia, much more than China, has been responsible for supplying the means of war to Hanoi. Why this silence? Because the whole basis of the Government’s propaganda, the only way this wretched war and our futile, wasted commitment to it could have been sold to the Australian people was by depicting it as a long distance war against China - a war to stop the downward thrust of Chinese communism between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The Australian people would not and do not believe that North Vietnam, even a victorious North Vietnam, would be a military threat to Australia. So the villain of the piece had to be China. It has always been inconvenient to the Government to acknowledge and to deplore the Soviet’s role. The tanks, the surface-to-air missiles, or SAMs, all the sophisticated weaponry there now - the things that have made what was a guerrilla war into a massive war between 2 of the largest and best equipped armies of the world today - have been brought about not by China but by the Soviet Union and by the United States.
The Labor Party’s policy is clear. It has always been to support every move to get a political settlement of the war and to end the war, not only in Vietnam but in Indo-China, and that Indo-China should be neutralised in the ideological contest among the super powers. Any demand for a military victory for either side is not the policy of the Australian Labor Party, has not been the policy of the Australian Labor Party and never will be the policy of the Australian Labor Party. Equally clear is the way the national policy of the Australian Labor Party is made. It is the sole responsibility of the Federal Conference, which is half composed of members of Parliament, to make the policy. It is the responsibility of the parliamentary party - in this case, the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party - to apply it. It is my responsibility to enunciate and protect it.
But let us have no humbug about the way the war in Vietnam can be settled. If it is treachery for any Australian to suggest that the NLF is entitled to control the government in Saigon, then I suppose it is partial treachery to say that the NLF should have partial control. Yet this is precisely what is envisaged by the United States herself. The United States negotiators conceded this before they broke off the negotiations in Paris on the last occasion. It is an inescapable part of any political settlement. Not the least of the blunders and not the least of the tragedies of the war has been that, by raising the level of violence, the fighting has inevitably been taken over by massed armies and has inevitably reduced the political influence of the NLF which was by no means entirely communist.
Let us have no humbug about what is happening in Vietnam at the moment. This is what Vietnamisation is all about. It was to prepare the ARVN for the day that it would confront the armies of Hanoi in mass. The day has come. If this day was not foreseen, then the Government has been as dishonest about Vietnamisation as it has been about every other aspect of the war. I repeat that this is what Vietnamisation was meant to be and what it was designed to be. Vietnamisation is working itself out in the fire and blood of Vietnam. The truth of what I said in this House on 30th March last year becomes, daily more evident.
My objection to the Victorian resolution is not just that it does not represent the policy of the Australian Labor Party or the overwhelming majority of the Party’s members and supporters. What I repudiate is any view which does not record our objection to and rejection of any action, by either side - not just by the Vietnamese but by all the powers, namely, the United States, the Soviet Union and China, who in pursuit of utterly mistaken ideas of national interest have hurled Indo-China into this crucible of blood - which prolongs the sacrifice and suffering of the people of Vietnam.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– Last week in this House the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) denied, that he wanted a communist victory in Vietnam. Last Sunday this cover was blown by his notorious friends in the Victorian State Council of the Australian Labor Party who called for a North Vietnamese victory. I do not believe that the honourable member for Lalor even with his one-eyed approach, thinks that the North Vietnamese are not communists, as some well-meaning people used to think that Mao was just an agrarian reformer. The North : Vietnamese are openly communists and a call for a North Vietnamese victory is a call for a communist victory.
Of course the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) denies that this statement by the Victorian State Council of the Australian Labor Party represents Labor policy. He seems to have an odd idea that he has had some influence on Labor policy, but the dominant left wing of the Labor Party will soon whip him into line as it did over the Harradine affair, as it did over the downgrading of the ANZUS Treaty, as it did over industrial sanctions and as it did over national service when he called on national servicemen who were posted to Vietnam to mutiny. It will whip him into line as it did the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) when he went to Vietnam and reported truly that’ it was an externally supported invasion, a statement which he has since had to retract. ‘
What the dominant left wing of the Labor Party clearly wants is a communist victory in South East Asia, and it wants to destroy the American alliance. Of course South Vietnam could have peace at any time - by surrendering, as the Leader of the Opposition would have South Vietnam do. Britain could have had peace in 1940 by surrendering to Hitler. That would have saved many lives in the short term, but it would have cost the world dearly in the long term. A country has a right to self defence. It is worth remembering that no country which has ever been firmly under communist rule has emerged from that communist rate into freedom, and the 800,000 refugees from North Vietnam who fled to South Vietnam rather than suffer under communist rule are a clear indication of this. As was pointed out last week by the honourable member for Lalor, they are naturally in the forefront of the fight to prevent South Vietnam being similarly taken over. The honourable member for Lalor made a sneering reference to the’ statement that South Vietnam was essentially the creation of the United States. Well, of course it was. So was modern Western Europe essentially the creation of the United States after the War. Through the Marshal] Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, America, very generously, restored Western Europe to its present level of prosperity. This is something that we must never forget.
A lot of talk has been carried on by the Opposition suggesting that Vietnam is really one country, not 2 countries - North Vietnam and South Vietnam. In the postwar period difficulties over this situation of a divided country have occurred several times. It occurred in Korea. Would honourable members opposite suggest that when North Korea, supported by Russian arms, invaded South Korea we should not have gone to the assistance of the South Koreans as called for by the United Nations? There was no legal dividing line dividing Korea into 2 countries. Nevertheless, South Korea had the right of independence and freedom from Communism and we were right to go to her assistance and help her to remain free.
The logic of what the Opposition has been saying would cause an extraordinary situation in Europe. Germany is divided into 2 countries - East Germany and West Germany - split on the old occupation line of the Russian and Western forces. There is no official boundary between those 2 countries. If what the honourable member for Lalor contended is good enough in Vietnam, it should be good enough in Europe. We could see the East Germans supported by the arms and might of the Russians invading West Germany, but if we supported West Germany, if NATO supported West Germany and if America supported West Germany against this invasion it would no doubt be described by the honourable member for Lalor as an invasion of Germany by America and he would contend that Germany should be left to sort out its own destiny. What hogwash!
Anyone would admit that South Vietnam is not a perfect democracy. It has had a very difficult time since its creation. In the first few years after 1954 it showed signs of developing into a prosperous country. This was. before the Communist realised that they were not going to be. able to take it over by democratic means and they resorted to assassination, subversion and destruction. South Vietnam has had a very difficult time in the last 13 or 14 years, but it is to its credit that it has been able to carry out elections for presidents and elections for its Assembly, elections of a kind which Britain, a stable and long-established democracy, did not feel able to conduct during the 1940-45 War when Britain was under much less stress than Vietnam is now. If we can keep South Vietnam from falling under Communist domination there is a chance - a good chance - that it will emerge into a free and stable democracy. But if, on the other hand, it falls under Communist rule that hope will be gone.
If North Vietnam truly wanted peace the solution would be simple. It would withdraw its forces from South Vietnam, from Laos and from Cambodia. It would cease its rocket attacks, assassinations, ambushing and murdering in those countries. Then the bombing would stop and South Vietnam would have a chance to work out its own destiny in peace. If honourable members opposite truly want peace in South East Asia, this is the course they should be urging. Instead, they cheer on the Communists.
– It is refreshing to see the Government initiating a second Vietnam debate in as many weeks. Obviously it thinks there is political capital for it in the massive resurgence of the Indo-China war. If it sticks to this tack it will prove to be as wrong and misguided about the war as it has been in respect of other elements in the Australian political structure. I want to start by looking briefly at the written platform of the Australian Labor Party on the Indo-China war. At the Launceston Conference of the Party held last year this policy was refined to a simple 3-paragraph declaration. The first paragraph pointed to previous policies on the war adopted by the Federal Conferences in 1965, 1967 and again in 1969. It emphasised that these policy declarations had been proved to be substantially correct, despite the fact that in 1967, as a result of the deliberations of the Party in Victoria at that time, it was determined that there should be a definite policy in relation to the Vietnam situation and we laid down 3 guiding principles.
The principles were, firstly, that there should, be a cessation of bombing in North Vietnam. Secondly, that the National Liberation Front should be recognised as a party to any negotiations for peace in that country. We were told by the then Prime Minister that this was treachery, that it would never be accepted by the United States of America and it would not be accepted by an Australian government. We were subsequently proved to be correct. The bombing did stop; the National Liberation Front was accepted as a party to the negotiations. Whenever this Government has made a statement in relation to Vietnam, it has been proved to be substantially incorrect.
At the last Conference of the ALP it went on to recapitulate an important element of the previous policies, namely, that international arrangements should be made for the economic and social recovery of Indo-China and the territorial integrity of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Finally the declaration stated that an Australian Labor government would stand ready to work with the Geneva participants or the United Nations or any other agency established for the purpose of re habilitating and neutralising Indo-China. This is the full extent of the Labor Party’s official policy on Vietnam. Any declaration that goes beyond these principles is not Labor policy.
Much has been made of the resolution adopted at the meeting of the Victorian Australian Labor Party Council on Sunday which passed by a narrow majority a resolution on Vietnam. It cannot be stated too emphatically that this declaration was not Labor policy and in framing it this Council exceeded its constitutional authority.
One could go on for hours about how this decision was. reached and the chapter of accidents that led to its adoption. But this would be a pointless exercise; the fact is that it is not an expression of Labor policy and it was immediately repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition. It was again repudiated by him in this debate this afternoon. This repudiation was promptly echoed by the Federal President of the Labor Party who, as Chairman of the Party’s Federal Conference, is in a position to know exactly what the Party’s policy is. It is likely that there will be further repudiation of the declaration from the Victorian Branch. This puts the whole episode in its proper perspective as a foul-up in the internal machinery of the Labor Party.
To draw an analogy, the Government parties often find themselves in the same position. I have lost count of the number of times the Young Liberals Have passed motions and issued policy declarations in direct opposition to their seniors who run the Government. This causes momentary discomfiture and embarrassment but that is all. All parties accept that this sort of thing happens fairly frequently to each of them. If honourable members want another example there is the call by the Australian Country Party in Victoria last week by a margin of 600 to 3 that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) should be replaced by the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony). Who doubts that the Country Party will raise a matter of public importance in this Parliament in order to deal with this question. Undoubtedly, honourable members on this side of the House will support the proposal.
These incidents elicit partisan amusement when they happen, but they are accepted parts of the political process. Noone would seek to muzzle or stifle the operation of component parts of the political machines of the various parties because of isolated foul-ups of this sort. This is the perspective in which an incident of this sort should be placed. The Labor Party had been singularly free of this sort of incident in recent months and perhaps it had exceeded its reservoir of good luck.
Turning to the question before the House, I must express my disappointment at its content. To my mind it has precisely the same faults as the resolution passed by the Victorian Branch of the Labor Party. The question is partisan, it is narrow and it glorifies the Vietnam war and the continuation of the war until one side or the other prevails. The point is that the war in Vietnam cannot be looked at in the crude terms of black and white favoured by members of the Government Parties. According to this line only one side has transgressed the Geneva Conventions; only one side has committed acts of invasion, only one side is evil. This sort of primitive logic just does not wash with the facts.
I do not want to go through the whole course of events in Vietnam since the Geneva Conventions were signed. Both sides have repeatedly breached the provisions of the Conventions. Both sides have committed appalling acts of aggression. The Government claims that the North Vietnamese have invaded the south.
This ignores the fact that South Vietnam and North Vietnam are not legal entities. Their legality has never been established by any international body.
The Government accepts without any quibble an arrangement which cannot be justified by any principle of international law. This allows it to put the specious argument that there has been an invasion because military elements have moved from the north of the demilitarised zone to the south. According to this sort of logic, it is not an invasion, however, when United States and South Vietnamese units strike into the supposedly neutral country of Laos. I agree that North Vietnamese troops have also transgressed Laotian neutrality but let us get our terms correct. Nor is it on invasion under this line of argument if
American planes enter airspace of the demilitarised zone and bomb that part of Vietnam.
This whole question of double standards was put very lucidly in last week’s urgency debate by the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns). He made the point that gaping holes would be left in the South Vietnamese armies and administration if all the people from north of the demilitarised zone were repatriated to their homes. This shows the fallacy of dividing the country into 2 watertight compartments and labelling South Vietnam as a small and independent country. .
If we want to analyse the Indo-China war let us accept the fact that blatant breaches of borders and terrible wrongs against humanity have been committed by both sides. Going beyond this I want to stress again the illusions produced by the official policy of Vietnamisation. All that Vietnamisation has done is to pit two huge and powerful armies against each other on the ground. One side has the benefit of unlimited American air and naval power. The other has the benefit of very effective military equipment supplied by Russia. As this titanic conflict builds up, Australia can sit safely on the sideline and look on secure in the knowledge that it has done its bit for Vietnamisation, even if it has done nothing to end the war. ‘
Of course it was wrong for the communists to intensify the war at a time when negotiations were still possible. Even from a purely military sense it is difficult to understand the timing of these renewed military drives by the communists. But it would be wrong to leave our condemnation at the level indicated by. the honourable member for Corangamite (Mr Street). It is also true, as pointed out by the honourable member for Lalor last week, that the communist and nationalist cause in Vietnam has been provoked and persecuted in a manner unparallelled in history.
If we are to distribute blame and compassion let us do it justly to both parties. Above all, let us not glorify the supremacy of either side by victory in the field. It should be obvious that neither side can win a military victory without many years of ferocious warfare, many years of terrible slaughter, and the destruction of Vietnam. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of members of the Labor Party support the cause of compromise and humanity as outlined clearly in the official policy of the Australian Labor Party and supported this afternoon by the Leader of the Opposition.
– Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– The most important thing about this debate is what it indicates about the present Australian Labor Party and its open support for communist aggression. I believe that the Australian people must be made aware of what has happened to this once great Party. It is a very different party from the one which was led by the Chifleys and the Curtins. They led a socialist party but, although believing in socialism, they put Australia first. It is a very different party today. Today the Party is dominated by the new left wing intellectuals and the communist unions. It continually follows the communist line, seeks to destroy our youth and advocates the permissive society, the relaxing of all laws governing decent behaviour, and free access to drugs. Recently in a television programme the Australian people gave a very clear indication of what they thought about that question. This is the Party whose Leader advised youth to break the law and to support violent demonstrations in the streets; one of whose leading members of this Party - a shadow Cabinet Minister - calls on the youth and the people of Australia to take to the streets and defy law and order in an attempt to destroy democratic government in this country.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, are we still discussing the matter of public importance? If so, could I direct your attention to it?
– Order! There is no point of order.
– I submit that there is. This is totally irrelevant.
– Order! The honourable member for Forrest will resume his seat.
– This is totally irrelevant.
– Order! (Quorum formed.)
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I seek your guidance as to whether it is in order for the honourable member for Hume to say that members of the Opposition are dedicated to the repeal and removal of all laws governing public decency. Is that a proper statement for the honourable member to make?
– Order! It is not for the Chair to say what is a correct statement. There is no substance to the point of order.
– Obviously members opposite - as J said a while ago- are wanting to cover up what has happened to their once great Party. Striking evidence of this is the behaviour of the honourable member for Lalor in this House and the support that he has gained, and the attitude of the Council of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria. The honourable member for Lalor has been supported by and given a pat on the back by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam). When the honourable member for Lalor was in Perth recently and was asked whether the Leader of the Opposition supported what he said about North Vietnamese aggression the honourable member for Lalor said: ‘Of course he does’. We know that the Leader of the Opposition is an opportunist. We have seen him capitulate again and again. He makes great speeches and backs down when the pressure is on from the extreme Left. Today he told us that he wants to see the end of the war in Vietnam. He wants to see the end of the war by the communists taking over. He wants to see our allies in South Vietnam being overrun and butchered by the communists.
Has one member of the Opposition supported the South Vietnamese in their fight against aggression? Have we heard from members opposite one single criticism of North Vietnam? No. Their whole stand has been in support of North Vietnam. The Leader of the Opposition is a man who aspires to be Prime Minister above all else. He is the man who has even called on our troops to mutiny. What has happened to the Australian Labor Party? 1 am terribly sympathetic to the old Labor men who remain on the Opposition benches but who gradually are being eliminated by the Leader of the Opposition. These are the true socialists who have some genuine support for our great country. But the present Labor Party would not support our allies. Again and again we have seen a deliberate attempt to support communist aggression and to try to alienate our ally, the United Stales of America.
The honourable member for Lalor has said that he wants to see the end of Australia’s alliance. He wants to see Australia defenceless without any strong allies. What he and members opposite see as their aim is communist support by the people of Australia. We have seen their opposition to installations established co-operatively by the United States and Australia. We have seen them support China rather than their own country. They would rather support China than our ally, the United States of America. The much vaunted Chinese peace proposals were a capitulation, as one of my colleagues has said. Surely if Hitler had capitulated it would have saved a lot of bloodshed. If we had capitulated to the Japanese and let them overrun this country it would have saved a lot of bloodshed. However, that is not the way in which free, independent people think at all.
– How much blood did you shed?
– I happen to be a returned serviceman, which is more than the honourable member is. Furthermore, he has never done any military training. Again I say that the Australian Labor Party is the Party which has sought to destroy our national service training scheme and leave Australia undefended and without strong forces. The fact is that the present Australian Labor Party has become the slave of the communist Left which is all-powerful and which dictates to that Party. The people of Australia must be made aware of what is happening. Despite the attempts of the popular Press to paper over the cracks in the Australian Labor Party those cracks have become great gaping wide voids which cannot be papered over.
We have seen a couple of attempts today to seek an exposition of what members opposite really mean and support. The left wing of the Australian Labor. Party is supremely confident that it is in control. Do honourable members believe that the honourable member for Lalor or the Victorian Council of the Party would be prepared to make the statements- they have made if they were not . supremely confident? They even believe that some of the Australian people will be carried away by what they have said. I say that the Australian Labor Party stands condemned for its support of aggression by the communists and its support of aggression by the enemies of Australia. I say that it stands condemned because it is prepared to support a communist regime which would break down our moral standards and destroy our democracy. The very survival of this country depends upon our close affiliation with our United States ally and our’ preparedness to support those who are anticommunist.
The Opposition would leave this nation undefended and unprepared. An attempt was made by the previous speaker to wipe off what was said by the Australian Labor Party Council in Victoria. He said that it did not matter. How would he explain the action of a number of young Labor delegates in South Australia when they crowded around a Commonwealth car and sang ‘The Red Flag’? That was indicative of what is happening in the Labor Party. I think that the Australian people must face up to the situation. I believe that the old lime moderates in the Labor Party must wake up and realise that what is happening to their once great Party is being clearly brought to light by the behaviour and support of North Vietnam by a leading member of the Party, supported by the Leader of the Party and by the Victorian Council. They are supporting communist aggression and supporting Australia’s enemies.
– The matter of public importance which we. are debating calls for a statement by the Government - just a statement by the Government. However, during this debate not one member of the Government - not one Minister - has participated. Yet a Government supporter has introduced this matter of urgency. Where is the urgency when not one Minister participates in the debate? Where is the urgency when not one Minister is prepared to get up and say: ‘We wm make, this statement’. The Government is not being asked to take action. Members opposite are so gutless they are not prepared to take action but would merely make a statement. I am appalled at the monumental hypocrisy of the Government. For a quarter of a century it has played on people’s fears rather than appeal to people’s aspirations. It chooses to ignore and, so far as it can in votes, will allow the chaos that it has created in the economic life of this country through its shortsighted and doctrinaire Budgets. It ignores the mounting inequality in education and the needs of the sick, the old and the handicapped.
It is obvious from this debate, that members opposite yearn for the days of the colourful election-winning formulas of ‘the Red menace’ and ‘the yellow hordes’. The people of North Vietnam, the people of South Vietnam - in fact, the people of all Asia - mean nothing to the Government except when they can be exploited for this Government’s narrow domestic political purposes. Members opposite, want to turn the clock back to the 1966 election when their election propaganda had the communist Chinese dripping blood down over Asia and onto Australia. But even then their hypocrisy was obvious because at that stage, they traded with communist China. Indeed they are falling over backwards to enter into some negotiation with China now. What a gang of humbugs this Government is. We might fairly ask what positive steps this Government proposes to take as a result of the dangers that it seems to see in Vietnam.
Let me retrace briefly the history. When Australia first became involved in Vietnam in 1962 the operations were not against the North Vietnamese combat forces in South had had a gutful of the repression and corruption of the Diem regime. When we committed combat forces in 1965 there were, according to the United States Department of Defence, no more than 400 North Vietnamese but against people who Vietnam, and they were there in the early part of 1965 for one very simple reason: Following the infamous Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which was a put up job to justify the decision that the United States mil itary had already made, the USA - this was back in 1964 - began aerial attacks on North Vietnam. In that period it was the bombing of North Vietnam that in fact brought about North Vietnamese intervention.
– Come on!
– I quote for the benefit of the Minister for Social Services Mr Schlesinger, who was Special Assistant to the President of the United States of America from 1961 to 1964. He said:
And far from stopping infiltration across the Seventeenth parallel, the bombing, if our own reports are to believed, has stimulated it. The first result was to bring North Vietnamese forces south of the border. In 196S according to General Westmoreland, the enemy began to move regular North Vietnamese army units into South Vietnam.
We talk about blatant aggression. The Labor Party does not support aggression whether it be from the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, the Americans, the Chinese or the Russians. Do not let us get caught up in this question of what constitutes aggression. Does not a flight of B52s in the clouds - admittedly not stepping over some imaginary line on the ground - operating from Thailand or South Vietnam, or other bombers from the Seventh Fleet constitute aggression. Let us not get caught up in the legalities of what constitutes aggression. Ask the North Vietnamese peasants or the South Vietnamese peasants to differentiate between a bomb dropped from the clouds and mortar fire from the surrounding hills. To them it is all aggression. The Labor Party is opposed to aggression; we have always opposed aggression, and we shall continue to oppose aggression.
The Government professes a concern about this matter. Surely, if we are to take its argument seriously, that concern is much more obvious now than it was in 1965. However, in those days, for narrow political, domestic reasons, it jumped with alacrity to the request of President Johnson. What is it doing today? It is doing nothing except, as the terms of this discussion show, to try to conjure up some short-term political advantage. We do not condone war. In fact, we would rather hope that this Government would have learnt some lessons from the war in Vietnam. Of all the people throughout the world, the supporters of this Government have learnt nothing, and they have certainly forgotten nothing. Perhaps we should take as an example how the American people have learnt some very basic lessons from their involvement in Vietnam. I quote the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the USA held in November 1968:
There are moral lessons to learn from our involvement in Vietnam that will apply in future cases. One might be that military power and technology do not suffice, even with the strongest resolve, to restore order or accomplish peace. As a rule internal political conflicts are too complicated to be solved by external applications of force and technology.
Further on they say:
Another lesson might be the realisation that some of the evils existing in this world, evils such as under-nutrition, economic frustration, social stagnation and political injustice, may be more readily attacked and corrected through nonmilitary means than by military efforts to counteract subversive forces bent upon their exploitation. In addition, may we not hope that violence may be universally discredited as a means of remedying human ills.
The Labor Party opposes, and it has continued to oppose, Australia’s participation in the Vietnam war. This Government delights in the continuance of the Cold War, perhaps mindful of what it sees as possible electoral advantage. But it is unmindful of the sufferings of the people of Vietnam. I make no distinction here between the people of South Vietnam and the people of North Vietnam, for they have been used as pawns in the big power game. There is an old Arab saying that only your own fingers can find the itch. It is time - it is past time - that the people of Vietnam, both North and South, were given an opportunity to settle the future of Vietnam. Itis, after all, they who will have to live there.
– The discussion is now concluded.
Debate resumed from 13 April (vide page 1677), on motion by Mr Swartz:
– The question is that recommendation No. 7 of paragraph (a) relating to suspension of the Standing Orders be agreed to.
– I seek your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it at this stage that I move the amendment circulated in my name?
– The honourable member’s amendment covers paragraph (c). I suggest that he move it after we have dealt with paragraphs (a) and (b).
– I think the members of this House ought to be made aware somehow that this debate has resumed. I suggested the other night that if we were to discuss the Standing Orders, the time for the. discussion should be specified on the blue sheet. (Quorum formed) The subject before the House is the Standing Orders of the House. One of my colleagues called a quorum so that honourable members could be here to take part in the discussion. As I recall the decision that was taken a couple of years back, this was to be a subject for free vote. In my view it is not good enough, as happened the other night, when as far as I can tell from the division list, every honourable member opposite voted the party line but those on this side of the House at least broke across the party line. It was decided a couple of years ago that questions associated with the Standing Orders would be the subject of a free vote. That was the result of a contribution by the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), who suggested it to the Standing Orders Committee, and the suggestion has been accepted in the spirit, in the letter and in the practice by those of this side of the House.
I hope that honourable members on the other side of the House will do the same. At the moment I am trying to ensure that the House is aware that in fact we are discussing the Standing Orders. The proposal that we have placed before theHouse is for the reduction of the time allowed to debate a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. While I agree with this recommendation I think that honourable members ought to give it more thought and make sure that they understand what they are voting about and what they are agreeing to. The next recommendation concerns petitions and I think we ought to look carefully at that one as well.
– You agree with it?
– Yes, I have no objection.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I am not quite clear about what we are discussing. Are we speaking to the recommendation contained in the report of the Standing Orders Committee or is the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) moving a separate motion?
– I shall repeat the question before the Chair. The question is that recommendation No. 7 of paragraph (a) relating to the suspension of Standing Orders be agreed to.
– As a member of the Standing Orders Committee I would like to make a contribution to this debate. I found myself in a minority on the Committee with regard to the point of view on the length of time that should be allowed to be taken up in a debate on the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders of the House. The old standing order - standing order 91 - provides in regard to a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders that the mover is allowed 20 minutes and other honourable members are each allowed15 minutes. Under this procedure we have found time and time again - particularly during the last year or two - that a very substantial amount of the day’s time has been taken up simply on a debate on this particular motion.
I make the further point that in such a debate honourable members frequently stray on to a discussion of a substantive motion. It is a very difficult thing to speak for15 minutes, let alone 20 minutes, on a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders without trespassing onto a substantive motion. I think that there is a very powerful set of reasons for cutting down the speaking time quite drastically. I would have liked a further reduction of the 25 minutes that is proposed in this report. It is suggested that the mover be allowed 10 minutes, the seconder - if any - be allowed 5 minutes and the next member speaking be allowed 10 minutes. That is a total of 25 minutes which in fact is the total amount of time proposed to be allotted for a debate of this kind. It is further proposed that any other honourable member should be able to speak for5 minutes. I believe that 5 minutes for any speaker, be he mover, seconder or a following speaker, is adequate time for a speech on a debate of this kind.
I submit that an unjustifiable amount of the time of this House has been taken up in recent months in debates on motions for the suspension of Standing Orders. During 1970 the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders was moved 17 times; during 1971 it was moved 35 times. Paragraph 21 of the report states:
During previous Parliaments similar action was taken only on infrequent occasions and presented no real problem.
So my main point is that I believe that the proposal contained in the report should be supported although personally I would have liked to see a further reduction.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Recommendation No. 8 (Petitions)
– The question now is that recommendation No. 8 of paragraph (a) relating to petitions be agreed to.
– I move:
That the following words be added to the question. subject to proposed standing order No. 132 being amended by adding the words: “The Minister shall, within twenty-one sitting days of the presentation of a petition or the presentation of the first petition of a series of petitions, notify the House what action has been taken with respect to the petition” ‘.
If honourable members study the proposed standing order they will note that petitions, after being presented to the House, are referred to the relevant Minister. What my amendment seeks is to place an obligation on the Minister to notify the House what has happened to the petitions. I would imagine that this would be done by way of report to the House. This information could be tabled in the House. In this way it would be included in Hansard or dealt with in the same way as answers to questions on notice. In many cases one would not expect very detailed answers. If the House directs that these matters be referred to a Minister I think it is equally in order for the House to direct that the Minister should let the House know what has happened to the petitions.
My amendment sets out that the Minister Shall notify the House within a period of 21 days. In the terminology of this place that is very close to half a year. I do not think this is an unreasonable length of time in which the Minister should report back to the House on what has happened. To me the amendment does not seem to contain anything substantial. It just requires that not only do we refer petitions to the Minister but that the Minister has an obligation to tell the House what has happened. Even if he tells us that no action has been taken he would at least have let us know what the situation is.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment. I agree with the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) that we should place a responsibility on Ministers to notify the House within a certain time what action has been taken in regard to petitions. In recent times we have seen a considerable number of petitions presented in regard to the Post Office. I think that sufficient have been presented to indicate that there is a national interest in what is happening.
Honourable members are often asked what happens to petitions. As far as I have been able to ascertain they are filed away underneath this chamber. I think that if a petition is to be worth anything some action should be taken in relation to it. Whilst it is proposed that a Minister will accept some responsibility for petitions that concern his department I think that he should be obliged to report on what action is proposed to be taken. Therefore, I am pleased to support the amendment.
– Speaking again as a member of the Standing Orders Committee, I had quite a bit to do with the presentation of this submission which relates to petitions. In common, I think, with all honourable members of this chamber, I have felt growing concern over the amount of time in the daily programme taken up in following the existing procedure for the presentation of petitions. The first consideration of the Standing Orders Committee was, quite correctly, the fundamental right of the citizen to petition Parliament. This is clearly set out in May’s Parliamentary Practice and, of course, it was the first consideration that Committee members had in their minds at the time. We considered a number of alternative methods and settled upon the proposals that are now before the House. We felt that it was very important not only that the rights of the citizen should be protected but also that the rights of a honourable member to be identified with a petition should be protected. In addition we decided that the subject matter should be indicated and that a record should be made in Hansard as well as in the Votes and Proceedings of the House.
The increasing amount of time that has been taken up by the present procedure is indicated in appendix B of the report. It shows that the total time taken up by petitions in 1970 was 8 hours 31 minutes and that in 1971 it was 8 hours 58 minutes. From the rate of presentation this year I would hazard a guess that the amount of time taken up by petitions will greatly exceed that of previous years, if the rate of presentation continues. Appendix B shows that in 1969 - and I quote this figure to show the extreme growth in the number of petitions presented - 90 petitions were presented. In 1970 494 were presented and in 1971 the number was 723. The number presented in 1972 will undoubtedly outstrip the 1971 record. I cannot go along with the suggestion in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). There may be some occasions when a Minister might not be able to report back within 21 sitting days if the petition raises a very involved matter requiring a good deal of consideration and research. For that reason I find myself not in a position to support the amendment However, I do feel that the Committee has made a valuable step forward by submitting to the House that it should agree that a petition presented in future should be referred to the appropriate Minister for his consideration.
– An articulate electorate should be heard in this Parliament; the voice of the people should not be stilled. There should be action as a result of the expressed desires of the people, and those who work to petition Parliament should be aware of what happens after the member for their constituency presents the petition in this place. At present it seems that it is a question of an exercise in democracy being lost in the deserts of Parliament. This is a most unhappy circumstance but, nevertheless, it appears to many honourable members to be true. A great number of people outside Parliament are utterly bewildered by what takes place when petitions are received or read in this chamber. I would like to think that the Parliament is playing a more useful and integrated role wilh the community because those who engage in compiling petitions and seeking signatures and presenting those petitions to Parliament are doing a useful service on behalf of the nation. But what is the purpose of all this if the petitions when presented are only read or received and that is the finish of them?
It is praisworthy that the Standing Orders Committee which investigated this matter has decided that the petition should be referred to the Ministers responsible for the questions with which it deals. This is a worthwhile change but it is useless unless the Parliament is later informed what action has been taken on the petition, in many cases petitioners have worked hard on questions of great public concern such as health, education, defence, social services and many more. We heard a petition dealing with the takeover of Australian industry being read in Parliament today. But what is the purpose of people, electors, in the community taking the trouble to prepare a petition and obtain signatures if the petition is to be lost in the dead sands of Parliament and the very purpose of the petition dies with its presentation. The mere fact that a petition is referred to a Minister is good so far as it goes, but it does not satisfy the purpose of the petitioners unless there is a reply to it.
Surely the time of 21 sitting days in which to reply is reasonable. A Minister who cannot reply within 21 days is certainly not doing his homework; he is not serving this Parliament; he is not serving democracy; and Parliament is weaker because of it. The argument that 21 days is too short is not good enough. The Minister should be called upon to reply. The type of reply he makes is his business. We hear many types of reply from Minis ters during question time in this place. I would like to think that Ministers had a responsibility to reply so that honourable members who present petitions in this Parliament could go back to the people who gave them the petitions to present and say that the petition was presented and received in Parliament, referred to the Minister, that they now have a reply from the Minister and this is what the Minister of the Crown has said in reply. Until we reach this modest advance, the purposes for which petitions are presented are barely worth while. Petitions should form a great link between Parliament mid the people in the democracy we serve, so I ask honourable members to think carefully about this matter and to accept the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Corio. It is a reasonable amendment and it helps to make our democracy work. It serves Parliament and it serves the community. I can only hope that honourable members will throw off the fetters of party discipline and vote for the amendment.
– In opposing the amendment I want to make some comments on the amendment which has been moved and to indicate that I am unable to agree with the sentiments which have been ably expressed by the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) who has just spoken. I refer, particularly since a shadow Minister for the Opposition, the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), is at the table, to 1947 when he was present in this chamber. On looking around I think he is, apart from the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull), one of the very few who were present then. At that time legislation to totally nationalise banking within the Commonwealth of Australia was introduced by a former Prime Minister, the distinguished predecessor of the honourable member for Macquarie. I am sure that the honourable member for Grayndler will recall that petitions, almost one by one but on behalf of hundreds and hundreds of people, were presented and were completely ignored because the policy of the then Government had been laid clearly before the Parliament. The Government which was in office then was an Australian Labor Party Government, led by the distinguished late right honourable member for Macquarie who was replaced in this Parliament by the present member.
– Are you attacking Ben Chifley?
– I said the late Prime Minister. The Government that was led by the late right honourable member for Macquarie had no intention of answering each of the individual petitions. The present honourable member for Macquarie is supporting this amendment which seeks to put onto the petition a significance which he knows full well has never been attached to it previously by his own Party when in government.
– This is a free vote.
– That is an irrelevancy. I am merely dealing with matters of fact. I am not talking about whether this is a free vote. I am pointing out that when Government policy is quite clear it is an absurdity to suggest that there should be constant repetition of the same petition, leading to the time of Ministers and the House being occupied with the subject of the petition. I could go along with the proposition that the petition, having been received and read, should not be repeatedly received and read. But the end result of what has been proposed by the honourable member for Corio will be the consumption of the time of the House of Representatives by a constant reappearance and repetition of the same petition. I think this is wrong, and I believe we ought to apply ourselves more appropriately to the business before the House. One of the matters that should concern us is the extraordinary way in which we lose IS to 20 minutes almost every day of sitting by the constant repetition of petitions. I think it is fair and reasonable that a petition, once received, should be read to the Parliament and placed on record as being a petition put before the House of Representatives. That should be the end of the reception of that petition. But to have honourable members one after the other presenting petitions in identical terms is to me absurd and obviously political. It is obviously done to waste the time of the House of Representatives and to interfere with the function of government.
– Are you accusing your Whip of wasting time by presenting petitions about kangaroos?
– I am not prepared to exclude any matter. Many, many petitions which have been in exactly the same terms have been repeated. This is what I wish to avoid. I believe that once a petition has been put forward it is reasonable that there should be an announcement by the Government in reply to it, but I believe that it ought not be repeated ad nauseam so that it wastes the time of the House. As I have said, if ever there was one momentous matter which interested, concerned and vitally animated the whole of the Australian community it was a Bill introduced in 1947 to nationalise banking within Australia. Honourable members opposite, including the distinguished member for Grayndler, who is sitting at the table at this moment, know that when their Party was in office it absolutely ignored the reactions of the Australian people, and, with great respect to the honourable member for Macquarie, this makes a mockery of what he has just been saying.
– 1 rise to support the amendment. I had in mind moving an amendment myself, but I think that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) is suitable. I can agree with some of the speakers from the other side of the House. There is no doubt that a large amount of time is taken up by the presentation of petitions and the presentation of them has become very tedious. It has reached the stage when some members do not even bother to come into the chamber until the reading of petitions has finished. We do not even see very many members of the Press in the gallery during that period. Sometimes there is a tedious repetition of the same petition. Figures indicating the growth of the number of petitions presented were quoted by the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury). He indicated that the number had grown to 723 in 1971. There is no doubt that pressure groups are organising petitions on the same subject so that they can get their point of view before this chamber and gain publicity for the matter in which they are interested. We cannot blame them because they realise that unless they do something like that nothing is done in regard to petitions. It is the only method they have of drawing attention to the subjects with which they are concerned.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker I have raised the question of what happens to petitions in this Parliament time and time again. I think it was as a result of action taken by myself in asking a question of the Speaker that this matter was referred to the Standing Orders Committee. In September 1971, as a follow-up to another question I had asked, I asked this question of the Speaker:
I draw your attention to a question which I asked on 22nd September 1970 … It referred to the hundreds of petitions that had been presented to the House during that session … I asked what had happened to the petitions and whether the petitioners were not wasting their time in preparing and signing the petitions just to have them pigeonholed. I drew your attention, Sir, to the fact that a committee examines petitions presented to the House of Commons and reports on them. I asked you if you would consider adopting such a system here and you said that my request would be referred to the Standing Orders Committee. I now ask: Has anything been done in regard to this matter?
The Speaker replied:
Yes. The Clerk of the House of Representatives has made inquiries from the House of Commons, the Canadian House of Commons and also the New Zealand Parliament in regard to the manner in which petitions are dealt with in those places. Information has now been received from the respective clerks in those Parliaments and it will be put in concise form and presented to the next meeting of the Standing Orders Committee.
I am pleased to see from the report we are considering that this has been done and that some action has been recommended by the Standing Orders Committee, but the recommendation does not go far enough. The Committee recommends a new standing order 132 in the following terms:
A copy of every petition lodged with the Clerk and received by the House shall be referred by the Clerk to the Minister responsible for the administration of the matter which is the subject of the petition.
How far does this take us? Will this new provision transfer the petition from one pigeonhole in the basement of this building to a pigeonhole in a Minister’s office? That could easily be so. It would lie there for the time being, and I suppose that it would eventually find itself in the same place as petitions find themselves at the present time. So the recommendation that has been put before this House for us to vote on does not mean a thing. Paragraph 29 on page 19 of the report states:
The point was made that, at present, with no follow-up procedures, members must rely on repetitive presentation and reading in order to gain publicity which may then cause some Government action. If the petitions were forwarded to the appropriate Government department for review and report the need for recurrent presentation and reading could disappear.
But the Committee does not follow this matter up. Note the words ‘for review and report’. This is not provided for in the proposed new standing order 132, which merely provides for a petition to be referred to a Minister. The amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Corio calls upon the Minister to whom the petition has been referred to report to this chamber. I think that would be the intention of this Parliament. We do not want petitions pigeonholed. We want to see at least a report on them. I think the honourable member for Ryan said that there might be difficulty in reporting to the Parliament within 21 days, but a report within that time does not even have to be a final report. The Minister could say that his department was giving further consideration to the matters raised in the petition and that he would report again later. But surely we are entitled to have some information in regard to the matter. The proposed new standing order 132 is not good enough. Some follow-up procedure is urgently needed to satisfy petitioners and members of this House. The type of followup procedure I would like to see was considered by the Standing Orders Committee and is set out on page 18 of the Committee’s report. I will not bother to quote it; I just draw attention to it. It is interesting to note what happens in New Zealand in regard to this matter. The information was kindly supplied to me by the Clerk of the House, and this is what it said:
In New Zealand petitions are presented by a Member rising in his place and saying that he has’ the honour to present the petition. . … The petition is then brought to the table where it is’ checked. If found to be in order it is then classified by the Clerk of the House and sent to one or other of several sessional Select Committees. The Committee Clerk then reads the petition and decides what Government department… or departments are concerned with its subject matter and sends a copy of the petition to them foi report In due course, when the report has been received, the consideration of the petition is placed on the agenda for a meeting of the Select Committee. The petitioner is advised of the date set down for its consideration and is invited to attend personally or to be represented by Counsel or by the Member presenting the petition. In any case, the Member is always advised of the date of hearing. On the appointed day the petitioner attends, is introduced to the members of the Committee and then has the departmental reports read in his presence by the departmental officials who then withdraw. The petitioner is then invited to address the Committee or have his story told for him by the Member presenting the petition. That being completed the members of the Committee are invited in turn to address questions to the petitioner. When this questioning concludes the petitioner withdraws and the Committee deliberates. In due course the Chairman presents a report to the House. In some cases the Committee reports that it has carefully considered the petition and has no recommendation to make, or recommends that the petition be referred to the Government for inquiry, for consideration, for favourable consideration, or for most favourable consideration.
In those cases where the Committee has recommended the reference of the petition to the Government, the Clerk of the House forwards a copy of the petition and of the report to the departments concerned, and in every case, whatever the report of the Committee, advises the petitioner of the recommendation made on his petition. In due course the department concerned makes a report to a sub-committee of Cabinet which, In turn, makes a recommendation to Cabinet which comes to a decision on the petition. The Secretary of Cabinet then advises the Minister of Internal Affairs of Cabinet’s decision and the Secretary for Internal Affairs finally advises the petitioner.
I am not suggesting that we should go that far, by any stretch of the imagination, and neither does the amendment. But apparently that system works in New Zealand.
– They must have lots of time.
– I do not know how it happens but it is operating. That is the point. Anybody who goes to New Zealand and sees the New Zealand Parliament in action knows that the system is working satisfactorily. Maybe, as a result of the action that is taken, they do not have to present as many petitions to their Parliament. For instance, if one petition on a particular subject, such as post offices, is presented to the committee and other people who want to present petitions know that it is being referred to a committee and is being considered they will not want to bother about further petitions until a decision is made.
If we do not do something more definite, as has been recommended, the. presentation of petitions will be meaningless. They will be received, read by the. Clerk instead of by the honourable member, and then left to gather dust in the Minister’s office for the time being and then in the parliamentary archives as time goes on. That would not be much different from the present system. I wholeheartedly support the amendment and congratulate the honourable member for Corio for proposing it.
– I was rather surprised to hear the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) say that he believes that what he said or asked in a question in 1970 or 1971 has brought about what is happening today. I have taken a great interest in this subject over a long period of time. If the House will put up with me for a few minutes I will read one or two things I have said. On 14th May 1968 at 4.53 p.m. I said:
The first thing about which I wish to speak is something which happens here very often. This is the presentation of petitions. In my view - and I think that many honourable members will agree with me - this is a complete waste of time. The time that is wasted is not just the time of the honourable member who presents a petition. Sometimes petitions contain hundreds of signatures. In fact, one petition which contained thousands of signatures was so large that it had to be carried into this House by five attendants, I think, when it was presented. What happens when a petition is presented? From what I can see - and I have watched this matter closely for 22 yearswhen a petition is presented no-one takes much notice. Then it disappears, probably down into the dungeons. This happened when a Labor government was in office and it has happened during the term of office of the present Government. The position has never changed.
It appears to me that people think when they sign a petition that the petition will carry weight and strength in promoting the objectives of the people, but this is not so. I make the suggestion that, if people desire to have petitions presented, the petitions should be presented to the appropriate Minister. Then they will be sure of getting a reply. Does any honourable member in this House know of any reply that has ever come from the presentation of a petition?
I mean since federation -
Has any Minister explained what has been happening as regards the subject matter of a petition? Of course not. Nothing really happens. Honourable members on both sides of the House will agree that this is the situation, no matter which Party is in office.
I am fortified in believing how right I was on that occasion by hearing Opposition members speak this afternoon, but when I brought the matter up at that time they were strangely silent.
– When was this?
– I have been asked when it was. The date on the Hansard copy from which I have been reading is 14th May 1968.
– I was not here then.
– One honourable member is claiming that he was not here then. I will omit him. But most honourable members were here and they were strangely quiet on the subject. Let me say a few things about it. First of all, I believe that a petition should be presented to the Minister. I do not believe that the way proposed in the amendment is the right way to do it. Representations should be made to the Minister along the same lines as with any subject at the present time. What the Opposition wants to do is to read out a petition once, as one Opposition member suggested just now, and that will be enough. When I tried to say, in presenting a petition which had been presented yesterday, the day before and the day before that, ‘This petition is couched in the same terms as the one just presented’, Opposition members called out: Read it out’. Now some of them do not want it read out.
What the Opposition wants now, as contained in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio, is that within 21 days after the petition is presented - I take it that it will be presented in much the same way as it is presented now - the appropriate Minister should state what is happening and what is going to be done about the subject. It has been suggested by the honourable member for Stirling that the Minister need not give a definite answer but may say: ‘We are having a look at it’. What good would that do? He could keep putting it off. Honourable members know that nearly every petition that is presented concerns a matter of Government policy. Some of the petitions may be based on wrong premises. I have received petitions and I have written back to the people who sent them in or to the person beading the list saying: ‘I have received the petition. You headed it to be presented in the Parliament so you gave me no chance of doing anything else, but I think it is a waste of time altogether presenting the petition.’ This was especially, so in the case of the petition relating to post offices. Before 80 per cent of these petitions came in the Postmaster-General had said:
As to the closure of small non-official post offices, a meeting was held on the south coast of New South Wales some little time ago. Unfortunately, following the meeting, a Press report was issued which suggested that a Post Office spokesman had indicated that all non-official post offices would be closed. That is incorrect. No such statement was made. In point of fact, the then Director of Posts and Telegraphs in New South Wales, who is now the Director-General, represented the Post Office at that particular meeting. He has assured me that no statement of that nature was made at the meeting.
Because it was thought or printed in some journal that certain post offices were to be closed down, people up and down Australia presented petitions. This was a waste of time for the people who signed and those who had to collect the signatures and for the people who wrote the petitions, because it did not do any good at all.
– That is absolute nonsense.
– I do not want to debate the matter of post offices; but, in the electorate I represent, if . the closure of a post office is pending the district post office manager will meet the constituents in the area adjacent to the post office and discuss the matter with them.
The honourable member for Corio has proposed as an amendment that the responsible Minister have 21 days in which to report back to the House. What would the Minister say when he reported back? The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) is continually interjecting. Although it is rather difficult not to refer to interjections, lately I have tried to ignore them. However, when I am trying to put forward a case that 1 believe should be put forward, just as I will not interject on honourable members opposite, I would like them to give me a hearing.
– That is nonsense.
– Of course, to that statement, the honourable member for Chifley interjects: ‘That is nonsense’. Therefore, I should not get a hearing in this House.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I did not say that. I was talking to the honourable member for Riverina.
Mir DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– The honourable member for Chifley said that he did not say it but that he was talking to the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). Of course he was talking to the honourable member for Riverina. He said it to that honourable member. It was heard by honourable members on this side of the House.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I have been misrepresented. The only point-
-Order! There is no point of order involved.
– I did not say it. I just said to the honourable member for Riverina–
-Order! The honourable member for Chifley has the right to take action by making a personal explanation when the honourable member for Mallee has finished his speech. There is no point of order involved.
– I want to say only one thing more on this subject. If the honourable member for Chifley was speaking to the honourable member for Riverina on a different subject, that is altogether different. But, if he says that he did not say That is nonsense’ to the honourable member for Riverina, I will have to make a fresh assessment of the honourable member for Chifley. He should put himself straight on that.
When the period of 21 days which is provided for in the amendment had almost elapsed, the Minister would come into the House and say that petition No. 356, or whatever lt might be, was a matter of Government policy. What is the good of that to anybody? After all, it does not matter whether the Labor Party is in office or not. I know that if it was in office it would also do this. Ninety-five per cent of the matters raised by petitions are matters of policy. Furthermore, what is the good of just reading out a petition requesting that something be done unless the mem bers have a chance to debate the petitions and tell the Parliament why these things should happen? One of the great things about Parliament is the debate which takes place on various subjects. When an honourable member raises a subject he should debate it. I am debating now the amendment which was moved by the honourable member for Corio relating to the provision of a period of 21 days and I am saying that this provision is completely futile because, after all, the subject of the petition will probably just be a matter of policy.
I want to make a deal with or give a guarantee to members of this Parliament that, if I so desired, I could bring to this Parliament within 2 sitting weeks a large petition asking that certain members of this Parliament be politically annihilated. Honourable members know that this could be done simply because people sign petitions not realising what is proposed in them. I could also get petitions signed regarding the economy that would not benefit the very people whom the people who signed them wanted to benefit. Honourable members know that one can get any petition signed. One can stand on a street corner in Melbourne or somewhere else and ask someone whether he will sign the petition. He will ask: “What is it about?’ He will be told that it is about the Vietnam War and he will agree to sign it. No matter what side the petition supports, some people will sign it. Everybody knows that, and honourable members cannot deny it because it is right. It could be about pensions or about something else, but it may not bear any relationship to reality. A few people who really want something changed after due consideration sign petitions.
Before I close I should like to refer to what I said earlier. When a petition is signed, it is just a straight out request and it does not give me or any other member on either side of the House a chance to debate the question. All that honourable members are doing is presenting the petition. They are letting the Government, the Cabinet or somebody else who is unknown decide what shall be done and come back into the House and say that it is a matter of policy. Therefore, under no circumstances would I support the amendment because I think it is a further waste of time. The scheme which operates in New Zealand was put forward. I will not say that the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) altogether supported it, but he did put it forward as a suggestion. I do not know how many people on committees and how many weeks it would take to operate this system. The petitions would have to be referred to different committees and they would be sent back to the House with recommendations. When the House received the recommendations, I take it that they would be debated. When a recommendation is put before this House a decision is not immediately made as to whether the recommendation will be accepted or not. Honourable members would cry out for debate on the matter and I would be one of the first to do that. How long would the system take? We would be sitting here, and the whole year would not be long enough.
There is a bad flaw in the amendment. Let us suppose that about a fortnight or a week before the House was to rise 40 or 50 petitions were presented to the House. How would the Ministers report back to the House within 21 days? The House would not be sitting.
– The amendment provides for 21 sitting days.
– I know that the amendment specifies sitting days, but the point is that the Ministers would hot report back for 3 or 4 months. I am not wrong on this. If the House had only 14 sitting days to go before it rose and the petitions were presented, the remainder of the 21 days would recommence when the House resumed its sitting. The honourable member’s head is shaking, so it seems that I am right. After this period of time, the matter raised by the petition would have become stale because, for instance, the Government introduced something in its Budget which made unnecessary absolutely the subject of the petition. All this debate is a further waste of time and the amendment will not receive my support.
– We have been listening to the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) for some considerable time and I am not at all aware of the point that he tried to make in connection with this debate. He took some time to read from a speech which, I think, he made in 1947 and he was obviously very proud of it. The speech was made some 25 years ago. lt is probably the contribution that he made to the Parliament that caused him to be recognised in the honours list.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. I just want to point out that the speech was not made 25 years ago. It was made in 1968. The honourable member should get it right.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order! There is no substance in the point of order.
– I do not know whether the honourable member for Mallee regards that speech as his best contribution to Parliament, but personally I did not feel that it was of such quality as to justify his inclusion in the honours list. Nor did I feel that it was of such quality as to justify its tedious repetition, since this is the second time we have been subjected to it in that period of years.
I am not precisely sure of the point that the honourable member was making. He spent some time talking about sitting days and complaining that there would be too many sitting days before the Minister reported back to the House to indicate what course of action would be taken. Yet, in another context and just preceding his statement of his attitude along those lines, the honourable member for Mallee seemed to be indicating - in fact, he was quite unequivocally saying - that petitions were completely and utterly a waste of time. So, just what does he want? Does he want the petitions to come in quickly with a reply from a Minister or does he want to abolish the petition protests for all time? I can imagine the honourable member’s susceptibility on petitions because day after day he and some of his colleagues and the Ministers are subjected to a lot of embarrassment as the national constituency continues to barrage them with its demands for electoral reform and reform in’ respect of many matters affecting the welfare of the people.
We are discussing today a very serious matter and it ought not to be treated in the light-hearted and facetious manner that has characterised the attitude of several speakers on the other side of the House. It is refreshing to hear speeches by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), for example, and to see the manner in which he has applied himself to a study of this matter and the history of it in the national Parliament of Australia. The attitude of the honourable member for Stirling ought to be contrasted with the facetious and light-hearted style of some honourable members opposte. What did we hear from the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) just a short time ago when he presented a petition to this Parliament? I think he referred to the petitioners as ‘misguided petitioners’. Never before has there been such a reflection on the constituency of this country as there was on that occasion on the people of Tasmania. Tasmania ought to have high regard for the principles of democracy, considering the manner in which democracy is extended to it as a State.
I think all honourable members on both sides of this House shudder at the contemptuous attitude displayed towards those people who walk the streets knocking on doors to try to get consideration for the age pensioners, the handicapped children or people affected by the closure of post offices, a matter which some honourable members seem to treat in a light-hearted fashion. The presentation of petitions is an ancient process. It goes back hundreds of years. It was formulated out of the great struggles in the British Isles. I am delighted-
– What about the nationalisation of banking?
– Here we have an honourable member who wants to bring miserable partisan politics into a matter which affects the very conduct of this Parliament and the right of the constituency to bring matters through the maze of bureaucracy and through the bulwarks of opposition thrown up by the Government. It is for this kind of reason that the process of petitioning has found its way into our parliamentary system, yet the honourable member wants to denigrate the whole debate by talking about some party political issue.
This debate, when all is said and done, relates to a proposal from the Standing Orders Committee that a copy of every petition be lodged with the Clerk, received by the House and referred by the Clerk to the Minister responsible for administration of the matter which is the subject of the petition. For some unknown reason honourable members opposite are opposed to the idea which has been put forward by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) to the effect that the Minister shall within 21 sitting days of the presentation of a petition, or the first of a series of petitions, notify the House of the action that has been taken with respect to the petition. The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury) has quibbled in a pedantic way. Is he opposed to 21 days? Is that period too short? Does he want 31 days? He did not make clear what he wanted. Does he have a deep-seated conviction that the Minister should not take the trouble to look at a petition signed by thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of constituents?
Why is the honourable member so concerned to prevent the Minister doing something about a petition? After all, petitions are the protests of the people and we are in the business of accountability. That is what we are here for, not to ignore the attitudes of the people. We are here to listen to the voice of the people and I think it is proper to send a petition on to the responsible Minister. I can understand the honourable member for Ryan saying that 21 days might not be long enough to get a decent and properly considered reply so perhaps it should be 31 days, but he just airily dismissed it out of hand, compounding the contemptuous attitude expressed by other honourable members who do not want petitions to be presented in this place at all. What a lovely Parliament it would be, such a convenient, comfortable, happy and cosy place for us to all operate in if we were not worried by the complaints of the people. I do not take that point of view at all.
Let us contrast the attitude in this House with what is happening in another place. I admit that I have been responsible for the organisation of petitions and the presentation of them in this Parliament. I have from time to time encouraged my colleagues to present petitions, mainly because there has not been any proper response from the Government or from the responsible Ministers who ought to have some sensitivity about the issues concerned. After alt, the gate that squeaks the most gets the most oil. We on this side are not going to give up because we have asked once and been ignored. We are going to present petitions time after time. I remember organising some dozens of my colleagues and requesting some honourable members from the other side of the House to present petitions on education but the subject matter was ignored until finally I said to my friend and colleague Senator Murphy in another place ‘Would you like to present one of these in the Senate?’, and surely enough he did. After he presented the petition, which called for an inquiry into all kinds of important educational matters on which we had been pressing the Government for answers, he moved that the petition be referred to a standing com- mittee of the Senate. That is another part of our parliamentary institution which is starting to get results on these matters.
– Was it referred to a committee?
– It certainly was referred to a Standing Committee of the Senate and it was given very serious, effective and satisfying consideration. Many thousands of constituents have been rea.sonably placated as a result of that sensible attitude which was adopted. I take great pride in the fact that I am a member of this Parliament - the people’s parliament. I do not want to see this Parliament drop behind in lis status or standing, its efficiency or its responsiveness to constituents. The Senate is doing a good thing by referring so many of these petitions, not just the one to which I referred but so many others, to its standing committees. Obviously, unless our status is going to drop, unless our effectiveness and efficiency is to decline, we have to find an effective repository for petitions, rather than the dark, dismal and despondent dungeons of this Parliament. This is why my friend the honourable member for Corio has proposed the course of action which is the subject of the amendment now under debate. Does anybody really feel that when the late Dr Evatt, for example, brought in that enormous pile of petitions that stood as high as the books which are on the table, no-one would give consideration to the subject matter in the petitions? Of course, that would be a ridiculous point of view and 1 have too much regard for the common sense of honourable members even to consider that it was possible for honourable members to hold an attitude of that kind.
There are some humble fishermen in my electorate who recently resorted to this ancient process of petitioning the Parliament. Why did they do this? They had written to me about pollution of the south coast. They complained about the fact that the Coalcliff colliery was pouring thousands of gallons of coal wash into the sea, spoiling about 30 miles of the coast. They wrote letters to me and 1 passed them on to the responsible Minister. Then I sent a number of telegrams to the Minister. Then I raised the matter in this House, but still there was no response. The fishermen, on their own initiative, inquired as to what they could do and discovered this ancient process of petitioning. They discovered the formal wording and subsequently they forwarded a petition, not in the hope that it would find the same unhappy end that my letters, telegrams and speech in the Parliament had found, but hoping that their protest might be treated with some dignity. Now it is proposed in this House thai a certain course of action should be pursued to enable that to be done. The honourable member for Ryan, I think, said that in 1947 hundreds of petitions were presented.
– The honourable member for North Sydney.
– The honourable member for North Sydney, was it? I did not think it was possible for anyone to make so many mistakes in one short speech. Obviously I was hoping that someone else had made that mistake because the honourable member is a friend of mine. I do not want to do him a disservice. I checked the records and 1 found that only 93 petitions were presented in 1947.
– In the whole term?
– In the whole parliamentary year.
– You are confusing the number of petitions with the number of petitioners.
– Who is making this speech? That is a bit different from (he 723 petitions presented in 1971. What was the reason for this? It would seem to me that in 1947 there might have been some response to petitions and that there might not have been any need for this endless repetition in the presentations of petitions which has been the subject of complaint by honourable members opposite.
Let us take into account that the Ministry, expanded as it is, has recently been supplemented by 6 Assistant Ministers. None of us on this side of the chamber has been able to identify any bona fide thing which those Assistant Ministers have to do or which we would regard as being acceptable for them to do. For example, if my constituents asked me to make representations to the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), who is presently sitting at the table, and if be were to call on someone else to reply to those representations, 1 would regard it as an insult and a downgrading of the matter which I had raised on behalf of my constituents. We have not found anything which we have been prepared to concede is the bona fide and legitimate prerogative of Assistant Ministers. But in all fairness, let me say that I would be prepared to consider the idea that, if a Minister was too busy or if he was incompetent, he ought to be able to utilise the services of an Assistant Minister to study the subject matter of petitions. We would be gratified even to have that procedure, rather than to see petitions go into a state of political limbo. We would much prefer to have a reply under the name, of an Assistant Minister than to have no reply at all.
I think that a very sensible proposal has been advanced. If the period of 21 days suggested in the amendment is not long enough, I think that the honourable member for Corio would be quite, accommodating. Let us treat the electorate with some respect. Let us indicate to the electors that the matter that has agitated them to the, point of walking the streets and knocking on doors in order to enlist the aid of sympathetic people about their cause is considered to be of such a nature in this Parliament that the petitions which they tender will receive consideration by somebody with some authority in the Parliament.
– I want to refer very briefly to the amendment which has been moved because I submitted this report to the House on behalf of the Standing Orders Committee. It is a fact that a number of items which were considered by the Committee were altered or amended and have been submitted in the final form which appears in the report. But there was quite a considerable amount of give and take in relation to matters which were put before the Committee. As the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury) mentioned a short lime ago in relation to the question of the suspension of Standing Orders, I myself believe that perhaps the time allowed for each speaker should have been reduced and that there should have been fewer speakers. But the Committee came down with a majority decision on that matter, so 1 fully support the Committee’s recommendation.
The question of petitions was discussed at very great length by the Standing Orders Committee. As I have said, there was a lot of give and take in relation to the various matters considered by the Committee. Before the discussion on this question was concluded, the point was raised as to whether petitions could be referred to a Minister. This proposition has never been part of the Standing Orders of this House. But the proposition was brought forward and the Committee believed that it would be a distinct advance on the previous procedure, and I think that the House, including the honourable member for Corio, will agree that it is a distinct advance on the procedures contained in the present Standing Orders. I support the recommendation that has been made by the Committee in this regard.
After a matter has been considered by the Standing Orders Committee, which comprises members from both sides of the House, the Committee submits a report for consideration by the House, and each individual member has an opportunity to study the proposals and to make up his own mind as to whether he will support them. I think that when a matter has been considered like this, if there is to be any further change made to the Standing Orders, the suggested change should be considered by the Standing Orders Committee in the normal way. If the matter is of a major nature, as is the proposal submitted by the honourable member for Corio, I think that the Standing Orders Committee should consider the matter carefully before it is presented to this House.
I cannot accept the amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Corio. I support entirely the proposals put forward by the Standing Orders Committee. I do that on the basis that I have certain convictions about a number of other matters, but I have had to give way on those matters and I support the Committee’s recommendations to this House. I made certain suggestions to the Standing Orders Committee but they were not accepted. Consequently, as I have submitted the Committee’s report to the House, I support the report because it has been submitted by the Committee as a whole. We are considering a suggestion about which no prior warning was given to the House. I think that the suggestion should be considered first by the Standing Orders Committee, which is the normal procedure, and I could recommend that this should be done in this case.
– While I am sympathetic to the point of view expressed by the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) about this matter, the facts are that we do not consider the Standing Orders often enough for anybody to regard what the Minister has suggested as a valid procedure. How long has it been since my friend the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) raised this question about petitions? The report of the Standing Orders Committee has been listed on the notice paper for debate for weeks and weeks. If we are going to proceed as the Minister has suggested, we should have some procedure whereby at the beginning of each session there is a meeting of the Standing Orders Committee which considers suggestions placed before it and then within a certain time, at a specified date, the Committee’s recommendations come up for discussion. Until we get around to organising this House in that way we will continue with the haphazard procedure which we will have to face this afternoon. In a few minutes, when this debate is concluded, there will be an extraordinary tangle when we try to vote on the various proposals which have been raised.
The honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) and the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) said that petitions are a waste of time. They said: ‘What is the good of them? Nothing happens about them. Therefore, cut them out’. My friend sitting near me said to me: ‘Every day we pray at the beginning of the sitting’. Nothing ever happens from that, either. Part of that prayer states: ‘. . . direct and prosper our deliberations to the advancement of thy glory and the true welfare of the people of Australia’. When has that happened in the last 23 years? It also states: ‘lead us not into temptation’. How long is it since we avoided that? In fact, if we look at the procedures we find that we do not get an immediate response to matters raised because the place does not work that way. That is not how politics are carried on. We are in the position of practising politics by persuasion.
I believe that the petition is a substantial part of public campaigning about issues. When one asks a question in this chamber and a Minister answers in some sort of fashion, one does not expect to receive an immediate result. But one gets the message across, lt is heard. But are we going to cross out any question which does not get an immediate and effective response from a Minister? There are questions on the notice paper, and some of them have been there for months. But because we do not get an immediate answer k does not mean that we should not place questions on the notice paper. This is not the measure which we apply to any other procedure in this House. Day after day, week after week, there are discussions and speeches about things which produce no immediate response. Therefore, I do not think that that is a valid criticism.
The honourable member for North Sydney - and I want to add to what was said by my friend the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) - mentioned that hundreds of petitions were presented in 1947. He only had to look at the appendix which is attached to the Standing Orders Committee’s report to see that 93 petitions were presented in 1947.
– On behalf of how many petitioners, though? I am talking about petitioners, not petitions.
– The appendix shows that 93 petitions were presented. Many were presented on one day; on some days none were presented. On the average, a fraction more than one petition a day was presented in 1947, because in 1947 the Parliament met on 92 days. I think that we have to consider this question of petitions and whether they are a waste of time. They are a waste of time if, as nappened in this House recently, 31 members stood up and merely presented petitions. But I do not believe that they are a waste of time if honourable members reid out fully the text of each petition. I believe that when a member presents a petition the text of the petition ought to be read out. I am not happy with the wording on page 6 of the Standing Orders Committee’s report which states:
The Clerk shall make an announcement as to the petitions lodged with him for presentation to the House, indicating in the case of each petition (he member who lodged it, the identity of the petitioners and the subject-matter of the petition. The terms of the petitions presented shall be printed in Hansard and no discussion upon the subject-matter of a petition shall be allowed. 1 wish to add to that - perhaps these words are not precise enough unless one understands what it is all about - the following words:
He shall read the text of each separate petition subject to the House.
If there are 2 different petitions among 30 petitions which are presented, the Clerk shall read the full text of each petition and then announce to the House that petitions have been presented by the honourable members for so and so, so and so and so and so. On the average there would be no more than 2 or 3 actual readings. This would occupy only a few minutes. The honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) took the time required to deal with about 1 0 petitions to say very little in my view. I will move that these words be added. I believe that if a petition is presented its actual text should be read out. This would not make a substantial difference to the procedures. If the text of a petition had to be read it would probably involve only an additional 200 words which, in normal speech, would take perhaps li minutes. I believe this is important.
– Order! 1 point out to the honourable member for Wills that the House already has an amendment before it.
– 1 have not moved my amendment yet. I have simply foreshadowed it.
-The honourable member for Wills handed his amendment to the Clerk and I thought that he was moving it formally.
– I handed it to the Clerk so that he might be able to decipher the rather eccentric writing which I call handwriting. We are discussing a series of procedures on which we must arrive at some conclusion. The honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) has moved that petitions should be dealt with in a specific way. He proposes that a petition shall go to a Minister, who shall report back to the House. The argument from members opposite is: ‘What is the use? If it is on policy we are told it is a policy matter and it is out’. But is there not some point in giving an explanation of policy to the people who prepared a petition? What is so difficult about that? I believe there is no difficulty at all. My friend, the honourable member for North Sydney, said that a Minister might have to make such a report dozens of times but the honourable member for Corio, in his amendment, has proposed that a Minister shall, within 21 sitting days of the presentation of a petition, or the presentation of the first petition of a series of petitions, notify the House of what action has been taken in respect of the petition. The criticism that this would be an operation for multitudinous petitions is out. It is only a request that it be done for the first petition of a series of petitions.
I believe that when petitions are presented the separate text of each petition should be read and should appear in the records. The texts should be read aloud. My friend the honourable member for North Sydney and my knightly, portly friend from Mallee said that this was of no use. In my time as a member parliamentary action has been taken in respect of 2 petitions - those which concerned the grievances of the people of Yirrkala and the conservation of Australian wildlife. I took part in the campaign for a referendum affecting Aboriginal people. Petitions were lodged in this House on about 100 occasions. Every time such a petition was presented it was part of the campaign. It may be said that this was taking up the time of the Parliament. So it was. The object was to convert members into an attitude of mind whereby we got some action. In fact the first petition was presented in May 1957. This led to the referendum being held is May 1967. There has not been sufficient action yet. However there is evidence over the last 10 to 15 years that a petition as an expression of public opinion is an effective use of the parliamentary forum. I agree, with the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) that it is such a valuable part of the parliamentary tradition that we should not reduce its actual effectiveness in the House but should take steps to see that the procedure is economical of time.
I have no sympathy with the argument about saving time. The House has met for only 165 days since the last election. This is not to suggest that honourable members are not working hard. We work extraordinarily long hours. Members are busy in their electorates. But the fact is that this House has sat for only 165 of the last 900 days. I do not believe that this is a proper way in which to conduct the business of the country. The argument about things taking up time in here is absolute nonsense. Tn 1947 when this Parliament did not deal with Aborigines in the way it does now, or with education in the way it does now, and when its involvement in so many areas of foreign policy was less acute and many other areas of public policy were not before it, the House met on 92 days.
– There was a Labor government then.
– Yes, and it had some respect for the parliamentary institution and the national forum. If we are not prepared to meet more often the Parliament will get into disrepute. I hope that honourable members will thoroughly examine this question of petitions and that when the questions are put we ate able to find sufficient clarity in the procedures so that each honourable member knows what he is about.
– A free vote is to be held on this subject and in view of the fact that hon ourable members have been extended what might be described as this privilege I believe that we have the right to speak our minds. That certainly is my intention. It has been suggested that members of this Parliament use petitions for political reasons^ - that they present them without any basis at all and just use them for political purposes. Back bench members of the House never really know whether they are on the right track. We work under a system of Cabinet government and only members of the Cabinet or of the Ministry have access to government files. For all the information they get, back bench members from both sides of the House might be likened to a flock of pigeons in Hyde Park being fed crumbs during the lunch hour. Members have available to them the processes of question time, questions on notice and letters to Ministers. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) in referring to the petitions presented to the House said that members never received any advice from the Minister concerned with the subject matter of those petitions. I wonder whether he has ever written to those Ministers. During the last 6 years there has never been an occasion when a Minister has not acknowledged, in some way or another, a letter which I have written to him.
I believe that many a just cause has been raised in this Parliament by means of petitions. The House of Representatives Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation, which was established during the term of the previous Prime Minister, was the outcome of a campaign spearheaded by the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) when petitions about the conservation of kangaroos were presented to the House. Almost every honourable member was sick and tired of hearing about kangaroos, but that campaign got results. It was all very well for the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) to recall the big petitions which were presented in 1947 to the then Labor government on the matter of bank nationalisation. The Labor government ignored those petitions and 2 years later it lost office. The Labor Party has been out of office ever since and I do not see it being returned to power for many years yet.
The people of Australia are entitled to this form of protest. I am not saying for- one moment that what is being suggested today will deprive the public of a form of protest. However, just because a Labor government was wrong in the 1940s it does not give us an excuse to project such thinking into the 21st century. The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury) presented some interesting figures. He said that in 1969, 90 petitions had been presented; in 1970, 494 and 1971, 723. I ask all honourable members to keep in mind the last 2 figures - 494 and 723. Yet between 1970 and 1971 when the number of petitions was almost doubled, the time taken to present them increased from 8 hours 39 minutes to 8 hours 31 minutes - only 12 minutes more. I do not regard giving the public 8i hours or so in a full year as allowing it an excessive amount of the time of the Parliament. This Parliament exists because of John Citizen - because of the people whose right we question to sign a petition and to protest. Without those people there would be no Parliament. I repeat that, as far as I am concerned, even if we spend a little time each day on petitions, this is something to which the public is entitled and, in fact, is a fundamental right of the citizen.
We seem to forget that many of the petitions that have been presented in this House have taken hours and hours of the time of people who collect signatures, whether they be misled or whether they be on the right track. They have been prepared to give up that time to the process of collecting signatures to register the protests. We have now reached a stage where members of Parliament are to surrender to the Clerk of the House the right to present a petition. This change makes every member of Parliament, including the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, message boys of the Clerk of the House.
– Break it up.
– The people have a right to be heard. The honourable member for North Sydney says ‘break it up’, but he knows that the people have a right to be heard. When you stifle democracy you are in fact contributing to its very destruction. Australia, as a nation, has a history of people accepting the rule of law, except, as we know, unfortunately - and I do not wish to be political - for certain members of the Opposition who seem to specialise in the breaking of laws. We have a history of acceptance of the law, and I believe that that acceptance has been contributed to in some way by the systems of democracy which have existed in the past. If members of the Parliament have grown tired of bearing petitions, perhaps they should give extra thought to whether they are still suitable as members of Parliament, for the moment we stop listening to the cries and pleas of the people, I believe that we ourselves become somewhat ineffective. There is no denying that at times the time of this House has been wasted by schemes that have been dreamed up by certain members who wished to push a particular cause. But because some people have abused the system, is the entire system wrong? 1 for one do not believe so.
Perhaps there should be changes. These are the changes I would like to suggest. There should be a system of presenting petitions in which a petition that is presented, say, 20 or 30 times on one day, is read on only one occasion. Honourable members understand that the system is that the member has a choice of saying whether the petition be received or whether the petition be received and read. If a petition has been presented previously, most members of the Parliament have the common sense, or use their discretion, to accept that the petition should only be received, but there are some members who, for various reasons, insist not only on reading the abbreviated form of the petition, but also that the Clerk of the House be forced to stand up and read the full terms of the petition. If we do wish to make changes that are time-saving, this is the area where those changes should be made. It is in this area where the greatest waste of time happens on each occasion.
There is another suggestion I would like to make. It has been suggested that some members of the Parliament present petitions with only 4 or 5 signatures. When we have an issue that has created or generated a certain amount of public interest, we should require a minimum number of signatures for the petition to be presented - or combine petitions for the purpose. This in itself would also contribute to time saving. On the other hand, I am not suggesting that if a member walks into this House and says that his electors in Cooktown or some other part of Australia wish to put forward something, because there are only 10 signatures that person or those people should not have an opportunity to have their protest heard. This, we have been told, is a matter for open discussion. I am surprised when 1 look at the membership of the Standing Orders Committee - the Leader of the Opposition, the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Duthie) and the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). Looking at them quickly, I think that the Opposition almost has a majority of numbers. Why did this democratic body not think of some of these objections itself? 1 would like to hear an explanation of how some of these basic principles of democracy have been allowed to slip by and to be omitted from this report when we have such champions of democracy as the honourable member for Wills, as he tries to present himself from time to time. This is to be a free vote and I have no intention of supporting the suggested amendment on the question of petitions because I believe it is not in the best interests of the Parliament or the people of Australia. If members have grown tired of listening to the pleas of the people of Australia, they have one alternative and wc all know what that is.
-] want to say only a few words about the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). With other members of the Parliament I welcome changes that have already been proposed in the Standing Orders relating to the presenting of petitions because I believe it is an overdue reform, and I can see no reason why, having gone so far, those who drew up the Standing Orders should not accept the very commendable amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio. With other members of the Parliament 1 have been concerned at the growth of petitions presented. T wish to make particular reference to certain insinuations that were made, in the best of spirits no doubt, by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) and the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) in regard to 1947, the time of the Labor Government.
The history of petitions is very interesting in that when the Liberal Party is in government its supporters generally do not present them. I say that for the simple reason that between 19 J 1 and 1940, according to the document we have here - a period of 30 years - 94 petitions were presented, or an average of 3 per annum under Tory governments, with the exception probably of a couple of years in that time. Then we find that between 1951 and 1969, a period of 19 years, 642 petitions were presented, or 48 per annum. In 1970 and 1971, 1,217 petitions were presented, an average of 608 per annum, which shows the growth of petitions. I am particularly interested in 1947. Everybody knows that in 1947 highly paid executives of the private banks and the Liberal Party went the length and breadth of Australia and were paid per signature to collect signatures against the bank nationalisation proposals.
The honourable member for Mallee said that people will sign anything, and that is why be does not present petitions. But even he was roused from his reverie by the agents of the private banks at that time. I am advised today that the honourable member for Mallee presented one petition to Parliament from the electors of his constituency of Wimmera, as it then was, on 3rd October 1947, and the subject of the petition was the bank nationalisation that had been proposed. In other words, the roaring lion in opposition is very tame on the government benches. Although the honourable member said that anybody will sign a petition, he was prepared to present one at that time, not knowing who signed it, in an endeavour to wreck the Labor Government.
As I understand it, the presentation of petitions is one of the longest and best established practices in a democracy. As the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) mentioned earlier, if you go back as far as democratic history goes, you will find that this has been the right of the electors. Consequently, today when we are reforming the Standing Orders, is it not only reasonable and fair that some action be taken once petitions are presented to Parliament? Even though the honourable member for Mallee might think anybody will sign a petition, they will not.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Prior to the suspension of the sitting I was dealing with the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio to the recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee dealing with petitions. As many of the many thousands of persons who were listening to me before the suspension of the sitting might not have heard the actual text of the amendment, J will read it. The honourable member’s amendment states:
That the following words be added to the question: “subject to proposed standing order No. 132 being amended by adding the words
The Minister shall, within twenty-one sitting days of the presentation of a petition or the presentation of the first petition of a series of petitions, notify the House what acion has been taken with respect to the petition’.”.
I repeat that I cannot see that the adoption of this amendment would do anything but improve the very desirable amendments with respect to petitions which are to be incorporated in the Standing Orders.
Petitions are most effective in many respects. People go to great trouble to present them - that is, people apart from those who are paid to do so sometimes such as when the Liberals paid certain people to sign petitions in relation to the 1947 banking legislation. But normally petitions are presented on a wide variety of matters. Perhaps I might make passing reference to the subjects on which petitions have been presented in order to show the power of the petition. I instance the legislation that will shortly be debated in this Parliament regarding the portability of pensions. Dr Constanzo of ‘La Fiamma’, the Italian newspaper, collected 75,000 names on a petition. He did not present the petition to the Parliament. He presented it to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) and the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay). It nearly frightened the life out of them and they brought in the legislation almost overnight. That example shows the power of petitioning. So it is with respect to Parliament. Although petitions presented to Parliament may sometimes be taken not so much flippantly but as something to be discarded they can be very effective.
I notice for instance, that petitions cover a wide variety of things. In the autumn sittings petitions were presented dealing mainly with kangaroos, education, pensions, censorship, aid to India, contraceptives and Lake Pedder. It is interesting to see that contraceptives head Lake Pedder off by 7 petitions. But the fact of the matter is that a wide variety of subjects are covered by petitions. What is wrong with knowing what happens to petitions once they are presented? Surely one of the Assistant Ministers could tell us where the petitions end up. Surely someone on the Government side could say what happens to them. If we do not receive a report on what has happened to the petitions the amendment to the Standing Orders would be only a new process implementing the old methods. The purpose of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio is to show the importance of petitions.
In a debate on the Standing Orders Committee’s report it is worth studying the details associated with petitions down through the years. Petitions have been important from Federation. For instance, in 1901 alone, 224 petitions were presented. So the power of the petition was recognised as long ago as that. The power of the petition is recognised in the House of Commons and in all democratic parliaments. Therefore, it is most desirable that we should do everything we can to improve the handling of petitions.
I hope that the House will see fit to support the amendment. Might I ask Government supporters to vote on the amendment in a non-party way. I echo today my regret, more in sorrow than in anger, that non-party votes in this Parliament inevitably find every Liberal voting on the party line. They do so practically without exception. It will be an historic day - even on a vote concerning Standing Orders - when one Liberal sees fit to support commendable amendments in respect of things that are important to all democracies, particularly to this Parliament. Why should the honourable member for North Sydney for instance not vote for the amendment? Tonight he gave forth in respect of petitions presented in relation to the 1947 banking legislation. He forgot to mention that 93 petitions were presented at that time, and the Labor Government duly considered them, and gave all the consideration necessary to them. But in accordance with our policy naturally we proceeded with the legislation, but tonight I ask Government supporters to see whether they cannot vote with the Opposition on some of the proposals in these amendments.
It is a waste of time having non-party votes if supporters of the Liberal Party, despite their independence that we are told about are to be regimented, even on simple things like the Standing Orders of the Parliament. Here is a chance in an election year for the honourable member for North Sydney to be a real statesman, to vote without fear of expulsion and to cross the floor and vote on the important things and the really emotional issues of the Standing Orders. What an effect that would have in his electorate if he could see fit to act in this way! He will be welcome on this side of the Parliament for the simple reason that no other supporter of the Government has seen fit to support us in these proposals.
I finish on that note, expressing in a non-party way my request for support for the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio, and so ably supported by members on this side of the Parliament. Might our new silent knight from Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) see fit on one occasion to cast a very intelligent vote for something put up by the Labor Party.
– It is quite interesting to listen to the debate on the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee and particularly to the contribution by the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly). Firstly let me say that the Standing Orders Committee which made these recommendations is an all-party committee. I understand that the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) is a member of the Committee and could have voiced his opinion in that all-party committee. He may have done, so - I do not know. It seems to me that for a member of that Committee to come here and move amendments after the allparty committee has agreed to the recommendations is an attempt to engage in party politics.
I believe that petitioners should have the right to present petitions to Parliament. But there has been a series of incidents throughout my political career that stresses the ineffectiveness of the results of petitions. I think that the Standing Orders
Committee has produced a recommendation to make petitions more effective in that they will go to the Minister concerned who would have an obligation to deal with them. I refer to the effectiveness of petitions in one way other than by receiving a direct answer. I go back to the time of the 1947 bank nationalisation proposals. The honourable member for Grayndler said that only 90-odd petitions were presented on that occasion. But most of the protests at that time did not come in the form of a petition. I had almost 1,000 protests in one day in the form of letters and telegrams. Not one protest was made by way of a petition. Every day was the same. We had hundreds of such protests coming in. People were protesting against nationalisation and the financial policies of the Australian Labor Party. Because the protests were not in petition form members of the Australian Country Party went as a block with an armful of these protests and presented them to the then Prime Minister, Mr Chifley. They put the protests on his table. We saw that he got them.
– What did he do with them?
– I do not know what he did with them - I think he ignored them. But the people did not ignore him when it came to the 1949 elections. As the honourable member for Grayndler knows, this was one of the chief instruments that put the Labor Party out of office and the people have not trusted that Party since. The people want to handle their own money; they do not want a government handling it. This was the result of the 1947 Banking Act introduced by the then government. I am prepared to show honourable members a photo of one day’s mail I received when the Labor Party tried to nationalise banking.
– What does that prove about the present case?
– It proves that the then Labor Government ignored the petitions that were presented to the House and went on in its folly to its doom. Let us take the example of recent petitions. I think that the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee would be more effective without any other action such as is envisaged in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio. What can one do with petitions?
The Parliament receives petitions galore. Hundreds of them concern the closing of Post Offices, but usually they do not mention any particular Post Office. Some mention Post Offices which it is ridiculous to include. There would be no thought in the mind of any government to close some of them. The size of the towns involved would ensure that they were retained. So we receive these general petitions. If a reply is wanted within 21 days the Minister could say: ‘I , acknowledge having received the petition’. In the case of the banking nationalisation petitions it would have been physically impossible for any Minister to have answered all those that were presented. There were literally hundreds of thousands of them which would have made it impossible for Ministers to answer them all personally.
The effective way of dealing with them is for the Clerk to present them to the Minister concerned who, no matter who he is, would not choose to ignore them. He would feel enough responsibility to take note of what is presented and the causes for it. We have the folly of members of this House signing petitions calling for elections. One does not need the Clerk to present such petitions to the Leader of the Government. The Prime Minister would say: ‘No, we will have an election in our own time’, or ‘We will have one according to the Constitution, within the time specified for an election’. That is obviously the answer that would be given. AH I can say is that the joint parliamentary Committee has come up with a sensible recommendation which obviates a needless waste of time and ensures that the petitions that are presented receive the consideration of the Minister concerned. I support the recommendation of the Committee and certainly oppose the amendment of the honourable member for Corio.
Let me make one further point. In many petitions the matters raised are ones of policy in respect of which the Minister, for the Government, would say: “This is a matter of policy which will be announced by the appropriate Minister at the appropriate time or when Cabinet makes a decision thereon’. Necessarily, all these things cannot be done within a period of 21 days. So the sensible thing to do is to put the responsibility on the Minister by letting him have these petitions, just as we let the late Mr Chifley have those hundreds of thousands of bank nationalisation petitions and protests that were sent to us at the time. A Minister would not dare to refuse to acknowledge petitions that protested against something within the jurisdiction of his Department. He would necessarily make a statement appropriate to the occasion.
– I believe that the most important things we have to consider are not those that happened 25 or 26 years ago but the usual trends in politics today. We see many petitions drawn up by very sincere and well meaning people and they are presented to this House for consideration. I intend to support the amendment because I believe that it is in line with the situation which occurs when members in the House ask the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) to give consideration to relieving sales tax and income tax. The stock reply of the Treasurer then, as we all know, is that it will be given consideration in the next Budget. I do not see anything wrong with a Minister whose responsibilities are affected by one of these petitions giving a similar reply to those people who signed a petition to show at least that their ideas contained in the petition are acknowledged and will be given further consideration. You, Mr Speaker, presented the largest petition I have ever seen in this House. As a matter of fact about all one could see of you was your curly head over the top of it. It was about 4 feet wide and 7 or 8 feet long and was presented on behalf of the Teachers Federation of New South Wales, lt, of course, was putting a case for that organisation. As everyone knows, no politics are played in presenting petitions because honourable members from both sides of the House have from time to time presented similar petitions on behalf of organisations wanting to put their case before the House. So, just as happens when a Minister is asked to take into consideration matters such as the reduction of or exemption from taxation, both income tax and sales tax, and the Minister replies that it will be considered in the Budget, there would be nothing wrong with the Minister, within 21 days of the petition being presented in the House, giving a similar reply to any petition which concerned his department.
Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I seek leave to reply in view of the nature of the debate.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted.
– The general terms of the debate have roamed over a fairly large area but I want to deal only with the specific matters contained in the amendment. The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) mentioned something which happened in 1947 but which is not applicable to the amendment because the amendment seeks to refer a petition to the Minister anyhow. Therefore, I think that the situation he mentioned was somewhat irrelevant. It may be politically relevant but it is not relevant to the amendment because the only difference that this amendment would make to the proposal of the Standing Orders Committee would be to require the Minister to make some form of report on the petition to the Parliament. The honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) suggested that honourable members could make representations on the matters contained in the petitions. I am not sure that honourable members would always wish to make representations on the subject matters of petitions they present to Parliament. Some of the subject matters are not necessarily matters which the member would support - policy matters, for instance - but I do think that honourable members have a duty when petitions are given to them to present them to the Parliament on behalf of their constituents.
– We still have an obligation to put our electors’ case.
– That is fair enough, but on matters of straight policy - for instance, an issue of conscience such as abortion - I very much doubt that members would make representations to a Minister, for example, seeking abortion law reform. However, they may present a petition on that because to do so is a different proposition. The period of 21 days means 21 sitting days which would be approximately 10 weeks at the shortest and, in most parliamentary periods, most likely nearly 6 months. So it is not a terribly short lime. I do not think anyone would suggest or expect a Minister to come out and give a detailed answer to matters raised in a petition. But what I do think would be of service to the Parliament would be for a
Minister to indicate that a petition had been examined or that the matters contained in the petition were under active consideration or were contrary to government policy. That would have happened to the banking nationalisation petitions had this procedure applied at that time. The Minister would have replied then that the measures sought in the petition were not Government policy and that Government policy had been announced. No-one would object to that type of answer being given.
The Leader of the House (Mr Swartz) and the right honourable member for Fisher (Sir Charles Adermann) both mentioned the fact that I am a member of the Standing Orders Committee. That is correct but I do not consider that this is a substantive amendment to the proposal put forward by the Committee. It hardly alters the proposal at all. It suggests that the Minister should report back to the Parliament. The Committee has already decided that the petition should be referred to the Minister and it seems to follow naturally that the Minister should report back to the Parliament in some form. I do not expect the Minister to stand up in the Parliament and make a report on every petition. The amendment, which some honourable members who have spoken have not studied, provides that when a series of petitions on the same subject are presented only the first will be referred to a Minister for an answer. So the argument that hundreds and hundreds of petitions will be sent to Ministers in not valid.
I ask honourable members seriously to consider the amendment. Its acceptance is not a drastic step. I think that the Minister for National Development, who is sitting at the table, will most likely be able to deal with any petitions that are brought to his Department very easily within the 21 days. I am quite sure that it would be easier to handle petitions within 21 days than it is to handle questions within minutes. I ask the House to support the amendment because I believe it would give to the Parliament a position of substance relating to petitions which does not exist at the moment. We are changing the procedures now, and I think it would be in the best interests of the Parliament if we adopted the amendment as well as the proposal so that not only will petitions be referred to
Ministers but there will be some requirement that Ministers look at them because they will have to make a report to the Parliament.
That the words proposed to be added (Mr Scholes’s amendment) be added.
The House divided. (Mr Speaker - Hon. Sir William Aston)
Majority . . . . 5
Question resolved in the negative.
– I move:
I point out that at the present time in Australia up to 100,000 people in a single year sign petitions and they do so mostly in the hope and expectation that the national Parliament will take some action on those petitions. They do this because they feel that the Parliament is the repository of their rights as citizens. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb), the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) and the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) have pointed out that history has been studded with efforts to make sure that the people had the right to petition their parliaments. What happens to the petitions at the moment is that, far from receiving the serious consideration of the Parliament and action by the Parliament, they are received, on some occasions they are read and then they are consigned unanimously to limbo. In this instance limbo does not comprise the pigeon holes, because we have a great many petitions and the pigeon holes are not quite adequate; the petitions just rest in dungeons to gather dust and cobwebs and to receive the consideration of the spiders, if any. This is not good enough. The people expect some action on their petitions. lt has been suggested b> members of the Government parties that the people are wasting the Parliament’s time and their own by petitioning the Parliament. The phrase ‘waste of time’ has been used by several members on the Government side.
I feel that this is a tragic attitude to petitions. To present a petition is the only way in which a citizen can present his views directly to the Parliament - not to the Parly, not even to the member. It is just possible that there are citizens in the community who have no confidence in their members. It is just possible, too, that there are people in the community who are not attached to any of the parties, lt is just possible that they take seriously the fact that the Parliament is the repository, or is supposed to be the repository, of the people’s rights and so they go past the member, they go past the Party and they go direct to the democratically elected Parliament of the nation sitting as a Parliament - to what has been called the grand constituency of all the people. They do that, and what do they find? They find that the petition is received, read and sent to limbo. There is no investigation; there is no action; no real notice is taken of the petition.
It has been indicated that it would be beyond the bounds of possibility and the time of Ministers - and presumably of the small horde of Assistant Ministers - to give some time and consideration to petitions and to what they contain. I reject this suggestion and I hope that the Parliament will reject the concept that petitions are a waste of time and that people should be denied the right to present them or be discouraged from petitioning the Parliament direct. The honourable member for Stirling in his address to the House earlier pointed out that the New Zealand Parliament had taken steps to ensure that the people had direct access to their Parliament and that the Parliament took action on their petitions. I will not go over the ground covered by my distinguished colleague from Stirling because he gave the House an outline of exactly the procedures that aTe adopted in the New Zealand Parliament - exhaustive procedures which have been accepted by both the Labour Party and the conservative Party in that Parliament. It has been possible for New Zealand to follow this system successfully.
The petitioner even has the right to present his case in person. It is not just a matter of investigation; he has the right to present his case in person to the appropriate committee. We suggested that for the first time here. The sugges-ion was advanced by the honourable member for Stirling and it was ridiculed. Imagine an ordinary individual having the right to petition the high and august members of Parliament assembled in a committee! It was heresy to have that echoed here. But New Zealand seems to be able to manage it particularly well. I am not advancing tonight the full procedures that are followed in the New Zealand Parliament - far from it. What I have suggested is a streamlined version of their intent and their actual practice. The streamlined version is a very simple procedure inasmuch as it involved the establishment of a petitions committee by the Parliament and of the Parliament. The petitioners come to the Parliament. What the Government is saying is that the people can always petition the Parliament, but the petition will go to the Ministers. Most of the petitioners have from time to time unsuccessfully approached their members on the subjects covered by the petition. They have unsuccessfully approached the Ministry. Their next step is to petition the Parliament assembled.
– Through an honourable member.
– Through an honourable member; that is quite so. But if you are going to suggest that the only recourse that a citizen of our country has in an appeal from Caesar’s decision is to go back to Caesar but only through the avenue of the Parliament, that makes a farce of the petition. In fact I would go so far as to say that at the present time petitions to the Australian Parliament are nothing more than a confidence trick. What the Government is saying to the people is: ‘Petition the Parliament. We will receive it and read it but we will take no action.’ There is implied in the right of petition the right to have action taken. The Government is continuing a ritualistic farce. That is all it is. I agree with my distinguished colleagues on both sides of the House who have said that there is still a residual power in the petition to influence, but it is a very indirect and very pallid power. The Opposition wants some reality about the rights of petitioners. Let us say to them: ‘You may petition the Parliament and if the Parliament receives the petition the Parliament can (ben refer it to an appropriate body under the control of the Parliament. Also the Parliament will be the final arbiter of whether further action should be taken or not.’ I suggest that it is just not good enough to have Caesar enshrined in full authority and for nothing else to be considered. That is what the Government is saying.
The major point that has been made in this debate is that the Standing Orders Committee of this House has made certain recommendations. It is those recommendations that we are debating tonight, lc has also been suggested by members of the Government parties that there is something entirely wrong about members of the Standing Orders Committee coming into the Parliament and moving amendments. The impression has been given by honourable members opposite that the Standing Orders Committee - and all-party committee - has been meeting without restraint or restriction in a non-party atmosphere. I am very sorry to say to the House that this is not true, m fact the Government members caucused on these matters and they came to the Standing Orders Committee as a group, as a government and representing 2 political parties. This to me is a matter for regret. The Standing Orders Committee should meet as representatives of the Parliament and not of parties. The debate should be undertaken by members of the Parliament and not by members of the parties. I do not stand here tonight and address the Parliament as a member of any particular party in this respect. A completely free vote has been permitted by the Opposition on all these matters. 1 am very sorry to see the mindless discipline which has been accepted by members on the Government side in this matter. It seems to be a complete source of regret After all, if the Parliament is an institution it should not be denigrated by this sort of party hackism
As a matter of fact, an honourable member has interjected to say that there may have been some measure of disagreement as well as agreement on the Government side on some of these matters. I am perfectly happy to accept that my brother legislators have minds of their own. They may disagree with me on all counts, but I would like them for once to disagree with me as members of Parliament and not simply as disciplined members of a party. Why not once be able to stand free as a member of the Parliament? We have been able to do this on many issues and I am very proud to be a member of an organisation which has recognised the right to conscience. If there is to be no acceptance of this proposal which I advance tonight, to make the petitioning of Parliament a reality in regard to action, what we are asked to do tonight by the Government is to accept the continuation of a ritualistic farce and I am very sorry to think that the Parliament of the nation is allowed to degenerate to just plain ritualism.
When we refer to the report of the Standing Orders Committee, we find that on page 18 there was advanced by members of the Committee something along the lines of the proposal that I have spelt out in a streamlined form to the House tonight. It was dealt with by the Committee, but unfortunately it was not considered on a non-party basis. It was subject to party discipline by the 2 Government parties.
– Someone said: ‘Shame*. I think that is right. 1 think that it is about time the Parliament and the members assembled had the opportunity to express their thoughts as free members of this Parliament without party and Government discipline.
I should like to wind up on this note: The important matter is that the people concerned with a petition have, in the normal course of events, presented their case to a member and to a Minister. Their case has not been heard and they are taking it to the supreme organ of democracy in cur country, which is the House of Representatives. What happens now is that the House of Representatives says: ‘You have been to see Caesar. We will take you back to see him again’. I am suggesting that the Parliament have under its control the action that should be taken on behalf of petitioners. I ask all members of the House to give serious consideration to this procedure just for once as members of the Parliament and, as far as honourable members opposite are concerned, not as disciplined members of the Government parties. I suggest to them also that they should recognise that humbug will be out and, if all they are trying to do is to preserve empty forms, they will be known and recognised for doing just this. So, I suggest that consideration be given to this proposal because, after all, we have accepted on all sides of the House the right to petition. Surely then, if we are to be genuine about this matter, action should flow from a petition lo a committee of the Parliament under the control of the Parliament and the report should come back to the Parliament.
– Before 1 call the next speaker, I think I should say to the House, as Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, that I know of no special meetings that were held by either side of the House to caucus in relation to this matter. The decisions that were made in that Committee were not unanimous; nor were they made on party lines. Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment. In these days, Parliament is subject to the constant criticism of an enlightened electorate. The people of Australia are not satisfied to accept the parliamentary institution as something that belongs to a bygone period. They want to think of a living parliament - a parliament with links and ties with the community. The people of this country quite frequently criticise the Parliament. They do not criticise parliamentary parties; they criticise the institution of Parliament. I feel that that is something to be deplored. I believe that, whatever one may think of the Government or the Opposition or of political parties, it is a sad and bad day for our democracy when the Parliament itself is being assailed by people because the Parliament has not performed in a manner in which the people expect it to perform.
In other countries, steps have been taken to meet the will of the people. In Switzerland there has been the initiative, the referendum and the recall. The proposal made by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) is for the establish ment of a petitions committee of 7 members. Petitions that are presented to the Parliament will be watched by members of that committee, who will see what action is being taken and report back to the Parliament. This proposal does not go so far as to say that the community - the people - will indicate the type of law they want by writing a law. But they will, by petition, say to governments: This is what we think on this problem’. It could be any issue - national or local, trade, commerce, social welfare or something of the kind. Is it not proper that, if our people - the community; the voters in this country - petition the Parliament on a specific matter, in the sense of good manners if not good parliamentary practice, a reply ought to be made? This committee, as indicated by the honourable member for Riverina, would see that that was done.
The committee obviously would police the petitions. It would see what replies Ministers made and then indicate the decisions of Ministers and of the government to the Parliament and would report to the Parliament. Just as the Public Accounts Committee reports to the Parliament, so would the petitions commitee report to the Parliament. I should like to think that we who have been elected to Parliament would try to serve the people just a little more faithfuly, that we would try to see that the desires of the people were translated into legislative effect and that those people who have felt strongly enough on a subject to make a petition to the Parliament would receive a reply to their views, that their views would be considered and that the Parliament itself would discuss these matters in an informed way rather than adopt the present practice of allowing petitions to be received and to be passed to some dungeon to be stored or for something else to happen to them. We like to profess that we belong to a strong, vigorous democracy and that our democratic institution is one of the most enlightened in the world. I think we ought to examine ourselves in this regard to see just what can be done in this Parliament to make the Parliament a more effective reflection of the desires of the people. I feel that the desires of the people ought to be taken into consideration. We should treasure the precious thoughts of the people.
If democracy is to succeed and if governments wish to remain in office, it is very obvious that they, too, should give consideration to the will of the majority of the people, or of an informed minority in the country. These views are important and should be considered by government and opposition. Have we reached a stage where we can, quite rudely and arrogantly, merely pass to one side petitions which come here and hand them over to a Minister who will courteously make a reply and forget all about them? Is this the sort of democracy in which we believe? Surely we stand for something better than that. For my part. I think that we in this institution of parliament should insist that something better be done. The proposal made by the honourable member for Riverina for the appointment of a petitions committee of 7 members brings this question right back to where it rightly belongs - to the Parliament.
All too frequently we complain about executive government, the control of the Cabinet, the Ministry and the paltry role played by backbench members of the Parliament, whether on the Government side or the Opposition side. If we want to make the Parliament more effective and if the backbench members of the Parliament who sit on your right, Mr Speaker, or on your left, want to play a more purposeful role, let them vote in favour of this proposal put forward by the honourable member for Riverina so that petitions will be considered not only by the responsible Ministers but also by a committee appointed by this Parliament through the respective parties to ensure that action is taken upon matters about which the people have submitted their views and pleas to the Parliament. It may be true that some of the petitions that come to this Parliament might be considered to be of a trifling nature. I do not think it is our business to dismiss them so lightly.
The question arises that petitions have been certified for presentation to the Parliament. These petitions deserve the respect of the Parliament and of all honourable members. I can only hope that the amendment, which is a reasonable proposal for the exercise of our parliamentary domocracy, will be accepted and that we will take one step forward, faltering as it may be in the face of the opposition of a Min istry, a Cabinet or an executive, towards better democracy and political enlightenment in this country.
– I listened with a great deal of interest to the words in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). I am very favourably impressed with it, although, for reasons that I endeavoured to make clear, ( was not able to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes). Although he indicated that large numbers of repetitious petitions would not involve a great deal of administrative work, I was just not able to understand his amendment in the terms he used. 1 regret that 1 had to arouse the ire of the distinguished honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), who leads for the Opposition in this matter, when I made reference to the fact that the outstanding public issue of 1947, the great issue of the nationalisation of the banking industry in this country, was the classic illustration of the attitude of the last Labor government. The distinguished honourable member for Grayndler sits in this House today, 22 years later, still a shining example of that government which he supported on almost every occasion. He knows that in the circumstances to which I was forced to refer, not because of any reason related to irritation or to cause annoyance to honourable gentlemen opposite but simply because when Labor was last in government this was the cause celebre so far as its members were concerned, the petitions that came into this place on behalf of thousands of petitioners, in addition to the letters that were referred to by the right honourable member for Fisher (Sir Charles Adermann), were, as I said, ignored at that time.
I can see merit in this amendment moved by the very experienced honourable member for Riverina, with whose long distinguished career in the New South Wales Parliament we are all familiar. I see merit in it because in recent times I have heard senior gentlemen who sit opposite asserting their firm conviction that in 1973 a Labor government would occupy the Treasury bench in this chamber. Cognisant as I am that the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), the learned distinguished patriarch of the Australian Labor
Party, has in recent days asserted with great clarity that bank nationalisation is still the policy of the ALP, and aware of the fact that there will be many hundreds of thousands of petitions coming into this Parliament, I see merit in the establishment of a petitions committee. The right honourable member for Melbourne, the distinguished patriarch of that great political party, the ALP, has said in recent times that al! the policies of the Chifley Government are adhered to in 1973 with the same dedication, the same devotion and the same warmth with which they were held in the hearts and in the minds of members of the Labor Party in 1948 and 1949. In the light of these circumstances and the tendency of honourable gentlemen opposite to assert with great vigour and conviction that they will occupy the Treasury benches and be responsible for government in this country, and bearing in mind that they will seek to nationalise hanking, air transport and all the great industries in Australia, I see merit in the proposal. I believe that 1 will support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina because, if such an evil day arose in this House, a petitions committee may be of some value in reminding a government of the responsibility which was so eloquently referred to by my learned and distinguished friend, the honourable member from Macquarie (Mr Luchetti).
– 1 support the amendment moved by my colleague the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). Whilst I do not yet concede to being a patriarch I think I know the difference between a patriarch and a matriarch. I hope I am somewhere between the two. I have lived through the period from 1951 to 1971, which is a long period, during which I have seen petitions increase in number to such an extent that instead of being rareties they have become abominations, f still hope that there is some reality in the petition and that it is an earnest prayer. Sometimes I wonder whether the millions of people who must be praying night by night in deference to the terms of the petitions that they have presented are praying in a manner that the theologians would call effectually. I hope they are. But I sometimes wonder about it in terms of the reality of the procedure in this House. If 1 may relate ray colleague’s amendment to a committee that exists in the Senate, the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, 1 presume that there are as many rules and ordinances made in this Parliament as there are petitions presented. I would suggest that if some systematisation is to be made with regard to petitions a committee such as that suggested by the honourable member for Riverina would be a workable proposition.
The right to present a petition has quite a long history. One might say that a petition is the cry of despair of the citizen. I think that in many ways citizens are despairing more in 1972 than they have for a long time, and I think that this is one of the reasons why a large number of petitions are coming forward. Appendix B which is attached to this report breaks down the types of petitions which have been presented to the Parliament. After all, in the last few weeks one has heard read lo this House each day approximately 30 petitions relating to the same subject. Unless the House is going to do something about petitions, certainly it would save a lot of time if they were not read, because sometimes it takes half an hour or more each day to read them.
As someone suggested this afternoon, many honourable members wail until petitions have been presented before they come in.o the chamber. If that is the reality of the situation, I believe that it would be much more sensible if, at the end of the day’s proceedings, the Clerk were to say that that day he had received from specified members 17 petitions dealing with the Post Office, 7 petitions dealing with kangaroos and 5 petitions dealing with some other subject. At least, there would be no time wasted. But if a petition is to be regarded as having some virtue, I think that at least it ought to be put on a real plane, and this could be done by accepting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. He gives the petition some place of honour. As I have said, a petition is the last despairing cry of the citizen, and as such it should be of some avail.
I am pleased to note that my fri;nd the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) sees some sort of virtue in treating petitions in the way outlined in the amendment. 1 was a little surprised by my friend - I think I can call him my friend - the distinguished honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) who this afternoon spoke as though petitions were a waste of time. Petitions may be a waste of time but, with all respect to the honourable member, nobody puts his name on a petition unless he thinks that it will have some effect. If petitions are becoming ineffective, as I believe they are, then I think it behoves this House to restore to the petition the kind of honour that it is thought to have in a democratic system. This is why I believe that there is some merit in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. He seeks to appoint a petitions committee, and I liken that petitions committee to the Senate Regulations and Ordinances Committee.
In recent times 2 honourable members have tried to pour cold water upon particular petitions that have been presented to the House, but no petition can be received by the House unless it carries the certificate of the Clerk. I think that we place the Clerk in a position of dishonour if it is suggested that a petition has political overtones. I think that my colleague the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) suggested that he had become an organiser of petitions, but I do not think anybody believes that that is a dishonourable practice. The honourable member for North Sydney was all on side with petitions that were against the nationalisation of banking, but he does not necessarily favour petitions which seek to prevent the slaughter of kangaroos. If one has to be the judge of each particular petition, I suppose that it becomes a little bit tedious. But if we appointed a petitions committee, after some time that committee could evolve its own practices. It could say: ‘We believe that the particular petition on pollution of the atmosphere is worthy of some consideration, and we recommend certain things about it’. I think that something could then be done about petitions, and that we would begin to separate the effective from the ineffective types of petition.
All that a petition does is to acknowledge the difficulty facing the sort of society in which we live, with the conflicts and problems that are emerging, and perhaps to indicate that Parliament, in its present form and with its present committee arrangements, is not as efficient or effective as it ought to be. I do not see any venom or any kind of political opportunism in the amendment which my colleague has moved, and I hope that the House will give serious consideration to it. When petitions come before us they should be referred automatically to a petitions commitee, which would systematise them and say: ‘We think that some of them are ephemeral or are serious but cannot be effectively dealt with by the existing mechanism, and others indicate serious opinions within the community that not all is well’. As I see it, this is all that is intended by the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina, and 1 hope that the House will support it.
– First of all, I should like to refer to a man whom I regard as my friend - the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti). He presented more or less a democratic point of view. One would think from his speech that there was no division in this House, that we all claim certain things and that we all support them. But on the right and the left of the middle of this chamber different policies on all sorts of subjects are proposed. The honourable member for Macquarie would have led me to believe, if I had not known better, that the Opposition in this chamber is always willing to support motions that certain members think are in the best interests of Australia. Of course, we know that this is not right.
– This is to be a non-party vote.
– I am not referring to a non-party vote; I am referring to a normal vote. After this amendment is either carried or rejected - perhaps even tonight - we will return immediately to the old system of party voting. So it is very difficult, by having a non-party vote, to bring about something which will continue to be supported along non-party lines. We just cannot do that, in spite of the harsh words that were uttered by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb). Surely be can understand this. Also, in all the years that I have been a member of Parliament, no Opposition members and very few Government supporters have voted with the party to which they do not belong. We know that that does not happen. It is all right to say that there will be a free vote, but as soon as the free vote is taken, what we decide by that vote will be put into operation by a party vote. This is what is happening. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), who called me a friend and I will reciprocate by calling him a friend, said that I had stated that petitions are a waste of time. Earlier today I read from a speech that 1 made in 1968, and 1 will not weary the House by reading it again. But at that time in 1968 - and 1 gave the exact date and time in 1968 - I expressed my opinion about this matter.
– 1 will never forget it.
– The honourable member says that he will never forget that speech, but at that time he did not support me. No honourable member supported me, but much of what I said then is being said tonight. The honourable member for Stirling is telling us that in 1971 and in 1972 be asked a question which he considers is the main factor in this matter being discussed now. Of course, this is a highly ridiculous claim, especially as it comes from a member like the honourable member for Stirling who generally is pretty good on what I call sound logic. Finally, without delaying the House unduly, I put it that there is one part of the amendment that should be clarified. The honourable member for Riverina should clarify it. His amendment provides:
That the following words be added to the question: 28a. A Petitions Committee to consist of 7 members, shall be appointed at the commencement of each Parliament . . .
Any Bill which proposes for the appointment of a committee - whether it be related to wheat stabilisation or wool - stipulates who the members are to be. Why did the honourable member for Riverina choose the number 7?
– lt is a lucky number.
– It would have to be lucky to get the honourable member for Riverina out of the position into which he has got himself. No govern ment will allow an opposition to take the business of the House out of its hands. If 7 members were appointed to the proposed committee at the present time they would be 4 members from the Government and 3 from the Opposition.
– That is right.
– The honourable member for Riverina says: ‘That is right’. If. by some miscarriage of justice, Labor came to office later this year, on that committee there would be 4 Labor government members and from the then Opposition, which is now the Government, there would be 3 members. Does anyone think for one second that the Government would not have put forward the views it has on this subject?
– Who wrote your speech?
– I do not know which member opposite interjected but I have been asked who wrote my speech. Every honourable member knows that the only thing that .1 have read in this speech is the first portion of the amendment that has been moved by the honourable member for Riverina. I have read nothing else. Every now and again the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) and other members opposite claim that I am reading my speeches but I can, from the knowledge that 1 have gained in this Parliament, make a speech without first writing it out whereas many honourable members opposite, including the honourable member for Grayndler, cannot do so. Somebody has said that if the honourable member for Mallee wrote his speech he would do better. That may be so. When 1 make a speech it is my speech. II is not representation by proxy.
-Order! I suggest that the honourable member might get back to the subject matter.
– These questions are constantly put to me.
– Order! All interjections are out of order and I suggest that the honourable member should get back to the matter before the Chair.
– The whole point is that government is in charge. People vote candidates into office. They are either in government or in opposition.
The same will apply to the proposed committee. It is of no good getting away from reality and spreading the myth that the lion will lie down with the lamb and that the millennium is here; it is not here. If there is a committee of 7, as the honourable member for Riverina said, there will be 4 Government members and 3 Opposition members. If Labor gets into office the committee will comprise 4 Labor government members and 3 Opposition members. The government of the day would be controlling the position just as it is now. That is what would happen. After the committee came to a decision it would report back to the House and a debate would ensue. If members opposite want a debate, why not have it on a petition when it is presented? Why waste all this time in getting the committee to look at a petition and make recommendations? We might not like the recommendations of the committee any more than Opposition members like the recommendations of the committee which has been appointed to consider the Standing Orders and to whose recommendations members opposite are moving amendments. This is the real test. A committee has been established. It has made certain findings in respect of petitions and has made certain recommendations in respect of Standing Orders. Those recommendations are before the House now. Many members do not agree with that committee’s findings. The same situation would apply with the recommendations of a committee of 7 which the honourable member for Riverina has proposed be set up. The amendment will not get my support.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the Chair to comment on a statement made by Mr Speaker just before he vacated the chair? During the course of my remarks I indicated that the Government members of a House procedures committee had met together and made certain recommendations. Of course, they had caucused in that regard. I understand that is the position. However, Mr Speaker pointed out to the House that once those recommendations from the Government members procedures committee had come before the Standing Orders Committee the members of the Standing Orders Committee, no matter whether they were from the Government side, had not caucused. I wel come this assurance from the Speaker. It is a most welcome development. I had intended to point out that the Government joint party House procedures committee had met together and had presented recommendations as a committee to the Standing Orders Committee. This was the procedure which had been followed. That, of course, was caucusing. But I accept and very much welcome the assurance by the Speaker that he as a Government member and other Government members of that committee did not caucus again on those recommendations and, in fact, operated independently. This gives us all a glimmer of hope that perhaps the measure before the House tonight might be dealt with in a similar way.
– I think that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) is worthy of full consideration. I was most impressed with some of the. views put by the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) regarding this amendment, but I was not impressed at all by his trying to score political points when this is purely and simply a non-political amendment concerning the. Standing Orders of this House. He said that it was still the policy of the Australian Labor Party to nationalise the banks. He and the right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell) would know that we do not have the power to nationalise a lolly shop or even one of the sex shops in Sydney about which we hear so much. The fact is that bank nationalisation could be brought about only by a change to section 92 of the Constitution through the will of the people of Australia. To try to score these political points in a non-political argument is, in my opinion, a hit below the belt. The honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) also tried to score on this occasion by introducing politics into this non-political debate.
I would suggest, as did the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), that this amendment will put petitions on a higher plane. It would mean that they would be given ample, consideration by a petitions committee of 7 appointed from this House. The honourable member for Mallee asked why 7 was chosen as the number of members of that committee. Of course we have to start somewhere. If honourable members examine most of the joint House committees they will see that normally there are 7 members of the House of Representatives on such committees; so I would believe that 7 would be the appropriate number to examine the petitions presented to this House from time to dme and to bring down reports to the House. I know that there are many other speakers, and we have quite a lot of standing orders to go into. I will conclude by saying again: Please do not bring politics into this matter. It is not a political one. If you bring politics into it, you are going to make a farce of this debate.
– I rise to make some comments on the remarks made by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby), in which he accused Government members of being disciplined into voting in a particular way when the vote was taken the other night and there was some crossing of the line, if you like to put it that way. I say emphatically that no such discipline applied to me. Indeed, as Deputy Chairman I drew attention to the fact that there was a free vote on the issue. I want to point out that the honourable member for Riverina has no right at all to assume that because members on this side of the House are voting in a particular way, they have been disciplined into doing so. In fact, when they did vote they were supporting the report of the Standing Orders Committee. The honourable member for Riverina has just admitted that he did not know before that the Standing Orders Committee worked out a report for this Parliament without proceeding along party lines. Indeed, when the vote was taken none other than the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) voted with members who are condemned by the honourable member for Riverina. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), another member of that Committee, voted the same way. I think that the other members of the Committee voted in that way also. What the Government members did was to support the report of this Standing Orders Committee. Indeed, I cannot understand how the honourable member for Riverina could take exception to the fact that members on this side of the House supported that report, which was thrashed out, I believe, very genuinely by that Committee.
– If they did it freely.
– If they did it freely, and I think they did. I believe they worked out this report in that way. I am convinced of that by talking to some of the members, and I believe that was even more emphatically demonstrated by the fact that members of the Committee voted differently from most members of their own parties. I did not want to bring the word ‘party’ into it, but it has been introduced tonight. I do not know how many times the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) used the word ‘politics’ in the little speech he made.
– I was replying to the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham).
– And I am replying to the honourable member for Sydney. This particular matter was taken away from that field when this Committee brought down its report. I wonder why the very great preponderance of members of the Labor Party voted against the report of this Committee. Was that playing politics, or did they have no confidence in their leader? Did they have no confidence in the men they have on this particular Committee? Why did they vote in such predominant numbers against the report of this Committee if they were not being political about it?
It is all very well to accuse members on this side of the House of being disciplined, when they know that this debate is on the air. I want to refute completely that I was in any way disciplined or requested to vote in any way other than what I felt was the right way to vote on this occasion. I believe that all the members on the other side of the House, members of what is known as the Opposition in an ordinary debate, supported the report brought down by the Standing Orders Committee. I do not say that there could not be some improvement to the Committee’s recommendations. I do hot say that the amendments moved might or might not have some merit, but the point was that the Committee has gone into the matter thoroughly; I believe it has done a very good job and I have supported it on those grounds.
– 1 want to say a few words in support of the excellent amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). If the previous amendment had been carried, it would have added substance to the presentation of the report and would have offered an opportunity for effective action to be taken and would have given some hope of getting a decision when petitions were presented. I am concerned, together with other members on this side of the House - despite the speech of my friend the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) - with the remarkable fact that on non-political issues everything that is moved by the Labor Party is unanimously opposed by members of the Liberal and Country parties. I am charitable enough to think that they are to be forgiven because the only things they agree on in the country today are the Standing Orders and the Opposition. I cannot think of any other reason.
It may be remarkable, but I would like to see Liberal and Country Party members vote on non-party lines on issues that concern democracy in this country. The situation is, though, that it is more than remarkable that rarely if ever does a member of the Government parties cross the floor to vote for anything moved by a member on this side of the House. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) has on occasions voted differently from his Party, but I think we have still to get one recruit from the Government side for a motion moved by us. After all is said and done, when the votes are being taken we might just as well make the matter a party issue because there is no hope at all of getting any support from the Government side of the House.
I hope that Parliament will endorse the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. I hope to see the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Graham) with us on this. He mentioned, not as anything to do with the Standing Orders, that he would vote this way to safeguard the nation against a Labor administration. For once he is right, for the wrong reason. The only solace I take from it is that he is expecting that this time next year he will be on this side of the House and we will be on his side of the House. At least there is one member of the Government with farsightedness. But it is not that far; it is only 6 months ahead that he is looking. Consequently, tonight I hope to see him with us, and that will be the first break in the ranks of the Governmet in a non-party vote. I ask honourable members to support the amendment.
Sir WINTON TURNBULL (Mallee)- I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I have been misrepresented regarding the free vote that I spoke about. It was suggested I said that there was no such thing as a free vote, and that the Government members voted one way, generally speaking, and the Labor Party voted the other. I have in my hand the division list for the vote on the amendment moved by the honourable member for Corio. Every Labor Party member voted the same way, and Government members voted the other way. There it is for everybody to see.
– I oppose the amendment because it is unnecessary. When one looks on the other side of the House and sees the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly), the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) and the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Mclvor), and knowing that it will not be very long before they are relegated to lesser positions, one must feel sorry for them because of the great service they have given the Australian Labor Party. They are being bypassed by semi-intellectuals. These great men who have rendered so much service to Australia are to go back into the limbo. This amendment would be unnecessary if the petitions that were brought in were genuine. We had the position last week where the petitions were signed, in the majority, by members of this House. That is almost fraudulent. They were not petitions from the people. We want to know what the people of Australia want, but when you have an organised political stunt, as is sometimes brought on in this House, you have to give serious consideration to the matter.
– On a point of order. Is it in order for the honourable member for Mitchell to ascribe to the Chair and to Parliament laxity in this matter? He said in the course of his remarks that petitions were presented to this Parliament that were not genuine. I want to remind the Chair that Mr Speaker has followed the proper procedure. He accepted the presentation of the petitions and Parliament voted on them. Therefore they were properly presented and received.I am asking, Mr Deputy Speaker, is it proper procedure for the honourable member for Mitchell to suggest that the Chair and the Parliament have been parties to something that is not genuine. I suggest he is out of order.
– In regard to the point of order raised by the honourable member for Riverina, I point out to the honourable member for Mitchell that when this point was raised at a previous stage. Mr Speaker at that particular time explained that the petitions were noted by the Clerk, presented to the House and had been accepted by the Chair. To that degree I think the point of order raised by the honourable member for Riverina is a correct point of order, and I would remind the honourable member for Mitchell of this particular fact.
– But that does not rid us of the fact that the petitions were signed by members of this House. We all want to assist our electors and people who wish to present petitions to this House. But let these petitions be genuine. The honourable member for Chifley (Mr Armitage) has stated that there will be many more petitions - these may be in the region of hundreds - presented to this House.
– I rise on another point of order. The honourable member for Mitchell said if they are ‘genuine’. I believe that once the Clerk of the House certifies a petition as being genuine, it is-
– Order! At the moment we are making projections into the future. At this stage there is no point of order.
– Publications withinthe western districts of Sydney have indicated that there will be many more petitions organised in regard to the closing of Post Offices. I believe that the House should accept petitions that are collected spontaneously from the electors themselves.
The amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) envisages the establishment of a petitions committee. Why do we want another committee to go into the question of petitions? If petitions are brought to various honourable members it is encumbent upon them to present those petitions to this
House. We do not want a committee to go through them, check them and see whether there are any irregularities. That is the Clerk’s duty. Such a committee would take up the time of honourable members. They would not be able to be in this chamber or in their offices attending to matters in relation to their electorates when this committee was sitting.
The honourable member for Riverina took the attitude that because the Government did not support the amendment supporters of the Government were voting on a party line. I do not know anything about this amendment. I knew nothing of the recommendation made by the Standing Orders Committee. I voted according to what I thought was right and 1 wasnot influenced by anyone. No-one on our side of the House canvassed votes or lobbied in any manner whatsoever. It is far from the truth for the honourable member for Riverina to say that a vote was taken on party lines. Let us be sincere and honest in regard to this. Let honourable members present petitions that are brought to them by people or organisations who have signed those petitions of their own volition and by their own desire. We do not need a committee to help us present these petitions. I believe that the amount of time that is taken up by the presentation of petitions does not matter. I know that there have been occasions on which huge petitions have been received by an honourable member who has divided that petition into several petitions to present to this House. It is up to the members of this House to do the right thing. If they do, we will overcome the difficulty that arises because of the time-absorbing nature of the procedures for the presentation of petitions.
-I think it is a tragedy that on a matter which calls for a non-party vote Government supporters are voting as one. I want to show how non-political is the attitude of the Opposition. I do so simply by quoting the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby). It states:
That the following words be added to the question: subject to the omission of proposed standing order 132 and the addition of the following new standing order: “28a. A Petitions Committee to consist of seven Members, shall be appointed at the commencement of each Parliament to which all petitions shall be referred for examination and reference to the appropriate instrumentality of Government. The Committee shall be empowered to report to the House from time to lime indicating what decisions have been taken by it in regard to the petitions received, if any reports have been received from or action taken by departments, and whether the Committee recommends to the House any action in relation to the petitions”.’. ls this proposition political? Does it not say in the first place that the Committee shall consist of 7 members? Does it not say, in effect, that 4 members of that committee shall be Government members?
– lt does noi say that.
– It does say it.
– Read it.
– The honourable member knows that is so. He knows that the Government would appoint the committee and therefore would have a majority of one on it. So do not give us any tripe about that. The honourable member agrees with that surely?
– The amendment does not say that.
– The honourable member said that himself when he was replying to the debate. So get back in your seat. Honourable members opposite have said that this matter is political. But the Government is to have 4 members on the committee while there will be 3 members from the Opposition. Surely that is reasonable. If that is unreasonable I want to know what is not.
The honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) said that a committee on petitions would act in the same way as the committee on social services.
– I did not mention social services.
– I am sorry, I meant to say the Standing Orders Committee, whose report we are now considering. Is he suggesting that the majority of the members of that Committee had caucused and that no consideration would be given to individual views? That is what he is suggesting in effect. He is saying that this petitions committee would act in the same way as the Standing Orders Committee.
A simple proposition is before this Parliament. It is this: Are petitioners to be pigeonholed or are they to be reviewed and reported upon? All the amendment of the Standing Orders Committee proposes - and the Government has a majority on that Committee - is that petitions be referred to the Minister responsible for the administration of the subject matter of a petition. How far does that take us? It means that the petitions will be transferred from one pigeonhole in the archives where they are placed now to pigeonholes in a Minister’s office and finally from those pigeonholes to the archives. This is all that the Committee’s amendment amounts to.
The Standing Orders Committee considered this matter. A majority of the members decided that petitions should be referred lo the Minister concerned but that a report should not be made to the Parliament. Surely members of this Parliament do not want petitions to be pigeonholed. Surely they should be able to consider these matters after *he petitions have been referred to the Minister and he has reported to the Parliament upon them.
I quoted earlier what happens in New Zealand. The honourable member for Riverina has moved an amendment which, if adopted, would produce a system which is much more simple than that which applies in New Zealand and which should have the support of this Parliament if honourable members do what I consider to be the right thing. We know, that the. New Zealand Parliament is much more advanced than ours as far as democracy is concerned, as is the case with the United Kingdom Parliament and the Canadian Parliament which deal with petitions more quickly. Of course, we expect that to be, the case in New Zealand and the United Kingdom because social services in those countries are treated differently. Both countries have abolished the means test on pensions. Many petitions that are presented to this Parliament deal with the abolition of the means test. This aspect of social services is not a very satisfactory one as far as the Government is concerned.
This Parliament should deal with petitions in such a way that petitioners will know that their petitions had been dealt with reasonably. What is the use of people presenting petitions to this Parliament - despite the suggestion of the honourable member for Mallee that this be referred to the Standing Orders Committee, - if the result is to be the same as previously, namely, that petitions will be referred to the Minister concerned and nothing else will happen. We want petitions to be referred to the relevant Minister and we want a report on them to be made to this Parliament. We want this Parliament to decide what will be done.
– I believe we should get this matter into perspective. It is very heartening to take part in a non-political debate, according to some of those on the other side of the House. The question here is not one of whether or not people on this side of the House or any side of the House want to hear petitions. There was a great implication in several speeches made that it is not even intended that petitions should be heard or read. Words such as ‘democracy’ are tossed about with gay abandon. But I think that we should just get this thing right because no-one is opposing that proposition. Honourable members are looking to the most effective and most efficient way of using the time of this House, subject to the fact that these petitions shall be heard or shall be seen, or both.
It is not necessary for me to discuss how the flow of petitions has greatly increased in very recent times. I think when we are considering the various comments that have been made by members such as the flamboyant honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) - from the waving rice land of that area telling us partly the situation and speculating about all the rest - and the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) waving the banner of democracy in this matter, we should just look at this. The origin of the petition was an approach by a subject to his king. The subject had no parliamentary recourse; he had nobody protecting him.
– He had the Parliament.
– I am perfectly right and 1 will not require the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) to inform me on this, although I thank him very much. The subject had no redress other than to petition the monarch who, as is well known, operated in a decidedly authoritarian manner at many times over many years. That is not the same situation, as is implied widely on the other side of the House, as electors petitioning through their democratically elected representatives to this institution, They are just not the same things. But accepting that as the situation, as indeed it is, we accept the proposition that we should continue what is, in a sense, an anachronistic operation because it is an alternative avenue for members of the public to get their views before this institution if they do not have the time or inclination to be seen or if the member does not have the time or inclination to see numbers of people and to put an essentially similar point of view from all that number.
Still trying to keep this in perspective, do not let us pretend that all petitions come from thousands and thousands of people. As is well known, they can have a minimum of one signature. It is true that very occasionally they may have up to several thousand, but more often then not in present times when these chain petitions are operating, petitions formally organised by particular bodies in the community - perhaps they are no less representative for that reason but they are nevertheless organised, as against voluntarily organised petitions emanating from the will of the public and untutored by any other element in the community - the average number may well be nearer 10 or 100 than a thousand, although I do not know. On many occasions 1 have presented petitions with a single small page of signatures. They might have been more genuine in intent than a petition containing thousands of names, but do not let us pretend that there are vast seas of unrepresented constituents unable to work through other processes to present their points of view.
Do not let the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) pretend that this is not a political situation, whether or not there is a free vote on the issue here, merely because some people in the community genuinely believe that they have a case to put and that this might be the best way to put it. They might not have been knowledgeable about seeing their representative, or one from an adjoining electorate, to put their point of view. They might find that this is the best mode of expression. Nevertheless, they are not on their own because there have been, as I indicated earlier, some people, particularly in the last year or two, who put their point of view in a very concerted and organised fashion. The result of that has been mentioned here already. It has had the efficacy on one or two occasions of achieving such things as the setting up of, say, the Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation. I suggest, as have other honourable members, that this is an entirely admirable result. But I believe that we should keep this thing in perspective.
When one talks about upgrading the status of petitions, and if one accepts the point I have made that there are alternatives such as access of the public to honourable members in this place, one is comparing the time spent on petitions with the time spent in other ways. The honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) earlier in this debate talked about the number of days we sit and so on, but he puts aside some interesting competitive propositions while making this point. The fact that we sit here for 165 or 300 days, out of whatever greater number it is, is not really relevant to this issue because it is well known to all honourable members that there are vast numbers of other things that honourable members are doing in the interim. If there were not we would be here many more days than we are in our electorates and attending to other business. So I do not think that argument is of direct relevance to this issue. We are not pushing right, left and centre at the moment for being here on X number of sitting days. We accept the proposition that we are here for so many days a week and for so many weeks a year.
Having accepted that, do not let us pretend that we are unhappy about it for the purpose of this issue. Having got that far, it is then a question of what we compare petitions with. Do we compare them with the major debates in this House or with the question time of honourable members? I would submit with all humility and with all deference to the average petitioner, if I could find such a person, that it is more important to use the air time we have at the beginning of the Parliament each day for honourable members to pui in the form of questions their petitions, their points of view or perhaps the points of view of organisations which have made representation to them by writing to them prolifically, by calling on them or by a number of other methods, than to upgrade the status of petitions to the point where they may well supervene their importance above the importance of other things such as question dme. 1 make no apology for suggesting that question time should have priority. This is a time when honourable members from both sides of the House may take up points of high relevance and often with considerable expertise in the field, although not always. This is more than one can say for a great number of petitions. After all, we are elected and go through some considerable process to be elected. Having finally got a majority out of some 40,000 or 60,000 electors to enable us to be here, for what that is worth, we are in a position to ask questions. There are some people who imply that that should take second place to the process of presenting innumerable petitions. To put my priorities, as distinct from others, in that order is not to say that I do not want to hear petitions. They should be heard but we should make their hearing as effective as possible in terms of time used in getting these messages across, particularly when the message is a much repeated message from people across the country. We should in one way or another register the repetition and the extent to which there is feeling on the matter, but that having been done the contract is fulfilled, at least up to that point. It is not proper to suggest, as did the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), with whom I heartily concur in a number of his observations, that every petition is the last despairing cry of the petitioner.
My honourable friend, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron), talked about protests on a number of occasions as though petitions were automatically protests. I do not believe that is the case. Some of them are constructive propositions for government action in fields which, usually for good reason, have not been tapped by the executive or government of the time. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports talked about political overtones and the honourable member for Sydney spoke about non-political argument in this debate. Surely in this most political of political forums in the country it is not exactly improper for petitions calling for debate or anything else, whether free, fettered or otherwise, to have political overtones, undertones or any other tones one likes to think of. Surely, however free this becomes, real politics are involved because when we are thinking about organised petitions as distinct from a petition from our next door neighbour, who suddenly has a worry about some particular aspect of the economy or that something else is not working, there is a great distinction to be made. This is what was being referred to by honourable members on this side of the House when they were using the words which implied the term ‘genuine’. They were not talking about whether or not a petition was genuine once it had been put into the system and passed by the Clerk; they were talking about the motivation for petitions.
Let us not confuse the issues. I hope I have not done so any more than is necessary. The situation is one whereby nowadays we get almost innumerable petitions presented in this House. We are attempting to deal with them in the most efficacious manner but in so doing and suggesting, as one of several alternatives - some may agree with that and I with this - that these petitions get into a rightful place in relation to major debates, to question time and other things which have to be done in this place, is not, as was suggested by honourable members opposite, to suggest authoritarianism. It seems to me that some honourable members opposite who have already spoken are at times against any authority of the Parliament and certainly of the Executive. Let us wait and see how much authority emanates if the Executive happens to change at the forthcoming election. God forbid!
Nevertheless, it is a question essentially for the Standing Orders Committee. It should be recognised as such. It has not been recognised in the whole of this debate. Throughout this debate it has not been recognised as a matter which has been considered by the Standing Orders Committee, at least not in the amendment of the honourable member for Riverina [Mr Grassby), if not exactly as it reads then in substance as it reads. For the time being it is being rejected. I do not suggest that because of that the honourable member for Riverina is in any sense in error. It is a persuasive amendment which he puts. [ say that, having had the honour to move an amendment a year or so ago in relation to speaking times which in fact took precedence over the recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee. I do not suggest that the Committee’s recommendations are sacrosanct, but nevertheless the Committee is a representative one. It has on it some of the highest officers amongst the parliamentarians.
It is not fair play to suggest that this matter is being decided by a great party block. The matter has been canvassed within my party and informal views have been put forward from an ad hoc committee. I believe that the same thing has happened on the opposite side of the House. So it appears that the Standing Orders Committee has made a series of recommendations in full cognisance of the situation. If that is not sufficient, and it may not be, we can vote against the recommendation, but for my part 1 believe that the subject has been quite adequately canvassed, and I think one might properly use the word ‘researched’. Therefore, while agreeing that there may be some sense in setting up yet another committee to look at this particular area of operations, namely petitions, I believe that for the time being our prime objective is to hear these petitions presented and to take the heat, as it were, off those who wish to have their views presented. They hear their views presented, if they are lucky. They know that in sheer weight of numbers, if nothing else, if they have a popular petition their views will be heard. Perhaps they want something more formal done about it, but I would hate to see-
– You take a lot of notice of gallup polls.
– One who takes notice of gallup polls should have better things to do. The proposition is that these petitions, formidable though they might be, representative though they might be of the average electors or of some electors, should take their rightful place in the affairs of this Parliament. I believe that the current recommendation of the Standing Orders Committee is effective in this respect Perhaps at a future time when the number of petitions diminishes, if it ever does, it may be seen better to take some other course of action, but for the time being it certainly concerns some honourable members that the place of petitions is assuming very considerable importance and apparently at times in an apparent lack of perception that there are some other very persuasive things and very important things which we attempt from time to time to carry out in this place.
Mr DONALD CAMERON (Griffith)Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– I claim to have been misrepresented. My very good friend, the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon), claimed that I said petitions were useful only for protests and suggested that I did not believe that they served any other purpose. I agree with him that petitions in fact serve a positive purpose tit limes ami that quite often ideas are forthcoming. My belief in petitions is perhaps the reason I made the speech that I made before dinner tonight.
– The honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) has had two bob each way. He talked about the problem that the House has with petitions and the possible merits of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby), and then be indicated that he would not support the amendment. Perhaps he will support the principle embodied in the amendment when his party is in opposition next year. He also said that this debate has political overtones and that he himself had the honour of moving an amendment to a Standing Orders Committee report a year or so ago and was successful. He also commented that the people on the Standing Orders Committee that considered this matter were of such calibre that perhaps the Parliament should not alter the Committee’s recommendations. If I might get back to political overtones, he and other members of his party, in a free vote situation, conned members into reducing speaking time. The honourable member for Denison just waffled for the full length of his speaking time tonight when he could have said what he wanted to say in 5 minutes.
I should like to put my view to the Parliament. Last week we sat here for nearly an hour while petitions were being read before we got on to questions. I do not think anyone was really interested by the end of the hour, and many honourable members in presenting petitions referred to their petitions as being couched in similar terms to the petition presented before them. In fact the contents of the petitions were not even read. I do not think that this is doing justice to the people who petition the Parliament. What the honourable member for Riverina has suggested in his amendment as a means to overcome this problem is worth the support of the House. His amendment provides that the petitions go to a committee of 7 members, who will send them to the appropriate area of government for report and perhaps a decision on the matter.
The other point that I think arises from petitions is that some petitions are presented by groups which masquerade as alternative political parties. Other people petition on subjects that are a personal affront to members of Parliament who are asked to present them. For instance, if someone asked me to present petitions on the relaxation of abortion laws, I would not present them. I make no bones about that. But I may present one and I would like to think that the matter is referred to the committee that the honourable member for Riverina has suggested so that the Parliament has the opportunity to decide what course of action it can take on this petition and so that an honourable member is not bedevilled with one petition after another which may be personal affronts to his views. There are members here who have made very strong statements, for instance, in their opposition to the war in Vietnam. If they were presented with petitions every day by certain groups saying that we should send troops back to Vietnam, they would find it very difficult to keep presenting these petitions to the Parliament.
It is reasonable that they should be referred to a committee and some attitude determined upon them. Under the present system they are just presented to the Parliament holus-bolus. They are not receiving the attention of the House. They are just pigeonholed, as many honourable members have said, in the archives of the Parliament. I do not think that this is good enough. 1 think the electors deserve more than this. Parliament should give due consideration to the contents of petitions. I cannot see how we can do this in the period before questions each day. Therefore I think petitions should go to a committee, and I could not envisage a committee any better than the one envisaged in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina. I will have much pleasure in supporting the amendment when the vote is taken.
That the words proposed to be added (Mr Grassby’s amendment) be added.
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker - Mr P. E. Lucock)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Mr BRYANT (Wills)- I ask for leave to speak to this matter. I spoke earlier in the day but 1 just want to explain exactly what it is about.
That would mean that we would not be able to get around it by tinkering with the wording in some way, or by altering a couple of full slops and 3 prepositions. I hope that the House will accept the amendment. It is part of the petition system that the actual text of a petition be read over the air and to the House as it is presented. I think it would mean no more than another minute or so in the presentation of the petition.
– I can only repeat what 1 said earlier in the debate, that is, that while I appreciate the intentions of my friend the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) this matter has been examined carefully by the Standing Orders Committee which consists of senior representatives of both sides of the House. They have come up with a report which I submitted to the Parliament. I feel that in the circumstances we would be ill advised to vary the recommendations of that Committee without the Committee’s having the opportunity to study again the points which have been raised. So, as an honourable member in this House, I suggest that we should support the recommendations of the Committee.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment. I have had the disadvantage of not concentrating on what the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) said. As I understand it, he is putting the very simple proposition that, in the presentation of petitions and in consideration of the intelligent application of the honourable members of the Parliament to the procedures of the Parliament, there should be a requirement that when a petition is presented it should be read on at least one occasion. I think that undoubtedly this needs the consideration of members of the Parliament because the way petitions are presented by members in some cases not only leaves a lot to be desired but also leaves out a lot of the substance of the terms of the petition as prepared by the petitioners. It is important therefore that the parliamentarians should have the opportunity of knowing what it is about. There is the added need to ensure that the Hansard record includes a full account of the terms of the petition and, indeed, that the listeners to the parliamentary proceedings also have the benefit of that information.
This matter came into sharp relief in this House the other day. It was in respect of petitions concerning the closing of post offices. I am not sure how many presentations there were, but there was a considerable number, all of which were given in the synopsis form as laid down by the Clerk of the House for the benefit of members. Outside the Parliament, thousands of people have signed the petitions. They are what the honourable member for Denison (Dr Solomon) would probably call the misguided people who sign petitions to this Parliament. There are also other people who have never heard of this issue and, if they are to take an intelligent interest in the proceedings of this Parliament, we should be able to engage in the luxury of having the petition read at least once, especially on the marathon occasion when there were 30 members presenting identical petitions. I know that the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) is not listening to this because he has the numbers. However, it would be a very intelligent and useful contribution to the proceedings tonight if we had some sensible explanation of why the proposal by the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) is to be rejected with the heavy weight of Government numbers. We have had too much steamrolling. That is the sort of thing about which we are talking here tonight. We do not want just the weight of numbers; we want some intelligent arguments and replies.
It is not good enough to say that the Committee has put something up and no amendments will be accepted. Surely committees do not intend that to happen. If this were the case, why bring the recommendations to the Parliament in the form that has been adopted, clause by clause? Obviously the recommendations have been brought before the Parliament so that there can be hard application by the Parliament to all the issues involved. Obviously they were brought in this form so that there would be opportunities to move amendments. Is the Government just going to give lip service to this parliamentary practice? Is it going to be mere hypocrisy and humbug, or will the Government face up to facts that are put to it by an intelligent and competent member? What is the point of talking about standing orders at all if we are to have continuous stupidity? I believe that it is high time we started at least to have some reasons given. All through the proceedings tonight in regard to the various proposals made by the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) we have had this rejection because the Government has the numbers and the Committee did not recommend those proposals in the first place.
I put it to the Minister for National Development and whoever else might be prepared to come in now and take the medicine from the succeeding speakers on this side of the House that there is a case to answer and we require them to answer it tonight because the proposal by the honourable member for Wills is an intelligent one and has the backing of honourable members on this side of the House. This was demonstrated the other day and on other occasions when members on both sides of the House took the opportunity, on their own initiative, to read a petition because it had been read in the synopsis form on so many occasions. I appeal to the Minister tonight to work on this just a little harder in view of the fact that this is a debate about standing orders. Unless we can achieve a practice of adopting decent attitudes and procedures and having respect for members in the very nature of debate, there is no doubt that we will have little chance of getting the reformation of the Standing Orders that we need.
Question resolved in the negative.
– The question now is, “That recommendation No. 8 of paragraph (a) relating to petitions be agreed to’.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) has indicated that he wants his dissent recorded in relation to that vote. Would you indicate whether this is being done in the ordinary course of events, or does some procedure have to be followed?
-The position under the Standing Orders is that the honourable member may call for a division and, if he is the only member calling for a division, he is entitled to have his name recorded as a dissentient.
– I call for a division.
– As the honourable member for Griffith has called for a division and no other member requires a division, the honourable member will be recorded as dissenting. The question now is, ‘That recommendation No. 9 of paragraph (a) relating to the Publications Committee be agreed to.’
– Will the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) be good enough to advise the House of the reason for the proposed amendment. I do not have the amendment in front of me, but I believe that it will substitute some terminology such as ‘the appropriate Minister’ for the term ‘Treasurer’, ls the Minister able to say whether a specific Minister is responsible for the Publications Committee? In that event, of course, it might be possible to mention the Minister in more precise terms.
– I was trying to recall the background to this minor amendment. I think the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) will be aware that the Government Publishing Service has been transferred from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts and therefore the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) no longer has the ministerial responsibility in relation to this matter. It is covered by the term ‘Minister’ and that is the only reference which applies in this case.
– I would like to bring to the attention of the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) the fact that this amendment seeks to amend standing order 28. It is only a technical and very minor amendment but, for the benefit of the honourable member for Mallee, I would like to say that standing order 28 states:
A Publications Committee, to consist of 7 members, shall be appointed at the commencement of each Parliament . . . and shall have power to confer with a similar Committee of the Senate.
It then goes on to give the Committee’s functions. As the honourable member for Mallee objected to 7 members being appointed and voted against the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) a moment ago, would he tell the House now whether he seeks to have standing order 28 deleted from the Standing Orders because the number 7 has been selected and would he now issue in the Parliament a few words of repentance for having ridiculed the amendment moved by the honourable member for Riverina which was similar to the amendment now before the House in relation to the Publications Committee?
Sir WINTON TURNBULL (Mallee (10.20) - I appreciate the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) being so kind as to draw my attention to this matter. I am only too pleased to accommodate the honourable member. I did not object to
In the last 20 years the word ‘Mallee’, when expressed as the name of the electorate of Mallee, has been mentioned in this Parliament far more than any other electorate. It has been mentioned chiefly by the honourable member for Grayndler. Therefore he has given me, as the representative of the Mallee electorate, a great advertisement throughout the country. I appreciate him doing this and thank him for it. But even if I were to disregard the number of times on which the honourable member has said ‘Mallee* I would still say that in the last 20 years the Mallee electorate has been mentioned more in this Parliament than has any other electorate. So the honourable member for Grayndler is appreciated for giving me the opportunity to refer to my electorate. I say to him: Thank you very much.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The question now is, ‘That recommendation 10 in paragraph (a), be agreed to.’
– I wish to speak briefly on this matter. The present Government is pretty free and easy with titles as can be seen from the title of the
Members - Use of academic and other titles, where appropriate, in House documents.
That a Member entitled to use the title ‘Doctor’ or ‘Reverend’ or having a substantive military, academic or professional title should, if be so wishes, have the title used with his name as it appears from time to time in official House documents such as the Votes and Proceedings, Notice Papers, List of Members, etc. (Paragraphs 42 to 46).
Where does this title business start pad finish in parliamentary records? ls a soldier entitled to put his name in as ‘Private Smith’? How does die Government intend to stop a person from doing that? Is a person entitled to do that? If a brigadier can do it why should not Private Smith be able to do it? Can Corporal Jones have his name entitled ‘corporal’? What about a leading aircraftsman or an able seaman? Will they be entitled to use their titles? ls this to be allowed? Or is it to be only for the upper strata, the top brass? Where do we start and finish? Perhaps the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) who is sitting at the table can explain this to us. He is knowledgeable man and a distinguished man and no doubt he will come amongst these titled people. I would like to know just where this starts and finishes. A chap who is a private in the Army might with very great pride look back on that title and record of achievements in that respect, but evidencely because he is not from the upper strata of the military Service or the top brass he cannot use that humble though no doubt to him very distinguished title.
I think that the Government, by incorporating this recommendation in the Standing Orders, is only perpetuating many of those fortunate records of people who have been honoured with a title by the present Government. I would like the Minister to tell us where the question of title starts and where it finishes. Who will be entitled to use titles? Will it apply to all branches of the Services? Will it apply to everybody? For how long is a person a reverend gentleman? ls he a reverend gentleman when he leaves the ministry and goes into Parliament? Does his title go with him forever? This is a matter which ought to be clarified for the Parliament because it can be very confusing. As I look across the floor of this Parliament I recall that one of my colleagues once said: ‘In Canberra now there are almost more knights than days’. It is a city as he once described it, of dreadful knights. The situation is confusing. No doubt persons with titles will have to be listed in parliamentary records as ‘Sir’, ‘Lord’ or whatever the case may be, but where does it start and where does it finish with those minor titles of persons who if this proposal is accepted proudly might still desire to have them placed among the records.
– The only comment 1 can make in relation to this is that if anyone feels that he is entitled to use a title he will, under this proposal, have the opportunity of submitting his proposed to the staff of the House who will then make a recommendation in relation to it. This, of course, is a matter that would come up for individual consideration at the time. There are obvious titles that would quite simply be used and in fact al the present time some are being used. This is an extension of the present system to conform with the procedures of the House of Commons. This is the reason for the recommendation. I point out that this matter was considered by the Standing Orders Committee, on which the representation included the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard), and they had not objection to this recommendation being made. In fact, from memory, it was a unanimous decision by the Committee to make this recommendation to the House. But as to the subject matter raised by the honourable member, this will be a matter for individual consideration at the time in accordance with submissions made by an honourable member.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)The question is: That other decisions of the Committee, numbered 1 to 5, be endorsed as provided for in paragraph (b).’
J 3072/72 - R. - [65
– On 23rd August 1971 1 raised in the House a question on the allocation of questions by the Speaker and the equality of opportunity for honourable members to question members of the Ministry. Honourable members will be aware that the Standing Orders Committee considered the motion that 1 referred to it and recommended in its report that no action be taken the matter. Arising from that motion there is in an appendix to the report tables which list for both the autumn and Budget sessions for the years 1968 to 1971 the number of questions asked by members of the Opposition and the number of questions asked by members of the Government who are not in the Ministry. The point I want to make is that even though that appendix illustrates that there has been an equal opportunity for honourable members on each side to question members of the Ministry, the problem as I see it is the right of each individual member to have an equal opportunity to question a Minister.
It is not fair that questions should be allocated on the basis of Government versus the Opposition because as we know there are 65 members of the Government, of which 22 are Ministers in the House of Representatives, 5 are Assitant Ministers and one is the Speaker. Therefore we have a total of 28 persons who cannot ask questions of Ministers. This leaves a balance of 37 members on the Government side who are the questioners of the Ministers. In comparison there are 59 members of the Opposition, so it works out on the basis of roughly 30 on one side and 60 on the other. This shows that there is a disparity in the number of members asking Ministers questions. 1 should imagine that any table prepared on the basis of questions asked by members of the Opposition would indicate that there has been an equality of opportunity in that respect. Naturally this would happen because the Speaker calls one from each side of the House, one from his left and then one from his right.
But when this is looked at on the basis that 59 Opposition members may question Ministers and 37 members from the Government side may question Ministers, it is obvious that the 37 members on the Government side will each be able to ask more questions than the 59 members on the other side of the House. My point is that honourable members on this side of the House are fundamentally members of the House of Representatives, regardless of the Party to which they belong. Therefore, each of us ought to have an equal opportunity to question the Ministry. Whether we belong to the Government Parties or to the Opposition, it is not fair that 37 members on the Government side of the House are able to ask more questions each year than are the 59 members on the Opposition side of the House, even though the questions may be equally divided on a Government and Opposition basis.
I have not moved an amendment on this question because I realise that the Government probably would use its numbers to defeat it, but I should like to register my protest against the Committee’s decision. My intention in moving the motion to refer this question of the allocation of questions to the Standing Orders Committee was quite clear. I was not arguing about whether the Government or the Opposition asks more questions because obviously if the Speaker calls one member from each side alternatively, it must work out that there is basic equality in the number of questions which members on the Government and Opposition sides ask. But when one considers that there are 59 members on the Opposition side and 37 members on the Government side questioning the Ministry one can see that members on the Government side are able to ask more questions of the Ministry.
We are ail members of this House and we are all equal. We deserve an equal opportunity to question the Ministry, but we are not getting it. It is as simple as that. I wait here to ask a question. I am able to ask one question every 3 weeks, and every other member of the Opposition gets one question every 3 weeks. The rest of our questions have to be put on notice. In the Senate question time runs for an hour or an hour and a quarter - sometimes longer. There are 60 members of the Senate. In this chamber there are 125 members and question time runs for threequarters of an hour. With the pattern of Government and Opposition in Australia today, it has been the practice for the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to ask many more questions than the average back bench member of the Opposition asks. Therefore, Opposition members are again penalised. But we find that 37 members on the Government side are able to ask a couple of questions each week.
On the day on which I originally raised this matter the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn) asked 3 questions and the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess) asked 2 questions, but we are able to ask only one question every 3 weeks. The Standing Orders Committee brings down a report and justifies its inaction by saying that the Opposition members and the members on the Government side get an equal opportunity to ask questions. It is obvious. If the Speaker calls members from his left and his right alternately, naturally at the end of a session the members on the Government and Opposition sides will have had equal opportunity to ask questions. But do the 37 members on one side get a better opportunity to question the Ministry than do the 59 members on the other side? Obviously the answer is yes. It is inequitable and unfair, and it does not behove the Standing Orders Committee to use this sort of basic argument which does not deal with the root cause of the problem that motivated me in the first place to move that the matter of allocation of questions be referred to the Standing Orders Committee. I am not quite sure whether I am in order, but 1 should like the Standing Orders Committee to reconsider the matter of the allocation of questions, not on the basis of equality between the Government side and the Opposition side, in relation to the parties on either side, but on the basis of equal opportunity for members of the House to question the Ministry. I should like the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) to give an assurance that this matter will go before the Standing Orders Committee again. If a motion is required to enable that to be done, I would be very happy to move it.
– This problem balances itself out over a period. After the next election honourable members opposite will be in the same position as they were before the last election, when this procedure operated in their favour. If the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) wants to correct the position, he should appeal to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) not to ask so many questions and to give back bench members of the Opposition a fair go. Nothing is more certain than that, as night follows day, we will be returned after the next election with an overwhelming majority. The Opposition will have very few members and those members will have many opportunities to ask questions.
– I rise to support in a few words the suggestions which my colleague the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) made regarding the fairness of question time. I wish to quote a few statistics to illustrate the unfairness of the present situation and to show very clearly that the suggestion made by the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) was way off the beam, as ls usually the case when he makes suggestions from time to time in this chamber. This evening the honourable member for Mitchell suggested that over a period of time the position balances itself out and it is fair to all parties concerned. There is no doubt in my mind and, I am sure, in the minds of all members of the Opposition that that is not the case. lt has been suggested this evening that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) gets a lion’s share of the allocation of questions to members of the Opposition. We agree with this. We think that in his position the Leader of the Opposition has every right to have the opportunity to ask not only the questions that he wants to ask of Ministers but also from time to time follow-up questions, as he is the only member on this side of the House who is able to do so. Apart from that consideration, question time is weighted heavily and unfairly against members of the Opposition.
I repeat the point made by the honourable member for Blaxland: We have a limited opportunity to ask one question every 3 weeks of a Minister of the Crown. In other words, every 3 weeks of the session only one opportunity exists for a back bench member of the Opposition to ask a question of one of the Ministers of the Government. If this is democracy, it is lopsided democracy at its very worst. This evening during the course of this debate some members on the Government side have said that certain things that have been done and certain practices that have been followed by this Government indicate a breaking down of the democratic principles by which we should be operating the Standing Orders of this House. From my observations since I have had the opportunity to represent the electorate of Bowman, one of the worst features of the breaking down of the democratic principles of this House has been the unfair way in which question time has operated against members of the Opposition.
As I said when I rose to speak, I just wanted to make these few remarks in order to record my protest about the unfair way in which question time operates. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) often refers to the fact that we have an opportunity to put questions on the notice paper. That is so, but what a joke it is. They remain on the notice paper for months and months, and then after they have been given due consideration by the Minister concerned, he is able to trot out some innocous answer to the question that has been asked of him. This evening I want to point out that only one member of the Opposition, apart, as I say, from the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - and I am sure that the House adequately accepts the reason why they are given special privileges in this regard - has asked more than 2 questions in this current session of the Parliament which commenced on 15th February last, and at the end of this week we will be within 4 weeks of the completion of this session. The honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) is the only member of the Opposition who has had the opportunity to ask more than 2 questions in this session. Every other member of the Opposition has had the opportunity to ask, at the most, 2 questions during this session.
I will quote the opportunities to ask questions which have been given to other members. Very few back bench members of the Australian Country Party and of the Liberal Party have taken advantage of the privilege extended to them to ask questions in this House, as was illustrated by my colleague the honourable member for Blaxland who spoke earlier in the debate. The honourable member for Calare (Mr England), the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) and the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) have each asked 4 questions during this session. The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) has asked 5 questions, and the honourable member for Mallee (Sir Winton Turnbull) has enjoyed the privilege of asking 6 questions during this session. Up to the commencement of last week, the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O’Keefe) had asked no fewer than 7 questions in this session. Those figures do not take into account the questions which were asked last week or today. They include the period up to 11th April last. Until that stage the honourable member for Paterson had had the opportunity of asking 7 questions. The most that only one member of the Opposition was able to ask was 3.
Let us consider the way in which questions are weighed even more unfairly in favour of members of the Liberal Party. I suggest that 70 per cent of the questions they ask would be what are commonly referred to with truth as Dorothy Dixers, prepared by the Ministers. This cannot be denied even though Ministers get around the rulings of the Speaker, when protests are made by members of the Opposition about the abuse of Standing Orders, by pretending that they just happen to have notes before them concerning the questions they have been asked and are able to quote from those notes. We know that that is not true.
The unfair manner in which this abuse of question time is perpetrated is illustrated by figures relating to questions that have been asked by members of the Libera] Party up to the beginning of last week’s sitting. No fewer than 3 Liberal Party members have asked 3 questions each. Four members have asked 4 questions each. Six members have enjoyed the privilege of asking 5 questions each and one member has had the opportunity to ask 6 questions. So 13 Liberal Party backbenchers have had the opportunity to exceed the number of questions that have been available to members of the Labor Party - Her Majesty’s Opposition in this Parliament and the Party from which one might expect, in a democratic way, questions calling upon Ministers to account for and justify their actions.
Those members of the Liberal Party who have had the opportunity to ask 5 questions each continually ask questions of the Dorothy Dix type. 1 quote from statistics which have been provided as an official record of questions asked in the Parliament. It indicates that the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin) has asked 5 questions. The honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn) - we all know how he has the opportunity almost every week to ask his Dorothy Dixers - has asked 6 questions. The honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley), who has become an expert in the Dorothy Dix field in recent months, has asked S questions. The honourable members for Denison (Dr Solomon) and Diamond Valley (Mr Brown) have each asked 5 questions, as have the honourable members for Henty (Mr Fox) and Herbert (Mr Bonnett).
– Herbert is a marginal seat.
– It so happens that Herbert is a marginal seat in the Townsville area. At least it is considered marginal at present but I think the electors have a different idea and the result in that electorate will be a resounding victory for the Labor Party which is waging a vigorous campaign there at the . moment. However, the honourable member for Herbert has been able to gain political capital from the unfair advantage that question time gives these back bench members who, because there are so few of them, are able to take off the gag and ask questions of Ministers.
I believe we should endeavour to take a stand at this stage. On various occasions the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and Mr Speaker have said that it is their intention - even though perhaps in the past this has not seemed to be so - to make question time fair and equitable to every member of the House irrespective of Party representation. I therefore move the following amendment:
That the following words be added to the question: “subject to decision No. 2 being referred back to the Committee for further consideration.”
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment. It is a worthwhile amendment because it will give the Speaker the opportunity to devise some equitable way whereby members of the House will have an equal opportunity of asking questions of the Ministry. During his remarks the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh) outlined the scandalous position in which all members of the Opposition but one, that is 58 of us, have been able to ask only 2 questions of the Ministry whereas the honourable member for Ballaarat (Mr Erwin) has asked 5 and the honourable member for Balaclava (Mr Whittorn) 6, and so on. Thai is 2 to 3 times as many questions as have been asked by individual members of the Opposition. This is a scandalous position in a Parliament where all members are supposed to be equal.
Another point that should be mentioned is that the Assistant Ministers, who by their appointment have allowed themselves to become mummified sychophants, do not question the Ministry at all. in addition a number of conservative supporters of the Government do not think it is their role to question or be critical of the . Ministry in any way. Therefore questions from the Government side are limited to 15 or 16 members. Therefore they get the lion’s share of questions. If supporters of the Government do not wish to question the Ministry my view is that the 15 or 16 who do should be able to question Ministers only when members of the Opposition have had an equal opportunity, as members of this House of Representatives, to question the Ministry.
Earlier I referred to the fact that the Senate devotes 11 hours each day to question time. It is worth remembering that there are only 5 Ministers in the Senate compared with 22 in the House of Representatives. Most of the questions directed to Ministers in the Senate representing Ministers, in the House of Representatives receive very short answers because the Ministers plainly tell the questioners that they are not sure of the answers and will refer the questions to the appropriate Ministers. With only 5 Ministers in the Senate it is natural that replies to questions are much shorter. The Senate has only half the number of members of the House of Representatives and senators have double **ie time to question Ministers each day.
Just how bad is the position in the House of Representatives when members of the Opposition can ask one question each in every 3 weeks and some supporters of the Government can ask 5 or 6 questions in a session when members on this side can only ask 2? I think that the Standing Orders Committee was remiss in not recognising that the motive for my suggested amendment of the Standing Orders was to secure a more equitable distribution of questions. The amendment moved by the honourable member for Bowman will give the Speaker an opportunity to look at the position. Members from the Government side sneered and jeered a few minutes ago when I completed my remarks and when the honourable member for Bowman commenced to speak. They will be in our place next year and if they have any common sense they will support this amendment.
– You will be outside.
– The honourable member is only a sycophantic Assistant Minister. This time next year he will be on this side of the House. The amendment will enable the Speaker to consider the position at question time. The least that members on the other side can do is to support the amendment because it does nothing more than allow the Speaker to consider the position. I think the amendment deserves support and I have much pleasure in supporting it.
– I understand that the motion is to be amended slightly and I believe that the context of it will be that the matter, subject to other considerations, be referred back to the Standing Orders Committee. 1 think we would be quite happy to accept a recommendation to that effect. This is the procedure that has been suggested: If matters relating to Standing Orders come up for consideration, the Standing Orders Committee is the right body to consider them.
– I will accept the proposition suggested by the Minister for National Development and Leader of the House (Mr Swartz) if that is satisfactory to the mover of the motion.
– On a point of order. Both the honourable member for
Bowman (Mr Keogh) and the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) referred to ‘the session’. I do not want to be smart, but they seem to refer to the time from Tuesday 28th February this year. However, this session commenced on 3rd March 1970. I want to clarify whether they are dealing with the correct session, because we are only in the second session now.
– That point of order is not a point of order.
– Order! The honourable member for Mallee is making a point of order and I am listening to him and trying to understand it.
– All I want to clarify is whether this matter, when it is submitted to the Standing Orders Committee, will be submited in the correct manner. Both the mover and the seconder referred to ‘the session’ of Parliament, but they named the session as being from 28th February. The session commenced on 3rd March, 1970, and all I want to know is what the motion refers to.
– I was asked by the honourable member for Mallee what I referred to. I am referring to the period from the start of this session, which was February of this year.
– It was not; it started in 1970.
– The figures quoted were from the start of February. Does the honourable member for Mallee want an answer or does he want to tell me?
– Order! The question before the chair is that paragraph (b) be endorsed, and the Minister has accepted a proposal that the words proposed to be added be so added. The words proposed to be added were ‘subject to clause (2) being referred back to the Committee’.
– On a point of order. I seek your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition, in comparison with his own backbenchers, had some 30 questions in that period, is it not more an internal matter for the Opposition rather than a matter for the Government?
– Order! The question is, That the words proposed to be added be added’.
Amendment agreed to.
Question, as amended, agreed to.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Bryant) - by leave - agreed to:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the moving of an amendment to the motion of the Leader of the House to include an amendment of the standing orders relating to the adjournment of the House each sitting day.
– I move-
After paragraph (b) insert the following paragraph: (ba) That the standing orders be amended by inserting after standing order 49 the following new standing order: “49a. That, at 10 p.m. each sitting day, the Speaker shall put the question: - That the House do now adjourn - which question shall be open to debate; if the House be in committee at that hour, the Chairman shall in like manner put the question - That he do leave the Chair and report to the House; and upon such report being made the Speaker shall forthwith put the question - That the House do now adjourn - which question shall be open to debate: Provided that if the House or the committee be in division at the time named, the Speaker or the Chairman shall not put the question referred to until the result of such division has been declared; and if the business under discussion shall not have been disposed of at such adjournment it shall appear on the Notice Paper for the next sitting day”.’.
– Is the motion seconded?
-I second the motion.
– The proposition that I put before the Parliament is that as a regular procedure we move the adjournment of the House at 10 p.m. each day. We have discussed this in the past and we considered it briefly last time we had the Standing Orders before us. I think it important to give the matter some consideration. I am grateful to those members who are here at the moment and I hope that those who are in their rooms are hearing what we have to say and understanding what the situation is.
In my view we treat ourselves in the most haphazard fashion possible by the length of the meetings of the House. We disturb the lives of everybody who is associated with the Parliament and we pay a pretty poor compliment to the job we are sent here to do by extending the hours of sitting beyond a reasonable day’s working time. Of course, the Government will say - and this is no reflection on the Leader of the Government who is in the House at the moment, for he can handle only matters as they come to him from Ministries - ‘If we start to close down at 10 o’clock each night, we will not get through the business of the Parliament’. We have met for 165 or 166 days since the last Federal election on 25th October 1969. That is about 900 days ago. I would be the last to say that meeting here is the only business we have had to do, but I believe that having regard to the importance of the business of the Parliament of Australia at the present’ time we meet on too few days, and on those days we meet for too long a time.
The proposition that I put before Parliament gives every member an opportunity to consider his own welfare and that of everybody about him. What has been happening to the Parliament? lt just happens that earlier in the course of the debate I looked up the number of days that we met in 1947. We met, 1 think, for 92 days in that year. That wa* a year taken at random. As time has gone by since I entered Parliament in 1956 we have crowded more and more business about more and more things into the same number of days, or even into fewer days. In that year there was very little discussion about the Aboriginal people. There was none whatever on education. There was little discussion in many other areas of debate. Questions are coming up here which should be considered by Parliament, and we are trying to jam more and more work into the same number of days or into fewer clays. The last consideration tonight is what is a reasonable day’s work, or a reasonable day’s application.
What else has been happening? If we take the first 14 days of sitting in autumn 1971, the first 14 sitting days of the budget session 1971 and the first 14 days of this session, we can see what we are doing to ourselves. In the first period - that is at the beginning of last year - we met for 103 hours. In the next 14-day period we met for 121 hours. In the next 14 days, that is this session, we met for 140 hours. We have only to keep this up a little longer and we will be driving ourselves into the coronary occlusion departments of the hospitals. Nearly every honourable member comes to the House at about 9 o’clock in the morning. It is just part of the habit of life. We crowd into the day a series of meetings and sessions and we knock off at about midnight. This is becoming worse.
– We get overtime.
– As a matter of fact, I do not know. I always say to people that I do not know whether I am gainfully employed; I only know that I am fully employed.
Let us consider the actual length of the days. If we look at the statistics issued for last year we find that in the first period from February to May we sat on 25 occasions until after midnight. During that period the average knocking off time was 12.3 a.m. In the second session we met on 40 occasions after midnight and the average finishing time was 1 2.6 a.m. What a way to treat ourselves! So I am asking honourable members to strike a blow for their own personal freedom, show their common sense and exercise their free vote in this instance. I am sure that this matter has nothing whatever to do with political parties. I sympathise completely with the Leader of the House (Mr Swartz). He has to gather from 27 Ministers all the documents and things necessary for the presentation and consideration of legislation. But this is a difficult question. No-one can do his duty properly at this time of the night if he has been on duty for 12 hours already. No-one can continue to do his duty if he has to do the same again on Wednesday and Thursday.
But this is only part of the question. What about the victims of our behaviour? There are 125 of us members. What about the staffs of this Parliament? There are some 20 Ministers in this place and each has a staff of 3, 4 or 5 people. There are another 60 or 70 people in the Parliament who are innocent victims of the system and who cannot answer back. Members of the Library soldier on hour after hour after hour. Every one of us knows when we have been in the Library that members of the staff will say courteously but rather wistfully: ‘What time are we going to rise tonight? It is only because we are served by such loyal, devoted and competent people that the place works at all.
Then there is Hansard. We sit till a late hour and the Hansard people, so bless me, have to soldier on for another hour or longer after the House adjourns before they can go home. They have to be on deck next morning to report a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee or another committee which could meet at 9 o’clock. Ihave been here on occasions when in fact some of the staff did not go home at all. By the time we adjourned at about 8 a.m., it was time for the staff to start the new day’s work. Then there are the broadcasting people. The eccentric way in which we treat the sittings of this House mean that the Australian Broadcasting Commission, for instance, cannot make plans about a large number of things. Also we have to consider the members of the car pool. While we are playing along here, soldiering on or pressing on - whatever we are doing - there are dozens of people outside just waiting for us to finish.
There is also the Press which, of course, is at a great disadvantage in that reports on the rousing speeches that are made at midnight are just too late for the morning editions. I believe that the logical thing for our own personal welfare is to knock off at the reasonable hour. The essential thing for us to do in consideration of the nation’s business is to knock off at a reasonable hour after the decent period of time has been used during the day. But the sensible, commonsense and humane attitude is to consider the welfare of the people who make our work possible - the broadcasting monitors, the dining room staff, the attendants, the car pool drivers, the Library and Hansard officers who are the innocent victims - and knock off at a reasonable hour. I propose 10 p.m. Honourable members may say that it is a bit early. I do not know what sort of life we lead if we consider that 10 o’clock is a bit early to knock off work. Of course, that is not what we would do. We would have a debate on the motion that the House now adjourn. Half a dozen people could tell the world of the sorry state of affairs until 11 o’clock then perhaps the day’s work would be done.
There would be times when we would want to do some business after 10 o’clock. The procedure that would be adopted on such occasions here is simple. Mr Speaker or the Chairman would put the question that the House do now adjourn’. If we sat silently or said no and the question was not carried we would press on until we finished the business. A number of honourable members have spoken to me about this. I know that nearly everyone in this place, regardless of politics, would rather go home at 10 o’clock than at midnight. I think that this is a reasonable aspiration.
– Could I interrupt the honourable member to say that it is now an hour later than the time he suggests that the House should adjourn. I suggest that he move the adjournment of the debate. The Minister will agree.
– I think it is time now to make our decision. This matter has been pottering along from day to day on the notice paper and on the blue sheet. All that is needed is for a decision to be made that we do not go on like this any more. This can be achieved if enough hands say, be done with it, and we vote for 10 o’clock closing.
– I second the amendment.
– Move the adjournment of the debate. The Minister will agree.
– Then 1 move:
That the debate be now adjourned.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.7 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
Chemical and Biological Warfare (Question No. 5086)
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Navy: Naval Damage Control Training College, Philadelphia.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) The average number of endowed children in 1961-62 was 3,380,218 or 31.75 per cent of the mean population. In 1970-71 the average number of endowed children, including endowed full-time students aged 16 to 21 years, was 4,117,654, or 32.52 per cent of the mean population.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
What is the estimated total personal taxable income for 1971-72.
– The answer to the honour able member’s question is as follows:
It is estimated that the total personal taxable income of taxable individuals for the 1971-72 income year will be an amount of the order of $20,000m.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows: (1 and 2) Income tax statistics have not been compiled in sufficient detail to enable a reliable estimate to be made of the cost of deductions allowed since 1960 under section 78 (1) (a) (xv) of the Income Tax Assessment Act. The available statistics of assessments that included separate information on deductions for gifts relate to all amounts allowed under section 78 (1) (a) and were compiled in respect of taxable individuals for the 1963-64 and 1967-68 income years and taxable and non-taxable companies for the 1962-63, 1965-66 and 1968-69 income years.
However, based on information from income tax returns for the 1970-71 income year of individuals not subject to provisional tax. it has been estimated that the cost to income tax revenue of deductions allowed or allowable to taxable individuals in assessments for the 1970-71 income year for gifts to approved school building funds and war memorial funds, will be approximately $5.5m.
asked the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The question would be more appropriately addressed to the State Minister for Environmental Control. I have asked the New South Wales Minister if he will provide me with information on the matter raised in the question.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Donations of $2 and upwards are allowable deductions if made to a public fund established and maintained exclusively for providing money for the acquisition, construction or maintenance of a building used or to be used as a school or college. The building must be used by a government or public authority or by a society or association which is carried on otherwise than for the purpose of profit or gain to the individual members of that society or association. Section 78(l)(a)(xv) of the Income Tax Assessment Act is restricted to funds which are applied exclusively towards the acquisition, construction or maintenance of buildings and does not extend to funds designed to provide assistance for other associated educational projects.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
These estimates are based on statistics of assessments of resident taxable individuals classified in the grades of actual income set out in Schedule No. 1 (2) of the 35th Report of the Commissioner of Taxation and Schedule 1.2 of Taxation Statistics 1969-70. the supplement to the 49th Report.
asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Health, upon notice:
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Commonwealth Statistician has advised that final estimates of apparent consumption per capita of tobaccoand cigarettes are compiled for financial years and are not available on a calendar year basis. He has therefore supplied the following two tables showing (1) Apparent Consumption Per Capita of Tobacco and Cigarettes during the financial years 1950-51, 1960-61 and 1970-71, and (2) Change in Apparent Consumption Per Capita of Tobacco and Cigarettes between 1940-41 and 1950-51, between 1950-51 and 1960-61 and between 1960-61 and 1970-71:
The Commonwealth Statstician has also advised that statistics shown in Table 1 and the percentages in Table 2 represent the apparent consumptionas figures for changes in stocks, which should be taken into account in calculations of this nature, are not available.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
What will be said here about the effect which rising wages have had on prices in recent years is not at al) intended to imply that they have been solely responsible for the -price increases which have occurred. It is not so. A good many other factors have contributed, larger profit margins probably more than most. Also, any tendency foi demand to run to excess quickly reflects itself in the elements making up costs but the directly consequential rises in wages are the symptoms rather than causes of the prevailing inflation.’ (Page 12) and further at ally rate, there can be no escaping the conclusion thai strongly rising wages have been contributing to the recent faster rate of price increases and the rapid growth of demand.’ (Page 13)
Other factors which appear to have intensified the current inflationary problem include the lagged effects of the previous excess demand situation, differing price movements for goods and services traded on our overseas current account, industrial unrest and, of course, non-economic factors - such as those summed up in the term inflationary psychology’.
With respect to increases in indirect taxes and charges, I said at the time of release of the December Quarter Consumer Price Index thai the bulk of them was essentially a response to increased wage costs which had to be met by the authorities and business instrumentalities concerned.
As to the abolition of incentives, I assume the question refers to the suspension, in February 1971, of the investment allowance on plant and equipment used in manufacturing. At that time, private investment in non-farm plant and equipment was rising very rapidly and in those circumstances it was thought inappropriate to continue the incentive. The rate of increase in private investment has subsequently eased. The government recently decided to restore the investment allowance, the view having been strongly put to us that this was a measure most likely to boost confidence and activity in the manufacturing industries.
The results are representative of 2,213,000 fulltime adult male employees whose normal hours of work are 30 or more a week and who were paid for their full normal hours of work during the survey period.
The estimated proportion of these full-time adult male employees who earned less than the average weekly total earnings (as estimated in this Survey) in the pay-period which included 12th May 1971. is set out in the table below. The estimates are based on the assumption that, for the total weekly earnings group in which the average weekly total earnings figure falk, employees are evenly distributed (consideration being given separately to managerial, etc., staff and to all other full-time adult males).
The survey excluded employees of private employers not subject to pay-roll tax; employees in rural industry and private domestic service- employees of religious, benevolent and other similar organisations exempt from pay-roll tax; and waterside workers employed on a casual basis.
On the matter of unemployment benefits, the basic rate was, of course, recently increased to $17 per week.
Environment: International Agreement (Question No. 4988)
asked the Minister for the
Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, upon notice:
Has Australia taken steps to develop bilateral relations on environmental matters with the United States of America as Canada, Japan, Mexico, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Yugoslavia and India have done.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
In November 1971 the Prime Minister had discussions in Washington with the Chairman, Mr Russell Train, and other members of the United States Council on Environmental Quality.
We have continuing contact with the United States Authorities through our scientific liaison staff at the Embassy in Washington. In addition, a senior officer of my Department recently had discussions in Washington with officials of environment agencies.
Post Office Closures: Tasmania (Question No. 4999)
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice:
– The Acting PostmasterGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question, showing in brackets after the name of each office the approximate average daily sales of postage stamps for the last complete financial year before the office was closed: (l)
Wilmot Electorate 1961- 62- ‘Brighton Military Camp (94c), Victoria Valley (35c). 1962- 63- Jericho (91c). 1963- 64- Mount Nicholas (30c). 1964- 65 - Roses Tier (16c), Tyenna (Records not available). 1965- 66- Cullenswood (46c), Fentonbury (58c), Merseylea (38c), Oakwood (11c), Rekuna (23c), Upper Esk (16c), Uxbridge (41c). 1966- 67- Andover (57c), Little Swanport (6c), Llewellyn (19c), Meadowbanks Hydro Camp ($2.39). 1967- 68- Pa wtella (15c), Frankford West (15c), Interlaken (29c), Magra (45c), Notley Hills ($1.07), Oaks (4c), Retreat (8c). Rhyndaston (28c), Rosevale (20c), Stormlea (28c), Strickland (7c), Toiberry (20c), Steppes (17c). 1968- 69- Needles (75c), Nugent (10c), Paloona (18c), Stonehenge (15c), Winkleigh ($2.45), York Plains (49c), Antill Ponds (99c), Birralee (22c), Blackwood Creek (38c), Broadmarsh (17c), Dromedary (34c), Flowery Gully (86c), Kellevie (29c), Lyetta (29c), Mangalore ($2.12), Ormley (20c). 1969- 70- Apsley (21c), Bream Creek (57c), Elizabeth Town (64c), Hayes (43c). Holwell (24c), Levendale (31c), Moogara (8c), Mount Seymour (22c), Murdunna (84c), Powranna (14c), Quamby Brook (68c), Stonor (26c), Stoodley (29c), Whitefoord (61c), Blessington (10c). 1970- 71- Beulah Lower (21c), Deddington (18c), Glenora (54c), Koonya ($1.09), Liena (42c), Lorinna (7c), Mayberry (5c), Moltema (76c), Rowella (97c), Saltwater River (29c), Taranna ($2.45), Waddamana ($1.00), Weegena (41c). 1971- 72- Osterley (68c), National Park ($1.11), Riverside West ($4.07), Runnymede (23c), Highcroft (81c).
Bass Electorate 1961-62- Rocherlea (61c). 1966- 67- Gray (8c). 1967- 68- Tonganah (8c), Turners Marsh Lower (41c), Diddleum Plains (14c), Kamona (10c), North Scottsdale (12c), Springfield South (12c), Tayene (13c), Telita (55c), Egg Lagoon (25c). 1968- 69- Patersonia (9c), Pipers Brook (12c), Priory (6c), Relbia (24c), Scottsdale West (15c), Trenah (45c), Tunnel (33c), White Hills (30c), Alberton (11c), Breadalbane (73c), Blue Rocks (11c), Emita (5c), Lalla (18c), Legunia (14c), Lietinna (18c), Lilydale North (14c), Memana (36c), Myrtle Bank (15c). 1969- 70- Jetsonville (7c), Targa (12c), Tulendeena (49c), Burns Creek (35c). 1970- 71- Beechford (16c), Mount Direction (32c), Turners Marsh (25c). 1971-72 (July-February) - South Mount Cameron (23c), Weldborough (65c), Underwood (23c), Royal George (72c), Bangor (23c), Herrick (96c), Moorina (40c), Goshen (18c).
Braddon Electorate 1961- 62- Weetah (12c). 1962- 63-Howth (16c), Naracoopa (16c). 1964- 65- Parrawe (8c), Regatta Point (52c). 1965- 66- Mooreleah (8c), Parkhum (22c), Spalford (17c), Western Creek (30c). 1966- 67- Abbotsham (34c), Harford (52c), Linda (42c), Musselboro (20c), Takone West (31c). 1967- 68- Christmas Hills (29c). Montana (11c), Roger River West (15c). 1968- 69- Preston South (15c), Castra Central (37c). Guildford Junction (36c), Heka (3c), Loyetea (9c), Melrose (30c). 1969- 70- Camena (13c), Hampshire (7c), Lapoinya (21c), Wiltshire Junction (23c), Oldina (15c). 1971-72 (July-February)- Eugenana ($ 1 . 00).
Franklin Electorate 1961-62- Franklin South (27c). 1964-65- Oyster Cove (29c). 1966- 67- Wattle Grove (9c). 1967- 68- Wattle Grove Lower (39c), Woodstock (22c). Pelverata (13c), Glaziers Bay (11c), Gordon (79c), Howden (2c). Kaoota (13c), Lymington (54c). 1968- 69-Hastings (34c), Glenlusk (14c), Berriedale ($1.63), Austins Ferry ($1.00), Neika (16c). 1969- 70- Barnes Bay (73c), Garden Island Creek (53c). 1971-72 (July-February)- Sandford ($1.03), Longley ($3.42), Simpsons Bay (87c), Lunawanna (69c), Cairns Bay (28c).
Denison Electorate 1961-62 - Wellington Vale ($4.70). 1970- 71- Mount Nelson ($1.43).
Where residents were obtaining their mail through the post office, appropriate arrangements to continue getting mail to these people have been made.
Consideration is being given to closing the Takone and Calder West non-official post offices inthe Braddon Electorate when the automatic telephone service is introduced shortly.
In the Wilmot Electorate, Dulverton is expected to close at the end of April as it is serving only two families, one being that of the Postmistress, and Falmouth could close later in the year because very little business is being transacted and alternative mail arrangements can be made. Scamander Upper, in the Bass Electorate, could also close later in the year for the same reason.
If the automatic telephone service is cut over as planned at the end of the year, Golconda, also in the Bass Electorate, could close.
Television Services in Western Australia (Question No. 51.32)
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice:
– The Acting PostmasterGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
Television. Services in Western Australia
Question No. 5133
asked the Postmaster-
General, upon notice:
– The Acting PostmasterGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
As the honourable member will appreciate there are both technical and economic difficulties associated with the provision of services to remote and sparsely populated areas but I can assure him that the Board has the matters which he has raised under consideration, including the possibility of using television repeater type stations such as are operating in remote mining communities.
Television Services in Western Australia (Question No. 5134)
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice:
– The Acting PostmasterGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable members question:
National Service (Question No. 5181)
asked the Minister for
Labour and National Service, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable members question is as follows:
In the most recent Review of the National Service Scheme, which I released last year, 1 noted that in the 12 months to 30th June 1971, only, 2 men had persisted in their refusal to comply and had been sentenced to imprisonment. In the subsequent 6 months to 31st December 1971, only 1 man refused to comply and was sentenced to imprisonment. (3), (4) and (5) The circumstances in which men become liable to prosecution were set out in answer to Senate Question No. 1699 (Hansard of 1st December 1971, page 2227). Prosecutions are initiated in all such cases and brought to finality in accordance with the provisions of the National Service Act and due legal process. In this there is and can be no selectivity.
Handicapped Children (Question No. 5227)
asked the Minister for
Social Services, upon notice:
In what circumstances are persons over 21 years of age excluded from the provisions of the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
A person who had attained the age of 21 years prior to commencing to receive approved training would not be a ‘handicapped child’ within the meaning of the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act and would therefore not come within the provisions of that Act.
Social Services: Widows (Question No. 5242)
asked the Minister for
Social Services, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The training scheme for widow pensioners is available to any widow in receipt of a Class A or Class B widow’s pension. It was introduced in September 1968 for the purpose of assisting widow pensioners who wished to do so, to equip themselves to undertake full or part-time employment. There is no compulsion on a recipient of a widow’s pension to undergo training or to accept employment on its completion.
It was never expected that large numbers of widows would seek training under the scheme for a variety of reasons including family commitments, slate of health, age, availability of suitable training or the fact that the widow may prefer to use a previously acquired skill when this is permitted by her domestic situation.
The number receiving training and also the number who have entered employment and relinquish their pension on completion of training have exceeded the Government’s earlier expectations.
All widows in receipt of Class A or Class B pensions, are eligible to apply for acceptance through the Training Scheme for Widow Pensioners.
The number of widow pensioners eligible to apply were:
Very few cases are actually rejected. The normal procedure is for an application to discuss her training proposal with one of the Departments’ vocational counsellors. After these counselling interviews applicants often choose not to proceed with their applications because they consider, on reflection, that domestic or other circumstances present a serious barrier to study, they do not have the necessary entrance qualifications to undertake the course they had nominated, or suitable courses are unavailable from the training institutions in their local area. (4), (5.), (6), (8) and (11) These statistics are not kept by the Department.
(15), (16) and (17)
The following methods were, and still are, being used to advertise the Training Scheme:
Age Pensions (Question No. 5278)
asked the Minister for
Social Services, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Section 5 of the National Welfare Fund Act, 1943-52, appropriates moneys required to pay age pensions and associated allowances at the rates authorised by the Social Services Act 1947- 72. The amount required in 1971-72 for this purpose has been estimated as $674m of which approximately $65 7m is expected to be spent on age pensions, exclusive of wife’s allowance, children’s allowance and other ancillary benefits. (2)At 30th June 1971, the numbers were as follows -
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
It is not possible to determine the additional cost of paying Australian, age, invalid and widows’ pensions and other benefits overseas under the arrangements proposed in the Bill introduced into the House on 13rd April 1972. The eventual cost will depend on a number of factors which cannot now even be guessed at.
Some additional costs will arise in respect of pensioners who would have left Australia permanently even if there were no provision for payment overseas; and in respect of pensioners temporarily absent from Australia for periods in excess of 30 weeks. However, we do not know how many countries will conclude reciprocal agreements for portability of pensions, or the number of pensioners who will be affected.
On the other hand, some savings will result from the fact that Australian fringe and allied benefits (e.g. the Pensioner Medical Service and nursing home benefits) will not be available to pensioners overseas.
asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice:
Have new conditions been applied to female applicants for invalid pensions which require that, irrespective of age, if they are not in regular employment they must be medically unfit for house work as well as outside employment before becoming eligible for an invalid pension.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The Social Services Act requires a person, in order to qualify for an invalid pension, to be permanently incapacitated for work to the extent of at least 85 per cent, or permanently blind. These criteria apply to both male and female, and have been the basis of eligibility since the introduction of invalid pensions.
Aged Persons Homes Act (Question No. 5543)
asked the Minister for
Social Services, upon notice:
Which local government bodies have received grants under the Aged Persons Homes Act since his answer on 6th May 1971. (Hansard, page 2840)
– The answer to the honourable members question is as follows:
The following local government bodies have received grants under the Aged Persons Homes Act since 6th May 1971.
New South Wales -
Oberon Shire Council
Sandringham City Council
Traralgon City Council
Cairns City Council
Mareeba Shire Council
Murweh Shire Council
Secondary Education (Question No. 4969)
asked the Minister for
Education and Science, upon notice:
What was the (a) number and (b) percentage of students enrolled in (i) Government, (ii) Roman Catholic and (iii) other private schools in (A) each State and Territory and (B) the Commonwealth who (1) commenced the first year of secondary education in 1966 or 1967 and, (II) enrolled in 1971 for their final year of secondary education.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Table 1, below, shows details of enrolments in the final year of secondary schooling compared with enrolments in the first year of secondary schooling 5 or 6 years previously. In most cases the students in final years were the same students included in the statistics of enrolments in the first year of secondary schooling. However, the comparability of the figures is limited by factors such as the retention of students in the same grade for more than 1 year, immigration, interstate migration and movement between types of school (particularly during the final years of secondary schooling), details of which are not available.
In the Australian Capital Territory the enrolment comparison overstates the percentage of students reaching final year due to significant interstate migration during the periods in question.
Interstate comparability is also affected by differences between school systems. Such differences include the number ofyears of secondary schooling in each State and the extent of post-secondary education at technical or agricultural schools and colleges. The final secondary year enrolments exclude students who remained in full-time education but who were studying postsecondary courses at technical or agricultural schools or colleges.
In Tasmania the final secondary school grade may be taken in 1 year (form V) or spread over 2 years (forms V and VI), with students from both years taking matriculation examinations. The final year enrolment figures shown for Tasmania in table 1 relate to form VI only and so the enrolment comparison understates the percentage of students reaching final year. The final year enrolments used in reply to a previous question which gave figures for 1969 and 1970 (Question No. 2626. Hansard 20 April 1971, page 1742) were calculated on a different basis to that outlined above. The change affects both the Tasmanian and the Australian figures. Comparable figures for 1969 and 1970 are shown in table 2 below.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice:
In what Commonwealth departments or instrumentalities has the management power to inflict fines on employees for disciplinary purposes.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I have been advised by the Public Service Board that in all departments the Chief Officer has the power to impose fines on permanent officers for disciplinary purposes. The Minister for Labour and National Service has advised that management in the following instrumentalities has the power to impose fines on employees for disciplinary purposes:
Australian Capital Territory Police
Northern Territory Police
Northern Territory Administration
Australian Atomic Energy Commission
Australian Broadcasting Commission
Overseas Telecomunications Commission
Australian Dairy Produce Board
Australian Dried Fruits Control Board
Australian Meat Board
Australian Tobacco Board
Commonwealth Bureau of Roads
asked the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
1971) - 2,744
1971 (i.e. awards first tenable in
1972) - 2,733.
Note - 1971 figures should be regarded as preliminary at this stage.
asked the Minister repre senting the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The AttorneyGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
asked the Minister for Education and Science, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
Migrants: Mental Health (Question No. 5115)
asked the Minister for
Immigration, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The application form contains a formal question requiring the disclosure of information about mental health. The form completed by applicants under the United Kingdom Assisted Passage Scheme contains the following question:
Have you or any member of your family ever had a chest clinic investigation, suffered from epilepsy, cancer, tuberculosis or nervous disorders such as anxiety or depressive state of a disability?
The application form for entry for residence completed by other applicants contains the following question:
Details of any mental illness, other serious illness, or physical disability (for any member of the family or dependants).
The first part of the medical examination form for British assisted migrants (which is completed by the applicant) contains the following questions:
Have you ever had:
Has any member of your family or any relative (state relationship) ever had:
Have you required any medical attention during the past two years?
The medical examination form completed by applicants other than prospective U.K. assisted migrants includes the following questions:
Have you, or has any member of your family ever suffered from a nervous or mental disorder, fits or epilepsy, or been treated in an institution for any kind of these disorders?
What medical attention have you required during the last twelve months?
During the course of selection interview selection officers are alert to detect indicators of actual or past mental health problems (which can be referred for further investigation by the medical examining officer). Such indicators might arise, for example, from observation of the applicants themselves or from examination of their employment history. No judgment would be made by the selection officer but any suspicions would be referred to the medical examining officer.
The medical examination form completed by the medical examiner in the course of the medical examination of the applicant contains specific questions relating to ‘nervous system’ and (for British assisted migrant applicants) ‘mental state’ or (for other applicants) ‘mental conditions and intelligence’ and medical officers are alert to detect mental health problems.
In addition both kinds of medical examination form contain a specific certification by the medical examining officer as follows:
For British assisted migrants -
I CERTIFY that I have this day examined the above-named, that the results are as set forth, and in my opinion:
For other applicants -
I CERTIFY that I have this day examined the above-named, that the results are as set forth, and in my opinion:
In cases where the medical examiner suspects personality disorders or diagnoses mental deficiency a specialist medical report would normally be sought, if the applicant were otherwise acceptable.
Since that time the general question of psychiatric breakdown among immigrants has been the subject of detailed research by a number of other researchers working in this field, and results of these investigations have been closely- watched by my Department.
In the later 1960s, as a result of a growing awareness at the time of the special needs of migrants who had broken down and been admitted to psychiatric institutions and in view of the limited amount of information then available about the numbers and characteristics of immigrants in such institutions, it was decided that ah appropriate survey should be undertaken by the’ Survey Section of the Department. The purpose of this survey was to obtain basic information which would assist in assessing the situation in respect of such immigrant patients.
The findings of this survey were submitted to State Ministers for Immigration and to the Directors of Mental Health in the States. The implications of the findings, particularly as they relate to migrant selection, the possible need for additional interpreting facilities in the community and to migrant services generally, are at present the subject of consideration by my Department
Migrants: Information Pamphlet (Question No. 5353)
asked the Minister for
Immigration, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The text of the pamphlet ‘Employment in Australia’ was revised in September 1971 and accurately interpreted the employment situation then prevailing in Australia. Unfortunately through faulty proof reading and checking several changes in the revised text were not included.
In line with normal practice the Department of Immigration issued instructions to withhold the booklet until it was replaced with a new edition. Meanwhile migrants coming for interview continued to be correctly and fully counselled on their employment opportunities in Autralia.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 April 1972, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1972/19720418_reps_27_hor77/>.