24th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. Sir John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. CREAN presented a petition from certain electors of the Commonwealth praying that the Government -
Nations, declare Australia’s willingness to enter into an agreement not to manufacture, test, station or acquire nuclear weapons.
– I ask the
Minister for Shipping and Transport a question without notice. Now that the Government has unexpectedly decided to proceed with the standardization of the rail link between Port Pirie and Broken Hill, will the Railway Equipment Agreement (South Australia) Act 1961, which relates to narrow gauge rolling-stock, be repealed, or will the finance to be provided under the act now be available to South Australia for the purchase of standard gauge rollingstock? How much money has been advanced to South Australia under this act?
– The decision to proceed with gauge standardization work on the railway line between Broken Hill and Port Pirie was not unexpected. This is a matter that we have been dealing with for a considerable period. South Australian members have been dealing with me, as a committee, for quite a long time. I would like that to be clear from the outset. The decision may have been unexpected to the honorable member. Many matters concerning rolling-stock and equipment will have to be considered before the standardization work is commenced or completed. The rolling-stock which has been ordered should be in operation shortly. The twelve locomotives and 100 special cars involved will be utilized during the period before the line is converted to 4-ft. 8i-in. gauge. The other matters referred to by the honorable member are matters of detail concerning the standardization works project. Consideration is being given to the arrangements that it will be necessary to make.
– I direct a question to the Minister for the Army. Is the recruiting of full-time regimental medical officers for the Australian Regular Army considered to be meeting requirements? Further, has any decision been made in connexion with the establishment of an Army general hospital as recommended by the Army medical authorities?
– Mr. Speaker, it is true that we could do with more doctors in the Army. The matter referred to in the honorable member’s other question is under consideration at the present time and I have no further information to give in regard to it at this moment.
– I direct a question to the acting Minister for Trade. Is it a fact that four senior Commonwealth public servants of the Department of Trade have resigned recently to seek employment outside the Commonwealth service, where salaries paid are more commensurate with their talents? If so, what action does the Minister intend to take to arrest this exodus of valuable and well-trained public servants?
– I have no information about the subject-matter which the honorable member has raised, but I will make some inquiries and let him know the result.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation any information which he can give the House as to why all air services between Australia and West New Guinea will cease? Is there any significance in the announcement that air links between Australia and West New Guinea will be possible only through Lae, and that direct flights from the mainland will not be permitted?
– The Minister for Civil Aviation has informed me that flights between east New Guinea and West New Guinea - or West Irian - will not cease. I understand that Trans- Australia Airlines has a fortnightly flight between Lae and Hollandia, or Kota Baru, as it is now called. This plane will be allowed to land at Kota Baru, but the Australian Government will probably have to give similar landing rights in east New Guinea to Garuda Indonesian Airways. Qantas has sought approval to over-fly West Irian. The application was made only about a week ago and, so far, permission has not been granted. Flights from Sydney to Manila will have to deviate to the east of West Irian until permission is granted, but it is believed that permission will shortly be given.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has he given any further consideration to the plight of tobacco growers from the Clare, Millaroo and Dalbeg areas on the Burdekin River, many of whom are living on State rations while others are walking off their farms, although less than ten miles away sugar farmers are enjoying the prosperity that all farmers should enjoy?
– Mr. Speaker, tobacco sales in north Queensland are proceeding. On the occasions when Brandon leaf was offered sales of this leaf were unsatisfactory. I remind the honorable member that the State Tobacco Leaf Marketing Board is managing tobacco sales. It has not reported to me on any particular aspect in which the Commonwealth would be interested. I will await the report of the responsible body.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is he aware that in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales the production of cotton is retarded owing to the shortage of cotton seed? Realizing that it is necessary and desirable for cotton seed to meet quarantine requirements, I ask: Will the Department of Health give urgent consideration to extending the facilities available for the quarantine treatment of cotton seed to ensure that adequate supplies of seed are available to the growers?
- Mr. Speaker, I understand that some applications have been submitted by potential growers in northern Victoria and the southern part of New South Wales for permits to import cotton seed in bulk quantities. For sound quarantine reasons, the permits were not granted. However, arrangements were made to import a small quantity of the variety that had been requested. The supply of that variety has now been multiplied under strict quarantine conditions and sufficient of this particular seed will be available for distribution for the next growing season. In addition, quantities of other varieties of seed that may be suitable for Australian conditions were imported under the same quarantine conditions and have been grown under quarantine. The best varieties will be made available to potential growers for the next growing season. This policy has been approved by the State departments of agriculture and by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. As the honorable member probably knows, a Commonwealth conference on cotton was held on Sth April last during which the Commonwealth’s quarantine procedure in relation to cotton seed was explained to the grower representatives. That procedure was fully endorsed by them.
– I .ask the Treasurer whether he will inform the House of any decisions taken to bring the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act into line with State compensation acts. Does the right honorable gentleman agree that the present Commonwealth act has not been substantially amended for a number of years and that in the interim the various State acts, in particular the New South Wales act, have extended numerous provisions and added many new clauses? Has the Minister considered the unsatisfactory features of the Commonwealth act, which provides no timetable for the determination of claims, denies compensation for some disabilities such as heart cases, for which most State acts now provide, and allows lower compensation for specific injuries and medical treatment than do most State acts?
– The honorable gentleman raises a substantial matter of policy. I do not propose to express any policy views on this matter at this stage. May I point out to the honorable member, however, that over recent years this Parliament has reviewed compensation legislation on several occasions. Indeed, the provisions of the legislation are under periodical examination within the relevant departments. The honorable member claims that provisions of the Commonwealth act are less satisfactory than those contained in some State acts. When you have compensation legislation in six States and in the Commonwealth, not unexpectedly you will find provisions in the legislation of one State differing from provisions in the legislation of other States. Broadly, I think the Commonwealth scheme is fair and equitable by comparison with the schemes operating in the States. This is not a situation in which the Commonwealth should set out to place its employees in a position of greater advantage than the employees of the State governments, which have their own financial problems. We do try to maintain comprehensive schemes of compensation which give fair and equitable treatment to our employees. I shall see whether the interval between the introduction of the last amending legislation and the present time warrants some early consideration of the need to introduce fresh amendments.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister. Has a dispute arisen between an instrumentality of the Commonwealth - the Snowy Mountains Hydro- electric Authority - and an instrumentality of the New South Wales Government - the Kosciusko State Park Trust - regarding proposed work to be undertaken by the authority in the Kosciusko primitive area? If so, what action is proposed by the Commonwealth for the settlement of the dispute?
– From what I have read of this matter I understand that there has been some conflict of opinion.
This is a matter which falls within the domain of my colleague, the Minister for National Development. I shall get in touch with him and ascertain the present position.
– Has the Prime Minister yet had an opportunity to consider the excellent publication issued by the Students Representative Council of the University of Melbourne, entitled “ Education in Australia “ ? If he has read the publication, does he agree that it contains indisputable evidence of the urgent need for the Commonwealth to make a greatly increased’ financial effort in the fields of primary, secondary and technical education in Australia?
– This is obviously a matter of policy. I have received many documents on this subject, including, no doubt, the one mentioned by the honorable member. I am not unfamiliar with the views that are stated, and I am not unfamiliar with the steps that we have taken in this field from time to time. I have stated the Government’s policy repeatedly. We have a few more problems coming up in the lift, as you might say. All these representations are taken into account, but so far I have no reason to alter the last two statements that I made to the House on this matter.
– My question to the Minister for Primary Industry relates to the New South Wales company which is reported to be manufacturing margarine in excess of the quota imposed by the New South Wales Labour Government. Is this company the same company as was prosecuted by the New South Wales Government, namely, Marrickville Margarine Limited?
– It is not my intention nor is it my practice to name companies that offend in some way or whose actions require corrective legislation. All I say on this matter is that it was evident to the Commonwealth and State Ministers who attended the Australian Agricultural Council meeting recently that margarine quotas were being exceeded. Since there appeared to be a deficiency in the New South Wales legislation, the New South Wales Government, after agreement with other States, decided to amend its legislation. As far as I know, the relevant provision in the act has not yet been proclaimed although the legislation has been passed by the New South Wales Parliament.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Trade been directed to a report that H ; British Government is anxious for Australia and New Zealand to consent to Britain waiving the tariff of 15s. per cwt. on Danish butter in return for Denmark eliminating all tariffs imposed on countries within the European Free Trade Area? Did the Minister for Trade discuss this matter with the New Zealand Government during his visit to Wellington last month, and is he discussing it with the British Government in London this month? What attitude has the Government decided to adopt towards Britain’s suggestion?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member has referred. As he knows, the Minister for Trade did have discussions, first, with the New Zealand Government and later with the governments of the United States of America and the United Kingdom, on matters concerning Australian trade and trade generally in this area. In addition, a conference of ministerial representatives of the various countries which are parties to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade will give very careful consideration to a variety of tariff matters. I shall make inquiries to learn whether any further information is available on the point which has been raised.
– Will the Treasurer explain why a depreciation allowance is not permitted in respect of telephone services which are installed in the outback? I ask this question because of many complaints that I received during a visit last week to Blackall, in central-western Queensland. A telephone is essential to people in the outback, and the installation may cost many thousands of pounds if the person desiring the service is outside the range of a Postal Department line. The people concerned feel that if a depreciation allowance similar to that which is applied to farm machinery were applied to telephone installations, the burden of installing telephones would be eased. If the Treasurer does not know why a depreciation allowance is not applied to the telephone services that I have mentioned, will he give special consideration to these people in the outback when he is preparing the next Budget? It seems anomalous that a depreciation allowance is applied to radio communication sets but not to telephones.
– I am not able to state offhand all the factors that have influenced the Government’s policy on this matter up to the present time, but I shall examine the honorable member’s illustration of the very costly installations in some of the outlying areas. I am sure that he will concede that this Government has given very favorable treatment to the taxation problems of the man on the land. We recognize that much of Australia’s prosperity and industrial development depends on the profitable production of our primary products and the successful export and sale of those products on the markets of the world on competitive terms. Therefore, we want to put the man on the land in a financially strong position. The aspect of policy raised requires closer study than I have so far given it, and I undertake to give it that closer study.
– I wish to direct a question to the Prime Minister. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the maximum allowance for a married man with no children, who is undertaking a university course under the Commonwealth scholarship scheme, is £9 ls. 6d. a week and is increased by only 10s. a week if he has one or more children? Is the right honorable gentleman aware also that the maximum allowance under the scheme for a single person living away from home is £7 7s. 6d. a week and for a single person living at home £4 15s. a week? Does the Prime Minister consider that these allowances are adequate in terms of to-day’s living costs? Will he review the allowances with the object of increasing them to a level that will ensure that individual students, particularly married persons, with the necessary ability but limited financial resources shall be enabled to continue their studies?
– I hope that the honorable member will understand me when I say that I do not carry these details in my mind. As he has raised this matter, I will be very happy to look into it and furnish him with a reply.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. The right honorable gentleman, when he introduced the range of export incentives, intimated that they were to operate for a limited period. Some businessmen in the export field have found that although they have benefited and the incentives have contributed to the growth of exports, they are nevertheless unable to plan further ahead than eighteen months, because of the limited period of operation intimated by the Treasurer. 1 now ask: Is the right honorable gentleman in a position to make a statement about the future of these incentives and to intimate whether the period of their operation will be further extended without limitation?
– After discussions with representatives of industry earlier this year, the Prime Minister made some public reference to this matter. In February, I think, it was put to us that there was some uncertainty of the kind that the honorable gentleman has mentioned, because, as matters then stood, the legislation would expire on 30th June, 1964. We were able to assure the representatives of industry - this was confirmed in the Prime Minister’s public statement - that the Government would extend the period of operation of the legislation. I hope that the Cabinet will shortly consider the matter and come to some decision about an extended date, and that the necessary legislation will be introduced before the present session of the Parliament ends.
– My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. Is it a fact that the strong criticism levelled at his proposals for legislation on restrictive trade practices by the Associated Chambers of Manufactures of Australia, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and other financial supporters of the Government has caused him to have second thoughts on the matter and that he does not now propose to proceed with the legislation? If this is not a fact, can he inform the House when the measure is likely to be brought before the Parliament and whether it will bear any resemblance to his original proposals?
– I adopted the course of making these proposals available for criticism. I expected criticism. I said that when I had received the criticisms I would consider them. I have probably not yet received all the criticisms, but when I have received them all and have considered them I will bring down a bill, assuming that my colleagues agree that it should be brought down. I can tell the honorable gentleman that I hope it will be an effective bill.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry. Has the Australian Dairy Produce Board suggested to the Minister a method of controlling butter production by the introduction of a scheme of domestic sales quotas? Will the Minister ensure that honorable members are informed of the details so that they may examine the proposals themselves and not have to rely on saleyard gossip and other sources for their information?
– No proposal has come to me from the Australian Dairy Produce Board, although I understand that the board is considering various matters affecting butter production. I may tell the honorable member that control of production is not really a matter for the Commonwealth Government, but rather one for the State governments.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister. Is the right honorable gentleman aware that the completion of Monash University is likely to be held up because of lack of funds, due, apparently, to the failure of the Australian Universities Commission to give full consideration to the needs of this new undertaking? Is he also aware that there will be a great increase in the numbers seeking places in universities at the end of this year, and particularly at the end of 1964? Will he arrange for action to be taken to expedite the completion of Monash University, and will he inquire whether the commission is being unduly diffident in its requests to the Government for funds?
– I have singularly little reason to distrust the operations of the Australian Universities Commission. I think it has done a very good job. I remind the honorable member that only quite recently I introduced into this House a bill - which was extensively debated on other grounds - which included an extra provision for Monash University along the lines suggested by the authorities of that university. If those authorities have further requests no doubt they will go to the commission, and no doubt I will hear about them in due course. But I am not going to discuss them in the abstract. I want to know what they are and what the commission has to say about them. This, I thought, would be in accordance with the procedure approved of by this House.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Shipping and Transport. Has any agreement yet been reached between the New South Wales Maritime Services Board and the Australian Coastal Shipping Commission as to a suitable site in Sydney Harbour for the ferry terminal and wharf for the Sydney-Tasmania ferry service? If agreement has not yet been reached, will the delay mean that the terminal will not be ready when the vehiclepassenger ferry now being built at Cockatoo Dock is ready to go into service in 1964? If this is the prospect, what arrangements will be made for a temporary terminal, or will the ferry’s entry into service be delayed?
– Negotiations have been taking place for the selection of a suitable site, and it has finally been decided to locate the terminal at Mort’s Dock. A satisfactory arrangement has been made with the Leichhardt Municipal Council. There has been no delay. It is considered that a terminal will be ready in time for the commencement of the Sydney-Tasmania ferry service. However, in case there should be any undue delay, the Australian National Line has made arrangements for a terminal, I think at Darling Harbour, which could be used temporarily until the other is ready.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Will the right honorable gentleman in framing the next Budget allow as a taxation deduction the expenses of people who must travel to centres away from their homes to obtain medical attention that is not available in their home towns? Business people are able to deduct expenses they incur when travelling on business.
– This matter has already been raised with me by a number of honorable members from both sides of the House. I assure the honorable gentleman that it is listed for consideration with other matters when the Budget is being framed.
– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Defence a question. As the Minister for Defence is unlikely to be present in the House before the end of the session and as the Acting Minister for Defence is in another place, and in view of reports recently made of increased defence planning by Cabinet, when is it expected that a statement on defence will be made to the House, as promised by the Minister for Defence in the first week of this session?
– I am certainly hoping, and indeed expecting, that a statement on this matter can be made before the House rises. In the meantime, I just want to say that I have read with great interest some of the rather dogmatic statements in the newspapers. They are all pure speculation and I would advise all honorable members to wait for the official announcement before forming any opinions on this matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for External Affairs. Was any
Australian support or assistance sought or given in the recent revolt in Brunei? If so, with what government and under what treaty did the Australian Government conduct negotiations for this assistance?
– I am not quite sure that I understand the question. When the honorable member asks what government was assisted, does he mean that we assisted the rebellion? I think it would be better for the honorable member to put the question on the notice-paper so that I can understand it.
– I address a question to the Minister for Immigration. Will the honorable gentleman amplify his recent announcement that approval will now be given for the entry into Australia of certain close relatives in southern Europe who have previously been outside approved categories? What will be the additional inflow of immigrants as a result of this decision?
– About ten days ago I announced that, as the result of plans that I had been formulating for some time, the Government had agreed to some extension of the categories of intending migrants from southern Europe. This applied particularly to the married daughters and married sisters of residents of this country. I think my honorable friend from Swan, who has long been interested in this matter, will be pleased by that decision. I expect that as a result of it there will be quite a large number of applications for the ensuing year. At this juncture, it would be purely speculative for me to say how many there will be, but I think that over rather a long period the number will run into several thousands. However, I hope the honorable gentleman will not hold me to any particular figure in that context.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is the right honorable gentleman aware of the national education conference to be held in Melbourne on 25th May7 Does he know that it is expected that this conference, widely representative of community organizations, will consist of about 4,000 delegates? Does he know that these delegates, who represent thousands and perhaps millions of Australian citizens, hold views contrary to the views of the Prime Minister and the Government regarding the urgent need for this country to step up its educational expenditure to a level comparable with that of many other countries? Despite his reiteration of government policy in rejecting pleas for a national survey of all educational needs and for special federal financial assistance to the States for educational purposes, will the Prime Minister accept an invitation to be present at the Melbourne conference to hear the democratically expressed views of these responsible citizens?
– I would be offensive to the honorable member and to the other honorable members who have spoken on this matter if I thought that their views were not democratically expressed or that they had not been made crystal clear. I understand them. These views come from many sources. I recognize the numerical force of what the honorable member has said. But I still have nothing to add to what I have stated on this matter.
– My question follows the question directed by the honorable member for Swan to the Minister for Immigration. With reference to the pleasing announcement by the Minister that daughters and sisters of southern European migrants are now eligible for admission to Australia, I ask the Minister whether it will be necessary for people in Australia to apply again in cases in which previous applications have been rejected on the ground that the proposed migrants were not then eligible to come to Australia, or whether the Department of Immigration will automatically review those applications.
– I think the honorable member for Sturt will agree with what I am about to say. It is better for fresh applications to be made. Applications made perhaps two, three or five years ago might well be affected by changes in circumstances, changes in family relationships and a multitude of other matters. Therefore, I think the procedure of making fresh applications would be more satisfactory to all concerned.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral a question regarding the annual report of the Postmaster-General’s Department for 1961-62. In the statement of profit and loss, the column headed “All Services 1961-62” contains an amount of £20,085,586 for interest. I ask the Postmaster-General what period of time that amount covers and when such figures first appeared in the accounts of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– The item in the accounts for 1961-62, referred to by the honorable member for Banks, covers that year. The honorable member has asked me when this new system came in. I announced some time ago - after an intensive investigation by a specially appointed committee that considered Post Office finances and after the report of that committee was made - that from that point onwards the commercial accounts of the Post Office would be presented as recommended by that committee.
– My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Repatriation. I understand that the Repatriation Department in Tasmania W;1] soon begin paying pensions by cheque. Can the Minister say when the new method will be introduced and whether it will replace the existing system under which some ex-servicemen have elected to have their pensions paid directly into their bank accounts?
– The honorable member has raised this matter on several occasions with the object of having some improvement made in the present method of payment of repatriation pensions in Tasmania. The present method is to pay pensions through post offices, and in some cases they are paid into bank accounts. I am pleased to inform the honorable member that arrangements are now being made for that system to be changed. Under the new system, people who at present receive their pensions through post offices will receive them through the post by cheque. That system will commence early in July. I am sure that it will be of great benefit to the ex-servicemen in Tasmania. It will not affect the present procedure for those who have elected to have the money paid direct to their bank accounts. That arrangement will continue.
– I direct a question to the Prime Minister as head of the Australian Government. I ask the right honorable gentleman to hold a searching public inquiry into the ramifications of all hospital and medical benefits funds because of the public concern caused by conflicting statements made by the Minister for Health, representatives of the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales and the president of the Australian Medical Association relating to increased charges levied by and restricted benefits paid by the Hospitals Contribution Fund of New South Wales. If the Prime Minister agrees to intervene on behalf of the public, will he ensure that the terms of reference shall be sufficiently wide to include an examination of the financial structure of each fund, having special regard to reserves, investments and costs of administration?
– I shall have a look into the suggestions made by the honorable member.
– I ask the Minister for Social Services whether he is aware of the great hardship imposed on civilian widows with dependent children by the restrictions applying to permissible income, the loss of allowances for children who are full-time students beyond the age of sixteen and lack of any domestic allowance. Will the Minister examine the feasibility of bringing the conditions of civilian widows into line with those of widows of ex-servicemen, relating to repatriation claims, both in respect of actual pension rates and availability of medical service?
– I am well aware of the difference existing in the payment of social service benefits to civilian widows measured against benefits paid under the Repatriation Act to war widows. The Government has done a great deal to improve the circumstances of civilian widows during the last fourteen years. Indeed, it is the only government since federation which has progressively increased rates, liberalized the means test and granted additional assistance for the children of civilian widows and, within the limits of the income means test, granted allowances for each child of the civilian widow. I do hope that that record of achievement will continue, but it can continue only so long as the Australian community as a whole is in a position to pay the additional cost.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether it has been a long-established practice on the Australian waterfront, as in other industries in this country, for workers to be paid for public holidays where they have worked on the day preceding and on the day following the public holiday. Is it a fact that waterfront, employment proceeded normally on Wednesday, 24th April, the day preceding Anzac Day, and on 26th April, the day following Anzac Day? If so, what explanation has the Minister to offer for the highly provocative action of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority in refusing pay for the recent Anzac Day holiday to thousands of waterside workers, of whom from 60 per cent, to 70 per cent, are ex-servicemen? If the Minister does not approve of the decision of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority, what action does he propose to take to remedy the injustice which has been inflicted upon this body of workers, and thus remove a cause of great industrial unrest?
– As the House knows only too well, there has been a series of stoppages on the Sydney waterfront that should be deplored by every thinking member of the Australian community. For & long time, the law provided that if a man was suspended on the day before or on the day after a public holiday he would not be entitled to pay for that holiday. Recently the law was amended to provide that in lieu of suspension for the day a man would lose his attendance money. As a consequence, it became the logical practice of the Australian Stevedoring Industry Authority that if a man loses his attendance money for the day before or the day after a public holiday he will not be entitled to be paid for that public holiday.
One thing has happened here to which I wish to draw attention. This should have been well known to the Sydney officials of the Waterside Workers Federation, but they made a palpable blunder, for which the men had to pay, when they pulled on the strike on the days on which they did. If they had given any thought to this matter, the strike would not have been pulled on. The Sydney officials of the federation have only themselves to blame. The men should hold the Sydney officials responsible for what has happened.
– I move -
That, with the exception of the amendments to Standing Order No. 144, the report of the Standing Orders Committee, brought up on the 28th August, 1962, be adopted, and that the Standing Orders of the House, with the exception referred to, be amended as recommended by that Committee, to come into operation on the first day of the Budget sittings 1963.
I am sure the House would wish to express to you, Sir, to the other members of the committee and its sub-committee, representative of all parties, its appreciation of the very detailed and, indeed, complex work which was undertaken, and of the comprehensive and fully documented report which the committee has brought up. I wish that this expression of the thanks of the House - I am sure that those thanks are supported by all sections - should extend to the Clerk and his assistant, who, I am sure, had to give a great deal of their time and skilled knowledge to this task.
It was a fundamental consideration of the revision that the rights of members should not be reduced in any way and that, wherever possible, they should be broadened. To the extent that this could be done without prejudice to established principles, the opportunities for members to carry out their functions have been increased.
All honorable members have had an opportunity to study the report and the proposals for revision of the Standing Orders which are attached. Many of the proposed changes are, necessarily, within the category of formal or drafting amendments, including those written to express the practice of the House. Some are of considerable interest. There is one group, clearly of major importance, which represents a positive and progressive approach by the committee to the modern and changing needs of the House. This group covers the proposed new financial procedures. The more statistically minded will be interested to hear that the proposals involve, in relation to the 403 existing orders, the alteration of 101, the omission of 60, and the insertion in their place of 59 substitute or new orders.
The report states the purpose of the review which was made, and records specially the most important of the committee’s recommendations; it deals also with certain alterations of the customs and excise acts and other legislation which will be necessary if the committee’s proposals in relation to financial procedures and the tabling of papers are adopted.
The explanations given alongside each amendment of the orders make it unnecessary for me to attempt to discuss the proposals in detail, but I would like to refer briefly to some of the significant changes which resulted from two of the objectives of the committee, set out in paragraph (1) of the report; one being the elimination of unnecessary form and the adoption of procedures which would allow more effective time for consideration of business, and the second being the establishment of new simplified procedures appropriate to the modern needs of the House. The purpose of the committee in these directions has, I am sure, met with the approval of honorable members.
The proposal to create new financial procedures is by far the most important from a parliamentary point of view and one which will have a strong appeal. The present financial committee system is confusing and the reason for its existence has always been difficult to understand. At this stage, I cannot do better than refer honorable members to paragraph (4) of the report. This reads -
It is proposed that the complex and timeconsuming procedures founded on the obsolete system of preliminary consideration of financial proposals in Supply, Ways and Means or other money committees before the bill is introduced be discontinued, and that these committees be abolished. These procedures have, to a large extent, become pure form, the House preferring to debate the proposals at the bill stage.
In their place will be simple procedures appropriate to modern conditions which will allow a financial bill to be introduced in the same way as a non-financial bill, that is, the bill would not be introduced to give effect to a preliminary money resolution in the Supply, Ways and Means, or money committees.
The financial committee system of the House of Commons which has been followed by the House of Representatives since 1901 was established in the seventeenth century during the constitutional struggle between the Crown and the Parliament. The principal purpose of the committee system was to enable the Commons to appoint its own chairman and have a freer, and safer, discussion than was possible when the Speaker, the representative of the Crown, presided. Subsequently, the committee system became part of the Commons’ procedure for expressing the financial initiative of the Crown.
The conditions that brought about the creation of the system have long since disappeared and the use of the committees to express the financial initiative is of no advantage in the House of Representatives. The financial initiative in its application to appropriation is expressed in section 56 of the Constitution stating that a vote, resolution, or proposed law for the appropriation of revenue or moneys shall not be passed unless the appropriation has been recommended by a Governor-General’s message and, in its application to a tax or duty, can be simply stated in a standing order - see proposed Order 291 in the schedule.
Typical of observations made by authorities in the United Kingdom is an extract from the “ House of Commons at Work “ by Dr. Eric Taylor, House of Commons - “ It may be doubted whether it (the financial resolution) affords any other practical advantage whatever to any one except in so far as it opens an additional opportunity to members for debating the bill: And even this advantage is offset by the severe restrictions which the terms of the resolution impose upon the scope of amendment. Sir Ivor Jennings has suggested that the procedure could well be dispensed with.”
In brief, and with one, or possibly two, exceptions to which I will refer later, the effect of the new procedures would be that appropriation and taxing proposals would be initiated by a bill eliminating consideration of a message, or estimates, or taxing proposals, in one or more of the three money committees.
In regard to appropriations, the GovernorGeneral’s message required by section 56 of the Constitution would merely be reported to the House by the Speaker and would not, as under the existing procedures, have to be referred to and considered by a money committee. This will save the time : of the House and of honorable members, particularly in the case of a message taken after a second reading, which, at present, involves reporting progress at clause 1 of the bill in order that the message may be referred to the money committee of the whole and a resolution passed and reported to the House for adoption, after which the House goes back into committee for further consideration of clause 1.
Estimates and Supply proposals would no longer have to progress through the Committee of Supply and the Committee of Ways and Means before the appropriation or supply bill can be brought in. These financial proposals would be initiated in bill form. What is now the Budget debate in supply would take place on the second reading of the bill, and what is now the Estimates debate would take place at the committee stage of the bill.
As a parliamentary document, the Estimates would disappear, although, insofar as the annual estimates are concerned, the material would appear, as it now does, as a schedule to the appropriation bill. There would need to be some consequential reshaping of other documents to provide information about, for example, revenue, and expenditure other than that provided for in annual appropriations. I stress, however, that there would be no reduction in the information available to honorable members.
Arising from the change is a proposal which will be welcomed by members, particularly those in Opposition. This will allow a clearly expressed amendment of wide scope relating to any matter or matters connected with public affairs to be moved to the second reading of an appropriation or supply bill in the place of, for instance, the narrow and technically limited amendment to reduce the first item which is the only amendment at present allowed during the Budget debate in supply.
With the exception of tariff proposals and some sales tax proposals which, for the reasons stated in paragraph (5) of the report, would be initiated by resolution in the House - not in the Committee of Ways and Means as at present - taxing and duty proposals would be introduced by bill and considered in bill form. It is proposed, however, that those tariff and sales tax proposals which are initiated by resolution should be considered in bill form, the resolution being used only to initiate the charge and protect the revenue. I referred earlier to legislation which would be necessary if the committee’s recommendations are adopted. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of the report deal with this matter and, as honorable members will see, it is proposed that, pending enactment of the legislation, Ways and Means be temporarily continued for the limited purpose of tariffs under interim Standing Order No. 288a, and that the modified procedure for the presentation of papers be deferred in its operation.
Other significant changes, some of which are listed in paragraph (3) of the report, are designed to facilitate and simplify the work of the House. They include such proposals as (a), allowing a notice of motion or a notice of intention to present a bill to be given by delivery to the Table - with this are associated safeguards to protect the rights of members by ensuring that such notices do not become effective unless they are reported to the House by the Speaker on a day previous to that on which they appear on the notice-paper; (b), the elimination of what, in these modern days, have become formal questions for the introduction and first-reading of a bill; (c), giving effect to the practice of the House in allowing the second-reading of a bill to be moved on the day of its introduction by providing that the second-reading may be so moved, provided, first, that copies of the bill are available for distribution in the House and secondly, that if this procedure is followed, the debate is to be adjourned to the next day; (d), the passing over of the committee stage of a bill when the House desires to treat this stage as formal and is prepared to give leave for this procedure to be followed; and (e), changing Standing Order No. 303 to ensure that it shall be used only in grave emergencies.
Mr. Speaker, this House should be concerned, as is the House of Commons, to keep its procedures up to date and adapted to meet the changing demands of parliamentary life. Over the years since federation the meetings of the Standing Orders Committee have been held at somewhat irregular periods. The comprehensive review which has now been made and the proposals put forward to modify our orders, present, I suggest, a sound base on which to build and I submit that it would be desirable and consistent with the wishes of honorable members if the Standing Orders Committee were to meet every year to consider, firstly, any further changes which the events of the preceding year have shown to be necessary and, secondly, proposals placed before the committee by honorable members. Mr. Speaker, I conclude by again expressing appreciation of the work done by the Standing Orders Committee of the House and the staff associated with it. I commend the recommendations to the House for adoption.
.- Mr. Speaker, the Standing Orders Committee spent much time in 1960 and 1961 in the former Parliament, and last year in the present Parliament, in reviewing the Standing Orders. The report of the committee is, the Opposition believes, a valuable recension of the Standing Orders. My colleagues on the committee appreciated your own leadership and wisdom in the deliberations of the committee and the similar qualities of the Chairman of Committees. We, Sir, were very much indebted, as we believe you and the Chairman were also, to the Clerk and his assistant for their advice. Indeed, we would have wished that the Government majority on the committee would have allowed us to adopt more of the Clerk’s advice.
No standing orders will ever achieve the approbation of every member of any house of parliament. Private members, in particular, feel that standing orders are an irksome framework and code. This is the view particularly of members of the party in Opposition, all of whose members are private members. Under our parliamentary system, a government, ipso facto, has the numbers. Its will can always prevail. It can suspend the Standing Orders if it desires. It has to obey the Standing Orders only as long as it wants to do so. The Opposition has doubts concerning proposed Standing Order No. 144 where U is to be amended, but that is excluded from our consideration now. The remaining amendments will provide all members with better opportunities to debate matters which come before the House, will in some few cases give them better opportunities to bring matters before the House, and will in all cases make their rights more clear and more rational. This applies particularly to the financial amendments.
If I may say so without disrespect, Sir, your comings and goings into and out of the chamber, while financial measures are being debated, remind me of nothing so much as the ghost train at Luna Park. You, yourself, may conduct yourself with gravity in the circumstances, and always with dignity, but nobody else watching the procedure can maintain similar gravity. The financial procedures which we are now to adopt and which will come into operation in the next financial year will be conducted in a more logical and intelligible way than has ever been the case in the House before and accordingly, Sir, the Opposition will not oppose any of the proposed amendments.
There is a very great number of the Standing Orders which we would like to see further amended, or amended where no amendment is being proposed. But the amendments which have been proposed, with the exception for the time being of some in proposed Standing Order No. 144, are improvements. Every member will better understand his rights and duties in procedure and debate. We are much indebted to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the officers of the House for the improvement that has been achieved and will come into effect next financial year.
– Mr. Speaker, with the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam), I support this proposal. We may criticize, if we like, the Standing Orders Committee for not having met more often in the past, but at least let us pay tribute to it for the thorough work it has done on this occasion. The Standing Orders will not be, for the future, immutable. They can be changed by this House and no doubt the committee will have certain proposals. I have in the past, having seen the committee’s proposals, made certain suggestions to it on a number of matters, and I hope that these will be considered.
This afternoon I would like to advert to two matters which I wish to put up for special consideration. The first relates to Standing Order No. 38, which governs the sittings of this House. I think many members regard our present routine as not a very satisfactory one because it wastes too much of members’ time in travelling. For sittings of two and a half days here many members have to spend almost as long a time in travelling.
This makes for inefficiency in the House itself. It is a notorious fact that when we meet on Tuesdays honorable members who have travelled long distances and perhaps sat up all night are inclined to be sleepy. For that reason the House very properly does not have an adjournment debate on Tuesday nights and rises early as a matter of practice. But the situation goes far beyond that. Honorable members do not have sufficient time always in their electorates and they are not able always to predict when the Parliament will be sitting so that they may make forward appointments. The Government and the Leader of the House particularly have done much better in this regard recently than hitherto has been the case. We appreciate the efforts of the Leader of the House to enable us to predict the dates of sittings, but he has not been able himself to predict those dates with infallible accuracy; and I think we could have a better system than the present one.
I suggest that the House meet in the normal way on Tuesday and Wednesday, sit through Thursday, Friday, Monday and Tuesday full days, then Wednesday a halfday as is now usual to allow party meetings, and then Thursday as usual, rising until 2.30 p.m. on the following Tuesday week. That arrangement would give us in each period of three weeks 60i sittings hours, assuming that we rose at 10.30 p.m. as we normally do, as against 611 sitting hours that we now get in a three-weekly period. The number of hours for which we would sit in each three-weeks period would be virtually the same under my proposed system as the number of hours for which we sit now. The length of the sessions would not be affected, but the amount of travel required of honorable members would be divided by a factor of three. In a three-weeks session, instead of coming to Canberra and returning home three times, honorable members would come here and go home once only. That division of travel by a factor of three would be a very material help, particularly to honorable members who live in the more distant States or who live in the more remote areas, even in New South Wales. It would help them to have a predictable ten days in every three weeks during which they could be available in their electorates to conduct their business. During sittings they would still be able to keep their desk work under reasonable control. Honorable members know that this problem of desk work is a very considerable one.
Even for members of the Cabinet, who work longer hours than do private members, my proposal would be an advantage because Ministers would have ten days in every three-weeks period during a session in which they could transact their business without having their time broken into small bits and frittered away as it is at present. Accordingly I suggest that Standing Order No. 38 should be amended to read -
Unless otherwise ordered, the House shall meet for the despatch of business on each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at half-past ten o’clock a.m.; and on each Wednesday at halfpast two o’clock p.m., provided that when the House has sat on two consecutive Thursdays it shall rise on its adjournment, unless otherwise ordered, until half-past two o’clock p.m. on the second following Tuesday.
That clear and simple drafting would have the effect of bringing about the change that I have proposed.
There is another aspect of this matter to be considered. I find on inquiry that it costs almost £6,000 to assemble this House for a sitting. If we reduce our travel by one-third, as we could, we would save about £100,000 a year. Perhaps that is not a great sum, having regard to total Commonwealth expenditure, but I think honorable members will agree that it is a sum well worth saving. If we can reduce the cost of the Parliament by £90,000 or £100,000 a year we should do so. But if in the process we also obtain greater efficiency and enable honorable members to carry out their duties in a more expeditious manner and to give greater service to their constituents, that is all the more reason why we should make the change.
The other matter that I have in mind concerns general business day. Here, I think, honorable members have some real cause for dissatisfaction. An honorable member may place a motion on the noticepaper and find that it is never reached.
For example, on the first day on which this Parliament met in 1962, I placed on the notice-paper a motion calling for assistance to provide homes for handicapped people. Irrespective of the merits of the motion, from that day to this - the Parliament has now run almost half its course - the motion has never been called on. It has not been reached because whenever it seemed likely that it would be “reached an urgency debate was to come on or government business was to take precedence. I think honorable members should look into this matter of g 2 ner al business day to see what can be done to make it more their day and more effective. The Parliament has a proper legislative function as part of the Executive. In their own proper sphere private members have some rights of initiative, but, as I haVe shown, the present Standing Orders do not protect those rights. I therefore suggest that Standing Order No. 10 should be amended. In its present form it reads -
No business except of a formal character shall be entered upon before the Address in Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech has been adopted.
The proposal of the Standing Orders Committee is that Standing Order No. 10 should read -
No general business except of a formal character shall be entered upon before the Address in Reply to the Governor-General’s Speech has been adopted.
This leaves the way clear for government business to be transacted before conclusion of the Address-in-Reply debate. If we adopt the committee’s proposal there will be no compelling necessity for concluding the Address-in-Reply debate. That debate could drag on interminably and cut out general business day for a long time. I suggest that if government business may be transacted before the Address-in-Reply debate is concluded, so too may private members’ business.
In Standing Order No. 105 there is a consequential amendment. The present Standing Order provides that general business shall be dealt with on the Thursday alternate to the Thursday on which the Grievance Day debate is held. I suggest that in line 2 of Standing Order No. 105 the words “ other than a “ be substituted for the words “ alternate to the “. The standing order would then provide for general business to be dealt with on a Thursday other than a Thursday reserved for Grievance Day.
Proposed Standing Order No. 106aa provides that Grievance Day and general business day shall take alternate Thursdays. By custom of the House this has been interpreted that they shall take Thursdays alternate by the calendar. While we sit irregularly, as we do now, this has led to a quite capricious division of time as between Grievance Day and general business day This could be cured quickly, I believe, while still keeping to the meaning of the Standing Orders, by inserting the word “ sitting “ before the word “ Thursday “, so that Grievance Day and general business day would alternate on sitting Thursdays.
Proposed Standing Order No. 106a relates to the procedure under which a matter of urgent public importance may, with approval of eight honorable members, be proposed for discussion. This procedure has been used in the past, not only by one side of the House, to prevent a matter of general business coming forward for discussion. I suggest that at the end of proposed Standing Order No. 106a the following words be added: -
Provided that no such discussion shall take place in the time which would otherwise be allotted to general business.
Of course, this would not remove the right of any eight members to propose for discussion a matter of urgent public importance. It would simply provide that they shall not exercise that right in the short time which is reserved for general business, and which I believe honorable members want to preserve for general business. My suggestion would not even preclude the discussion of a matter of urgent public importance on a Thursday. As honorable members know, such a proposal may be raised on any day. As I have said, my suggestion is that this should not be done in the time reserved for general business and, even if it is done on a Thursday, it should come on for discussion after the time for general business has expired.
Proposed Standing Order No. 135 relates to a matter of practice. In practice, a motion of which notice is given for a set day takes precedence over a motion of which notice was previously given for discussion on the next day of sitting. With the capricious postponement of general business, as has occurred so often in the past, it becomes very difficult to have motions discussed at all. I suggest that at the end of proposed Standing Order No. 135 the following words be added -
In the application of this order, notice given as “ for the next day of sitting “ shall take priority of a notice subsequently given as for a set day.
I realize that the proposals which I have made raise some detailed questions of drafting and that they must be fitted into the Standing Orders. I therefore move -
That the following paragraphs be added to the motion: - “ (2) That the suggested alterations to Standing Orders Nos. 10, 38, 105, 106aa, 106a and 135, as mentioned in this debate, be referred to the Standing Orders Committee, and “ (3) That the Standing Orders Committee be instructed to report on these matters to this House as soon as practicable, and at any rate not later than the end of 1963.”.
I feel that these matters of detailed drafting might well come before the Standing Orders Committee and that the substantial matters should be brought before the House by the Standing Orders Committee in whatever form it approves as soon as practicable. My proposal does not provide that the committee should make any decision one way or the other on them. It merely provides that they go before the Standing Orders Committee, but it reserves to this House the right to act upon the committee’s recommendation within a reasonable time.
– Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
.- I think most honorable members are well aware of the importance of the Standing Orders in the machinery of government. Therefore, the Standing Orders should receive frequent and thorough consideration, and I hope that the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) will see that this is done each year. I hope also that the proposal which has been advanced by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) that any recommendations to the Standing Orders Committee be considered before the end of this year will be examined.
I want to stress that the absolute domination of the Ministry and the Go vernment is the constant theme running through the Standing Orders. It appears even in small matters such as the election of a Speaker and a Chairman of Committees. Standing Order No. 11 (f) states -
At any time during the debate a Motion may be made by a Minister rising in his place, and without notice, and whether any other Member is addressing the Chair or not “ That the Question be now put “.
Most honorable members would agree that the Ministry and the Government have responsibilities to the nation much different from those which lie upon the rest of us, but when we step into this Parliament it is important that we try to keep as close as possible to fundamental equality. Each honorable member, whether he be on the Government side or on this side of the chamber, has similar rights in the initiation of debates and discussions. We should try to maintain that right because it is fundamental to our form of government. Our form of government is not like that in some other parts of the world. Ours is a parliamentary democracy, in which this institution is supreme and sovereign. We should not shirk our responsibility by hiding behind precedent or the Standing Orders. My first point is that the Standing Orders Committee should examine very closely the supremacy of the Ministry in this place in the handling of business. I believe that our business could be handled a great deal more effectively than it is, and that the ordinary rank and file members would be given more consideration than they are given at present, if there were more planning.
I want to deal particularly with the standing orders relating to financial provisions, which are the most important features in the parliamentary system. Initiative in this respect lies with the majority of members of the Parliament. For the past ten years there has been a rule that there shall be no amendment during the committee stage of a bill which would permit an increase in the charge upon revenue. That has been interpreted very strictly so that we now have reached the stage at which even amendments such as those which have been proposed in the last few years - for instance, on the period that a person must be resident in Australia before being entitled to the age pension - have been ruled out of order.
I know that there are strong arguments for the retention of the doctrine of the financial initiative of the Crown. But what does this doctrine mean now? It means the financial initiative of the Ministry. But, after all, the Ministry comprises members of this Parliament. Its members are not departmental officials. They are not people outside this Parliament. They form a part of the Parliament, and they have been allotted certain duties to perform. There has been a long struggle by the Parliament to gather to itself the power to rule the country without inhibition. This is a traditional struggle of British democracy. It began with the fight against the monarchy. Then there was a fight against the supremacy of the House of Lords and so on, until finally we have come to the supremacy of this Parliament and, in particular, the supremacy of this House. In this instance, we have preserved the doctrine of the supremacy of the Ministry. And we have preserved it in a way which, I think, is inclined to prohibit free discussion and free expression of points of view, particularly by members of the Opposition. I believe that it is time we examined the procedures of this place with particular relation to Australian conditions and with an eye to the way in which this Parliament is controlled at the direction of the Ministry.
The Public Accounts Committee examined the financial procedures some years ago. Its report on the subject contains some remarks on the need for the Parliament to control the Executive made by the Honorable A. G. Cameron, who was your predecessor in your present office, Mr. Speaker. The Executive has administrative functions which, I suppose, must be preserved pretty much as they are, but the Executive should not be the sole initiator of the thinking of the Parliament. The interpretations given in the last few years of the rights of Opposition members and private members generally to propose motions and amendments to financial provisions in committee have become even more inhibiting. I consider that the doctrine of the initiative of the Crown in these matters must be thoroughly examined. I realize that complications flow from the provisions of the Constitution - I think sections S3 and 56. But the fact is that this is a deliberative and discussive assembly.
When we are considering the Standing Orders, we ought to keep in mind the need to allow as much free discussion as possible of all elements of government.
I hope that all honorable members will give serious thought to the structure and wording of proposed Standing Orders Nos. 289 to 291, which deal with financial procedures, and to the possible effect on the right of the Parliament to control and direct the Executive. There seems to me to be no reason why the body of the Parliament should not direct the Government to do something and expect the direction to be carried out. I suppose that for the last 200 years a constant element of parliamentary government under the British system has been the tendency for the Executive to control, maintain and run the Parliament. We on this side of the House know that discipline on the other side is so strict as to ensure very little divergence of opinion. No matter how revolutionary honorable members opposite may seem or sound sometimes in debate, when the chips are down they roll up and vote exactly as the Ministry tells them to vote.
– What about honorable members on your side of the House?
– When the present Goverment parties are in opposition after the next general election, the honorable member will probably be unavoidably absent. He knows that the Opposition has a duty to decide the line that it shall take and that it ought not to be completely and absolutely controlled by the Executive, too.
I think that these are important matters. They involve questions of principle, and all members of the Parliament should examine them thoroughly. I hope that in the near future we shall have an opportunity to discuss, as members of the Parliament almost free of party differences, as we are on this subject to-day, the development of a parliamentary democracy of a sort that does not exist in most other parts of the world. I believe that it is up to every one of us, and especially members of the present Ministry, who will certainly be in opposition after the next general election if they are still here, to examine the way in which the Executive controls this place. We should have less regard for the proprietary rights of ministries and more regard for the role of the Parliament. We should extend as much as possible the opportunities to exercise the rights of free parliamentary discussion and initiative in all fields. That applies to financial matters as well as to everything else.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like, first, to pay tribute to Mr. Speaker, Sir John McLeay, who, I am sorry to say, is not present to hear my personal tribute to him. I believe that he played his part as chairman of the all-party Standing Orders Committee in an outstandingly successful way during the recent review of the Standing Orders. I think it should be a matter of pride to him, as I am sure it is, that he was able to produce a unanimous report by the committee. I should like to pay tribute also to the Clerk of the House and his staff for the tremendous amount of detailed work that they have done and for the infinite patience and skill that they have applied to this task. Their work has been of invaluable help to the committee, of which I have the honour to be a member. My experience as a member of the committee and also of the sub-committee that was appointed to go into a great many matters of detail that the committee delegated to it has been useful and interesting to me. I regret only that there has been, for a variety of reasons, some delay in bringing this report before the House for its approval.
The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in his capacity as Leader of the House, proposed the motion for the adoption of this report and mentioned two of the purposes of the review of the Standing Orders. I believe that it would be well worth while to place on record the purposes of the review in the terms in which they are stated in paragraph (1) of the report. That paragraph states -
The purpose of the review was -
As a general principle, the elimination of unnecessary form and the adoption of procedures allowing more effective consideration and debating time;
The establishment of new simplified procedures appropriate to the modern needs of the House;
The omission of obsolete provisions long since discarded by the House of Commons, and their replacement, where necessary, by Orders expressing modern practice;
The definition of established practice not stated in existing Orders;
The amendment of Orders which do not clearly express their purpose or which are in conflict with the practice of the House.
The recent review is the most comprehensive that has been undertaken for many years by any Standing Orders Committee appointed by this House. I believe that the changes proposed are of considerable importance and should not be relegated to a position fairly well down the list as if they were minor matters. I agree entirely with those who propound the view that there should be annually a complete review of the Standing Orders to keep them as up-to-date as possible, to rectify anomalies and to make adjustments, amendments and additions such as may be found necessary from time to time as a result of trial and error in each session.
The Leader of the House has already discussed in detail many of the most important aspects of the Standing Orders Committee’s report. Undoubtedly, the proposals relating to financial procedures are the outstanding feature of the report. I believe that the proposed abolition of the Committee of Supply and the Committee of Ways and Means, the procedures of which are complex, out-dated and time consuming, would be a major improvement in our parliamentary processes. The new method of introducing financial measures in the same way that other bills are brought into the Parliament, if adopted, would likewise be a major improvement. The proposed new procedures relating to appropriations for annual services and to special appropriations have already been fully explained by the Leader of the House, and are clearly set out in the report. I merely make the comment that I believe that, if adopted, they would save a great deal of time and would help to streamline the procedures of the House.
I shall not repeat any detailed comments about the various other proposals which are to some extent novel, Sir, but I think that we should take particular notice of the effort made by the Standing Orders Committee to make Standing Order No. 303 apply only in cases of grossly disorderly conduct of the most serious kind - cases in which the procedure outlined in Standing Order No. 301 would be inadequate to ensure “ the urgent protection of the dignity of the House “. It is proposed that in so serious a case the question for the suspension of a member may be put by the Speaker without a motion being necessary.
Another proposal on which I should like to comment briefly, Sir, is the proposal to redraft Standing Order No. 13 to authorize the Chairman of Committees, acting as Deputy Speaker, to perform all the duties of the Speaker himself during any absence of the Speaker of which the House is formally notified by the Clerk. The purpose of this is to remove the unconstitutional restriction in the present wording of Standing Order No. 13.
The alteration to Standing Order No. 18 provides authority for a temporary chairman to take the chair as Deputy Speaker, in order to accord with current practice. There is no provision in the existing Standing Orders to this effect, and I think that this also represents an overdue alteration.
Proposed Standing Order No. 315, providing that papers of a machinery nature, particularly statute papers, shall be deemed to have been presented if they have beta handed to the Clerk and recorded in the “ Votes and Proceedings “ of the House, represents, I believe, another good move, and one which I think will save further time.
Mention has already been made of the fact that a number of verbal alterations of a purely formal nature are recommended, in order to bring the Standing Orders more into line with modern language usage.
I do not think it can be too much emphasized that throughout the whole time of the review, and on every occasion on which the committee or the sub-committee sat, the members of those bodies had well and truly before them the main concept that there should not be any recommendation of any kind which might result in a diminution or curtailment of the existing rights of members of the House. Nor was it in any way suggested that any amendments or new proposals should result in the reduction of the volume or detail of information available to honorable members. On the contrary, I believe that the committee, if its proposals are adopted, will have succeeded in making available to members an even greater amount of information which will be of assistance and benefit to them.
As mentioned by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth), the Stand ing Orders are not immutable. They are not like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. Any recommendations made at any time by the Standing Orders Committee are, of course, subject to the approval of the House and subject to any amendments that the House may see fit to agree to. I repeat that L as a member of the committee and as one who has given a good deal of thought to these matters, am strongly in favour of an annual review. I do hope, however, that in future the time-table of the sittings of the committee and also of the House will be such that an annual review will be possible within the compass of each twelve-months period.
I believe, Sir, that there is on all sides of the Parliament a good1 deal of unanimity with regard to the major proportion of the new proposals. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) said in his remarks this afternoon, it is almost certain that no set of standing orders would be 100 per cent, acceptable to every member of the House. This is quite understandable and quite natural. But I believe that, by and large, the proposals are accepted by members of the Parliament as being in their best interests and in the best interests of this institution. Sir, I have much pleasure in supporting the motion of the Treasurer for the adoption of these standing orders.
.- As the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury) has said, the great majority of the proposed standing orders are not controversial and are not likely to cause any debate or discussion in this House. I just want to say that the Opposition supports, generally, the circulated proposals of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) concerning the sitting days and sitting hours of the House of Representatives and also the honorable member’s efforts to see that government business cannot persistently brush aside general business. We do so in the full conviction that these changes ought to apply if the Opposition becomes the Government. We feel that Cabinet has no right to control the Standing Orders or the procedures of the House.
Having made those preliminary remarks I want to raise one matter that has not yet been raised. It concerns the right of members of this House to have questions on notice answered far more promptly than they are answered, and to have them answered with more respect for the House than they are answered with at the present time. I want to make it perfectly clear that I recognize the right of a Minister to refuse to reply to a question. If a Minister rises and says that in the public interest he does not propose to reply to a question on notice - I am not speaking about questions without notice - and he takes responsibility for that reply, then the position is clear. It is set out quite clearly in May’s “ Parliamentary Practice “, 16th Edition, at page 357, where we find -
An answer to a question cannot be insisted upon, if the answer be refused by a Minister. A question to which an answer has been refused, like any other question which has been fully answered, cannot be replaced upon the notice paper. The refusal of a Minister to answer a question on the ground of public interest cannot be raised as a matter of privilege, nor should leave be sought to move the adjournment of the House … for this reason.
That gives a very great deal of power and right to a Minister, and I am not questioning any of those matters. At page 358 of the same publication we find that, under the United Kingdom practice -
It has been ruled that the Prime Minister cannot be interrogated as to the advice that he may have given to the sovereign with regard to the grant of honours, or the ecclesiastical patronage of the Crown. A question with regard to the exercise of the prerogative of mercy in connection with persons sentenced to capital punishment is not in order. A capital sentence cannot be raised in a question while t:le sentence is pending.
No question can be put which brings the name of the sovereign or the influence of the Crown directly before Parliament, or which casts reflections upon the sovereign or thi royal family.
All of those limitations upon the right of the Parliament to an answer I can quite understand. Those things are not in dispute. What I am concerned about is the practice of this Ministry, not of saying in the House that an answer to a question is refused because there are reasons of public interest why it should be refused, but of leaving questions unanswered, month after month, when there is no public interest involved in answering them, but when there is simply an unwillingness to disclose to the Parliament information which is of a nature that the executive ought to disclose to the Parliament. If honorable members look at the notice-paper for to-day, 1st May, 1963, they will see that the first question on notice is dated 17th May, 1962. In sixteen days time we will be able to get up in the House and celebrate the first anniversary of the question placed on the noticepaper by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). That question has not been refused an answer on the ground that there is some public interest involved in not answering; it has just been discourteously ignored, and I believe that such discourteous ignoring is really an insult to the House.
The former Speaker of this House, the late honorable member for Barker, Mr. Archie Cameron, once told me that the practice, if not a regulation, of the House of Commons was that if a question was left unanswered for a long time - and a long time would not be what we have become used to here, but might be only a couple of weeks - by a Minister, the Speaker would want to know why. When a Minister has not refused to give a reply to a question, but has merely left it on the notice-paper, the real reason being that at some time in the future the Parliament will be prorogued and the question wiped off - there being no intention on the part of the Minister to answer it - that kind of procedure represents a discourtesy to the House. A plain refusal to answer a question on the ground of public interest may be entirely justified, but there is no justification for leaving a question unanswered for months on the notice-paper, hoping that it will become forgotten. We saw one result of this practice last week, when a question was asked of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Cramer), who jumped up and said that a question which had been asked months ago and buried in the notice-paper was along similar lines to the question then being asked. If a Minister leaves a question on the noticepaper unanswered for three or four months, he has no right to plead that the question is on the notice-paper when he is asked a similar question in the House. He has a duty to explain to the House why the question is not being answered.
.- I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) that this subject is not controversial along party lines. We are dealing with the question of the Standing
Orders. The responsibility falls on the shoulders of each member of the Parliament to devise the best way for the Parliament to operate, not as a member of one party or the other but as an individual. This is tremendously important. I think very often we are inclined to lose sight of our individual responsibilities in this connexion. I do not intend anything that I say to be controversial.
I am particularly glad that it is proposed to amend the arrangements dealing with money matters brought before the House. I discussed this subject with a former Speaker, the late Mr. Archie Cameron. He agreed with me that the Parliament did this silly thing: It brought in an appropriation bill appropriating a sum of money for a given purpose, on broad lines. The bill was passed and became law. Subsequently, a bill to implement the purposes of the appropriation bill - to apply funds to a given purpose or to impose a tax - was introduced, and was considered in committee. However, as the Parliament had already appropriated the funds in the appropriation bill, the provisions of the second bill could not be amended. I pointed out to Mr. Speaker that ours was almost the only parliament that adopted this peculiar method, and he agreed with me. I said that I would raise the matter in the House, but he pointed out that the proper place to do so was in committee. He said that if I raised the matter in the House, he would not allow me to discuss committee procedure in the House. I understand that the anomalous practice we have used until now will be altered.
In its report, the Standing Orders Committee said -
The financial committee system of the House of Commons which has been followed by the House of Representatives since 1901 was established in the seventeenth century during the constitutional struggle between the Crown and the Parliament.
I probably stand on common ground with some of my friends in the Opposition when I say that the constitutional struggle between the Crown and the Parliament has not changed, except that the struggle now is between the Executive and the Parliament. The Executive has taken the place of the Crown.
– Off with their heads
– Yes, you can say that if you like. However, members of the Parliament must realize that they cannot escape their individual responsibilities to ensure that proposals submitted by the Crown, or the Executive, are acceptable proposals, are practical proposals and are in the interests of the electors. That is our responsibility as individual members, and nothing can relieve us of the responsibility. The Parliament has not changed. The system of government has changed only to the extent that the Executive has taken the place of the Crown in initiating legislation.
I believe that all members of the Parliament, whether they are on the Government side or the Opposition side of the House, have an inherent right to move amendments to proposals considered in committee. I believe that during the committee stage all party distinctions should disappear. I do not believe that the Parliamentary Draftsman and his staff are the only wise people in the Commonwealth with the capacity to draft a bill satisfactory to the electorate. This is important. I know that a Minister submits his proposals to the Draftsman in broad outline and may give some detail, but it is the Draftsman, in his legal office, who eventually decides on the wording of the bill. Under the system that has grown up here - it is peculiar to this Parliament - it is disloyal to the Government for a private member to suggest, in the committee stage, that an amendment should be made to improve a measure. I can never understand why this should be so. I hope that something will be done to ensure that the private member’s right to move an amendment will be recognized.
This brings me to my next point. Many honorable members use the expression “private member”, and I am as guilty of this as any one is. If we have private members of the Parliament, we must have public members of the Parliament. Who are the public members and who are the private members? I believe that we must drop the use of the description “private member “. There is no such person. We are all public members of the Parliament. The only distinction is that some members occupy the ministerial benches and others occupy the back benches. I say, with due and humble respect, that the member who is the Prime Minister is no more important than is the member who represents the electorate of Grayndler. The Prime Minister has to go to his electorate just as every other member has. The Prime Minister is elected by the majority vote of the electors in his constituency, just as other members are.
– It is not a good comparison.
– I am not comparing the persons; I am comparing the circumstances. I should like to make that clear. No Minister is in any more important a position as a member of the Parliament than any back-bench member is. In fact, the importance of Ministers as members of the Parliament, by virtue of the office they hold, may be a little less than the importance of the back-bench members, because they must go through the humbling process - I think honorable members will agree that it is a humbling process - of having to go to the electors for either election or reelection and they must also seek selection for the high office of minister. The Prime Minister can remain Prime Minister only if his party agrees that he should be the leader of the party. I do not refer here to any particular party or to any particular Prime Minister. If the party does not agree to the Prime Minister remaining the leader of the party, he finds that he is no longer the Prime Minister.
No one in this place holds a position of privilege over any other honorable member. However, the Standing Orders wisely provide that a minister will have certain privileges to facilitate the conduct of his business and the conduct of the business of the country. That is quite right. The privileges given to ministers under the Standing Orders are designed to facilitate their governing of the country and the performance of their administrative and executive functions. Those privileges should never be used to deny the rights of other members of this Parliament. A minister should bear in mind that every other honorable member has an equal status with him.
That brings me to a very sore point with me. I know that the matter I am about to mention does not apply in quite a number of other parliaments. I am not sure in how many other parliaments it applies. I refer to the absolute injustice of the standing orders under which any man, whether he is the Prime Minister or a back-bencher, can stand up in his place, make a speech, say whatever he likes, and then apply the gag. The right to move “ That the question be now put “ should be given only to an honorable member who has not spoken on the question. Under the present practice somebody who has had the privilege of stating his case, can deny anybody else the right to refute what he has said or to submit an alternative point of view. I believe that this is an infringement of the rules of justice. An honorable member with an opposite or another point of view is entitled to be heard. I hope that as time goes on and the Standing Orders are reviewed these matters will be remedied.
I know that these practices have grown up because the privileges and procedures of the House have been abused by honorable members. I am not referring specifically to the present Opposition. I am referring to Oppositions of varying political colours. They all have been guilty of trying to find a way not just to get a tiny mouse through a tiny hole in the Standing Orders, but to drive a horse and cart and the whole country through that hole. As I have said, certain procedures have been introduced in order to prevent undesirable practices. I suggest that suitable remedial action should be taken without denying the rights of other people who are prepared to be reasonable.
Another matter that I want to mention to the House is that we agree very readily - much too readily in my opinion - to the suspension of the Standing Orders. The Standing Orders are like the rules of an organization; so let us stick to them unless exceptional circumstances arise which justify their suspension. In my opinion, whenever a minister or anybody else moves that the Standing Orders be suspended it should be necessary for him to give the reason - I do not say that he should initiate a debate - why he desires that the Standing Orders be suspended. If he did that we would know whether we were justified in departing from the rules that keep us on the right track.
Finally, I say to the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) in regard to his proposed amendment, that the suggested hours of sitting are wholly unacceptable to me and, I believe, to many honorable members who represent country electorates. He said that under his proposal we would sit for no longer than we do now. But let us consider the position of Western Australian members representing country electorates. Are we to go back to the position that prevailed in the days before we had modern transport, when Western Australian electors saw their members of Parliament for about two months a year and the rest of the time the members were living on this side of the continent because they could not get back to their electorates? A member owes as much time to his electorate as he owes to this place. If the amendment suggested by the honorable member for Mackellar is adopted, Western Australian members will be confined to Canberra for two to three weeks-
– For one week-end.
– That one week-end may be an important week-end.
– You will be home more.
– You may explain your views later. The position as I see it is this: I would have to remain here on a Friday. I object to sitting here on a Friday because I believe that my electors are entitled to contact me in Perth as soon as they possibly can. If this suggested amendment is adopted, I will be bound to stay here in Canberra or if I go home I will be there only on Sunday. Honorable members who represent suburban or city electorates in Melbourne or Sydney could go home. They could be back in their electorates by 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, meeting their electors and transacting business with them. But the chance to do that would be denied to Western Australian representatives.
– He suggested this for our benefit.
– Well, it does not suit me. I want to go home every week-end. I believe that my electors are entitled to approach me personally as soon as possible.
– You have duties to perform at home, have you?
– Yes, I have; and I have a duty to enable my electors to approach me. I spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Canberra attending to my Parliamentary duties. Because of the airlines time-tables, I have to spend Friday in the air. I cannot do anything else. If there was a plane on Thursday night I would be on it. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday I am in my electorate. So I divide the week evenly and carry out my duties to the best of my ability. I do that every week, and it is necessary to do it every week. I could not cram into one week-end in two the business that I transact at present over those three days. I work on Sunday as well as every other day of the week.
I am not prepared to accept the suggestion made by the honorable member for Mackellar. I prefer the present arrangement under which we have one clear week after every four weeks. That enables us to arrange our programmes. The present arrangement is the most suitable for members from the distant States. I think it is also the most suitable for honorable members who represent electorates in the somewhat inaccessible country areas. I know that some honorable members who live only a couple of hundred miles from Canberra have a job to get back to their electorates before I get back to Perth. They probably are not in their electorates until Saturday morning, whereas I am in Perth on Friday night.
– What about the member for Mallee?
– And the member for Gippsland? j
– The honorable members for Mallee and Gippsland are in that position. I can be back in my electorate attending a meeting at 9 o’clock on Friday night. Those honorable gentlemen, if they rely on public transport, cannot be in their electorates attending to any business until half-way through Saturday. I say to the honorable member for Mackellar - with all due respect to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Chaney) - that his proposal is not suitable to me and I cannot see how it is suitable to the honorable member for Perth. At present I can spend half of the week in my electorate and the other half of the week in Canberra. I believe that under that arrangement I am carrying out my duty with a sense of responsibility.
I remind the House of what I said at the start of my speech. Our individual responsibility is to our electors. If we support the Government or the Opposition, we do that on bloc; but as individuals we have a responsibility to promote the welfare of the people in our electorates, whilst taking a State or national point of view. That is our responsibility.
.- Far be it from me to introduce a political atmosphere into what has been a very congenial debate; but the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) made one or two statements that I cannot allow to pass unnoticed, even on a political plane. He criticized the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) for presenting to the Parliament a constructive plan to solve a problem that I believe requires some attention; that is, the sittings of the Parliament. The honorable member stated that the plan was not acceptable to him. Without being uncharitable, I say to the honorable member for Moore that the longer Parliament sits the better chance- 1 think he will have of retaining his seat at the next election. He should bear in mind the story of the well-known man who went round knocking on doors seeking votes. He said to one lady, “ You are not going to vote for me, yet you have never seen the other candidate “. She replied, “ No, but I have had a good look at you “. That might well apply to the honorable member for Moore.
– I thought you were going to be clean. You have a dirty nose and you will never get rid of it.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, in view of the comments of the honorable member for Moore, I direct your attention to that part of the Standing Orders dealing with the use of offensive words. If the words which the honorable member has just used do not come within the category of offensive words it seems to me that, in your wisdom, you might suggest to the committee that the relevant Standing Orders be reviewed.
I wish to deal first with a matter that has been discussed previously. I refer to the sitting hours of the Parliament. Undoubtedly on both sides of the Parliament there is a desire to sit such hours as will not only permit members to visit their electorates as much as possible but will also give to honorable members who come from far distant States and cities, such as Perth and other parts of the Commonwealth, the opportunity to be in their electorates for a reasonable time without neglecting their prime responsibility to take part in the debates in the Parliament and to give proper attention to legislation under consideration. I am inclined to think the motives that prompted the honorable member for Mackellar were those I have just enunciated.
I think that in this Parliament we sit too long on each day without actually debating the various matters that should be debated; and here it is interesting to study our sitting hours. We come here on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 2.30 p.m. and finish about 10.30 p.m. In all, we are here for eight hours on those two days, yet we conduct debates in the Parliament for only six hours. On Thursdays, we are here from 10.30 a.m. till 10.30 p.m., a total of twelve hours, but of those twelve hours we take three and a half hours for meals. That means that although we are here for twelve hours we actually sit for only eight hours on Thursdays. In the week, excluding adjournment debates that might take place from time to time, we do not sit for more than twenty hours. From whatever angle we look at the matter, we are not utilizing to the full the time available for parliamentary sittings. I see no reason why we should not sit from 12 noon and work straight through till 7 p.m. Then, if necessary, we could have an hour’s break for dinner, and’ resume for another 2i hours at night. I might say that I have my own views about sitting at night; I believe that we should consider sitting in the daytime only. If we study the procedure in the House of Commons and in the American House of Representatives, we find that both those Houses sit for a given time, and, in the main, without tea or luncheon breaks. This provides tha maximum opportunity to discuss legislation. I do not know whether similar conditions could be applied to the sittings of this Parliament, but they illustrate how the period of our sittings could be extended to avoid spending endless time here and having only a minimum number of hours available for debate. I think in Switzerland the sittings cover twelve or fourteen hours a day; but there members actually sit for only eight hours daily, because every one goes home for lunch or dinner. We do the same in this Parliament. With fewer breaks during the daylight hours, we would have more time for debates and in that way not only reduce the expense incurred in assembling the Parliament but also provide better opportunities all round to perform our work efficiently.
When considering this matter it is appropriate to remember that this is one of the few Parliaments in the world which has not fixed sessional periods during the year. Both the House of Commons and the American House of Representatives sit during certain months of the year for a given period. Members of both those Parliaments know precisely what their commitments are. The suggestion submitted by the honorable member for Mackellar undoubtedly would enable us to adopt that procedure to a limited extent; and in that respect I think his suggestion is desirable. I come now to night sittings. We know that at present the Standing Orders provide that no new business may be introduced, unless otherwise ordered, after 11 p.m. I do not see any reason why this Parliament should not decide to adjourn at a regular hour each night. I do not see any sense or logic in having all-night sittings and debating matters into the early hours of the morning. Even the most intelligent people are not too bright at 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning. Indeed, it is a negation of democracy for any government - and this is not peculiar to this Government; it applies to all governments^ - to seek to force legislation through by exhausting honorable members.
The Parliament should adjourn at a reasonable hour each night - even that arrangement would entail longer sessions - in order to enable honorable members to deliberate fully on all matters that come before us. I do not suggest that the adjournment debate should be abolished, but, when an adjournment debate is to be held the relevant motion should be proposed at, say, 8.30 p.m. or 9 p.m. so that honor able members may have full opportunity to raise the matters they wish to ventilate. The State parliaments adjourn at a given hour, and I see no reason why the same principle could not be applied here. In that way, we would apply the true principles of democracy in that honorable members would be given every opportunity to debate the various matters that come before the Parliament. I believe that Standing Order No. 38 should be amended. I hope that as a result of this debate a definite sitting period will be fixed so that honorable members from distant States and electorates will have the opportunity to attend to their electoral commitments and at the same time be able to deliberate here in a reasonable way; because no member of the Parliament should have to miss any sitting in order to fulfil commitments in his electorate. I make those observations about the waste of time under our present system, which in my view involves needless expense. Longer sessions for definite periods during the year would be much more desirable all round.
There are other standing orders which, I suggest, require some review. First, I refer to Standing Order No. 76, which reads -
No Member may use the name of Her Majesty, her representative in the Commonwealth, or her representative in a State, disrespectfully in debate, nor for the purpose of influencing the House in its deliberations
Standing Order No. 77 provides^-
No Member may use offensive words against either House of the Parliament or any Member thereof, against any member of the Judiciary, or against any statute unless for the purpose of moving for its repeal.
Frankly, I do not know whether those standing orders can be justified. One can go into Hyde Park in London, which is only a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace, and hear people say things from public platforms about the royal family and those associated with it which would probably amaze the uninitiated. Evidently, people in Great Britain do not quibble at such criticism; they make a democratic approach to such problems. Yet in this Parliament honorable members cannot be critical of the royal family if they so desire, simply because such conduct may be regarded as disloyal. I do not see any reason why we should not be able to say in this Parliament what any Hyde Park orator can say from his soapbox. I do not see any reason why I should not have the same opportunity or right to criticize the judiciary if I think that some of their judgments are not in accordance with what I consider to be the true position as disclosed by evidence. I can see no reason why we in this Parliament should be stifled in that way when every other citizen in the country is free to criticize members of the judiciary from any platform that he cares to use. That freedom is recognized in Great Britain and other countries. This restriction of the rights of honorable membars should be looked into. For instance, why should we not be free to criticize expenditure on a royal tour, or by the royal family in connexion with their activities, if we desire to do so? I do not wish to criticize the royal family, but members of the Parliament should have the right to do so. We should resist this restriction of the rights of members of the Parliament. Therefore, Standing Orders Nos. 76 and 77 should be amended in that respect.
I come now to proposed new Standing Order No. 79a, which reads -
When the attention of the Speaker is drawn to words used, he shall determine whether or not they are offensive or disorderly.
I do not know whether a list of disorderly words has been drawn up recently, but any one who cares to read the history of Australian Parliaments particularly that of the New South Wales Parliament, will find that in the early days of the century there was some pretty frank talk and criticism of members; and often the words applied in such references would result in the suspension of a member of this Parliament if he used them to-day. I believe that, apart from a member personally objecting and establishing that words used in respect of him are offensive, we ought to have fairly unlimited scope in the words which may be used in the Parliament. This is a forum where members should be completely unfettered and free in every way to express their views and to state what they believe to be reasonable criticisms or reasonable descriptions of certain persons, whether those criticisms or descriptions be in colourful If’uage or otherwise.
I do not wish to say much more on that subject. I believe that there should be no restriction of the right of members to express their views in this Parliament. If there were published a list of the words that have been held to be offensive, we would see that there is hardly an adjective worth mentioning that can be used.
– Mention a few.
– If I were to mention them, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would have to call me to order, being a just and fair man. I do not doubt that you would regret having to do so, but you would feel a necessity to uphold the Standing Orders.
I want, now, to turn briefly to another standing order that is to be altered - No. 303. At present, there is room for action to be taken against members for conduct that, in fact, is not offensive, or not such as to justify their being put out. 1 remember one occasion when I called for a quorum. When I drew attention to the state of the House, a quorum was not present, but as the count proceeded other members came in and a quorum was present. The Speaker of the day - he is now gone, God rest his soul - put me out under Standing Order No. 303 for gross and disorderly conduct. I was shot down, you might say, by 303.
I use that example to show that at that time the standing order was being used in a manner which discriminated against members and was quite contrary to the original intention. What would there be to stop you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you were 100 per cent, party-minded and completely unscrupulous - which, of course, you are not - from using that standing order to maintain the Government’s majority in the Parliament by putting out every Opposition member who called for a quorum, using the argument that by doing so they were being grossly disorderly? I am pleased to know that Standing Order No. 303 is to be changed, because it places members in the position of being afraid to speak if the numbers are equal, because they could easily place their party in jeopardy as far as a vote is concerned. This will be a desirable change.
I join with other honorable members in congratulating those who have worked on this committee and give/i their time to it. However, I believe there is still room for considerable improvement. I hope this will not be the last review of the Standing Orders. I hope it will not be as long before another review takes place, as many matters still require investigation. It seems to me that the changes that are to be made, although some of them do not go as far as they should, will lead to improvements, particularly in the financial procedures. I believe the committee is deserving of commendation for its diligent work.
.- Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am in two minds as to whether the solicitude of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) for the rights and liberties of members of this Parliament is as real as he put it. He called in aid the suggestion that members of this Parliament should be able to launch attacks, if they wish, on the royal family, on any person occupying a gubernatorial position and on any member of the judiciary. The honorable gentleman said in an oratorical fashion that it is a scandalous invasion of our rights and liberties that we are not in a position to resort to those forms of attack. It would seem to me that the honorable gentleman is anxious to attack the royal family, the judiciary and the governors of this country, if he believes that he is needlessly fettered in that respect. Having said that, I can assure the honorable gentleman that I have not finished with his remarks. I will come back to them as I go on.
I want to join with those other members who have praised the work of the Standing Orders Committee. This committee has worked hard and diligently. In particular, I would like to join with my friend, the honorable member for Ryan (Mr. Drury), in recognizing the tremendous amount of work that has been done by the Clerk and his assistant. One does not need to be a member of the committee or to peep behind the scenes to realize the great amount of work that they have done.
Some very useful -suggestions have been made during the course of this debate, whether or not they meet with our instant approval, or with our approval in any form. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) referred to what he described as the discourtesy represented by the amount of time that some questions remain on the notice-paper. Surely it is not beyond our collective wit to devise some means whereby questions will be answered with greater celerity than has been the case in the past. The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) has made this afternoon some useful suggestions, and, whether or not you agree with them, some very challenging remarks. Returning to the honorable member for Fremantle and the matter of questions, I hope the honorable gentleman will realize and concede that preparing answers to some questions calls for a tremendous amount of research. At times I have wondered what amount of money is involved in answering all the questions that are placed on the noticepaper. I am not suggesting for one moment that any member should be told, “ You cannot ask that question “, but some of the questions seem so vague, so esoteric in their make-up, that one wonders why the individual wants the information.
What I wish to deal with this afternoon in connexion with the report of the Standing Orders Committee concerns parliamentary privilege - the privilege of those who are here in relation to the House itself and in relation to the people outside this House. The committee has considered the standing orders that relate to parliamentary privilege and order and has made suggestions ranging over Standing Orders Nos. 96 to 101. I hope that no member of the committee will feel aggrieved when I say it is singular that the question of privilege itself, involving the relationship of members one to another and their relationship to the outside world, has not been canvassed. It may be argued quite legitimately that this was not the occasion for parliamentary privilege to be considered in that sense, but I want to make a few random observations on the question, because I believe it does involve in a very real sense the core of Parliament itself. In its famous protestation of 1621, the House of Commons declared the privilege of Parliament to be the birthright and inheritance of the subject. In other words, parliamentary privilege - what we exercise in this House - is in a very real sense the privilege of the people of Australia. I had hoped that the honorable member for Grayndler would at least have the capacity, if not the instinct, to realize that those who speak in this chamber speak under parliamentary privilege. Those who speak in Hyde Park do not speak under parliamentary privilege. It is very easy to get up in this chamber and say outrageous things about people outside, knowing full well that no responsibility devolves upon the individual to substantiate one iota of what he has said. Some of the things said here of people outside the chamber are so infamous, so notorious-
– The most guilty man!
– I was waiting for the fish or the shark to rise to the bait on this occasion. The honorable member a few days ago made the charge against me that I had said things of people. I invite my honorable friend to find one statement that I have made in this Parliament that I would not instantly go outside and repeat, completely shed of parliamentary privilege. I make the challenge to the honorable gentleman. I know he is of the sporting variety, and I hope he will accept it. And the individual outside! What recourse has he? He has no recourse at all. He can merely complain, by way of a letter to a newspaper, that he has been defamed inside Parliament, but he has no recourse. He cannot go to the court, because what the member has said in the Parliament is completely privileged. In a very real sense the matter is left to the sense and fitness and decency of the member concerned, and if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that those qualities have not always been apparent. I believe there is scope here for exploration by the Committee of Privileges itself. This is not a trifling consideration. It is a very important consideration. My proposition is simply that a member must remain completely free; yet he must behave in a completely honorable way, and some circumstances, admittedly, make it very difficult to present an equipoise between the two. I hope that the suggestions I have made concerning the privileges of members will be examined by the Committee of Privileges or by the Standing Orders Committee, in an attempt to evolve some form of redress for members of the outside public who are defamed in this House.
I would like to go back to another charge made by the honorable member for Grayndler. It relates to the sittings of this House, to which my friend, the honorable member for Mackellar, also referred. The honorable member for Grayndler made some sneering and completely uncharitable remarks concerning the Ministry and concerning the way in which the House operates. I believe that the basic cause of a lot of our distress in this House lies in the fact that our quorum is uncommonly high. We have, in this Parliament, one of the highest quorums of any legislature in the Commonwealth of Nations. In the House of Commons the percentage forming a quorum is 6) per cent.; in the Canadian House of Commons it is 7.7 per cent.; in the New Zealand House of Representatives it is 25 per cent.; in the House of Assembly in South Africa - no longer in the Commonwealth - it is 20 per cent.; in the Ceylon House of Representatives it is 20 per cent., and in the Australian House of Representatives it is 33J per cent. The only other legislature I have been able to find which has a comparable percentage is the Indian Lok Sabha. I hope that the Committee of Privileges, accepting the invitation and challenge of the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt), will review the Standing Orders annually and will be disposed to lower the percentage forming a quorum in in this House.
There is no person, apart from the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), who is more persistent in calling for a quorum than is the honorable member for Grayndler. People who happen to be sitting in the galleries of this Parliament must, on occasions, wonder where all the honorable members are, not realizing that they are about the premises, doing legitimate business, seeing Ministers, preparing speeches and the like. If it were explained to the people of Australia that we do have this uncommonly high percentage of members forming a quorum I believe that the stigma - in a sense - which rests on the Australian Parliament would be removed.
I move now to another aspect of parliamentary privilege - a person outside this Parliament making a charge which a person inside the Parliament feels represents a breach of parliamentary privilege. I say, at once, that I do not draw any wide concept of parliamentary privilege; I draw it in a very narrow sense. If I may, without impertinence, I will give the summing up i by the Committee of Privileges of the House of Commons in 1947. I hope the House will be kind enough to listen to this extract from the committee’s report. It reads -
Your Committee are of the opinion that it is not consistent with the dignity of the House that penal proceedings for breach of privilege should be taken in the case of every defamatory statement which, strictly, may constitute a contempt of Parliament. Whilst recognizing that it is the duty of Parliament to intervene in the case of attacks which may tend to undermine public confidence in and support of the institution of Parliament itself, your Committee think it important that, on the one hand, the law of Parliamentary privilege should not be administered in a way which would fetter or discourage the free expression of opinion or criticism, however prejudiced or exaggerated such opinion or criticism may be, and that, on the other hand, the process of Parliamentary investigation should not be used in a way which would give importance to irresponsible statements.
Again, Sir, coming to ourselves, one can agree with the summing up by the London “ Times “, in a leading article in December, 1957. I will read this brief extract -
Members’ fussiness about their privilege may well be a reflex action. They know that the standing of parliament in the nation is not what it ought to be and they seek to enforce respect for it A different mental deportment would be far more effective.
Coming to our relationships with each other in this House, I ask: What remedy has any member when a charge is made against him which is plainly so outrageous as to prompt you, Sir, to demand an instant withdrawal? Some honorable members, unhappily, seem to be fired by the idea that they can make a charge and that even though they have to withdraw it and even though 95 per cent, of the community at large may reject the charge as being a miserable and contemptible one, there will be a percentage of people who will believe it. I have no set formula to answer this, but I do believe there would be ready agreement among the overwhelming majority of members that some form of sanction should be imposed on a member who resorts to that form of behaviour.
The last aspect of parliamentary privilege to which I wish to refer is that raised this afternoon, in a sense, by the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant). He traced, in a compacted way, the history of the struggle for the supremacy of parliament. My honorable friend referred to the fact that years ago, at the time of Charles I., it was the struggle for the supremacy of parliament against the monarchical institution. He continued on and gave us, even though in compacted form, an interesting account of the struggle for parliamentary supremacy. The honorable gentleman said, “ We are a parliamentary democracy “. With those words in the back of my mind I invite the House and the country to consider this aspect of parliamentary privilege: It is completely useless to deny the existence in the community of a degenerative influence which seems to make some members of this Parliament the docile and consenting puppets of people outside the Parliament, and I believe a pall of urgency hangs over this issue. It is completely idle to deny the fact that there are members in this Parliament who are directed as to what they should do and say and how they should vote. I believe that this Parliament cannot survive as a free institution if it tolerates that form of behaviour. This is a complete rejection of parliamentary government. The honorable member for Wills this afternoon challenged us to ensure that Parliament remained a supreme body, yet my friend belongs to a party which completely rejects the entire concept of parliamentary government!
A member should be able to come to a free parliament and vote in a free way and speak in a free way. In point of fact, if you take it to its logical conclusion, the present circumstance which has welled up in recent years and in sharp form in recent weeks is, you will find, as I describe it, a complete rejection of the system of parliamentary government. It is not without some consequence to recall that the first presidium of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was made up of 36 members. I leave the analogy for the consideration of the House, but I do invite those serious-minded gentlemen! in the Opposition to bear in mind that their present system represents a complete repudiation of parliamentary government; that it is a complete denial of the purpose for which a member is elected; and that a member should come here fortified with some sense of a quality of independence. But some honorable members opposite1 - regrettably, I know - tolerate the situation whereby this small outside body completely prostitutes the whole of parliamentary privilege by demanding that no matter what its decision may be, members of Parliament should bow to it.
I know that there are honorable gentlemen opposite who will agree with me when I say that no member of the Parliament should be cast in the role of a messenger boy. There is no need for any one of us to submit to some anonymous empire of despotism. I quote here the views of a distinguished socialist writer on this subject - the late Professor Laski - who said -
The member of Parliament is entitled to work under conditions where he does not feel that independence on some important issue may involve penalties not only upon himself but, it may well be, upon his family as well.
Who of honorable members opposite is in a position to feel such a sense of independence on these great and important occasions? I would be very interested if they were to stand and be counted. Because of this situation I am emboldened to suggest that the following be adopted as a standing order: -
Any attempt by any person or body of persons to direct a member of Parliament as to how he shall or shall not vote, or as to what he shall or shall not say, shall be regarded as an attempt to induce a member to violate his oath of allegiance and shall constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege.
If my proposed standing order is adopted I hope that we will be prepared to have the privilege of this Parliament determined in a judicial way. It was in the early nineteenth century that the House of Commons surrendered to a judicial body the power to determine the rights and wrongs where there was a dispute concerning an allegation. That was not regarded as a complete surrender of the powers of the Parliament. We have reached a very serious stage in our parliamentary development. If the liberties of free speech and a free vote in Parliament are to be assailed with impunity, all I can say is that the foundations of a free society have been eroded.
.- I wish to refer to Standing Order No. 38, which governs the hours of sitting of this House. In my opinion the present hours of sitting are quite ridiculous. Standing Order No. 38 reads -
Unless otherwise ordered, the House shall meet for the despatch of business on each Tuesday and Wednesday at half-past two o’clock p.m.; and on each Thursday at half-past tea o’clock a.m.
This means that unless otherwise ordered by the House, which would be only in very exceptional circumstances, the Parliament sits for only three days each week. That arrangement persists for several weeks. Two courses are open to members. If they wish they may stay in Canberra from the time the Houses rises on Thursday night until it meets again on the following Tuesday afternoon. If they do that they have almost nothing to do while they stay here and they are unable adequately to deal with representations by their constituents. Members may, on the other hand, return to their electorates and carry out such duties as they can there. The latter course may sound satisfactory to some honorable members and I would agree that it is a suitable arrangement provided that all honorable members are able to spend the same amount of time in their electorates to deal with matters that may arise. Unfortunately this is not the case. To convey members from Canberra to, for example, Western Australia and Queensland, involves the Commonwealth in heavy expenditure and also seriously inconveniences the members concerned. At first glance it may appear very satisfactory for members to be able to spend the greater part of Friday and all day Saturday, Sunday and Monday in their electorates. Many electorates are pocket handkerchiefs in area. Some members representing metropolitan electorates could very likely see all of their constituents by standing on the local post office steps on a Saturday morning. But it is utterly impossible for a member representing a wide-spread country electorate adequately to handle his electorate business in the short time now at his disposal between the adjournment of the House on Thursday night and its meeting again on the following Tuesday.
The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) submitted a proposal concerning the sittings of the Parliament with which I am in almost complete agreement. His proposal, which may need some minor amendment, would, if adopted, enable country members to spend more valuable time dealing with the affairs of the people whom they represent in this Parliament. Many country members find that their time is to a large extent wasted because when in Canberra they are not able fully to carry out their parliamentary duties because of the pressure of electorate business, and when in their electorates they are not able fully to deal with the representations of their constituents because of the very size of their electorate.
I propose to tell honorable members what happens in my own case. Kalgoorlie is possibly the most difficult electorate to represent. There may be similar electorates in Queensland and perhaps in South Australia - I have in mind the electorate of Grey. The House rises on Thursday night, but I cannot reach my home in Kalgoorlie until 11 a.m. on the following Saturday at the earliest. I must leave for Canberra not later than 2.30 p.m. on Monday in order to arrive here in time for the sitting on Tuesday afternoon. During the time that I am in Kalgoorlie most places of business are closed. Nothing is going on, and it is impossible to get much work done in my office because my secretary is off duty at the week-end. So, almost all my time in my electorate is wasted. It must be remembered that Kalgoorlie covers an area of about 900,000 square miles. One can travel up to 2,000 miles going from one point in the electorate direct to another point. The only time during which I can get into the far-flung areas of the electorate is when the Parliament is in recess. While the Parliament is sitting I have no chance of visiting the outback areas of the electorate. If we adopted the proposal submitted by the honorable member for Mackellar we would know with reasonable certainty that for a predictable ten days in every three weeks we would be free to handle matters concerning our electorates. Constituents in the far outback have as much right to make representations to their members of Parliament as have constituents of city electorates. Any honorable member who opposes a proposal to enable country members to give better service to their constituents is completely unfair and is wrapped up only in his own electorate. He has no thought for the welfare of Australia generally.
– Perhaps you are wrapped up in your electorate.
– Of course I am. Perhaps the honorable member for Mallee does not have much regard for his own electorate. We shall see how he reacts to this proposal.
– I suggest that you come to the Mallee to find out for yourself.
– Because of the way in which our hours of sitting are regulated considerable expense is incurred by honorable members, not only by those who travel long distances but also by those who live reasonably close to Canberra. If the suggestion of the honorable member for Mackellar that we travel home every third week-end were accepted a considerable saving would be effected. Surely that is an aspect which we should consider particularly when, in many cases, the value of going home is not commensurate with the expense involved. Western Australian members are at a particular disadvantage because if they want to attend to matters of importance in their electorates they must curtail the time for this and be in Perth at midnight on Monday to travel to Canberra to attend the sittings on Tuesday afternoon. They do not get any rest on the plane, and it is not feasible to expect honorable members to travel such a long distance, arrive here exhausted - any one who has done the trip several times as I have knows how exhausted you are - and then enter into debates on Tuesday afternoon with the same spirit and liveliness as they would have if they were completely rested. I hope that the Parliament will consider favorably the proposal in relation to sitting hours and that, in particular, those honorable members who represent city electorates will show some consideration for those of us who are trying to represent the people in country areas.
– I have listened very carefully to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Collard) and I have taken notice of the suggestion which was advanced by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) in relation to sitting hours. The honorable member for Kalgoorlie favours the suggestion while the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) opposes it. I come down very strongly on the side of the honorable member for Moore. Those honorable members who favour the proposal in the main represent electorates in metropolitan areas. Some honorable members may say, “That is not right; you have an exception in the honorable member for Kalgoorlie “. But I should like the honorable member for Kalgoorlie to tell the House what percentage of his electors live within the confines of the city and suburbs of Kalgoorlie. That is the question. After all, he is not placed so very differently from honorable members who represent some metropolitan electorates.
The honorable member for Kalgoorlie claims that his electorate covers 900,000 square miles, but how often does he travel the electorate and how much of it comprises the Nullabor Plain and other desert areas? There are one or two large towns in the electorate, but, as the honorable member well knows, the main area that he has to look after is the City of Kalgoorlie. What chance has any man of being elected to represent the Division of Kalgoorlie if he lives in the backblocks of the electorate? Metropolitan electorates are those where there is one big city, like Kalgoorlie, without large areas of surrounding waste lands and country electorates are chiefly those where the population is fairly well spread. The electorates of the honorable member for Moore and myself come within the latter category and that is why we oppose the suggestion.
When the honorable member for Kalgoorlie was speaking I interjected, in a cordial way, and said, “Perhaps you are wrapped up in your electorate “. He became tremendously annoyed and said, “ Perhaps the honorable member for Mallee is not wrapped up in his electorate “. I make allowance for the fact that he is a new member of this Parliament. Unfortunately, or otherwise, I have been accused by honorable members of being too wrapped up in my electorate. But you cannot take too much notice of new members who flare into a temper at some interjection. In any case, when an interjection is made in a cordial way we expect courtesy in return.
I made note of his statement that he can attend to matters in his electorate until 2.30 on Monday afternoon. I live in northwestern Victoria and if I use public transport I must leave my home at 8.45 on Monday morning to be in the Parliament at 2.30 on Tuesday afternoon. How well the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is placed in this regard! He has until 2.30 p.m. on Monday in his electorate whereas if I use public transport I must leave my home at 8.45 a.m. on that day.
Let me deal now with the matter of quorums, which was mentioned by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). He suggested that a quorum should comprise fewer members than is the case at present. I do not agree with him. We want as many honorable members as possible in this place during debates. I am sure that the Government Whip agrees with me. Something should be done to stop certain honorable members - one in particular who has been mentioned to-day - urging some of their colleagues to leave the chamber so that they will be able to direct the attention of the Chair to the state of the House. I object most strenuously to that practice. However, I have no objection to a quorum being formed if there is a legitimate reason for it.
– Who does that?
– The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), if you want to know. He has done it on many occasions, but he is not the only one to do so. I am opposed to anything which would reduce the number of members required to be present in the chamber during a debate.
Then the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) claimed that there should be more scope for the use of certain words. In effect, the words that he has in mind are the offensive ones which may not be used. I believe that we should have the very opposite to the honorable member’s suggestion. We want to reduce the number of certain utterances which are made. Of course, the Speaker is ever vigilant in this regard and his vigilance is appreciated, but unfortunately the utterances are made before he can stop them and then he requires the member concerned to apologize. This procedure reminds me of the Kaiser who, during the First World War, speaking of the German breach of Belgium’s neutrality, said, “ One can always apologize “. Unfortunately, as I have said, the apology is made after the words have been used and the honorable member concerned then is supposed to be completely exonerated by his apology. I do not appreciate this practice. I believe that we should lift the tone of this House, not lower it.
Some time ago the Speaker told me that when the proposed new Standing Orders were being discussed I would have the opportunity to raise a matter which has been concerning me for some time. Honorable members who have been in this place for any length of time know that I have been campaigning to prevent speeches being read. I have described the practice of reading speeches as representation by proxy. It is apparent that many honorable members - not all - read speeches which they have not written themselves. They come to what they think is the end of a sentence and they halt. Then, suddenly realizing that they have not come to the end of a sentence, they continue reading in a disjointed fashion. Although I have directed attention to the fact that certain honorable members read their speeches and have tried to put an end to the practice, I must admit that I have failed miserably in my campaign. Standing Order No. 61 reads -
A Member shall not read his speech.
That standing order remains unchanged. The booklet which has been distributed to us contains a section in which explanations are given of the proposals but none is given in relation to Standing Order No. 61. If we want one thing in this Parliament, we want sincerity. Why allow that standing Order to remain when any honorable member may read his speech? Why not remove it altogether? It is absolutely ridiculous to have a standing order which, to my knowledge, has never been applied. I have seen some honorable members read page after page of a speech and another honorable member has interjected, “Next page, please “. When the Speaker’s attention is directed to the fact that the honorable member is reading a speech the Speaker says that the honorable member is referring to copious notes. He does not know whether the member is reading from notes or reading a closely typed speech, as is often the case. I suggest that Standing Order No. 61 be removed. Let me read it again. It states -
A Member shall not read bis speech
We know that a member may read his speech. So why have this provision in the Standing Orders at all? Let all members read their speeches if they want to. I have tried to stop representation in this place by proxy, and I have failed. Let any member if he so desires get anybody he likes to write his speech, and let him read it in this place. Remove Standing Order No. 61 and the Standing Orders will then at least have a ring of sincerity that they have not while this provision remains. One could say that these Standing Orders are only as strong and as sincere as is their weakest link, and Standing Order No. 61 is a very, very weak link in parliamentary administration that should be eliminated.
Mar. DUTHIE (Wilmot) [5.26].- Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the Standing Orders Committee most sincerely on the work that it has done to prepare this formidable document that we have before us. I congratulate also the Clerk of the House, who must have given the committee a great deal of help in the compilation and drafting of the proposals contained in the schedule of 403 standing orders.
Now I wish to say something about the speech made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). The speech that he has just made, like all his speeches, would have been a lot better had it been read. If we take the suggestion made by him to its logical conclusion, even the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) would have to be sat down, because all his speeches are read. All Prime Ministers throughout the years have read their speeches, and Ministers generally have read their speeches.
– Then why have Standing Order No. 61?
– I agree: Why have it? I have never seen an honorable member sat down, Mr. Speaker, when your attention has been directed to the fact that he was reading a speech. You have always got out of the situation quite well by saying that the honorable member concerned was referring to copious notes. I do not agree with the honorable member for Mallee when he suggests that all honorable members in this place read their speeches.
– I did not say that.
– He did not say that at all.
– The honorable member for Mallee implied it, anyway, as the honorable member for Indi will see if he reads what was said. At least, when we have copious notes we know where we start and where we finish. When we speak without notes, we begin at Genesis and finish at Revelation. I believe that making a speech from copious notes, or delivering a speech that has been fully prepared and committed to paper beforehand, preserves orderly discipline in most instances and is a very good thing indeed. Furthermore, “ Hansard “ is saved from having to carry out a whole series of alterations if we prepare our speeches thoughtfully in our own offices beforehand.
The next matter that I wish to mention concerns the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen), the smart alec who, little more than half an hour ago, discussed parliamentary privilege and the intrusion of outside influences into this Parliament. In the process, the honorable member took a sarcastic crack at the Australian Labour Party because it happens to have a federal conference which formulates policy for the entire party throughout Australia. The speech made by the honorable member this afternoon was sheer hypocritical hash and was designed purely as propaganda for electioneering purposes. It was typical of the sort of thing that we shall near him saying on various platforms during the next general election campaign, and typical of the sort of speech that is made by the smart alecs on the opposite side of the House who want to gain cheap publicity. They all love to talk about the federal conference of the Australian Labour Party. To hear them talk, one would think that the method adopted by the Labour Party to formulate its federal platform was something new which had come out of the blue only recently when the party considered its attitude to the proposed United States naval communications station at North West Cape. For more than 50 years, our paTty has functioned under the guidance of a federal conference, the members of which are determined by democratic vote at State conferences. Every party represented in this Parliament has a federal conference, Mr. Speaker, and always has had a federal conference which formulates policy and directs its members throughout Australia. What utter rubbish it is for Government supporters to talk as if we in the Labour Party were the only ones who functioned under a federal conference!
– The honorable member has a strange definition of democracy.
– The honorable member is guided by his party’s federal conference. If he stepped out of line, he would not receive his party’s endorsement at the next election. Honorable members opposite are * a bunch of hypocrites on this issue - a bunch of cheap hypocrites.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to withdraw that remark.
– All right. I withdraw that and say that they are wealthy hypocrites.
– Order ! The honorable member will withdraw unreservedly.
– I withdraw unreservedly, Mr. Speaker. Now, let me handle this matter as I wish to handle it. This is the first time on which I have spoken on this issue in the Parliament. I have listened to all the cheap critics on the other side of the House talking about members of the Australian Labour Party being directed by outside influences. The Australian Country Party, however, has its federal conference. The Liberal Party of Australia has a federal conference. The Australian Democratic Labour Party has a federal conference. The Australian Labour Party has its federal conference. Every political party represented in every democratic parliament throughout the world has what amounts to a federal conference to formulate policy for the guidance of every one of its members. What humbug honorable members opposite talk! The very basis of the British system of parliamentary government is the party system, Mr. Speaker. If it were not for the parties, we would have communism or a dictatorship similar to communism - a dictatorship of the kind that existed in Italy and Germany at the beginning of the last war and exists in Russia to-day. I repeat that the very basis of the British system of parliamentary government is the party system, and the very basis of the party system is disciplined support in the ranks of a particular party for a policy formulated by its federal or national conference, as the case may be. We have had this sort of thing in Australia for more than 50 years.
– The honorable member’*, party has had it! !
– So has the party to which the honorable gentleman opposite belongs. That party is not worthy of the name if it has not a federal conference to guide him and his colleagues. All honorable members opposite are guided by conferences in this way.
– We are guided, not bound.
– Order! The honorable member for Higinbotham must cease interjecting.
– Honorable members on the Government side of the House have a oneman dictatorship.
– I am glad that the honorable member for Hume has made that interjection, because it states what the situation in the ranks of the Government amounts to. The Government parties have federal conferences which formulate policy. Sir Philip McBride is federal president of the Liberal Party of Australia, but I suppose that Liberal members who sit on the opposite side of the House would rather follow their leader in this Parliament than follow the men outside it who guide their party. That must be the answer!
– That is right
– Honorable members opposite may have it their way. We in our party have had it our way for more than 50 years, and, as a result of the way our party has functioned, it has formed a federal government on two occasions since 1920. We in the Australian Labour Party resolve our attitude on all issues as we recently resolved our attitude on the issue of the proposed radio station at North West Cape. Yet it is suggested that the procedure by which the party’s attitude on that issue was resolved came out of the blue and had never been adopted before. We in the Labour Party have differences of opinion on many subjects, but we thrash out those differences in our conferences and party rooms, just as honorable members opposite do. They vote in this House in a disciplined way. If they did not, the present Government would not remain in office for more than two weeks.
– What has this to do with the Standing Orders?
– This relates to thi powers of the Parliament, a matter that was raised by the honorable member for Moreton in a speech that the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) probably did not hear. The honorable member for Moreton attacked members of the Australian Labour Party in this Parliament viciously and wickedly on the issue of the intrusion of outside influences into the affairs of this Parliament. He thought he was being smart when he stated that the Communist Presidium in Russia has 36 members. The federal conference of the Australian Labour Party is composed of 36 representatives. I am proud of the way in which that conference is constituted and I am prepared to work under its guidance. For twelve years, I attended federal conferences, and I was on the federal executive of the party for three years. I know what verbal battles we have, but after the policy to be followed is determined by a vote, we carry out that policy. That is the way it is done in every party in this country. At every meeting that honorable members opposite attend, at which resolutions are considered, they abide by the decision of the majority, whether it is at a meeting of a football club, a badminton club, a racing club or a political party. Yet you come to this Parliament and suggest that this is not your practice. You put yourselves forward as rugged individualists. What utter rot! The very basis of democracy is that the majority shall rule, that the majority vote shall be the vote carried.
I want to mention one other matter, Mr. Speaker. I refer to question time. Interestingly enough, in this long document that I have before me I cannot find one reference to the length of question time. I am prepared to be corrected if there is such a reference, but I must say that I can find none. I discussed this matter with the clerk last year, and I was told that the length of question time has varied from time to time. At one time it was an hour, it has been as short as half an hour, and at the present time, and throughout the life of this Government, it has been 45 minutes. I believe it would be a good thing if we could stabilize the length of question time and I suggest that we should make it 60 minutes instead of 45 minutes.
I have a reason for suggesting that 60 minutes should be the length of question time. In numbers the present Opposition is the largest that has ever existed in the Commonwealth Parliament. It is well known that the Opposition always asks more questions throughout the year than do Government members. This is obviously so by the very nature of the parliamentary system. The Opposition is always hammering the Government, asking questions, seeking information. This was so during the period when honorable members opposite were on this side of the House. I believe that 45 minutes is not sufficient for us to raise all the matters that we want to raise in this Parliament. National affairs to-day are more complex than ever before. Members are closer to their electors than they ever were before, and electors are more interested in what goes on in the country than they ever were before. This means that private members of the Parliament have more matters to raise in the House than they did in previous years. One of the most effective ways in which we can raise such matters is by bringing them to the attention of Ministers at question time.
I have found, Mr. Speaker, that we have not averaged one question per member per week. This is not good enough in my book. From the beginning of the Budget session last year, which commenced on about 20th or 21st August, to 8th December, the end of the sessional period, there were about twelve weeks of sittings. In that time seven Labour members managed to ask more than seven questions each.
– But in that time you had a censure motion before the House, and during that debate there was no question time.
– When was that?
– That was in the Budget session, and you have also had a censure motion before the House during the present sessional period.
– I am simply taking an average over about twelve weeks sittings. Seven of our members asked more than seven questions each, fifteen of them asked six questions, eight asked five questions, and the remaining Labour members were allowed fewer than five questions each. The average was nothing like one question per member per week.
Many matters come before us of an urgent nature, and if we cannot ask a question about them in the week in which they come before us, the next week is too late. It may bs that if we cannot ask an urgent question on the Tuesday, it will be too late to ask it on the Thursday. So that we may have a chance of bringing before the attention of Ministers the various matters that call for attention in our electorates I do feel that question time should be lengthened, perhaps if only to 55 minutes, giving us another ten minutes. I remind the House that this would obviate the necessity to put many questions on the notice-paper. If we can ask questions at question time, naturally we will not have to put them on notice. It would also save Ministers and departments a lot of extra work in preparing answers to questions on notice. I put this forward for consideration. I do not know whether the Standing Orders Committee can have a look at the matter when it next meets. I am not sure who has authority to say how long question time should be. It may be the Prime Minister himself. There is no mention in the Standing Orders of a particular person having such authority. The Standing Orders give no guidance to the government of the day.
– There is nothing in the Standing Orders about question time.
– That is correct. I have looked through them, and I have found no reference to question time at all.
– It is a matter of arrangement between the Leader of the House and your representative.
– That could be. However, I suggest that it is a very haphazard practice when we find that question time is not specifically recognized in the Standing Orders. After all, question time is a very important feature of the operations of the Parliament.
I want to say, finally, Mr. Speaker, that in what I have said about questions there is no reflection whatever on you personally. You are doing a wonderful job, in ray opinion. I am quite sincere about this. I believe you are doing the best job at question time that I have seen any Speaker do during the time I have been in this place. which is nearly seventeen years. Question time is a difficult time for you. I was involved in a terrible conflict with your predecessor in June, 1950, when parliamentary business was held up for nearly three days. He would not see me at question time. If you care to look up the report in “ Hansard “ you will find that that was one of the bright spots of the term of office of the previous Speaker. It is all recorded in “ Hansard “.
You, Mr. Speaker, work to a system. You keep a record. You have allowed me to keep a record of the members on this side who ask questions each day. I do not think it is your fault if, occasionally, one member is allowed three questions and another only two. Perhaps in the rush of question time you do not glance at the right spot. All of us on this side feel that you are doing the best job that we have seen a Speaker do in trying to ensure justice and fairness at question time, and equality as between Government members and Opposition members. All I am asking is that question time be extended so that your job may be made easier, our job may be made more effective, and the number of questions on notice may be cut down.
– In the last few minutes the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) has suggested that not sufficient time is allowed in the programme of this Parliament for members to address questions without notice to Ministers and get replies from them. The honorable member, of course, was referring to only one method of getting information from Ministers, true method of asking questions across the chamber. Such questions, of course, are those which occasionally result in publicity for the member asking them. This may be why the honorable member is seeking more time for such questions. If the honorable member wanted to use the other methods that are available for getting information from Ministers and departments, he would have plenty of scope to do so if he was genuinely interested ‘n seeking information. He could put questions on the notice-paper, as many other honorable members do. One of my colleagues has just told me that the honorable member for Wilmot has not a single question on the notice-paper at the present time.
Similarly, if the honorable member was genuinely seeking information he could ask for interviews with Ministers in their offices. If he did so, he would almost certainly get the information he wanted. He does not do this and he does not put questions on the notice-paper. He wants to ask questions in Parliament so that he may get some publicity for the matters he raises. This is not a case of a member genuinely seeking information, but simply of a member looking for publicity for himself.
The honorable member for Wilmot also exhibited a remarkable degree of irritation as a result of a speech made earlier by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) on the very important questions of order and privilege as they affect members of this Parliament. The honorable member tried to show that this was an unreal point. He said it was a hypocritical point, but this, of course, is completely untrue. The honorable member for Moreton was making a real point. The honorable member for Wilmot tried to say that there was no particular reason why this point should be brought up now and not mentioned last year or the year before that. There is a real reason why the point should have been brought up now. We have had the spectacle of the leader of a major political party asking for orders from an outside body as to what he should or should not do on a matter that is absolutely vital to Australia’s security.
The question of the relationship between the federal conference of the Australian Labour Party and the parliamentary party and its leader has not arisen in past years. It did not arise with the two war-time Labour Prime Ministers, because they were leaders who were prepared to do what they knew to be in the national interest, even if this meant crossing the will of the conference of the Labour Party. This was done on the question of conscription. However, the present leader of the Labour Party has shown that he is completely unwilling to cross the will of the conference, even if the policy of the conference is diametrically opposed to the best interests of this country. The honorable member for Wilmot tried to show that the conference of the Labour Party in Australia is the same as the conference of the Labour Party in England and the same as the council of the Liberal Party.
– Order! There has been a fair amount of discussion on this subject. I direct the attention of the honorable member to the fact that we are discussing Standing Orders and not the executive of a party. A passing reference to such a matter is reasonable, but the matter must not be debated.
– This subject was raised originally by the honorable member for Moreton. I seek only to answer the point raised by the honorable member for Wilmot, that the relationship of the executive of the Labour Party to its parliamentary members is the same as the relationship of the council of the Liberal Party to its parliamentary members. If the points made by the honorable member are not answered, the impression could rightly be taken by people hearing or reading the debate that there is no difference between the two positions. But there is a real difference and with respect, if I may, I would like briefly to put the difference to the House so that the record will be straight.
Under the rules of the Australian Labour Party, the conference makes decisions that are binding - the operative word is “ binding “ - on all parliamentary members. The rules provide further that when the conference is not sitting the decisions or interpretations of the federal executive are binding on all members of the party and they must do as they are told. For instance, the members of the party were directed by the federal secretary, a person outside the Parliament, not to make statements on foreign policy. On the other hand, the federal organs of the Liberal Party have a duty in their respective spheres to advise members on various matters, if they think fit. Advice may be given, but there is no obligation to take it. There is certainly an obligation to consider it, but the decisions of these bodies are not binding on members of this party. In the seven and a half or eight years that I have been a member of the Parliament I do not know of one occasion on which any federal organization of the Liberal Party has tried to tell a member of the Parliament what he should or should not do. Decisions on parliamentary matters have always been the responsibility of the member concerned, and we are not told what to do as Opposition members are.
Let me make this situation clear. The honorable member for Wilmot said the position of the Australian Labour Party is the same as the position of all Labour parties around the world. But the position of the Australian Labour Party is not the same as the position of the Labour Party in Great Britain. Mr. Laski, who was mentioned by the honorable member for Moreton, and Mr. Herbert Morrison, a war-time leader and Minister in Mr. Attlee’s post-war Government, are on record as having said that in the United Kingdom the conference and the executive of the party outside Parliament have no right and do not claim the right to dictate to members of the party while it is in opposition, while it is in government, while they are private members or while they are Ministers. This is quite different from the relationship between the conference of the Australian Labour Party and the parliamentary members of the party. Mr. Herbert Morrison went so far as to say that if the system of permitting committees of political parties to direct members of the Parliament as to what they should or should not do were adopted, you were going a very long way towards the Communist system of a one-party dictatorship. Those are his words, not mine. They underline very clearly the difference between the Labour Party in the United Kingdom and the Labour Party in Australia. The Australian Labour Party is unique in this regard amongst all the political parties of which I have any knowledge throughout the British Commonwealth.
.- I wish to make a few brief remarks about the proposal of the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). Before doing so, I would like to deal very quickly with two points made by the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). He alleged that Opposition members move around asking their colleagues to leave the chamber when Government supporters speak and then call for quorums. I assure him that when he rises to speak there is no need for any one to move around asking others to leave the House. When he speaks, they all leave and this happens as surely as night follows day.
He objected to honorable members reading their speeches. If he wrote his speeches and read them before he came into the House, he would not make them.
I would like to commend to the attention of the House the suggestion made by the honorable member for Mackellar. I assure the honorable member that his proposal, with a few minor variations, has the complete support of this side of the House. Members who represent rural electorates, particularly large rural electorates in which activities are diversified, must be very active in keeping in touch with their electors. It is almost impossible for honorable members to be active and to make themselves available to their constituents as much as they would like to be in the prevailing circumstances. During the sittings of the Parliament, I arrive home late on Friday night. On Saturday and Sunday I have the usual engagements. On Monday, I am available during the day in the office at Ipswich and at night I invariably have engagements. I must wait until the long recesses before I can move around visiting constituents in the twelve reasonably large country centres within the electorate of Oxley.
The proposal of the honorable member for Mackellar would provide an answer to the problem that confronts those who represent the country electorates that are so difficult to cover. The problems of those representing the far-flung electorates such as Kalgoorlie are even more difficult. The proposal would lead to economies and would meet the convenience of honorable members. During a period of six weeks, the Parliament would sit for four weeks instead of the present five weeks and yet sit for almost the same number of hours. This would mean one fewer return flight for those members who travel by air, if they return to their homes each week-end. Undoubtedly most of those who have to travel great distances would remain here for the fortnight of sittings that has been suggested. This then would mean only two flights instead of four flights. I give my support to the proposal of the honorable member for Mackellar.
I support other Opposition members who have opposed the retention of the provision in the Standing Orders, which prevents members from criticizing the judiciary.
This is a ridiculous proposition. An honorable member from either side of the House may be a member of the Parliament this week and a member of the judiciary next week. This week he is a partisan, political adherent; next week he is regarded as a virtuous and impartial administrator of the law. At present there is an abundance of evidence that certain judges of the Commonwealth Industrial Court are far from impartial in their administration of the law, their treatment of the working classes and their attitude to appeals from the trade union movement. The Parliament should reign supreme. Members of this House should be able to criticize the judiciary, if criticism is justified. It is ridiculous to suggest that the judiciary should be placed in a supreme and unassailable position and that the Parliament should be subsidiary to it.
I want to deal very quickly with a matter discussed by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) and the honorable member for Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser). It relates to pressure groups. We often hear supporters of this Government launch attacks upon the Australian Labour Party on this subject, but we hear very little from them in explanation of the Government’s withdrawal from policies as a result of pressure being applied to it by outside groups. Perhaps honorable members opposite could explain to the satisfaction of this House and the people of Australia how strong was the pressure group which, a couple of years ago, exerted on the Government the pressure that resulted in the increase in sales tax on motor vehicles being rescinded a few weeks after it had been applied. Perhaps they could also explain the sudden back-pedalling on the Treasurer’s proposed legislation to force life assurance offices and hire-purchase companies to invest a fixed amount of their funds in government securities.
It is quite obvious from the attitude of the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) in the House to-day that he will succumb to pressure groups in relation to his proposed legislation to control restrictive trade practices. To-day he made a qualified statement, whereas a few weeks ago he was prepared to make an unequivocal statement on his proposals. From the manner in which the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) blanched when he was told that representatives of the Association of Professional Engineers intended to work in his electorate to unseat him if he persisted with the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill that he has brought before this House, it is quite obvious that he will be reducing the extent of that legislation as a result of that pressure group. That is obvious from his demeanour and his general activities.
I conclude by directing the attention of all honorable members and of the public to how strong pressure groups are in their effect on the administration of policy by this Government. We can obtain excellent arguments in support of that contention if we look up the Queale Memorial Lecture delivered in Adelaide in 1960 or 1961 by Sir John Allison. In that lecture he gleefully clothed pressure groups in respectability. He also referred to the actions of pressure groups in the community, their relationship with the Government and their attainments by applying pressure to the Government. It is rather amazing - in fact, to the average member of the community it must be rather frightening to discover that, according to Sir John Allison, these pressure groups have been fostered by this Government to the extent that their members are on boards that have been set up by this Government to decide Government policy. In the course of his lecture, Sir John Allison related to his audience how he, as a member of a government-sponsored board, was able to influence government policy. He went on in a similar vein in relation to other boards. If we look up “Who’s Who in Australia, 1962” we find that Sir John Allison is involved in the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia and the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce and is a representative of a particularly large business enterprise, the name of which escapes me at the moment, and a captain of industry in this nation. He is also the loving foster child of the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), who has placed him and many of his ilk in positions of privilege where they are able to influence Federal Government policy. That is undeniable. There is an abundance of evidence in support of that contention.
At present, in a private venture I am seeking out information on various political parties in relation to this matter of pressure groups. In view of the rubbishing in which this Government indulges, I will have very much pleasure in releasing to this House after the winter recess all the information that I have amassed. By that time I hope to have it set out in order. It is very interesting to see how pressure groups have directed this Government to their satisfaction.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– During the course of the debate the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) referred to the House of Commons. There is a recurrent tendency on the part of Government supporters to refer to precedents and traditions of the House of Commons whenever such precedents and traditions fit the particular arguments they wish to put forward; but I point out to the honorable member for Moreton and other honorable members opposite that the fact that something is done in the House of Commons in Great Britain does not necessarily mean that the same thing should be done in this country, and there is a host of evidence in support of this contention. You, Sir, in your own position are completely divorced from the position which exists in Great Britain, and let me quickly add that I do not say this in any critical sense about you personally. In Great Britain, for instance, the Speaker of the House is regarded as being impartial in every way; yet you have come into this House on a number of occasions and voted on issues as a member of the Government.
– Order! I ask the honorable member not to canvass that subject. In any event, in referring to a matter arising in committee he is out of order.
– Well, Sir, you did allow very wide discussion of it before.
– Order! The honorable member will resume his seat. Certain latitude was allowed the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie). However, the matters under discussion are the report of the Standing Orders Committee and an amendment proposed by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth).
I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to those matters.
– I am bound by your direction, Mr. Speaker; but I wish I had the opportunity to discuss the matter I want to raise in order to show how the honorable member for Moreton was in error in the arguments he put forward. As you have ruled me out of order in that respect, I have only one other subject to raise and I shall discuss it very briefly. It relates to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Mackellar. As I mentioned earlier, we of the Labour Party support the proposal. Perhaps we have some qualifications in relation to the hour of commencement and termination of sittings, but, to a large extent, we support the proposal. If the honorable member for Mackellar were sincere and had the intestinal fortitude to support the principles which he has put forward to honorable members, he would be prepared to have this matter go to a vote in this House.
– I rise to order. The honorable member says that the honorable member for Mackellar lacks intestinal fortitude.
– I rise to order. I did not say that.
– Order! The honorable member for Oxley will resume his seat.
– The words used are offensive to me and to honorable members on this side of the House.
– Order! The honorable member for Oxley will withdraw the remark he made about the honorable member for Mackellar.
– I withdraw it, but I assure you that I did not say what the honorable member for Perth alleges I said. If the honorable member for Mackellar really espoused the principles which he has put forward so sincerely and so loyally, then surely he would have submitted his proposal to a vote of the House. Instead of following that course, he has adopted the rather deceitful practice of proposing that the matter be referred to the Standing Orders Committee. I have before me a number of roneoed sheets which the honorable member for Mackellar circulated and on which he said precisely that he proposed to move certain amendments. Among other things, he said -
When the Standing Orders come before the House I am considering moving amendments on two points as attached.
There is no qualification there. Now, all he suggests is that the particular matters be referred to the Standing Orders Committee. Why has he followed this course? I suggest that he has done so because, as the grapevine has it, the Liberal Party threw out his proposal at its meeting this morning. Now he is practising this deception to try to get around the real issue just as other honorable members on the Government side have practised somewhat similar deceptions when other definite issues have been debated in this House. It all goes back to the fact that certain members on the Government side are prepared to rant and rave and indulge in gimmicks to get a little bit of publicity for themselves, but, when the cold, hard facts are put before the House, we see just how sincere they are and just where their loyalites lie. Invariably they drop their arguments and vote with the Government. In fact, they are nothing more than paper tigers. I conclude by stating that if the honorable member for Mackellar desired to have his proposal carried I am sure that it would be carried with the support of the Opposition. But he has not the intestinal fortitude to follow the course I have indicated.
– I wish to make a personal explanation. I have been seriously misrepresented by the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden), who has just resumed his seat. He said, a few moments ago, that there were details of this proposal about which he was not happy. Actually what I have done has been to move an addendum to the motion which, if the House carries it, will have the effect not merely of referring the proposal to the Standing Orders Committee but also of ensuring that the committee shall bring it back to the House for a vote in a form which will ensure that the anomalies, if there be any, to which the honorable member himself has referred, shall be cleared up. I resent the unfounded remarks of the new honorable member for Oxley.
– I rise to order! I resent that statement. I repeat that the honorable member has only retracted his amendment because the Liberal Party threw it out at its meeting.
.- I shall not speak at length and will confine my remarks to a discussion of the Standing Orders. I was very pleased to hear from the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) that, in future, the Standing Orders will be reviewed annually, for there are some improvements which I think could be effected to them. I thought that the debate would be confined to the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders, but it has ranged over a very wide field. I do not wish to protract the discussion m that direction. I shall content myself by referring to only two of the Standing Orders.
First, I believe that more time should be allowed for the ringing of the division bells. I understand that under the Standing Orders two minutes must elapse between the start of the ringing of the bells and the closing of the doors of the chamber. Some honorable members who happen to be in distant parts of the building may not hear the bells and may have difficulty in getting to the chamber before the doors are closed. I was always under the impression that the time allowed from the start of the ringing of the bells to the closing of the doors of the chamber was three minutes. I now find it is only two minutes, and I am sure that if the committee looked at that standing order again it would give serious consideration to extending the time to three minutes, for that would be of advantage to everybody.
The second matter to which I wish to refer relates to the privileges extended to honorable members at question time, and I hope that in due course the relevant standing order will be reviewed. At the moment, every honorable member who asks a question is limited by that standing order. I do not complain about that, but I do complain about the fact that the same limitation does not apply to Ministers. Members of this House are subject to limitations, not only as to the form of their questions, but also as to the length. The Speaker, if he believes that a question is becoming too long, will ask the questioner to come to the point. These limitations, however, are not imposed upon Ministers when replying to questions. I was in this House on an occasion when only two questions were asked in the first nine minutes of question time. Most of those nine minutes were taken up by Ministers in replying to the two questions.
Further, if Ministers wish to read prepared statements in answers to questions from Government members - this happens no matter what party is in government - they should read those statements at some time other than the valuable question time. If it is fair that limitations should be placed upon members as to the form and length of questions, a Minister answering a question should be subject to similar limitations. The practice of some Ministers in reading long, prepared answers to questions entirely defeats the purpose of question-time. I hope that when next the Standing Orders Committee meets it will study this very important matter. I remind the House that question time is just as important to individual members as it is to Ministers.
Finally, I want to make some observations on the standing order relating to questions based on newspaper reports. I do not understand why newspapers should be singled out. From my reading of the standing order, it appears quite permissible for a member to refer to something he has seen on television or heard in a radio broadcast, but if he informs the House that his question is based on a newspaper report, immediately he finds himself in conflict with the standing order. For the life of me, I cannot understand why newspapers should be singled out in this regard. In the document that has been circulated it is stated that a member may not ask whether statements in a newspaper are accurate and may not include extracts in his question, but provided he makes himself responsible for its accuracy, he may draw attention to a statement in a newspaper.
I cannot see how any member can accept responsibility for the accuracy of a statement that appears in a newspaper. From time to time statements on matters of public importance that warrant questions being based upon them appear in our newspapers. It seems absurd to me that questions may be based on radio or television reports, but if a member bases a question on a newspaper report, then, unless he is prepared to vouch for the accuracy of the report, he is ruled out of order. I hope that this matter will be looked at when the Standing Orders Committee meets again.
I would like to repeat the three points I have raised. The first is the lengthening to three minutes of the time of ringing of the division bells. The second relates to the reading of prepared answers by Ministers. I am not attempting in any way to stifle Ministers. I realize their responsibility in these matters, but I do not believe that their responsibility carries with it a privilege which could be exercised to the detriment of ordinary members of this House. To me it is grossly unfair that Ministers should take up a part of questiontime by reading obviously prepared statements which they could easily read at other times. My third point relates to the basing of questions on newspaper reports. Because a matter of public interest is referred to perhaps only in a newspaper, that should be no reason why members should be debarred from asking questions about that matter.
.- I want to occupy the attention of the House for only a few moments. Following on what the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O’Connor) has said, let me say that I believe it is very desirable that members of this House should express some dissatisfaction with the way in which Ministers abuse - I feel that is the correct word - the period of question time by making statements that ought to be made by leave. It was the custom over the years for a Minister, when he had a prepared statement to make, to secure the leave of the House to make that statement. It should be the right of the House to determine whether a Minister shall occupy its time with any particular subject upon which he wishes to make a statement. That is a matter for the House to determine, not the Minister. That being so, I feel that question time has been grossly abused. You will find, Sir, if you search the records, that rarely to-day is a statement made by a Minister by leave of the House. The method adopted is that some one on the Government side is persuaded to ask a question. Then the Minister gets up and makes a statement that otherwise he would have required the leave of the House to make.
This practice not only circumvents the Standing Orders of this House and its rules of procedure, but it denies to ordinary members time which should be available to them for questioning Ministers upon matters of urgency. I have been a Minister and have had to secure the leave of the House to make statements. Those who now occupy ministerial positions should follow the practice that has been followed over the years but which is increasingly being avoided by the methods adopted by Government members. Ministers now are able to make statements which, in other circumstances, might be objected to by the House. They are not required to secure leave because of the use of the method of getting a member to ask a question, in reply to which they are able to give a well-prepared statement.
I offer my strongest protest at the attitude adopted in recent years to this all-important matter. I ask the House to observe in future how often Ministers ask for leave to make statements upon important matters - statements in respect of which it should be compulsory that the leave of the House be obtained.
– I will be very brief. I am opposed to the amendment relating to the sittings suggested by the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth). If the suggestion were adopted, members representing the far-flung electorates would be virtually prisoners. They would have to stop in Canberra over the week-ends. I am prepared to support such a suggestion if members who want to leave Canberra for the week-ends pay their own expenses. We would be more or less prisoners in this place. This change would not assist me to any great extent in my electorate. I am speaking now only for myself, although I believe other members are of the same opinion. I think I am just as much entitled to return to my electorate at week-ends as are members who represent city electorates in Sydney or Melbourne. If I am compelled to stay here I think it is only fair that they should have to travel to their electorates at their own expense.
.- Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for
Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) has raised a very interesting and valid argument in this debate. The House is master of its own destiny; there is no question about that. But, being master of its own destiny it must have proper cognizance of the circumstances of members. Every one of us has his own problems. The honorable member for Maranoa has raised the problem that faces him and I think he put forward a very valid case. He pointed out that some members, perhaps a great percentage of them, would not be able to return to their homes at all on the short week-ends. As far as I know, no trains in New South Wales leave for the country on Saturdays, arriving in country towns on Sunday mornings. Many places have no air service and, if the House sits on a Friday, it will be impossible for some country members to return to their homes, or if they are able to get home, they will not be able to get back again to attend a sitting on the following Monday morning. There will be a sitting on Monday morning in the first week and in the second and third week the sitting will commence on Monday afternoon.
I suggest, therefore, that members representing country electorates, particularly distant electorates, are much less favorably placed in regard to transport than are city members. When the House sits on a Friday in the second week, they will not be able to return home by train and, if there is no suitable air service, they will not be able to return by air. It will be necessary for them to go by road which, in my case, will occupy two days. They will then have a few days in their electorates and have to return to Canberra by road. Consequently the ten days which they might otherwise have had in their electorates will be reduced to about five days. That is not the worst of it. The worst of it is that, having returned to the seat of government, they will then be subjected to these late night sittings.
The Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) has a pretty fair appreciation of what he will have to contend with after a few nights of late sittings, followed by another week of the same treatment. I think that the Standing Orders Committee should give the matter very thorough consideration and make exhaustive inquiries among members as to how they will be situated individually, before it decides to recommend any alteration of the present arrangements.
– in reply - Mr. Speaker, having introduced this matter, perhaps I shall be permitted to say a few words in concluding the debate. The first comment I make is that it must have been very gratifying to you and to your colleagues of the Standing Orders Committee to perceive how generally the proposals which you put forward have been supported by the House. The discussion has ranged widely over a variety of matters, but I do not think there has been a challenge at any point to the proposals which have come forward unanimously from the Standing Orders Committee. We can now adopt these proposals, with great advantage to our proceedings, when we come back for the Budget session. One matter which members of the Opposition felt they were not prepared to dispose of without further consideration has been deferred. That is proposed Standing Order No. 144, which deals with various aspects of the asking of questions in the House. I think it is sensible that, rather than have a prolonged debate in the House at this stage, we should ask the Standing Orders Committee to have another look at what has emerged since we last discussed the matter.
The honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) brought forward some interesting proposals, although it was not easy to understand all their ramifications at relatively short notice. Again, I think the sensible course has been adopted of referring those matters to the Standing Orders Committee. The honorable member proposes that the Standing Orders Committee should report back to the House and that these matters be discussed before the end of the year. I subscribe to that proposal and I recommend to the House that it be adopted. I know, Sir, that it is your wish that the Standing Orders Committee should meet more frequently. I have no doubt that, as a result of this discussion, other honorable members will have proposals that they would like to submit. I imagine that you will be only too willing to receive those proposals and to have them examined by the Standing Orders Committee when it meets.
I do not want to canvass extensively the merits of the proposals put forward by the honorable member for Mackellar and there is only one upon which I make passing comment. I refer to the very important proposal for a change in the sitting days and hours of the Parliament. I agree with those honorable members who, in concluding the discussion, said that, from their own experience, they hoped that very careful consideration would be given both to the views of individual members and to how the proposal would effect the circumstances of individual members. I would add my own testimony to that. Speaking as a member of the Cabinet, I can assure honorable members that, even with the House sitting three days a week, there are very great practical and physical burdens placed on Ministers in trying to run their departments, deal with Cabinet committees, deal with the business of Parliament, deal with deputations and attend to the 101 other matters which engage them, while at the same time giving reasonable attention to the business of the House. I speak now from long experience of the way in which the House has been conducted. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), too, can go back a fair way, and perhaps he remembers the period when we used to sit right through from Tuesday until late on Friday afternoon. I may add that it has been a succession of pressures from backbench members which has brought the sitting days down from the full four days which we used to sit at that point of time to the present Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday sittings.
When we sat on Fridays, New South Wales members wanted to get the 4 o’clock train back to Sydney and so the motion for the adjournment of the House was moved at about 3 p.m. Only the interstate stayers and players were left to battle on, because their train did not go until 9 p.m. and they might as well talk on the motion for the adjournment as be anywhere else. Then the proposal emerged, “ Let us stop at lunch time on Friday and everybody will be accommodated”. So then we used to sit on Friday up till lunch time. Then somebody discovered that, by the time questions had run on until 11.15 a.m., there was not much of the morning left for the business of the House and so members asked, “ Why sit on Friday morning?” We progressed, therefore, to ending Friday sittings.
I come now to the Thursday night sitting. I remind honorable members on both sides of the House that when the numbers were not as equal as they are in this Parliament we were hard put to maintain a quorum on Thursday nights, even using the resources of both sides of the House.
We have reached our present situation after years of practical experience. No system will satisfy everybody, and our present system represents about the highest common denominator of agreement spread over the whole body of the House. I do not want to elaborate any further. Many arguments for and against the proposal could be advanced. No doubt the Standing Orders Committee will be able to weigh the pros and cons, and finally the proposal will come back to the House as one which the committee cannot recommend or one which it can recommend either in its proposed form or in some other form. The same considerations will apply to the other suggestions made by the honorable member for Mackellar.
The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) raised a matter which, viewed seriously and objectively, is of importance to all of us. I will not canvass the matter at this stage - certainly not in any provocative way - but on a more appropriate occasion I think the Parliament might well examine how far honorable members are subjected to pressures from organizations or individuals which could affect the proper discharge of their responsibilities to their electorates. No doubt each of us could contribute something to such a discussion from our own experiences.
The one matter on which I felt I would like to make rather more detailed comment, because it is not so likely to come into the discussions of the Standing Orders Committee, was raised by the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley). He expressed certain views about the time taken to answer questions placed on the noticepaper. He felt that there were unwarranted delays on the part of Ministers in answering such questions. As I understood him, he implied - perhaps I am overstating the position, but if this is not true of the honorable member for Fremantle, I think it may be fairly said of some other spokesmen from the Opposition side - that the
Government was giving inadequate consideration in this direction to the rights and opportunities of private members in particular.
The first point I make in dealing with this matter is that I regard it as part of my responsibilities as Leader of the House to see that questions are answered. My ministerial colleagues know that from time to time I have asked them to reduce the number of questions on the notice-paper addressed to them. As a result of such action on my part we did achieve a shortening of the time taken to answer questions placed on the notice-paper. I have not made a recent survey of the situation but I did cause a study to be made last year. The report of that study, dated 3rd July, 1962, is of value as illustrating the situation that obtained in what may be regarded as a typical period and typical situation. I found that the average time taken to answer questions placed on notice in the autumn sessional period of 1962 was less than in either session of 1961. The average time in the corresponding period of 1962 was six sitting days. That compared with seven and eight sitting days respectively in the two sessional periods of 1961.
An interesting fact emerged from this inquiry, namely that as many House of Representatives questions were asked in the autumn sessional period in 1962 as were asked throughout 1961. That trend has continued into this year. It is a matter of common observation to every honorable member who picks up his notice-paper that the number of questions placed on notice has been increasing very remarkably. When the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) raised this matter with me he was making the point that the large number of new members in the House, particularly on his side, was giving rise to the increased number of questions asked. But when we made our analysis we found that it was not the new members who were swelling the notice-paper; it was the remarkably increased activity, perhaps for reasons of domestic rivalry, within the Labour Party which was increasing the volume of questions then appearing on the notice-paper.
– Mr. Speaker, may I Interpose a question to the right honorable gentleman? Has he any information about the time taken to answer questions on the basis of time elapsed rather than time expressed as a number of sitting days? A month represents in fact only twelve sitting days.
– This was an exercise in relativity. I have pointed out that whereas seven or eight days elapsed before answers were provided in 1961, in 1962 the time taken was six days. It is interesting to note that in the autumn sessional period in 1961 three members of the Opposition accounted for 65 per cent, of all questions asked from the entire House. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition no doubt will be gratified to know that he featured among the trio of busy inquisitors. The other two were the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and the honorable member for Grayndler. In the Budget sessional period in 1961, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition topped the list with 33 per cent, of all questions asked in the session. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition with the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Watson (Mr. Cope) managed to assemble between them 63 per cent, of the questions asked. That situation seems to have spurred the energies of the honorable member for East Sydney, because on the first Thursday of this sessional period we found that the number of questions on the notice-paper had reached what I think must be an all-time record for this House. There were 206 questions on the notice-paper.
– It was an all-time record recess, too.
– All honorable members were in recess, not just the honorable member for East Sydney. But the honorable member was responsible for 140 of the 206 questions that appeared on the notice-paper. The rest of the field is making some headway on him now. I find that of 180 questions on the current noticepaper, only 70 stand in the name of the honorable member for East Sydney.
It is interesting to look at the reasons why the average time to answer questions on notice has been reduced to six sitting days. Some questions necessarily take longer to answer than others. The reasons for that are obvious enough. Some questions are what may be called multiple questions. In order to answer some questions information must be obtained from many departments. For example, we had a question from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) relating to ships and planes chartered by the Commonwealth, This question embraced more than one Commonwealth department and the facts first had to be obtained and then assembled. Some questions involve a department’s approaching one of its associated agencies. This would be the case in a question to the Minister for National Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) relating to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority; in a question to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) relating to some committee which functions within his department; or in a question to myself relating to the Commonwealth Loans Organization within the Treasury. Such questions are not merely a matter for a particular department. They require reference to associated agencies and then assembly of the facts.
Then we are all familiar with what might be termed the loaded question which contains a pretty high political content. At times such questions are not as easy to answer shortly and as quickly as the honorable member asking them would wish. On occasions questions are asked relating to a policy item still under discussion and the Minister concerned has the choice of giving a negative answer by merely saying that the matter is still under consideration or, if he knows that a decision will be reached within a comparatively short time, holding over the reply until the decision has been taken.
I mention these matters not only to give some explanation for what occurs but also to give some assurance to the House that the rights of private members are fully respected in this as in all other aspects. I have made the claim before that I know of no English-speaking Parliament in which more time and opportunity are made available for private members to discuss matters of importance to them than is the case in this National Parliament. That goes for the Opposition generally, and it certainly goes for individual members of the Parliament. I need not recite all the procedures by which a private member, whether a member of the Opposition or a supporter of the Govern ment, can avail himself of these opportunities.
I did not set out, Mr. Speaker, to raise new subject matters of discussion. I am delighted, as no doubt you are, that the House will adopt proposals which will promote the more effective functioning of this Parliament. When we meet again I hope that we shall be able to consider any positive and constructive proposals which honorable members may submit to us.
Amendment agreed to.
– Order! The motion, as amended, now reads -
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Debate resumed from 30th April (vide page 866), on motion by Mr. Harold Holt-
That the bill be now read a second time.
.- This probably will be the last debate of this kind before the Budget is presented in August, and I want to take the opportunity to mention such items as the need for a subsidy on superphosphate - which, in view of the recent margins decision, certainly has become a necessity - and the need for a reduction in probate tax, which, in this free enterprise economy, is iniquitous. I shall offer some criticisms of bank lending generally and the policies governing lending to the rural sector of the economy in particular. During the debate on the Estimates last year the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) said that he would welcome our views on this matter. I thank him for the invitation to express our views. Then he is reported on page 1187 of “Hansard” of 4th October, 1962, in this way -
I do not claim that the situation is completely satisfactory from the point of view of the man on the land. We still have work to do on this problem.
I agree whole-heartedly with that statement. During that debate the Treasurer stated that advances from the major trading banks totalled £1,031,000,000, of which £240,000,000 had been directed to rural industries. The most up-to-date figures that I could obtain to-day from the Reserve Bank indicated that total advances had risen to £1,052,000,000, whereas the amount which had been directed to rural industries had declined to £236,000,000. In the circumstances it cannot be claimed that the rural sector of the economy is maintaining its proportion of total bank lending.
I know that many other forms of lending are available to the primary producers, but those other forms of lending are available also to other sections of the community. In the speech to which I have referred the Treasurer stated that advances at that time by pastoral companies amounted to £104,000,000, whereas advances by the major trading banks amounted to £240,000,000. This indicates to me that the pastoral companies are carrying more than a fair share of the load of rural loans.
– It is all short-term lending, too.
– As the honorable member for Lawson has stated, it is all shortterm lending. The figures which I have cited indicate also that the pastoral companies have been compelled to enter this field to fill a gap in bank lending. Other sources of revenue are insurance companies, State lending institutions and State savings banks. Loans of this nature to rural industries by outside lending bodies total £156,000,000. This amount, together with the £104,000,000 which pastoral companies have advanced, represents loans totalling £260,000,000, compared with the £240,000,000 which the major trading banks have advanced. Obviously the major trading banks are not playing, or are not able to play, their proper part in financing rural industries. Whether this is due to the Government’s monetary policies or to some other reason, I do not know.
Special advances such as the wheat grants by the Rural Credits Department of the Reserve Bank may amount to £100,000,000 in harvest time but the amount fluctuates. These loans also are made on a short-term basis. Another avenue of finance which I have not mentioned is the hire-purchase companies. Many farmers in my electorate have told me that they have approached the banks for an advance to buy a tractor, a header or a harvester. Their request has been refused, but they have been referred immediately to the bank’s subsidiary hirepurchase company, which is prepared to advance the necessary funds at a much higher rate of interest than that charged by the bank. I have in mind now one farmer in my electorate who is in a very healthy position as to assets. He was refused a loan by the bank and was referred to a hire-purchase company. The practice which the banks adopt is completely inequitable, objectionable and irritating. No doubt the banks are happier with the higher rate of interest that they obtain through the hire-purchase company but the farmer who is able to meet his repayments to the hire-purchase company without difficulty would certainly be able to make his repayments to the bank.
One major gap in this field of rural finance is term lending. Recent legislation made £57,000,000 available for term lending to industries. The maximum repayment period is ten years. I learned in conversation with a bank official who knows his business that a ten-year term is very rare. I learned also that to date £16,200,000 of the £57,000,000 has been advanced and that additional loans have been arranged. This came from a clean start about the end of last financial year. The deputy general manager of the Bank of New South Wales, Mr. Norman, has already stated that that bank has lent all the term-lending funds it has available for rural industry. I also discovered, to my amazement, that 50 per cent, of the funds made available by term-lending goes to manufacturers and 25 per cent, to commercial interests linked with the Associated Chambers of Commerce of Australia, leaving only 25 per cent, for rural finance. This shows that there is a big gap in the term-lending funds available to rural industries.
As I have said, my first complaint is that the term is not long enough. One of my constituents at Sale who had £8,000 in the bank, wanted to buy a farm for £20,000. Under this term-lending scheme, he could not get a loan even for the maximum period of ten years. The bank would’ not do him the doubtful honour of giving him a loan over the maximum term of ten years. If we assume that he had been able to obtain a loan for a ten-year term under the termlending arrangements, he would have had to repay principal at £1,200 a year plus interest at 7 per cent., or £840 a year, making total payments for repayment of principal and redemption of interest £2,040 a year. Not only is the repayment of principal too high, but also the interest on these loans, at 7 per cent., is too high.
The gap in the availability of funds for rural industries is recognized in Victoria by the establishment of the Rural Finance Corporation, a State organization the capital of which has been limited to £10,000,000. However, there is now before the Victorian Parliament a measure designed to increase the capital limit to £15,000,000. The corporation has a scheme under which principal is repaid at the rate of 2 per cent, a year, compared with the minimum rate of 10 per cent, a year under the term-lending plan. Interest is charged by the corporation at the same rate as interest on Commonwealth loan funds, because the funds lent by the corporation come to it through the State Government from Commonwealth loan moneys. So, in 1950, a borrower could obtain from the corporation a long-term loan, on which he had to repay the principal at the rate of 2 per cent, a year and interest at only 31 per cent. The interest rate, of course, has risen with the increase of the rate on Commonwealth loans, and is now 6 per cent. This, with repayment of principal at the rate of 2 per cent, a year, makes a total repayment at the rate of only 8 per cent, a year, compared with the rate of 17 per cent, a year under the term-lending scheme.
I do not know whether arrangements similar to those made by the Rural Finance Corporation in Victoria are available in other States. The need for this sort of lending has been recognized in my State, and I have received a great number of inquiries from farmers who want long-term loans under such arrangements. I have not been able to direct these inquirers to any Commonwealth source that would accommodate them. All I have been able to do has been to send them to the Rural Finance Corporation, which, as I have said, is a State organization. In the main, the people whom I have directed to the corporation have been lucky enough to be accommodated by it if they have reasonable financial propositions.
Lending of this type should be undertaken by the trading banks. There is no question about that. The term-lending arrangements should be broadened by extending the maximum limit of the term for which loans may be made. Farmers who are required to meet ordinary overdraft conditions imposed by the trading banks experience major difficulty in obtaining loans. The banks require all the collateral security that they can lay their hands on. In fact, a bank that conducts its own savings bank requires a prospective borrower whose wife and children have savings bank accounts with another bank to transfer them to its savings bank before money will be advanced. This is typical of the sort of pressure that is being put on farmers who seek loans. In addition, the average term that a farmer can get from a trading bank under overdraft conditions appears to range from three to five years. This is not long enough. A farmer finds it practically impossible to meet continually increasing costs and to repay the principal of a loan made for such a short term.
I want to know why the trading banks are acting in this manner. What has caused this hiatus in long-term lending? It seems to me that the associated trading banks all adopt the same policy. Throughout my electorate, which embraces many industries and widely varied conditions, the same thing applies. Wherever I go, I hear the same cry. I am almost bound to ask: Are the major trading banks frightened of the future of primary industry? I know that they are not, really. The history of the trading banks of this country shows that they have great faith in the primary industries. However, this sudden insistence by the banks on short-term lending leaves me almost with the feeling that there is some doubt about their faith in the future of primary industry.
I know that rural lending is not so profitable to the shareholders of the banks as are the activities of their hire-purchase subsidiaries, and that the directors of the banks have to answer to their shareholders. However, I think that one of the main reasons why the banks hesitate to lend to rural industries on long terms is the variations in the monetary policy of the Government and the Treasury, and dictation by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Prior to the last war, banks commonly lent up to 80 per cent, of their deposits on long terms or for unspecified terms, but to-day they are limited to lending a maximum of 55 per cent, of their deposits in this way. If they lend as much as 60 per cent, in this way, the Reserve Bank immediately instructs them to reduce the proportion to 55 per cent. This control by the Reserve Bank has put the associated trading banks in a position in which they cannot lend long and borrow short. Furthermore, the proportion of the banks’ deposits held on fixed deposit has dropped from 70 per cent, to 20 per cent., because more attractive rates of interest are available elsewhere.
Throughout my electorate, I have been told by both stock agents and farmers of the way in which the man on the land is being treated. A man with assets of £60,000 or £70,000 may have an overdraft with a limit of £4,000 and his account may be overdrawn £2,000, and the bank will then require him to reduce his overdraft limit to the level on which he is operating. Electors have told me that, on asking a bank to lend £2,000, they have been advised to seek accommodation from a stock agent, and they have been able to get it far more easily from a stock agent than from the bank. One of my constituents in particular has been affected badly by this attitude on the part of the banks. Without a doubt, he has assets totalling between £60,000 and £70,000 and his bank overdraft is only £2,000. He wanted money to buy stock and plant, but the banks would not give him £1. He sought accommodation from stock agents Mid obtained £9,000 from them. They knew that he was quite sound.
– What was the rate of interest?
– It was simple interest at a rate a little higher than that charged by the banks. The point is that much of the money lent by pastoral companies is obtained from the banks in the first place. What is wrong with the banks doing the job themselves?
– The banks are chickening out.
– I think that they are chickening out because of the present monetary policy, which causes them to borrow short and prevents them from lending long.
The small stock agent feels the pinch, also, because he is not able to obtain large sums to enable him to lend to his clients as much as he would like. He cannot compete with the big stock agents and pastoral companies. This has meant that smaller agents and companies either have had to submit to being taken over or selling out or have had to make some sort of financial arrangements with the larger interests.
The present situation has a considerable effect on the sale of properties. At present, unless the vendor of a property can offer good terms with a small deposit, a property is unlikely to realize its true value. This is because young men who are keen to buy cannot borrow from the banks on long terms. In this way we are losing young men from the land. Their fathers are not able to put them on the land. I have known of case after case in which fathers have been in fairly sound positions but have been unable to borrow money from the banks to put their sons on the land. In those cases the sons have had to go to the cities or find employment in some other industries. I believe that this is causing us to lose the best members of our young farming community.
Many people on the land also find it hard to obtain money to pay probate duties. If a death occurs in a family and the person in control of the estate goes to the bank, asking for £8,000 or £10,000 to meet probate duties, the bank is reluctant to lend the money. I have heard it said that the banks describe such loans as dead loans. They are dead loans all right! No increased production arises from loans granted from the payment of probate duty, and the banks are not happy to make such loans. The result is that in many cases those in control of an estate have to sell the whole or part of the estate to meet the probate duty.
– Don’t you think probate duties are too high?
– The rates of probate duty are far too high, and I hope this is something that the Treasurer will look at when preparing his Budget. I also ask the Treasurer, finally, to consider this question of long-term lending. There is a major gap in the financial field at present, as a result of which young men in rural communities wanting long-term loans just cannot get them. As I have stated, as a consequence we are losing good young farmers simply because they cannot borrow the money to set themselves up on the land.
.- There are two matters that I want to refer to. One concerns the Department of Social Services and the other the Department of Civil Aviation. I shall deal, first, with the matter relating to the Department of Social Services. At the outset, I would like to pay a tribute to the Director-General of Social Services and the various officers of the department. When I have approached them on behalf of constituents of mine I have always found them as helpful as they could possibly be. However, the provisions of the social service legislation frequently prevent them from giving the consideration that one might reasonably expect them to give. I believe that greater discretionary power should be delegated to allow them to deal with special cases upon their merits.
To-night I shall confine myself to the plight of a particular group of people who, I believe, deserve much more consideration than they are receiving at present. I refer to widows of a certain age group who, because of ill health, cannot be employed. I have in mind the case of a widow with a child who is receiving the A class widow’s pension. When the child reaches the age of sixteen years, the widow’s position can become quite precarious. If she is under 45 years of age, even only a week or a fortnight under that age, she is not eligible for a B class widow’s pension until she attains the age of 50 years, but if she is 45 years or over, she immediately becomes qualified for a B class widow’s pension. A difference of a fortnight can possibly mean disqualification for the widow’s pension for five years. Can any one suggest that this is an equitable situation?
I know that rules must be set down, but I do feel the rule is too rigid in such a case as I have mentioned. You may say that such a woman can obtain employment, but in the case I have in mind the unfortunate woman cannot be employed because of ill health, although she may not be 85 per cent incapacitated and thus become eligible for an invalid pension. She misses out on a widow’s pension, and although unemployable because of ill health she cannot get an invalid pension because she is not 85 per cent, incapacitated.
Again you may say that she could get the unemployment benefit. However, she is unemployable and therefore is not eligible for the unemployment benefit. Although you may suggest that she could register for employment, there is no form of employment that she would be capable of accepting. Are you going to leave this woman in no-man’s land, or no-woman’s land if you prefer to call it that?
I believe that every possible consideration should be given to the plight of women in this category when the Budget is being prepared. In some cases these widows do not have homes of their own and have to pay rent. In those cases the money for rent has to come from the earnings of the child, who is sixteen years of age. I realize that these cases may be exceptional, but they do occur. I know that the department will say to me, “ If we open the door in this case, we will make way for a flood of applications from other people who think they should receive similar consideration “. Well, I suggest that every case should be dealt with on its merits, and if a case such as the one I have mentioned to-night is deserving of consideration, then certainly something should be done to provide assistance. Fortunately, in the case that I did bring to the attention of the department, the woman concerned was considered finally as being close enough to 85 per cent, incapacitated to receive the invalid pension. However, that would probably not be so in the case of other people in similar circumstances. I do suggest that the Director-General of Social Services should have discretionary power to consider the merits of particular cases and extend assistance when it is obviously desirable to do so. I hope that considerations of common humanity will persuade the Minister and the Government to make provision for assistance in cases of hardship such as I have outlined to-night. This is only one of a number of classes of people who need sympathetic consideration. Not only widows but also other persons unfortunately placed because of invalidity or other circumstances hope that the Government will be more benevolent to them in the future.
I want to deal now with civil aviation. Yesterday, I directed a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation regarding the freight and passenger business of the airlines. As the Minister in this House only represents the Minister for Civil Aviation, he was at some disadvantage. Although he could not give me a comprehensive reply, I thank him for giving me the information that he did. I am sure that he told me all he knew about the matter. However, I would be glad if some further information were supplied to me, because the present situation needs to be corrected. We have two main airlines in Australia. They are the governmentowned Trans-Australia Airlines and the privately owned Ansett-A.N.A. organization. The rules governing the business operations, schedules, fares and other activities of the airlines should apply equally to both organizations. But on many occasions the government-owned airline is placed at a disadvantage so that the privately owned airline will have some advantage. As a taxpayer and as a member of this House, I resent this. I believe that any undertaking owned by the Government should have the same opportunities to attract business as privately owned undertakings have.
Ansett-A.N.A., the privately owned airline, is gaining a monopoly of intra-state business. Almost all the intra-state business to-day is conducted by the privately owned organization. Trans-Australia Airlines does not operate in the country areas and does not have the advantage of conducting freight or passenger services within the States. Almost the whole of this business is done by the privately owned airline, which then has an advantage if the goods or passengers are to be carried to destina- tions in other States. The governmentowned airline should be given a share of this business. Country people realize that they must use the privately owned airline to take their goods to the capital city of the State in which they live and they feel obliged to use the same airline if the goods are being sent interstate. This means that only one airline is handling this business, and that is the privately owned airline.
We might reasonably expect that Government business, such as the carriage of mails, would be undertaken by the Governmentowned airline, but T.A.A. is required to share this business with the privatelyowned airline. If the spirit of rationalization of the airlines demands that the business of the Government-owned airline be shared in this way with the privatelyowned airline, surely it is only fair that the privately-owned airline should share with the Government-owned airline the interstate carriage of goods that have been brought to the capital cities from country areas. In answer to my question, the Minister said that this was being done, but I am assured on good authority that it is not. I understand that goods are carried from country areas to interstate destinations by the privately-owned airline and no share of this business is given to the Government-owned airline. I believe that one day a royal commission will inquire into the operations of these airlines.
I want to deal with another aspect of civil aviation. I do not think that the best service is being given by the airlines. Both airlines have aircraft departing from the same airport for the same destination at almost the same time.
– The aircraft of both organizations come in together and go out together.
– That is so. Aircraft depart from Adelaide at 7 o’clock in the morning. The convenience of the general public is not considered in these matters. Passengers who do not catch the early morning aeroplane must wait until the afternoon for the next departure. The arrangement for the aircraft of both companies to depart at the same time should be altered. I do not suggest that one airline should have all the profitable business and the other the unprofitable business, but I do think that those who prepare the timetables should have enough intelligence to be able to give each airline a fair share of the business and at the same time meet the public convenience. I have been inconvenienced many a time by the inappropriate scheduling of the airlines in Australia. It must be exasperating for members of the business community, when they want to fly to another capital city, to find that a flight is not available until the afternoon. I ask that that matter be considered with the object of achieving a more convenient distribution of the services that are provided by the airlines.
Another matter that I wish to mention is that some little time ago Trans-Australia Airlines suggested that it be permitted to inaugurate night flights at cheaper fares. But because that suggestion did not suit the private airline, T.A.A. was not allowed to go on with it. That really requires some explanation from the Minister. In the United States of America, in which I had the privilege of living and travelling for five years, aircraft fly day and night, and one can travel on night flights as easily as on day flights. If T.A.A., the government-owned airline, can provide night flights between cities at cheaper fares, I see no reason why the Australian public should not have that cheaper transport made available to them. When consideration is being given to this subject, I hope that something will be done along the lines that I have mentioned. It would be of great advantage to people in country areas if cheaper air travel could be provided. There may be a reason why that cannot be done, but this House has not heard an explanation. I thank the House for the indulgence that it has shown to me. I trust that the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Swartz), who is at the table, will note the various requests that I have made, and that the appropriate Ministers will consider them as soon as possible.
.- The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt), in his Budget speech on 7th August, 1962, after stating that he was budgeting for a deficit of £118,000,000, said that the deficit signified - the determination of the Government to follow through with its expansionary programme until the economy is operating at the highest level of activity we can hope to sustain.
I believe that the Treasurer was completely right in the policy that was then adopted. By making provision for government expenditure in this financial year on the basis of revenue to be collected, plus an estimated deficit of £118,000,000, a tremendous stimulus has been given to the economy. That stimulus has been reflected in improved employment and improved business and trade generally.
However, during the last few months something which was not expected by the Treasurer has taken place. Loans, which were estimated to bring in £215,000,000 in a full year, had up to the end of March - that is with three months of the financial year still to go- brought in £263,000,000, or £48,000,000 more than the estimate for the full year. If some corrective action is not taken, the Government’s policy as budgeted for last August will be completely nullified. The purpose of that policy was to inject additional money into the community. That has been done on a monthly basis since August. But the substantial over-subscription of loans - a very healthy trend which eases tremendously the strain on the Budget - has meant that the people generally, and corporations which had money to spend prior to placing it in loans no longer have it to spend, and unless it is spent by the Government the very objective that the Government set out to achieve will be defeated.
It was pleasing to note that in February the Government took notice of that fact and expanded in several directions the amount of money that was being spent. I believe that in the next few months additional action will have to be taken, unless we are to pursue a deflationary policy instead of the intended expansionary policy. It is elementary economics that when the economy is sluggish and there is a certain amount of unemployment a wise government injects additional money or credit into the community in order to stimulate the economy. Conversely, when there is an impending boom or when boom conditions are likely to set in, a government should either increase taxation or restrict its spending in order to create a surplus. There is nothing new in that economic policy. That is the policy that the Government set out to follow in August last, has carried into effect since that date, and would have continued to carry into effect if it had not been upset by an unexpected circumstance.
How should the Government act to meet this new situation? The Treasurer provided in the Budget for the payment out of revenue of £51,000,000 for debt redemption this year. It is obvious that owing to the heavy over-subscription of loans the Treasurer will not have to pay out one penny of that amount. Therefore, if nothing else is done, the Budget deficit will be at least £51,000,000 less than the Treasurer intended. There are two courses that can be followed. One is to increase government spending and the other is to decrease government charges. The Government should take action in both of those directions. I believe that the time has arrived for a reduction in taxation. I should like the Government to consider this question of tax reduction and not simply to follow the pattern of granting a proportionate rebate in the rate of tax. I believe that we have to look at the question of taxes to see where the most good can be done with a certain amount of money. I believe, too, that the people who have suffered the greatest hardship during the last fifteen years are the young family units. The men and women with one, two and three children have had to bear the increasing cost of living which, until the last two years, had been progressive ever since the war.
– Instead of tax reductions, why not double child endowment?
– You will have your chance later if you keep quiet now. I believe that the Government should increase substantially the allowable deductions for a wife and children, for in my view this would achieve a far greater result than a simple proportionate reduction of tax in that these young families would spend the money because they would need to spend it, whereas if a proportionate reduction of tax were allowed to both married people and single people the same amount of money would not be spent. As the purpose of the Treasurer’s Budget was to increase spending, I suggest that when we are granting a reduction of tax we have to look at methods that will enable that purpose to be achieved; and I ask the Treasurer, when he is considering his next
Budget, to give careful consideration to increasing the allowances for the spouse and for the children and to liberalize the allowances for children to provide for the payment of allowances for all children undergoing full-time education irrespective of their age. Never was there a time when we needed specialists more than we do now; never was there a time when we needed more than we do now to see every boy and girl get the highest education that he or she desires and is willing to have; and we should not debar these young people from obtaining the highest education because their parents lack finance. It behoves us, through the medium of taxation, to give the greatest possible help to the men and women who have dependent children undergoing full-time education.
I mentioned earlier that I believe not only that the Government should take action in the next Budget at the latest to reduce the burden of taxation on the people but also that we should seize this opportunity to remove certain anomalies in our social service legislation. No government has a greater record of achievement in the social service field than has the present Government, and it can justly feel proud of that record; but there are still some anomalies in our social service legislation which require correction. The greatest anomaly occurs in connexion with what is called the A class widow, the widow with one or more dependent children. I believe that early and immediate assistance and relief should be given to the civilian widow not only by way of an increase in her pension but also by way of a substantial increase in the allowances paid to her for her children and by way of a liberalization of the means test relating to the amount of income she is permitted to earn. This would not be a costly matter; and in this case obviously every additional penny provided to the widow would be spent because she is really in necessitous circumstances.
We should seize also the opportunity to repeat the type of assistance made available by this Government under the Aged Persons Homes Act. No better method of providing social services has ever been evolved than that implemented under the Aged Persons Homes Act by which the
Government virtually enters into partnership with Churches and charitable organizations which are prepared to do a work that is needed to be done. The Aged Persons Homes Act has been a tremendous success. It has enabled some 15,000 people to be provided with delightful homes at either no rent at all or at a rent they can afford to pay. There are other persons in the community such as the physically and mentally handicapped who also need assistance not only in connexion with homes but also in connexion with workshops which are doing so much for their rehabilitation. I hope that now, when, for the first time since the war, money is readily available, the Government will seize the opportunity to introduce legislation similar to the Aged Persons Homes Act to help the physically and mentally handicapped. We should also help other organizations, such as the mealsonwheels movement, which are doing outstanding work in the community.
I take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the ready acceptance by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman) of the principles that I shall now enunciate. Just prior to Christmas, I discussed with him the standardization of the Port Pirie to Broken Hill railway gauge and the need to proceed with this work as soon as finances permitted. It is well known that last year representations were made for this work to be done, but that it was then felt that the financial position of the Commonwealth did not justify proceeding with the work at that time. However, the change in the Government’s financial position, due mainly to the tremendous over-subscription of Commonwealth loans, has altered the situation. When this was pointed out to the Minister on the first day of the present sitting, he readily agreed to re-submit the proposal for the construction of the standardgauge railway from Port Pirie to Broken Hill, and I want to express my appreciation of his ready agreement to submit the matter to Cabinet and my appreciation of the very satisfactory decision of Cabinet on the project.
I have mentioned a number of items of additional government expenditure which I think should be undertaken now that the Government is in the rather unusual position of having a surplus of funds for the time being. I believe that we should take advantage of the position to try to take up the arrears of certain essential services of the Commonwealth, such as war service homes. We all know that under the War Service Homes Act, which is supported by all members of the House, ex-servicemen are entitled, as of right, to finance to purchase or build a home. The only limitation is that in respect of the funds that are available. Because the number of applications for advances has involved expenditure beyond the amount of money that the various governments have had available in the past, certain restrictions have had to be placed temporarily on this right, and certain priorities have had to be determined, with the result that certain arrears have occurred. There may be a delay of up to two years before the applicant is able to get the money - not because he does not have the right to it, but simply because the amount appropriated by the Parliament for the purpose is not sufficient to satisfy all the applications received. Now that money has become easier, I believe that war service homes finance should be made much easier to get than it has been in the past. It is not money that the Government will lose. The Government cannot lose a penny on war service homes, and never has lost any money in that way. The money is paid back. The only limitation in granting applications occurs because money is not available. At the moment money is available.
It is well known that the loan that was to be floated prior to June of this year is not now to be floated. This, I think, is complete proof that there is no shortage of money for government purposes. In the situation which exists to-day, but which may not exist in six months’ time, we should seize every opportunity, not only to reduce taxation where there is an urgent demand to reduce it, not only to increase social services where there is an urgent need to increase them, but also to pick up the arrears in such matters as war service homes and - another field that immediately comes to mind - telephone installations.
We know, Sir, that the number of unfulfilled applications for telephones is nearly as great now as it was three or four years ago. In some areas it is even greater. All we have been able to do with the money available is to keep pace with new applications. While money is available, could we not reduce the arrears in telephone installations? Insofar as the public is willing to lend money at reasonable rates to the Government, the Government should take it and employ it in reducing the arrears in the fields of telephone installation and war service homes, until and unless we get a situation where inflationary conditions are likely to occur.
There is no evidence of that at the moment. For the first time since the war, prices have been stable - for over two years - and there is no indication of any increase in prices. Although there is not a great deal of unemployment, certainly there is not a shortage of labour at the present time, except amongst certain specialized groups of technicians. At present enough labour is available to meet urgent needs. This opportunity to overcome the arrears in telephone installations and war service homes loans may not occur again. The opportunity should be seized to help such people as the widows and members of the organizations I have mentioned, and the family man by tax reductions.
The policy of the Government is right. However, this policy can be made wrong unless the Government ensures that the changed circumstances are met so as to bring the policy into line with that enunciated by the Treasurer in August of last year.
.- In this debate I would like to take time to discuss, under the heading of the Department of External Affairs - we are providing an extra £200 for our embassy in South Africa - the state of affairs in that country, but before doing so I want to take up some of the points just mentioned by the honorable member for Sturt (Mr. Wilson). He is quite well known in this House for his very careful and conservative views on finance and economics. To-night we have heard from the honorable member very clear and positive statements to the effect that the Australian economy needs stimulation, that we have stability and not expansion, that what we might call the rate of growth is extremely slow, and that we have unemployment and a great range of unsatisfied needs. It is most significant that the honorable member for Sturt has seen fit to emphasize that the economy is lagging. We are discussing Additional Estimates involving an expenditure of £54,000,000, and supply for the first five months of 1963-64 involving £371,000,000 on ordinary account and on capital works and services. That is sufficient indication of the pattern that the Government expects to prevail during 1963-64.
The honorable member for Sturt points out that the Government has ample money for many purposes because of an unusual circumstance - the very large oversubscription of Commonwealth loans. The honorable member also states, quite correctly, that the Budget deficit for the coming year will probably be at least £51,000,000 lower than was anticipated. I want to discuss why there has been such a considerable over-subscription of Commonwealth loans. The answer is simple. Investors, looking at the market, have decided that private investment in various directions is not sufficiently attractive, so they have turned to Commonwealth loans. This indicates that in the coming White Paper on national income and expenditure we are going to see a significant fall in private investments. I believe this is a factor that will cause the honorable member for Sturt considerably more disquiet than the others he has mentioned. Is it not rather astonishing that we have a free enterprise government satisfied with the state of affairs that private investors cannot find sufficiently attractive private investments for their money and have to turn to Government loans at relatively low rates of interest and profit?
The honorable member for Sturt was quite right when he said that what is needed in Australia to-day is increased expenditure. The Government can face this problem in two ways. It can increase spending directly or it can decrease charges. The honorable member specially mentioned taxation. Although he indicated some ways in which the Government should increase expenditure - I will refer to those in a moment - he v/as mainly concerned with the argument that the Government should reduce its charges or taxation. He is concerned to prescribe a particular kind of remedy. I think we should examine that remedy for a few minutes. One knows of the discussions that go on in the Government parties and I think the rather conservative views of the honorable member and his friends might have some influence on Government policy by the time the next Budget is produced. What can we expect from that Budget? What can the Australian people expect from that Budget? The honorable member for Sturt would have the Government reduce its income from taxation - not by reducing taxation rates proportionately but by increasing the deductions that taxpayers can obtain for various purposes. He said, correctly, that families are in need. It is true that many married people, particularly young couples with families of two, three, four or five children, constitute the kind of unit in which there is a great deal of need. The honorable member for Sturt wants to increase the deductions that a married man gets for his wife and for his children. He wants to increase the deduction which that man gets for money spent on education. What effect would this have? The effect would be to give the taxpayer a benefit in proportion to the size of his income.
If we increase the value of the deductions a man gets for his wife and children or for his expenditure on education, we find that if he is paying 10s. in the £1 he gets back, as it were, exactly half of the amount that he is allowed. If he is paying 5s. in the £1 in tax he gets back a quarter of the amount that he is allowed for his wife and children or for education expenses. If he pays 2s. in the £1 he gets back one-tenth. So, the value of the deductions is proportionate to the size of his income and the bigger his income the more he gets. I would expect that suggestion from the honorable member for Sturt, because he represents the comfortable people. He does not deny that. He is completely frank about it.
In the year 1960-61 approximately £118,000,000 was spent by all the governments in Australia directly on education. The honorable member for Sturt does not want to increase that expenditure. He wants to increase the concessional deductions. We find in the report of the Commissioner for Taxation that in 1960-61 a total of £68,000,000 was allowed in deductions for expenditure on education. So whereas in that year the Commonwealth Government allowed private expenditure to the value of £68,000,000 to be deducted from income for tax purposes, governments all over Aus tralia spent, in primary and secondary schools and universities, only £118,000,000 directly on education. The honorable member for Sturt wants to increase the £68,000,000. The report of the Commissioner for Taxation lists the number of income earners on incomes ranging from £105 a year up to £50,000 a year. In 1960-61 there were 60 lucky taxpayers in Australia with incomes of £50,000 and over. Looking at that table we find that taxpayers whose incomes were less than £900 a year, or roughly £17 or £18 a week - they include most of my electors - had deductions for expenditure on education totalling only approximately £7,000,000 out of the £68,000,000. The other £61,000,000 worth of deductions went to people with incomes of over £900 year. So the distribution of deductions for education expenses is in proportion to the size of the income. The bigger the income the bigger the rebate for expenditure on education, and that is the system which the honorable member for Sturt wants to apply in reducing taxation. When the Budget is brought down, if we find that the concessional deductions have been increased, we will know what effect that will have.
Let us look at the other side of the picture. The honorable member for Sturt wants to increase expenditure on a number of things but he did not specially mention education. I would put education in the first rank of increased expenditure. 1 say there must be a vast increase in the amount of money spent directly on primary, secondary and tertiary education in Australia. There should be no reduction of taxation until these needs are met. The honorable member for Sturt did not mention the importance of ed.,cation or the importance of putting another penny or two on to age and invalid pensions, and presumably he would not support that sort of thing. We know the influence that he and his friends had on the Government rcently when it increased the means test so that a pensioner could have £4,000 in the bank and still receive a full age or invalid pension. I would not deny people in that position some benefit, but I think that those who had nothing but the pension should have had their needs met first. It is a matter of priorities and the honorable member’s priorities and ours are somewhat different.
The honorable member especially mentioned the Aged Persons Homes Act as an excellent kind of social service. He did not advocate an increased allocation of funds to the States to build homes through their housing commissions. In order to reveal the kind 01 priority which the honorable member favours, I want to contrast the kind of people I know, who live in aged persons’ homes, with the kind of people I know who are trying to get into housing commission homes. Under the Aged Persons Homes Act the accepted associations or organizations to which the Commonwealth provides the subsidy of £2 for every £1 raised are bodies - this certainly is so in my electorate - whose members subscribe £1,000 to £1,500 to the cost of the flat or home that they will eventually receive.
– That is not true.
– It is true. The honorable member is not often in the House and never speaks. He interjects only in certain circumstances, but I can tell him that the War Widows Guild, which has 40 flats next door to my house, is organized precisely on this basis. These are the circumstances in which so many people get homes under this act. They subscribe £1,000 or £1,500 to the organization and that becomes the basis of the organization’s funds to attract a grant from the Commonwealth Government. If the honorable member does not know that, his knowledge is abysmal. It is shocking to think that a member of this House can be in that state of ignorance.
– That is only one organization.
– You said there were not any cases like this and I have given you one clear example. To be able to put down £1,000 or £1,500 a person has to be fairly comfortably off. I would not deny assistance to people of that kind. But the honorable member for Sturt wants to give more assistance to more people of that kind. Contrast his attitude in this respect with his attitude towards the provision of houses through the State housing commissions. Not one word has he uttered in support of the housing commissions.
Let me cite a case in contrast to the cases of elderly persons who obtain homes under the Aged Persons Homes Act. A case with which I have become familiar in the past two weeks concerns a family the parents of which are in their late thirties. The husband was earning about £20 a week in Queensland. The job on which he was working cut out. He could not get another job in the district so he brought his family, including four children, to Victoria. He moved to Geelong, where he was fortunate enough to get work with the Ford motor company. That work lasted only for three months, after which time it cut out because of a change of policy on the part of the company. The man then had to leave Geelong in search of work. He came to Melbourne and obtained a position in the city, but he was unable to bring his children with him because the only accommodation that he could obtain was in Richmond, which is not exactly a salubrious suburb. He was paying £7 7s. a week for accommodation for himself and his wife. That accommodation was not adequate for his children. He approached me for assistance to obtain a housing commission home. I had to tell him that in Victoria the waiting time for a housing commission home was four years. I told him that he had no chance of getting a housing commission home in less than four years.
– The waiting time in New South Wales is only about twenty months.
– I would expect that in a Labour-governed State, but the waiting time in Victoria is about four years. The honorable member for Sturt wants the Government to provide more money for homes for the aged. The majority of people who are accommodated in such homes are fairly well off because they are able to find £1,000 or £1,500 by the time they are ready to move into a home. Good luck to them. I am in favour of giving them assistance, but I would like to know what priorities Government supporters would exercise and what priorities will be exercised in the coming year.
– I sought to extend the scheme to disabled and mentally handicapped people.
– I will be happy to see the scheme extended to disabled persons. I will be happy to see it extended so that municipal councils may benefit. 1 will support honorable members opposite all the way in seeking to extend the provisions of the act, but I expect honorable members opposite in turn to support us when we seek to assist the working people who have to turn to the housing commission for assistance. I want honorable members opposite to support our efforts to have pensions increased so that we may help those who have nothing to live on except the age or invalid pension. Let us hear no more about reducing taxes until these things have bet:n done. 1 have taken so much time dealing with economic matters that I have not much time left in which to say something about a matter that should be raised in this House because it is almost two years since it was last raised. I refer to the situation that exists in South Africa. A long time has passed since this matter was mentioned. In fact, it was last mentioned during the debate on the Sharpeville incident in 1960. From time to time there has been a responsibility on the Government to say or to do something about the state of affairs in South Africa because whenever a great injustice occurs anywhere in the world it is our responsibility to be concerned about it. From time to time the Government has been concerned - quite properly - whenever there have been injustices involving Communist countries, such as occurred in Tibet and in Hungary. But not one word has come willingly from the Government about South Africa. It would appear that the Government consists of people who are concerned about injustices only when they are perpetrated by their opponents in the cold war, and who are not concerned much or at all about injustices that are perpetrated by their friends in the cold war. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), long before he was given the dignity of a title, bad the distinction of supporting Dr. Verwoerd, the Prime Minister of South Africa, in the British Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference. Our Prime Minister did his best on that occasion to retain South Africa in the Commonwealth.
The Government from time to time, and still, maintains the attitude that what happens in South Africa is a matter of domestic jurisdiction. During the United Nations Special Committee debate on 7th November, 1961, on racial discrimination in South Africa the Australian representative made a long speech giving all kinds of reasons why he could not support the motion before the committee, which was that some action be taken in relation to South Africa. Our representative said that there were processes of persuasion that we could follow. I have done my best in the last four or five days to search through the records to find whether the Australian Government has availed itself of any processes of persuasion to point out what is happening in South Africa, but I cannot find one word in that respect. I would be pleased if the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Opperman), who is at the table, or anybody else on behalf of the Government, could show me where at any stage any Australian representative has availed himself of any process of persuasion with a view to improving conditions in South Africa.
What are the conditions in South Africa? As we all know the South African Government is pursuing a policy of apartheid - a policy of separation. Some people may think that that is a policy under which coloured people are in some way organized in a separate part of the country and encouraged to develop in their own area and among themselves. But it is not like that. The policy is one of social and physical separation, but also one of economic integration. It is a policy that defines white and coloured people. I propose to quote from a document titled “ South Africa - A Survey by South Africans in Australia “. The South African Population Registration Act of 1950 provides -
Under this definition any white person who associates with coloured people or who tries to help them may be defined as not a white person. The definition continues -
I have stated that South Africa’s apartheid policy amounts to physical separation. In recent times a great deal of physical separation has taken place. Durban had a population of 600,000 persons and towards the end of 1960 there were proposals to implement the act and remove from the city 100,000 Africans, 75,000 Indians, and 8,500 coloureds, but only 1,000 Europeans. Dealing with this matter the document to which I have referred reads -
Africans, who compose the poorest group, the domestic and industrial labour force, are to be moved many miles further from the city ‘than they are now, with the increased transport costs falling on those least able to afford them. Indians will probably be forced to sell their valuable property holdings in the centre of the city, perhaps at prices fixed by an all-white valuation board.
They would be moved miles from where they had previously lived. The document continues -
To take a less dramatic example, in Pieter.maritzburg there was a suburb called Pentrich inhabited by some three or four hundred Indian families. They were mostly middle-class people, who owned their properties, and had often built comfortable houses into which they had put their life’s earnings. Under the Act, for no apparent reason Pentrich was declared an area for white occupation. All these families must now sell their homes, which is not easy to do, for few whites will readily move into a house previously lived in by Indians . . .
The significance of this policy is that it is not separation for separate development. It is that kind of geographical movement and that kind of social separation in which the two types of people are not able to mix or to associate, but they are very carefully and thoroughly integrated economically. In 1960 the International Commission of Jurists described the policy in this way -
The movement and residence of the African labour force is regulated to meet the industrial and agricultural requirements of the European.
The basic purpose of this policy of separation, of apartheid, is to provide a suppressed, cheap, slave labour force. The whole social, economic and educational system is geared to this purpose. Assuming that the coloured people will be an unskilled and uneducated labour force, the whole system of education is geared to keep them at that level. We have the statement of Dr. Verwoerd, the Prime Minister, who, when speaking in the House of Assembly, said -
What is the use of teaching the Bantu child mathematics when it cannot use it in practice? That is quite absurd . . Education must train and teach people in accordance with their opportunities in life, according to the sphere in which they live … it is therefore necessary that the Native education should be controlled in such a way that it should accord with the policy of the State.
What happens to people in this situation can only be understood if we know the actual events in their lives. Let me read the following extract from the publication to which I have referred -
To evoke some idea of the lives people lead it may be useful to recount the story of one of them. Albert M. was 17 when he left home - a mud hut on a white farmer’s land. He and every other member of his family were required to give four months’ free labour to the farmer every year for the privilege of occupying that mean dwelling. There simply was not enough to live on, and he went to the city, thirty miles away, to seek his fortune. He was not able to find, or even seek, employment in the city. His passbook was not suitably endorsed. He shared the back-yard room and the food of a relative in domestic service as a kitchen boy. This fugitive life lasted for two months. It couldn’t last for ever.
One night the police picked him up in the course of a blitz raid on illegal back-yard dwellers. He spent a night in a cell with thirty others under crowded insanitary conditions in the best classic medieval tradition. In the morning he was taken before a Bantu Commissioner, charged and sentenced in a matter of three minutes without having any idea what was being said or what was to happen to him. From his trial he was escorted with many others to a room where his thumb-print was affixed to a paper. Though he did not realize it, he was entering into a contract to serve his sentence out doing labour for a farmer.
The conditions of labour and lodging on the farm were fearful. No Roman slave could have had a worse time of it than Albert and his companions. When Albert, sick with dysentery, stumbled and slackened in the fields, he was flogged with a whip and then beaten up under a tree by the overseer. He fell to the ground, unable to rise, and was left there to recover sufficiently to take more punishment. He never did. He died under the tree about an hour later.
That state of affairs is repeated time and time again in South Africa to-day. I do not think any one in any part of the world can have a conscience if he ignores it. What kind of action can we take? We have a responsibility to concern ourselves about it. We have many defects in our own country and we should seek to put them right. Honorable members on the Government side have no hesitation in attacking injustices which occur in Communist countries. They have the right to point out and to attack those injustices. But if we are to form any judgment of their integrity we can test them very well by their attitude to South Africa. Is the Government concerned with injustice or with cold war propaganda? I put that question squarely to the Government. On 7th November, 1961, our representative at the United Nations, when discussing racial discrimination in the Special Committee, said that he would not support any more positive action than was proposed in the resolution before the committee. He went on to say -
There are processes of persuasion we can follow.
What kind of persuasion has the Government considered since then? Has it said one word about this matter? Has it done anything about this matter? When will it say or do anything about the state of affairs in South Africa?
Debate (on motion by Mr. Chancy) adjourned.
Motion (by Mr. Opperman) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I shall not detain the House for very long. I only want to mention, as I have mentioned twice already, the inferior tea which is being sold to Australian consumers. I have received several letters from persons in various States supporting my stand for a standard top-grade tea for Australian consumption. One particularly interesting letter came from the big importing firm of D. and J. Fowler (Australia) Limited of Adelaide, which has been active in this field for 109 years. I have every confidence in what the company has had to say.
– A very reliable firm!
– I thank the honorable member for his remark. Mr. R. E. A. Dixon, a director of the company, gave me some very interesting information in his letter of 29th April about the rather shadowy affairs of tea-blending, teapackaging and so on. He said -
We support your contention, as reported in the Adelaide “News” of April 22nd, that tea quality should be improved. We offer some comments which we hope will help your efforts to that end.
For many years during and after World War II all tea was imported by the Government and it was price-controlled. Tea blenders in Australia were allotted teas from the shipments as they arrived and had to do the best they could with them to obtain a more or less standard blend which the Tea Control Board designated “First Grade Tea”.
This control, necessary at the time, did lower the standard of tea below pre-war level. People became used to the lower standard at a stabilized price and it is still difficult to change their taste.
A blended tea, such as our Amgoorie brand, may contain as many as 24 different teas from different gardens in different countries. The professional tea taster buys teas at auctions that his experience and skill tell him will produce the blend required, at the right price.
Tea in Australia is handled efficiently and packed usually by automatic machines, so that with reputable brands good value is given for the price paid. Automatic packaging machines make the package, weigh the blended tea into it and close it at speeds as high as one½lb. packet a second.
At one time in the producing countries, stalk was hand-picked from all manufactured teas. Because of increasing labour costs, the tendency now is to omit this final stage. As the leaves and stalks are of similar size it is practically impossible to separate them completely by screening, but the presence of some stalk does not necessarily imply that the tea is poor.
We remove dust by gentle suction, but of course as the leaves rub together during packaging and transport, a little more dust is formed. The brownish-coloured dust that is sometimes apparent is not dirt but the dried hairs from the backs of the tea leaves.
Tea fannings - very small particles - are often especially sought after, so that smallness of leaf is not a criterion of quality.
We have a great deal of pride in the goods we sell. Especially is this so with our Amgoorie Tea (normal retail price 6s. 5d. lb.) and Lion Brand (Quality Ceylon Tea (9s. 10d.).
As we do not sell them in the Eastern States, you probably do not know them, so we are sending you separately a packet of each with our compliments. . . .
When those packets of Amgoorie tea and Lion brand tea arrive, I shall invite any honorable member who cares to do so to come to my office and sample them with me.
– We ought to have a taster there.
– The honorable member suggests that we ought to have a taster. Perhaps we could call on you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Dixon very kindly invited me to visit his establishment in Adelaide and to meet his tea buyer, Mr. Rowett, when I am next in Adelaide. The information given by Mr. Dixon in that letter is of great value to us because it enables us to understand just what goes on. We know that tea comes into Australia in bulk and is bought at auction. I do not know whether or not the auction system is a good one. However,
I propose to find out more about it and to discuss this matter again on a future occasion. Evidence suggests that there is a racket in the buying of tea at auction, and I hope that we shall be able to find a better method of disposing of the imported tea than by selling it at auction. As I said earlier, we must fix a standard for the blending of tea in Australia. We should not admit to this country any tea that falls below that standard. That is the only way in which we can maintain standards that are fair to tea-drinkers. I remind the House that Australia is the fourth largest consumer of tea.
I have received a letter also from St. Mark’s College at North Adelaide, where the staff are trying to get the students to change from drinking coffee to drinking tea. I replied and wished the staff success in its battle to change the students into tea-drinkers. The letter stated that the only way in which the students could be converted from coffee to tea was to give them the very best quality tea that could be bought, and continued -
At the moment we are using either Twinings which is a high quality imported English tea, or Harris’ teas which are the only decent standard blends packaged in Australia. These are naturally higher priced than the ordinary tea and would be beyond the budget of a normal family.
Bushells tea used to be one of the finest teas in this country. Everybody to whom I have spoken about it in recent weeks agrees with me that the standard of this brand has deteriorated. I believe that sometimes, in all fields of business, firms market a commodity of high quality until it has captured the market and then allow the quality of the product to decline gradually. Perhaps this has happened with Bushells tea. I hope that I am not being unfair to Bushells Proprietary Limited when I state that that is the impression gained by people who now buy this tea.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to bring the latest facts in the .ea story to the notice of the House. Four Ministers are now present. One, who sits in a certain quarter of the House, is now writing. He does not usually listen to what I have to say. I appeal to the Government to examine the whole matter of tea imports and the sale of tea at auction.
– The Government is just as dusty as the tea is.
– That is quite right. I agree with the honorable member. I believe that a government department should have some control over the quality of tea. Various government departments, either Commonwealth or State, have some control over the quality of practically every other foodstuff. I appeal to the Government to examine the problem. The letters that I have received and the comments that have been made to me indicate that I am not alone in believing that the standard of tea has declined. We should improve the quality of the tea that is sold in Australia. We should have nothing but tea of the best quality. Any that is not of the best quality should be rejected. Its importation and sale should not be permitted.
– Mr. Speaker, I crave the indulgence of the House for a few minutes to inform honorable members of the progress that the Government has made towards constitutional reform in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Honorable members on both sides of the House will recall that on 23rd October of last year I made a statement in which I intimated that a select committee of the Legislative Council for Papua and New Guinea had been, since early in 1962, examining the next stage to be taken in constitutional reform in the Territory as part of the programme for the political advancement of the Territory to self-government. In that statement I informed the House also that during this session a measure would be brought in to give effect to the recommendations of that select committee. I am very happy to be able to advise honorable members now that matters have advanced to a stage at which I shall be able to give notice to-morrow of a motion seeking leave to introduce the Papua and New Guinea Bill 1963 to effect the necessary amendments of the existing law. I hope that, with the indulgence of the House, I shall be able to make my second-reading speech on the measure early next week.
I need not anticipate now what will be said during the debate on that bill. I just want to recall to the minds of honorable members the fact that the work that will culminate in the presentation of the bill to the House has been going on for a very long time. In fact, the genesis of this work goes back to the time of the Chifley Government, which, in 1949, introduced a measure that became the Papua and New Guinea Act 1949. The act provided for the establishment of a Legislative Council. Ever since that time, particularly with the subsequent inauguration of the Council and especially with the growth of local government in the Territory, political advancement has been going on steadily. A great deal of patient work has been done not only by the officers of the Territory Administration but also by officers of the various Commonwealth departments immediately concerned.
I want to recall to honorable members also the fact that, earlier in the present sessional period, we had the pleasure of having among us a party of seventeen people from Papua and New Guinea who had come here on a course of political education. This was the second course of this kind that had been arranged. On each occasion, the Administrator of the Territory chose from among the acknowledged leaders of the indigenous people those who were most likely to profit by studying a democratic parliament at work, and each party was brought down under the tutelage of an experienced officer who stayed with the members of the party the whole time and acted as tutor and instructor.
On each occasion, too, these political leaders of the future were able to have discussions with honorable members on both sides of the House, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). The visitors were able to see at first hand the way in which the officers of this House, including members of the “ Hansard “ staff, worked and were able to study the various ways in which the machinery of government operated, both in the Parliament and in the departments that surround it. I should like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to honorable members on both sides of the House, including my ministerial colleagues and the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, for the way in which they co-operated in this task of political education. I am sure there is a common opinion in this Parliament that the way in which we are to promote the political advancement of the people of Papua and New Guinea is a matter that rises above party, that it is something which reaches the level of national concern. I am sure there is a common agreement in the Parliament that such matters as these have to be considered with great care, and particularly with a devotion to the ideal that what is done should be such as will, in our estimation, turn out to be best for the people of the Territory. I am sure we all agree that no passing theory, no transitory compulsion, should influence us, but that we should think only of the goal towards which we are moving, the political advancement of these people for self-government.
I shall say no more at this stage, Mr. Speaker. I wished to take this early opportunity of informing the House that this long and rather arduous preparation for the next stage in constitutional reform has been completed, that notice will be given of the bill to-morrow, and that I am trusting the debate will proceed next week.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 10.31 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
i asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice -
How many (a) sheep and (b) cattle died as a result of drought in each region in each Stale and Territory during each of the last ten years?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The figures are not available nor are figures available for sheep and cattle mortalities from all causes. In any case it is not possible to identify stock losses due to other causes such as senility and disease. The only figures available which perhaps could be related to the question are the annual livestock numbers in the various statistical areas of the States and Territories. However, the degree to which fluctuations in stock numbers in a particular region could be ascribed to drought would be a matter of subjective judgment. Sheep and cattle numbers in statistical areas on an annual basis are published by the Bureau of Census and Statistics and are available in the Parliamentary Library.
d asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
The above figures do not include amounts provided by the Commonwealth for expenditure on roads in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory, nor do the figures include payments made to Queensland and Western Australia under the Encouragement of Meat Production Act - only part of which money was spent on roads used for the transport of cattle. Payments to the States under the current Commonwealth Aid Roads Act (1959) are no longer related to revenues obtained from collections of customs and excise on petrol.
No provision is made in the current Commonwealth Aid Roads Act for expenditure by the Commonwealth on strategic roads or on roads of access to Commonwealth properties. Funds for the maintenance of the Eyre and Barkly Highways, which were formerly classified as strategic roads, and for maintenance of roads of access have since 1959 been provided in the votes of the Department of Shipping and Transport. The amounts provided have been as follows: -
These figures do not include the construction costs of roads of access or of roads on Commonwealth property.
d asked the Minister for Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
– On 19th April the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Hansen) asked whether I had received a request from the Premiers of Queensland and Western Australia for the setting up of a northern development authority on the lines of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority.
I confirm to the honorable member that I have received no such communication from either of these two Premiers.
Commonwealth Committee on Taxation.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
t. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: - 1 to 6. This information is readily obtainable from the report of the committee which was tabled in the House on 17th August, 1961. Copies of the report were made available to all members. 7 and 8. When tabling the committee’s report, I made a prepared statement, the full text of which may be found in “ Hansard “ of 17th August, 1961, at page 182.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
t. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
Can he say what part the people of West New Guinea are to be permitted to play in the the government and administration of their country, pending the taking of the plebiscite in 1969 to determine its political future?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows: -
The Netherlands-Indonesian agreement on West New Guinea provides that after the transfer of full administrative responsibility to Indonesia the laws and regulations of that country will be applicable if they are consistent with the rights guaranteed to the inhabitants under the agreement. It also provides that the representative councils in West New Guinea will, where appropriate, be consulted when new laws or amendments to existing laws are enacted. The agreement also provides that the participation of the people in local government will be accelerated during the Indonesian administration. The Indonesian Government is enacting legislation to implement these provisions of the West New Guinea Agreement.
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.
d asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
a asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
During the current financial year the amounts to be advanced to the States
d asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
son asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 May 1963, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1963/19630501_reps_24_hor38/>.