28th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir Magnus Cormack) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– In the absence of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who is the Attorney-General, I address my question to Senator Willesee as the Minister assisting the Prime Minister. I ask him: Was the Prime Minister aware that Senator Murphy would not be present today to answer questions relating to his raids on the offices of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation? Does the Prime Minister approve Senator Murphy’s absenting himself from discussion on an issue which still maintains pride of place in the newspapers of this country? » Senator Murphy’s absence to be regarded as a fair indication of the low priority which the Government gives to the answering of questions in Parliament on a controversial issue which is still unresolved, or is it to be taken as an indication by the Government that it is in the Government’s best interests that Senator Murphy should not be present to answer any more questions?
- Senator Murphy is absent because he is attending a meeting of Attorneys-General. The rest of the question I think I can ignore because the honourable senator talked about such things as the low priority -
– I do not think you should.
– 1 should noi answer interjections but Senator Rae says he thinks I should not ignore the rest of the question. When Senator Greenwood talks about giving a low priority to the answering of questions, I say this is not so. Tt is not a question of fact. The substance of the question is: Where is Senator Murphy? The answer is: He is attending a meeting of AttorneysGeneral.
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
– My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. Does he see any peculiarity in the concern of the Opposition on the recent Yugoslav matter and the fact that some senior members of the Opposition dined with us at a reception to the Yugoslav visitor?
– No, I do not know what the fuss and bother were about. It seems to me to be a normal situation that when the Prime Minister of a friendly country wants to visit us this is done. If one looks at the list of foreign dignitaries who have visited this country already this year and who will visit us in the future, I do not think one will see anything unusual about the recent visit. I am inclined to suspect that there might be a little political bias in the fact that the visitor came from Yugoslavia.
– My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. Where is the original of the disturbing document referred to by Senator Murphy yesterday? Where was it then? If it is not an anonymous document, who is the author of it? Is the statement in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ this morning true that the document was an interdepartmental committee report?
– This has been the subject of questioning over the last couple of days. It is not a matter within my department; it is a matter for the AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
– It was said to have been discussed in Cabinet.
– You are quoting from a newspaper report and you ought to know better than that.
– I am not. I am asking you whether it is true.
– The answer is that I will ask that any questions on this subject be put on the notice paper, lt is not a matter within my department.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Conservation. Is he aware that the Minister for Country Water Supplies in Western Australia has stated that he has not received from the Commonwealth Government a reply to his request for further Commonwealth finance in extending the Comprehensive Water Supply Scheme in that State? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether such a request has been received by the Commonwealth? Has a reply been forwarded to the Western Australian Government? If not, why not? When can a reply be expected?
– I had a conversation with the Minister for the Environment and Conservation about the financing of water supplies. He said that the matter is under active consideration at present. He also pointed out that a submission to the Cabinet in respect of an allocation for water conservation has been agreed to. Whether a letter has been received from the Western Australian Minister I am unable to say, but I will make inquiries and let the honourable senator know.
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
– Can the Minister assisting the Prime Minister inform the Senate whether security agents of Yugoslavia were sent to Australia in advance of the visit of the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia? Did any agents accompany the Yugoslav Prime Minister when he came? What, if any, were the total numbers of security men from Yugoslavia here during the visit? Were any restrictions placed on their movements by Australian security forces during the period that any agents may have been here?
– I do not know whether there were Yugoslav security agents here and if so what their numbers were. A group of people came here. I had contact only with the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, and with the man from the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry with whom I had a discussion lasting about 2 hours. Whether people were sent in advance or whether security agents were with them, I do not know.
– Could you find out?
– Yes, I can find out for the honourable senator.
– My question is directed to the Special Minister of State, representing as he does today the Attorney-General. My question is prompted by my growing concern that the combined Opposition parties appear to be displaying a greater concern for the security and future of Senator Greenwood than for the preservation of the security of this country. I ask: Would it not be a fair assumption in relation to the document in the possession of the Canberra office of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation which led to the visit to the Melbourne headquarters of ASIO that a possible reason for its contents not being advised to the AttorneyGeneral was the apparent indifference, disinterest, disinclination and lack of forthright action by the former Attorney-General characterised by his public denials that organised terrorist groups were active in this country, even despite -
– Why don’t you try -
– Why don’t you shut up? I continue - even despite warnings to the contrary by his own Cabinet colleagues? Might this not tend -
– I rise to a point of order under standing order 99. The question purports to give information. The fact that it gives inaccurate information and is part of the continuing smear tactics which members of the Government are using in this place makes it a matter which ought to concern you, Sir, as to whether this forum should be allowed to be used in that way. These statements which Senator Devitt is making, purporting to be a preface to a question, are malicious and damaging and the way in which he has seen the Press of this country use what is said in this Parliament is a matter which I think ought to be of concern to the whole Senate.
– The point of order is not upheld. Before Senator Devitt continues I would like to remind honourable senators once again that I have quoted the standing orders which relate to questions that honourable senators are permitted to ask. The Senate has apparently collectively made up its mind that it will ask questions in whatever form it likes.
– That is not so.
– Order, Senator Wright!
– The Standing Orders stand.
– The Standing Orders stand and they are being disregarded. I have been very flexible in allowing questions. If I start to apply the Standing Orders as they are written question time will almost disappear.
– I conclude my question by asking: Might this not tend to lower the threshold of concern on the part of the officer or officers concerned?
– Again, this question is along the lines of one or two questions directed to Senator Murphy over the last few days. As I have said, f am not in a position to give any detailed information about this matter. The situation as I see it is that a ministerial statement has been made and it is up to the Opposition to decide when it wants to debate it. lt involves the whole question of Croatian terrorism in Australia. The Government is quite willing to debate that statement whenever the Opposition is ready. The questioning has been around the visit that Senator Murphy made to Melbourne, lt seems to me that the Opposition is studiously avoiding the gravamen of the whole question of Croatian terrorism. The subject on which Australia ought to be concentrating its attention is terrorism, whether it be Croatian terrorism or any other form of terrorism.
– Order! In order to remind honourable senators collectively, including myself, I now announce once more the qualifications on questions as laid down in standing order 99. It reads:
Questions shall not contain -
statements of fact or names of persons unless they are strictly necessary to render the question intelligible and can be authenticated;
ironical expressions; or
– I direct a question to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. Is it a fact that at the last Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party held at Launceston, Tasmania, 23 or 24 delegates voted for the abolition of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and that 23 or 24 delegates voted for its retention, and that the Organisation was sustained only on a casting vote? If that is not the fact, will the Minister state the relevant facts in that regard? Was it the purpose of Senator Murphy to comply with that minority opinion and deal a damaging blow to ASIO when he raided its offices in Melbourne?
– I do not know what the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party has to do with my portfolio or the portfolios that 1 represent. As I recall the situation, there was a motion before the conference which resulted in a tied vote. I think under our rules that if there is a tied vote the question is resolved in the negative. That is what the situation was. I wish honourable senators opposite would confine their questions to the portfolios for which I have responsibility.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration. Will the Minister conduct an inquiry to determine which officers interviewed those migrants who, on the basis of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Commonwealth Police reports, have been involved in terrorist activities? While appreciating that the time of entry for some was over a period, will he seek an explanation from these officers as to why they were allowed into Australia? Will he ensure that the screening processes of his Department are tightened to ensure that such undesirables are refused entry in the future?
– The question that has been directed to me by Senator Gietzelt requires the administrative attention of my colleague in another place, the Minister for Immigration. Most certainly I will refer it to him. So far as the latter portion of the honourable senator’s question is concerned - that is, the point regarding the tightening up of the screening processes that take place - 1 understand that my colleague Mr Grassby, the Minister for Immigration, has taken steps along these lines already and also is engaged in preparing a list of people who have come to Australia as migrants and who have committed serious criminal breaches of Australian law with a view to taking prospective action in that regard.
– Has the Minister for the Media or his Department given consideration to the use of satellites for the transmission of television programs not only for entertainment but also for educational and other purposes?
– This is a matter which my Department has been watching and which was being watched prior to the election of the Labor Government. Of course, the honourable senator will be aware that the development of satellite communications is very much in its early stages. I know that several international conferences have already been held on the question of satellite television and satellite broadcasting. Indeed, Australia was represented at the last conference that took place at Lausanne in May of last year. I am given also to understand that very shortly an experimental television educational service probably will be introduced in India in order to provide a service to villages in remote areas of that country. The service is to operate from a United States satellite which, I understand is currently being tested over the Rocky Mountains. I am given to understand that Canada has a similar project in mind in order to provide services for Eskimo communities. lt is possible that in future satellite television will become feasible, so far as reception in Australia is concerned, and my Department, in conjunction with the Postmaster-General’s Department, is keeping an eye on developments in this area. But I understand that because of the heavy cost factors involved, the possibility of getting satellite television directly into the homes of Australian people is still fairly remote.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. If the Minister is not able to do it immediately, will he endeavour as soon as possible to make a statement to the Senate indicating if and when legislative action will be taken to give effect to the recommendations contained in the Jess Committee’s report on defence forces retirement benefits?
– A decision has already been made to introduce legislation as quickly as possible. It is being prepared. I think there will be no delay. I will ascertain for the honourable senator when the legislation is likely to be introduced.
– My question, which is directed to the Acting
Leader of the Government in the Senate, arises out of an earlier question asked by Senator Wright. Is it not a fact that at the Launceston Conference of the Australian Labor Party to which Senator Wright referred and at which there was a tied vote on the question of the abolition or continuance of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Senator Murphy was among those who voted against the abolition of ASIO?
– My recollection is that is so.
– 1 direct to the Minister for Primary Industry a question relative to the proposal to establish a vegetable processing factory on the north-west coast of Tasmania. Is the Minister in a position to express an opinion as to its feasibility, particularly the practicability of paying the wages contemplated, as well as providing a reasonable return to producers and competing with New Zealand importations, a substantial part of which are in the hands of New Zealand interests? Can we take seriously the proposal to export processed vegetable products from this country to mainland China which has one of the lowest standards of living on earth?
– A proposal for the formation of a co-operative for pea processing on the north-west coastal area of Tasmania was put to me only last week, and I pointed out to those to whom I spoke that this was a matter which would need serious investigation because of the questions of competitiveness, finding markets and ensuring a reasonable return to growers. The motivation behind this move, of course, is to endeavour to obtain a better return to the growers in the area. As to the prospects of competition from New Zealand, as I indicated yesterday I have not yet had time to talk in detail with Dr J. F. Cairns who returned from New Zealand only last week. Insofar as the Chinese market is concerned, I understand that the growers have hopes of obtaining a market in China. At the time I pointed out to them that they should not rely unduly on the prospects in respect of China, for many reasons. It is sufficient to say that the proposals are being studied and in the near future I hope to be able to give them a reply as to my attitude.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Primary Industry, relates to the recent Federal-State Ministers meeting on rural reconstruction. Was the fruit growing reconstruction scheme, better known as the tree pull scheme, discussed? Is it a fact that no attention was paid to the means test provisions, in spite of promises by the honourable member for Riverina who is presently the Minister for Immigration, the Labor member for Dawson and the Labor candidate for the seat of Murray that under a Labor government the means test would be abolished?
– With great respect to Senator Webster, that is a fairly rambling sort of question. 1 thought that initially he intended to ask me a question about rural reconstruction.
– He tricked you.
– Yes. he did. I am not quite sure where to start. Firstly, the attitude of the Government towards rural finance was spelt out in that part of the Prime Minister’s policy speech which stated that a Labor government would provide finance at the lowest possible interest rates. Insofar as fruit growing reconstruction and rural reconstruction are concerned, we inherited a situation in which it was necessary to continue the schemes which had been introduced by the previous Government and which we supported. I have already made an announcement in relation to rural reconstruction. The interest rates are the same as those that applied recently. Consideration was given to the fruit growing reconstruction scheme, and an announcement in respect of that will be forthcoming. Statements allegedly made by other persons are their responsibility. The Government’s position was stated quite clearly by the Prime Minister, and that is the position which obtains now.
– I ask a question of the acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. Has an evaluation been made of the effects of the Attorney-General’s raids on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation on the work and morale of ASIO? Has a check been made on the number of men and women who have terminated association with
ASIO because of personal fears about safety consequent upon the opening of extremely confidential personal files?
– I am sorry that I have no information which can help the honourable senator on that question.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to a Press report that a Navy patrol boat has been directed to keep salvage divers away from a Japanese submarine which was sunk off the coast of Darwin in 1942? Is the Minister able to give any information which would explain the action taken by the Government?
– Yes, I have seen the report which appeared recently in the Press. I can inform the honourable senator that a patrol boat was despatched to the area following a telephone call to a Darwin Navy office by a diver who had found the submarine 1/124 and who had stated that other divers might attempt to enter the wreck by the use of explosives. I am informed that the diver stated that the hull of the submarine is fractured only in the conning tower area and that it is likely that, although flooded with water, the submarine compartments have remained sealed since the date of the sinking. When the chartered vessel arrived in the vicinity the master was warned not to interfere with what is likely to be a war grave. The Japanese submarine was sunk by Royal Australian Navy corvettes and a United States Navy destroyer on 20th January 1 942.
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
– In the extraordinary absence of the Attorney-General, I want to ask Senator Willesee-
– Order! I have just read out standing order 99. The honourable senator should not use the words ‘In the extraordinary absence of the Attorney-General’. He may use the words ‘In the absence of the AttorneyGeneral*.
– Well, in the absence of the Attorney-General, for whatever reasons seem good to him–
– I take a point of order. I think that is exceptionally bad language for an honourable senator to use. Senator Willesee has made a responsible explanation about the absence of the Attorney-General and I do not believe his statement should be questioned.
– Order! I checked Senator Hannan because use of the word ‘extraordinary’ changes the quality and content of the question. He withdrew the word ‘extraordinary’. He can say: ‘In the absence of the Attorney-General I direct the question to Senator Willesee who represents the Prime Minister’.
– Thank you, Mr President. I ask Senator Willesee: What was the purpose - political, cultural or social - of bringing Yugoslav Prime Minister Bijedic to Australia? As he met virtually nobody according to Press reports, was his visit worth the destruction of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation? Was any information given to Mr Bijedic, his staff or the Yugoslav Embassy from Commonwealth Police or the ASIO raid? If so, and if this material is not included in the many hundreds of pages through which we are reading, will the Minister table copies of such documents? Could Mr Whitlam have sent a note to Tito saying that he would suppress all Croatians here, just as Tito does at home?
– Order! Standing order 99 also states that a senator may not ask a question calling for an expression of opinion.
– I know, Mr President, and I ignore the last chapter of the question. I do not know why Senator Hannan does this. He can be such a nice gentleman yet he continually derogates himself and this Parliament by making silly, sarcastic remarks.
– That is like the pot calling the kettle black.
– If you think that about me, you are perfectly entitled to say it. In all the years I have been here I do not recall ever adding that sort of remark to questions. No, I do not have any documents with which I can assist the honourable senator. The point of the question was why did the Yugoslav Prime Minister come here, as he did not meet anybody. Well, he met me. I do not know whether Senator Hannan was aware of that before he asked the question. It is nothing unusual, as I see it, for Prime Ministers of friendly countries to visit Australia. We have had them from all over the place. Our own Prime Minister has made visits to other countries and will be making another one shortly. This is the normal sort of thing, as I understand it, that goes on between countries that recognise one another.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. Can the Minister inform the Senate when the plan to close all Australian post offices on Saturday mornings will be implemented? Will the Minister give an assurance to the Australian people that ample notice of Saturday morning closure will be given to those people who transact post office business on that day so that suitable alternative arrangements may be made?
– I am not in possession of the facts relating to the closure of post offices and I shall refer the question to my colleague, the PostmasterGeneral, and see that the honourable senator is provided with an answer.
– My question, addressed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, is based on the statement made at our Party meeting by our Leader, Senator Gair, that he had been informed that only 3 copies of the documents laid on the table by Senator Murphy would be available for the 5 senators representing the Democratic Labor Party. This means that I am not to receive a copy of these documents. Can arrangements be made for every member of the Senate to be supplied with these documents? As a number of Australian citizens and others have been attacked or charged in these documents, what arrangements can be made for the persons who have been attacked to obtain copies of the allegations made against them and to whom should they apply for such copies?
– I was unaware of the fact that there are not sufficient copies of the documents for all honourable senators. T shall make inquiries about that. The second point raised by the honourable senator goes into the public field and deals with citizens who may have an interest in these documents because their names have been mentioned. I shall find out how they can obtain a copy and let the honourable senator know as soon as T can.
– I ask the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate who today is representing the Attorney-General whether it is a fact that he has stated today an interest in exposing all information relating to acts of alleged violence and terrorism and otherwise against the security of Australia. If this is his view, will he ascertain whether the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has any information, documents, files and reports in relation to the alleged activities of, firstly, Wilfred Burchett and, secondly, the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and certain of its members including some now missing or murdered? If such information does exist, will the Minister either directly or through his colleague the Attorney-General take steps to have that information tabled in the Senate? If he will not, is the Minister’s interest selective?
– Order! A point of order has been taken once already this morning about the application of standing order 99. Senator Rae, your reference to the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union contains an inference.
– Mr President, as you have so rightly said, the question is out of order. ThereforeI could refuse to answer it.I missed the point butI think the honourable senator asked whetherI had said that we were against all types of violence in Australia. That was the basis of his question. Yes, I certainly repeat that. I expect, and this Government expects, that all law enforcement officers, State and Commonwealth - whether it be the Commonwealth Police Force or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation - do everything to stamp out violence. How that is done is obviously a matter between the AttorneyGeneral and his forces. That is his business and not mine when I am acting for one day in his place.
– Mr President, I raise a point of order. I do not understand the comment you made to Senator Rae that some part of his question contained an inference. In fact, the subject with which the honourable senator was dealing was the documents which had been supplied. Within those documents there are inferences against Australian people who have never been charged in Australian courts with any crime. There is only an inference by the Minister. You have allowed other similar questions. Why did you disallow Senator Rae’s question?
– Order! I did not disallow Senator Rae’s question. All I did was to take the opportunity to point out to honourable senators, for a specific purpose which I have in my mind and which I shall disclose in a moment, that if an attempt is made to apply standing order 99 in its entirety question time will become farcical. All I can do is to use the opportunity to indicate to honourable senators when they ask certain questions that imbedded in those questions are matters which are contrary to standing order 99.I made a reference merely as an illustration to Senator Rae, when he referred to the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union in Melbourne, that the question contained an inference in the context of the Painters and Dockers Union and not to anything else.I would be glad to allow honourable senators some reasonable freedom but I ask them not to transgress violently the Standing Orders.
– Mr President-
- Senator Rae, do you wish to raise a point of order?
– MayI clarify with you, Mr President, whether you in any way ruled my question out of order.
– No,I did not.
– Then mayI ask for an answer to the question?
– Yes, indeed.
– I have given you an answer.
– May I repeat the question?
– Yes, repeat the question.
– I ask the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate: Is it a fact that the Government today has expressed an interest in exposing all information relating to acts of alleged violence or terrorism or acts otherwise against the security of Australia? If this is so, will the Minister ascertain whether the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has any information, documents, files and reports in relation to the alleged activities of, firstly, Wilfred Burchett and, secondly, the
Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union and certain of its members, including some now missing or murdered? If such information does exist, will the Minister either directly or through his colleague the Attorney-General take steps to have that information tabled in the Senate? And I added: Or Is the interest of the Minister selective?
– I regret, Mr President, that you do not seem to be able to get your point over. In repeating the question Senator Rae again mentioned the names that you ruled it was out of order to mention. But if honourable senators are going-
– Senator Murphy poured a bucket on Senator Greenwood.
– Did the honourable senator say that I poured a bucket on someone?
– No, Senator Murphy poured a bucket on Senator Greenwood.
– Ignoring that interjection, 1 am sure that Senator Rae is the type of person who will have a look at this matter and take it up in the future. He asked whether it is a fact that I said I would like to see terrorism stamped out in Australia. Yes, that is a fact. I think every person in this chamber would want that. I do not have a monopoly on that sort of thing. Senator Rae then asked what I would do in the Attorney-General’s Department. 1 do not think he really would expect me to start interfering with another department.
– Wilt you take up the mattei with the Attorney-General?
– No. I think the honourable senator should put that matter to the Attorney-General when he is here.
– I shall.
– Is the Minister for the Media aware that a number of people in Western Australia who wish to listen to the serious programs on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio, such as classical music, plays and talks, have been inconvenienced due to the fact that the ABC has ceased the publication of the radio guide which previously was published in that State? Is he aware also that although one of the Sunday newspapers in Western Australia for some time did publish detailed radio programs this practice has ceased over recent weeks? Can the Minister take some steps to bring about the reintroduction of publication of the ABC radio programs in Western Australia?
– I can tell the honourable senator that a radio guide was published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the various States setting out details of radio programs. That publication was sold largely by way of subscription. When the previous Government increased the postal charges the former PostmasterGeneral withdrew from that publication and most, if not all, other publications of the Government the concessional postal rates that applied previously. This meant that the postal charges for the subscribers increased considerably. Consequently the number of people who subscribed dropped off to the point where it became too expensive for the ABC to continue to publish the guide. I understand that there were about 1,100 subscribers to the magazine in Western Australia. However, I can advise the honourable senator that a roneoed sheet is now published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission setting out the details of radio programs and, in particular, classical musical programs. That publication is available to people who might either call at the ABC offices in the various capita] cities or write to them. I shall ask the Australian Broadcasting Commission to provide Senator Wheeldon with copies of the sheets. Most certainly I will take up with the Commission the question whether the publication can be republished.
– My question is addressed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate and Special Minister of State. The Minister will recall replying to a question a week or two ago concerning the unprecedented attack on the Australian Prime Minister by a Thai newspaper in response to the statements by the Prime Minister that appeared in ‘Newsweek’. The Minister replied that he did not believe that Australian-Thai relations had been affected, or words to that effect. In view of the strong attack on the Australian Prime Minister by the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. I ask: Does the Minister still believe that Australia-Thai relations have not been seriously damaged by the Prime Minister’s statements?
– The proper line of communication between governments is from government to government. There has been no complaint from the Thai Government to the Australian Government regarding Mr Whitlam’s comments. Indeed there have been 2 letters - one from Thanat Khoman, a very famous Thai, to a newspaper in Bangkok and another from the Thai Ambassador in Washington - pointing out the situation and defending the Whitlam statements. It is inevitable that criticism will be expressed. People in this country are going to criticise people in other countries. The honourable senator ought to be mature enough to know that that is going to happen in a modern community. It is probably a very good thing that it does. I repeat that there have been 2 defences of Mr Whitlam’s statements by 2 very famous Thais and that there has not been one word of complaint from the Thai Government to the Australian Government.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. No doubt the Minister is aware that the postage rate for an airmail letter to Canada and the United States of America is 30c Australian but that the cost to a Canadian to post a similar letter to Australia is 15c of a smaller dollar. Will the Minister ask that all postage rates be reviewed as soon as possible, particularly overseas airmail rates?
– I am aware that the cost of postage from Australia to other countries is of the order that Senator Townley mentioned. I also understand that the cost of postage from Australia to Great Britain is far greater than that coming from Great Britain to Australia. The matter that the honourable senator has raised is, of course, one of Government policy, but I will certainly refer it to the PostmasterGeneral for his consideration.
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
– My question is directed to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister.I ask: Was the visit of the Yugoslav Prime Minister a state visit? If so, why did the Government specifically exclude party leaders and parliamentary members from meeting the gentleman?
– I am not too sure of the terminology.I think it was a state visit, but I am not too sure on that. I do not know that people were excluded from it. I can find out for the honourable senator if he is interested.
– Was anyone invited?
– I had meetings with him. I had dinner with him and so on. The honourable senator would know about the security problems involved.
– We have heard a lot about them but we do not know.
- Senator Rae says that he has heard all about the security arrangements involved but he does not know why they were necessary. I wish to assure him that, whatever he may think about anything else, those security arrangements were very necessary. To get back to the honourable senator’s question, I do not think anybody was excluded, but I will find out the details of it and what the arrangements were.
– But why-
– The honourable senator does not want to know. All right.
– I did not say that.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Primary Industry. Is the Minister aware that as a result of the recent improved prices for some primary products sections of the community now hold the view that the man on the land is once again in an affluent position? Will the Minister make a Press statement clarifying the position by pointing out that the man on the land has, for some considerable time, been adversely affected by low prices and rising costs? Will he also refer to the greatly reduced primary production within the last few years as a result of frequent droughts? Further, will the Minister point out that in the last few years there has been a great increase in rural indebtedness?
– I would not make any such Press statement because it is simply unnecessary to do so. I can understand what Senator Young is trying to convey. I think it is fair to say that the decline in farm incomes in recent years, with the exception of the present period, was given sufficient publicity at the time. I do not see any need for or purpose in reiterating the position. I have said, and I repeat, that the situation now is incomparably better than it was two or three years ago. It is true that there are still debt problems among the farming community and only last week I made an announcement that the Government is continuing the rural reconstruction scheme for the purposes of both debt reconstruction and farm buildup. I might add that the number of applications for rural reconstruction made since February last year has fallen by some 70 per cent, which I think is a fair indication that the situation now is nothing like as bad as it was 12 months ago. But J certainly decline any invitation to make a restatement of the matters which the honourable senator has raised.
– My question is directed to the Minister assisting the Prime Minister. ] refer to a certain well publicised event which took place in Canberra last weekend, namely, the presence of 17 applicants who were short listed for the position of what has become known as the Prime Minister’s superwoman I ask the Minister: Does the Prime Minister expect to obtain the services of such a super woman for the salary of $10,000 per annum, which is far less than many women who would be highly qualified for the position and who have much greater security of employment than they are likely to have on the Prime Minister’s staff are now earning?
– In my capacity as Minister assisting the Prime Minister the Prime Minister allocates very special duties to me. Unfortunately he has not allocated this one to me. Whether he thinks I am incapable of picking out a superwoman or just an ordinary woman, 1 do not know. might take the matter up with him now that it has been raised.
– My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. Did he hear yesterday or the day before the Attorney-General state that the reasons for his raid on offices of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation were given to the Prime Minister and subse quently to all members of the Cabinet? Is that statement correct? ls Senator Willesee aware of the reason why Senator Murphy went to the ASIO offices?
– The reasons that he went have, I think, been stated several times in this House, and that is the information that 1 have.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation, ls the Minister aware of the recent action of the Victorian law authorities who seized a statue which is a copy of Michelangelo’s famous nude David which was then on public display? ls there any fear or likelihood of the nude figure of Icarus which is currently adorning the halls of Tullamarine terminal being seized? Has the question ever arisen of the appropriateness of the open display of this famous Greek figure depicting flight?’
– I have no knowledge of an intention to seize any statue.
– I ask the Minister for Primary Industry: Is it a fact that the Government has made a decision upon Tasmania’s application for reimbursement of the special guarantee which the Premier of Tasmania gave to assist the establishment of the apple crop in Tasmania this year? If so, what is that decision? It will be remembered that the Premier of Tasmania gave a guarantee of $2.60 a case for consignment fruit for this year and application was made to the Federal Government for assistance to meet that guarantee. Has the Government made a decision on the matter?
– I understand that the Tasmanian Government entered into a commitment of $2.60 a case on its own responsibility. It has not been brought to my attention nor have I been made aware of an application such as that to which the honourable senator referred. The only assistance being provided by the Commonwealth in respect of the apple crop is that of 80c a case under the stabilisation scheme. I understand that the S2.60 a case to which Senator Wright referred is the responsibility of the Tasmanian Government.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory. What action has the Minister taken to determine finally and firmly the boundaries of the Northern Territory Top End National Park and the complete exclusion of all mineral prospecting from that area?
– This matter was drawn to my attention a fortnight ago. I can say only that inquiries I have made through my Department indicate at present that quite significant legal implications are involved. They are being studied by the Department and I am not as yet in a position to give a precise answer.
– I address to the Minister for Works a question which concerns his portfolio or his representation of the Minister for Urban and Regional Development. As reports from many centres along the River Murray in South Australia reflect deep apprehension as to the control of salinity in the River Murray and the need to prevent other types of pollution from existing and projected housing in industrial developments which may contaminate the river, will the Government give urgent consideration to the implementation of the recommendations of consultants to the River Murray Commission on salinity control in the Murray?
– I think I answered a question on similar lines earlier in this session. This matter has been the subject of consultation between various governments, particularly the Federal Government and the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales. Discussions have included possible pollution of the Murray as a result of development in the Wodonga-Albury area. The matter is completely under review and consideration at present. Successive governments have shown a willingness to do anything that can be done to ease the pollution problem. Action in respect of storage and increased flows has been taken and will be taken. The matter is receiving consideration now.
– Has the Minister assisting the Prime Minister received a com munication from the Executive Committee of the Australian Council of Churches proposing that the Government establish a ministry for peace and international development? Does the Minister agree that such a ministry would enhance prospects for a more equitable and more peaceful world? Does the Minister agree that the furthering of both of these causes is vital to Australia’s interests and to overcoming gross inequities, poverty and the frustration of the great majority of the people of the world? Will the Minister discuss the matter with the Prime Minister as the proposal extends beyond the current responsibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs?
– The question of foreign aid is most fascinating and is receiving more and more attention from all the donor countries. It is obvious that to achieve what countries are trying to achieve they would have to give in aid far more than one per cent or possibly 2 per cent of their gross national product. This is a decision for each country to make and I think it would be hard to obtain. The question of aid to developing countries is bound up with the long term question of peace and the happiness of those people or at least an uplifting of their standard of living. As I understand the question, it asks that not only should this area be taken out of the hands of the Department of Foreign Affairs which is normally responsible for it in our own country but also that a special ministry be set up to deal with it.
There is no argument about the aims of the Australian Council of Churches when it says that there should be greater development and peace. Whether the right way to do it would be to set up a separate development body away from the normal government agencies that handle aid now is a question that I could not answer. Probably we would have to look at what like countries in other parts of the world are doing. There is quite a history regarding aid. Some countries have tried to set up special bodies - almost little statutory bodies. Mainly, I think that they have come back to what we are doing in Australia, namely, having a section of a department administer it. I thank Senator Gietzelt for the question. It is an interesting one. I will certainly take it up and look at it.
– I again ask the Acting Leader of the Government in the
Senate: In view of Senator Murphy’s statements to the Senate as to whom he told the reasons for his visits to Australian Security Intelligence Organisation offices, is the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate at the present time, Senator Willesee, aware of those reasons?
– The honourable senator has asked the question again. I will answer it again. I have heard what Senator Murphy has said in the Senate. The matter does not come within my portfolio. I do not know the details to the extent that Senator Murphy would-
– Would you answer yes’ or ‘no’?
– Did he tell you it emphatically?
– This is a crossexamination. I will answer the questions as I wish. Honourable senators opposite are always complaining about not getting answers to questions. What they mean is that we do not say what they want us to say. I told honourable senators at the outset that I am representing Senator Murphy whilst he is away for one day at a conference. Obviously, I will ask for any questions like that to be placed on the notice paper. No honourable senator ought to expect that a Minister should be able to answer questions for those ministers whom he represents in the Senate, more so when I am representing Senator Murphy for merely one question time.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the Minister indicate if it would be damaging to the international reputation of this country if a responsible Minister, given evidence of the existence of terrorist organisations within the country, refused either to investigate that evidence or admit that it existed? Can the international standing of this country be seriously affected in these circumstances, particularly if this country has been a signatory to international agreements directed towards the elimination of international terrorism?
– I think the answers to this question are self-evident. Obviously, if terrorism is permitted to continue unchecked in a country, that country’s international standing will be damaged. When countries sign and ally themselves with United Nations declarations on this type of matter, they are expected to carry them out. Obviously, a lot of the action taken has to be confidential. In the old days, we were not even allowed to ask questions about the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. It seems now that the Opposition, the former Government, wants to know everything from the first file to the last. The point that Senator Poyser underlines is timely and correct. We have a responsibility to stamp out terrorism in Australia. We will stamp out terrorism in Australia, and other countries will realise it.
– Does the Minister representing the Minister for Defence recall a statement made by the present Minister for Defence last October in which he talked about the Royal Australian Air Force having what he chose to call a pretty good run in the purchase of top drawer and top price aircraft from the United States of America? Is this statement to be taken as an indication of future policy in the defence departments? If so, can he tell the Senate what consideration has been given by the Government to obtaining a replacement aircraft for the Neptune maritime aircraft? Will the Government be looking for an Australian designed and manufactured aircraft, or will it be looking for a foreign aircraft that is partly manufactured in Australia?
– I have not seen the statement to which the honourable senator refers and which is alleged to have been made by Mr Barnard, but the honourable senator knows that the Air Force is looking for such a replacement. We are guided in all these matters by what Mr Barnard has stated, which is the policy of our party. We want to see the Australian aircraft manufacturing capacity extended more than it is today. The honourable senator himself knows the concern amongst the manufacturers - the Government Aircraft Factories, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and Hawker Siddeley Australia Ltd. In respect of that side of the matter, we are currently trying to arrange a consortium which would be a more effective production unit than exists today. Therefore, any purchases which might be made certainly will be made with the Australian industry as the basic consideration. But of course we would have regard to the defence Services’ advice about the type of aircraft that they would like.
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO CANBERRA
– My question is addressed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. As the Minister has stated today in answer to a question by Senator Carrick that the extreme security measures taken during the visit of the Yugoslav Prime Minister to Canberra were very necessary, will the Minister tell us the full facts upon which his statement was based?
-I certainly will not. Those things are confidential and it would be sheer lunacy to make them public. I am surprised that the honourable senator would ask such a question.
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO CANBERRA
– I direct a question to the Minister assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the knowledge that he has a specific responsibility for that discipline. Did the Yugoslav Prime Minister or any member of his entourage give to the Australian Government a list of names of Australian residents of Yugoslav origin who are alleged to be opposed to the current Yugoslav regime? Has the Australian Government given any undertaking to the Yugoslav Government to take any action on such a list? Does the Government propose to take action and partisan action to entrench a foreign government in relation to which there may be valid reasons for change?
– In the course of my discussion with a person from the Foreign Ministry some documents which did have names on them were given to me and from whatI could see and from looking at Senator Murphy’s speech which was made the other night, the names seemed to tally with many of the names that he mentioned. In the last part of his question the honourable senator asked whether there could be a change in government in other countries - in this case Yugoslavia. That is a matter for Yugoslavia. We would not interfere with it. While we have proper relations with other countries we will accept the governments in those countries the way they are. We are not going to start making criticisms of every government around the world. If we had done that over the last 23 years we might have invited retaliation which would have been most uncomfortable for the Australian people.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Works. Does his Department make a study of environmental matters when considering a Commonwealth project? In view of the establishment of the Department of the Environment and Conservation and its proper interest in the environmental impact of Commonwealth public works, which possibly could cause some delay in future Commonwealth projects, what is the Government or the Minister doing to ensure that the future program of works is not delayed?
– From time to time the Department of Works has had interdepartmental committees do environmental studies. On occasions it has been concerned with the environment when the erection of buildings or the building of roads, etc., was under examination. Under the present Government there is a Department of the Environment and Conservation which makes environmental impact studies on all proposals. As yet this has not interfered with the progress of the Department of Works. The Department has been able to proceed with projects immediately it has obtained the necessary approval from the various authorising authorities. The occasion to which the honourable senator referred was one when an environmental study was made after the Department had proceeded with plans and the calling of tenders in relation to the communications tower on Black Mountain. There is no delay in that matter. It is proceeding. This will not occur again. Environmental studies will be made before there is any definite move in relation to any project.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration. Does the Minister agree with the statement made in a letter from a Minister for Immigration in the previous Government to his colleague the former AttorneyGeneral, Senator Greenwood, that there could be serious consequences if Croat nationals in Australia are permitted to continue unchecked their terrorist activity and outrages against representatives of the Yugoslav Government and authority generally in this country? Does the Minister further agree with Mr Lynch’s statement that bombing attacks on the Yugoslav Embassy in Canberra and other incidents are ‘evidence of a pattern of extremist activity which should be capable of preventive measures by the law authorities’? Is the Minister concerned, as Mr Lynch was, with the inevitable involvement of human life’ in this situation? Can the Minister indicate what differences there are between the attitudes expressed by the previous Attorney-General to th;se issues and the attitudes expressed by the present Attorney-General to the Minister for Immigration on this issue?
– As has been indicated by the Attorney-General in his ministerial statement this week and as has been indicated by the Government in its actions and in the attitudes adopted by it in connection with the recent visit to Australia of the Yugoslav Prime Minister, the Government is and has been concerned at the extent of terrorist activity in this country. We are concerned to protect the safety of all decent Australian citizens. A government cannot tolerate people coming to Australia for the purpose of carrying out in this country unlawful activities which relate to political situations in another country. The Minister for Immigration has been watching this matter for some time.
– Can the Minister for Primary Industry say whether any New Zealand lamb has been imported into Australia in the last few weeks? If so, how much has been imported?
– No, 1 do not know. I shall find out and advise the honourable senator if this has occurred.
– I ask the Special Minister of State, in his capacity as the seventh ranking Minister in the current Government: Why will he not answer the question as to whether he has heard from Senator Murphy in Cabinet the reasons for Senator Murphy’s visits to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation? I am asking him only whether he knows the reasons. Why will he not answer that question?
– I will not tell Senator Greenwood or anybody else what has happened in Cabinet. There has been a report lying on the table of the Senate for the past 3 days. I suggest that if the Opposition were really concerned about debating the report it could have the matter brought on. The question is not how Senator Murphy administers his Department and matters of that type: the question is whether the Australian Government should any longer stand by and defend thugs and gunmen in this country. The answer is no. The Opposition can have that debate whenever it wants it.
– I preface my question, which is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, by saying that I have taken to heart his earlier advice. I am now a nice gentleman and there is no sting in the tail. Will the Government consider introducing legislation to make it an offence to burn an Australian flag, a matter which has been raised with me by a number of constituents?
– I ask for the question to he placed on notice so that we can have a look at it. I would have thought that under the myriad rules of law enforcement there may be something to cover this. If the question is put on notice I can get the AttorneyGeneral to look at it.
– 1 direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for the Australian Capital Territory. In view of the expressed fears of the Commonwealth Police that the creation of the AustralianCroatian Club in Canberra could become a Croatian Embassy and a security risk, can the Senate be given any information whether, in the face of Commonwealth Police objections, there was intervention by the former Minister for the Interior or the former AttorneyGeneral to veto the attitude of the Commonwealth Police?
– I rise to a point of order. This question is based on a Press report. It can be based only upon a Press report. This requires authentication, as you have required authentication on the part of honourable senators on this side of the chamber from time to time. 1 ask you, Mr President, to require Senator Mulvihill to indicate whether he can authenticate that Press report. As far as my knowledge of it is concerned, the imputation directed to me has no basis. That is why I ask the honourable senator to authenticate the Press report.
– 1 think. Senator Mulvihill, that you referred to the previous Minister for the Interior.
– I ask leave to make a statement to clarify my point.
– ls leave granted?
– Leave is not granted. Senator Mulvihill, you can continue with your question but pay due regard to standing order 99 which requires that there should be no argument, no inference, no imputations, no epithets, no ironical expressions, no hypothetical matter, no expressions of opinion asked for, no statement of government policy asked for and no legal opinion sought.
– I simply say that I have had numerous telephone calls from people in the Yugoslav community and I did not need the Canberra ‘Times’ to formulate this question.
- Senator Willesee, did you want to answer the question?
– The question was addressed to me as the representative of another Minister. I do not have knowledge of this matter but I shall find out what I can for the honourable senator.
– I direct my question to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the strong language used about certain persons against whom allegations of terrorism have been made, I ask: Have allegations of terrorism been made under the cloak of privilege and have those allegations not been tested or proved in any Australian tribunal or court?
– Again this is a matter for the Attorney-General. While listening to the speech the other night I thought that some people had been convicted and that some were on trial. I am not sure of that point. 1 will have to ask the honourable senator to put the question on notice. When the Attorney-General comes back he will be able to reply to it
– lt is pretty serious when people are called those names but have never been tried and given a chance to answer. It is serious.
– Order! I call Senator Durack.
– My question is addressed to the-
– The Minister believes in democracy when he feels like it.
– Order! Now that the dust has settled I call Senator Durack.
– I thought I might have been able to continue my question earlier. It is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is the Minister aware of protests made last weekend by the Western Australian Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council to the commander of the American communications base at North West Cape against retrenchment of Australian workers at the base?
– It was not retrenchment.
– Well, broadly retrenchment. There was the offer of leave without pay to a large number of those workers, to be specific in deference to Senator Cant.
– Why has the honourable senator not been specific?
– I have been specific. Does the honourable senator want me to extend this question? I ask the Minister whether this attitude expressed by the Trades and Labour Council in Western Australia indicates that the trade union movement favours these bases as an avenue of employment for its members.
– I have seen only the Press reports of this matter which is mentioned by the honourable senator. Clearly it is a matter of industrial relations between the trade unions which have members in the area and the administration. Of course I have heard the statement that there will be consultations between the United States authorities and the Trades and Labour Council. That is the normal way in which such things are settled. Everybody hopes that arrangements can be made to settle the dispute. What was proposed was that the men would be offered leave without pay. I hope those negotiations will be satisfactory. I understand that they are still continuing. The honourable senator cannot draw any other inference in relation to the matter. It is a simple, straight out industrial problem. Most of us hope that it is settled quickly on the terms proposed by the members of the unions who are concerned about the loss of wages.
– My question which is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate relates to the Croatian matter. I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the secret documents tabled by the Attorney-General disclose that Mr Barbour, the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation advised the previous Attorney-General in these words:
It should be understood that so far evidence is lacking that any of the bomb attacks on Yugoslav establishments have been planned by specific organisations, rather than by individual extremists.
Advice was given to the former AttorneyGeneral, as disclosed by those secret tabled documents, by Mr J. M. Davis in these words:
The indications were that Croatian-
– Order! Senator Webster, you cannot ask a question in that form by giving information.
– I am not giving information, Mr President.
– Then I do not know what it is.
- Mr President, you seem to interrupt my questions on every occasion I ask them. I am asking whether the Minister is aware from the documents that advice was given to the former AttorneyGeneral in the words I quoted. Also I am asking the Minister whether he is aware of 2 statements in those files. Am I permitted to do that?
– You are permitted to ask a question in the context of matters which relate to the responsibility of the Minister. It is a well understood ruling of this Senate that an honourable senator must not give information when asking a question. If you assure me that it is not possible for you to ask your question except by using the quotations, I shall accept that assurance.
- Mr President, T asked the question for a reason. I am anxious to know from the Minister whether the secret documents disclose, firstly, that the head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and secondly, the head of the Commonwealth Police Force, Mr J. M. Davis, advised the former Attorney-General-
– Are these the documents which were tabled by Senator Murphy the other day?
– Then just refer to the documents by number.
– I wish to quote the statements which were made to the former Attorney-General. I have indicated that Mr P. Barbour advised the former Attorney-General that evidence was lacking relating to specific organisations rather that to individual extremists. Mr J. M. Davis wrote to the former Attorney-General as follows:
The indications were that Croatians were involved but whether this was the result of activity and control by Croat organisations was not clear.
I ask the Minister: If that was the advice given by the security authorities of this country, does he believe that the former Attorney-General reflected a correct view in the attitude that he disclosed to the Senate?
– The honourable senator asks me whether I saw the documents. There are 2,400 pages in the documents and I have not seen the particular ones to which he refers. I am aware that Mr Phillip Lynch who was then a Minister wrote to the then Attorney-General - not Senator Greenwood but his predecessor - in these terms:
I think it is proper when next a suitable opportunity present itself that consideration should be given to a strong statement by the Government that outrages of this kind will not be tolerated.
– May I ask the Minister to answer the question?
– I have answered the question.
– Order! Under standing order 99 the honourable senator cannot ask the Minister for an opinion.
– The honourable senator asked whether I had read these documents, and I answered: ‘No, I have not.’
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
– My question which is directed to the Minister assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs is supplementary to the previous questionI asked him and his subsequent answer regarding lists of names given by the Yugoslav Prime Minister or his staff. I ask: Since the Minister states that papers given to him by the Yugoslav Prime Minister contained names, some of which were disclosed by the Attorney-General, will the Minister disclose all the names provided to him or to the Australian Government by the Yugoslav Government?
– What I said was that they seemed to me to tally. I do not have the document in my possession; I handed it in. The answer to the honourable senators question is no, I will not reveal the names that come to me on a government level.
– My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. In view of the fact that the Minister refused to answer my question which sought the facts that made ‘very necessary’ the extreme security measures of last week will the Minister state whether it is his view that a Minister should not disclose information relating to security operations in Australia, particularly when the only apparent reason is the vilification of a former Minister, or is Senator Willesee being selective in his views?
– No, Senator Willesee is not being selective in his views. The honourable senator asked a specific question as to whether or not the security arrangements were necessary, and I assure him that they were.
– I ask that all further questions be put on notice.
- Mr President, mayI answer a question that Senator McManus asked of me last week concerning the importation of New Zealand potatoes?
– I have been advised that the Produce Manager of the Committee of Direction of Fruit Marketing in Sydney made an application to import potatoes from
New Zealand for processing at the Committee’s plant at the Fish Markets, Pyrmont. The Department of Primary Industry has closely investigated this proposal in relation to the supply-demand position for potatoes in Australia. Because of greatly improved climatic conditions, the potato supply position has changed considerably since then. As a result the application to import potatoes from New Zealand has been withdrawn.
– For the information of honourable senators,I present a Tariff Board report on duplicator stencils (Dumping and Subsidies Act) dated 23rd February 1973.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Withers moving a motion relating to the order of business on the notice paper.
Motion (by Senator Withers) proposed:
That at 8 p.m. this day intervening business be postponed until after consideration of General Business Notice of Motion No. 10 relating to the questioning of Ministers and Notice of Motion No. 9 relating to the appointment of a select committee on shipping services between King Island, Stanley and Melbourne.
– Mr President,I suggest to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) that this is a matter which would be more appropriately debated when the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) is present. This matter involves the Standing Orders or certainly bears on the Standing Orders. The Leader of the Government in the Senate is a member of the Standing Orders Committee, butI am not. He has a great knowledge of the Standing Orders, as I am sure you would agree, Mr President. I put it to the Leader of the Opposition that he should think about that suggestion. The order of business could be changed later tonight if that was desired.
– by leave - There may be some merit in the suggestion of the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee). I might agree if the Government were to give some undertaking to the effect that until the matter is resolved it will not ask, approximately 60 or 70 minutes after question time has commenced, that further questions without notice be placed on the notice paper.
– Question time started at 11 a.m. and questions were asked to be placed on the notice paper at 20 minutes past 12.
– Questions were asked to be put on notice after about 70 minutes. Unless that undertaking is forthcoming, in fairness to those who sit behind me I think it ought to be resolved tonight one way or the other.
Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia - Special Minister of State) - by leave - If that is the attitude of the Opposition and if the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers) wants to go ahead with it, then since he has the numbers he can certainly bring on the debate on his motion. Mr President, the other night you stated the figures. I think you said the question time had gone on for one hour, 1¼ hours and 1½. Those surely are ample periods.
– One has to get the answers.
– I have sat on that side of the chamber and heard honourable senators say ‘You will not get the answers’. Sometimes one hears a yell: ‘He does not know anything. He will not answer anything’. The other day Senator Cotton said that I should take a leaf out of his book, and I am doing so. He never made any pretensions Senator Cotton said, and I say, that when one is representing Ministers who sit in another place it is a sheer impossibility to answer all questions relating to their portfolios. One would be foolish to try. One of the portfolios which I represent in this House is that of Treasurer. Honourable senators ask me long questions about price rises in other countries of the world, our comparative Gross National Product and so on. It is impossible and would be silly to try to answer all such questions. Whenever such questions are directed to me I take the simple approach of telling the Senate very honestly what I know - I do not try to manufacture - and then I offer to find out later what I can for the questioner. If this is not the sort of way that Opposition senators want questions to be answered, then I do not know where they will get their answers.
– Order! I do not think you can debate the motion.
– I was speaking of the time factor. You, Mr President, intimated last week,I think, that you would bring the leaders of the parties together to discuss the whole problem of question time. I do not know whether that has taken place. I was hoping that it would take place before further debates ensued in this Senate. If the Leader of the Opposition wants to go on with this matter tonight, that is OK. I certainly would not give it the thought that he wants.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The Clerk has handed to me a very long message from the House of Representatives, message No. 22, which deals with the question of establishing a joint committee on prices. Honourable senators no doubt have a fair idea of what is in it, so with the concurrence of honourable senators, the document will be incorporated in Hansard. (The document read as follows) -
Message No. 22
The House of Representatives transmits to the Senate the following Resolution which was agreed to by the House of Representatives this day, and requests that the Senate concur and take action accordingly:
That a Joint Committee be appointed to inquire into and, as appropriate, report on -
complaints arising from prices charged by private industry;
movements in prices of goods and services in particular fields or sections of private industry, for example, as measured by price indices; and
such other matters relating to prices as may he referred to the committee by resolution of either House of the Parliament.
That the committee consist of four Members of the House of Representatives nominated by the Prime Minister, two Members of the House of Representatives nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, one Member of the House of Representatives nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the House of Representatives, two Senators nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate and one Senator nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
That every nomination of a member of the committee be forthwith notified in writing to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Thai the members of the committee hold office as a joint committee until the House of Representatives expires by dissolution or effluxion of time.
That the Prime Minister nominate one of the government members of the committee as Chairman.
That the Chairman of the committee may. from time to time, appoint another member of the committee to be the Deputy Chairman of the committee, and that the member so appointed act as Chairman of the committee at any time when the Chairman is not present at a meeting of the committee.
That the committee have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of 3 or more of its members and to refer to any such subcommittee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to examine.
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to move from place to place and to sit during any recess or adjournment of the Parliament.
That the committee have leave to report from lime to time and that any member of the committee have power to add a protest or dissent to any report.
That 5 members of the committee constitute a quorum of the committee, and 2 members of a sub-committee constitute a quorum of that sub-committee.
That in matters of procedure the Chairman or Deputy Chairman presiding at the meeting have a deliberative vote and, in the event of an equality of voting, have a casting vote, and that, in other matters, the Chairman or Deputy Chairman have a deliberative vote only.
That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources.
That the committee recognise the need for co-operation between the Commonwealth and consumer protection bodies in the States.
That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything containedin the standing orders.
JAMES F. COPE,
House of Representatives. Canberra, 28th March 1973
Motion (by Senator Willesee) agreed to:
That consideration of the House of Representatives message be made an order of the day for the next day of silting.
Debate resumed from 28th March (vide page 648). on motion by Senator Wright:
That the amendments of the Matrimonial Causes Rules, as contained in statutory rules 1973, No. 8, and made under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959-1966 be disallowed.
– I am reliably informed that on the average there are some 15,000 divorces each year in Australia.
As 2 people are involved in each case this means that some 30,000 people are affected by the Matrimonial Causes Act and the Matrimonial Causes Rules, if one takes into account the children who may be likewise affected, one arrives at something in excess of 30,000 people who are directly affected by the Act and the Rules. I make that statement at the outset to highlight the magnitude of the subject we are considering. Many fine types of men and women have visited my office - one visit occurred as recently as last Monday - and have literally pleaded with me to do what I could in the Senate to prevent the disallowance of the rules we are now debating. One would think from some speakers that the amendment of the Matrimonial Causes Rules is a grotesque system designed to destroy the institution of marriage. I say right here and now that there is nothing further from the truth. Whilst I recognise that a legal formula is necessary to enable the dissolution of a marriage,I am more concerned with the human aspects. I think that the basic principles of an appropriate law must be under-pinned by the fact that laws must have regard to the people involved. In other words, our laws relating to divorce need humanising.
I wish to make two brief passing references to speeches made in this debate. Because of committee work and other commitments [ have not been able to hear or to read all of the contributions made by senators to this debate. I regret that Senator Carrick is not in the chamber at present.I acknowledge that he has commitments, as I have had, which cause one to leave the chamber. Senator Carrick’s moralising in his contribution yesterday did nothing to acknowledge the antiquated, archaic and demeaning divorce laws and rules. I wish also to refer to the speech of Senator Durack. At page 638 of yesterday’s Hansard he is reported to have said:
In producing these rules Senator Murphy has produced the greatest legal mess that has ever been perpetrated by any Commonwealth draftsman.
Honourable senators may concede that that is rather strong language.
– There has been a great deal of judicial and professional criticism.
– I accept that, but I want to direct the Senate’s attention to a Press release dated 9th March 1973 over the signature of the President of the Law Council of
Australia. I understand that it is an acknowledged authority. I wish that Senator’ Durack were present as I understand that he is a member of that august body. I seek the leave of the Senate to incorporate that Press release in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -
The legal profession throughout Australia is as anxious as anybody to see improvements to procedural and substantive law in all fields and certainly in Matrimonial Causes.
With reference to the recently introduced amendments to the Matrimonial Causes Rules, particular welcome is given to those provisions relating to the abolition of discretion statements, simplification of forms and a reduction of parties to a suit and generally to the obvious intention of the Rules to reduce indignity and delays.
The profession is prepared to co-operate in making these Rules work although it is appreciated that some portions of the Rules create problems in procedure and do not fully achieve the results intended.
The spirit of law reform, however, in Matrimonial Causes must be carried on to a point where radical amendments through the Matrimonial Causes Act are made in order to achieve real and substantial improvement. To this purpose a Committee appointed by the Law Council of Australia is currently engaged in formulating recommendations for amendments to the Act for submission to the Honourable AttorneyGeneral.
The Law Council of Australia also welcomes the announcement by the Attorney-General of the 15th February 1973, that the Australian Government is to seek membership for Australia of two international legal organisations, namely, the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the International Institute for Unification of Private International Law.
Such a move, if successful, will give Australia access to a body of foreign law and legal rules which should be of great assistance to Australian companies engaged in international commerce and also to Australian investors abroad and to travellers. 9th March 1973.
– I appreciate that I have been given an opportunity to incorporate this short Press release in the Hansard record. I will not read any more of it.
– Whatever the intention, the question is whether the purposes were achieved in the rules.
– I will deal with that in due course. I wish to refer again to Senator Durack’s contribution to the debate yesterday. Among other things, he referred to articles written in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ in the middle of last month. In referring to them,
Senator Durack said:
In the second of those articles he summarised the objections he had to the rules as follows:
The new divorce rules are drafted very poorly. They are replete with redundant phrases and errors. In at least one case, a rule has been amended so that it reads as a jumble of words. In another, the draftsman has managed to amend a repealed sub-rule.
It is true that the honourable senator was quoting the opinion of a Professor Sackville. I think we must all pay due regard to the interpretations that journalists are inclined to apply to statements made by people with some authority. I am a little surprised that Senator Durack relied on the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ for his source of support for the views he expressed in the Senate yesterday. To put it in another way, as a former cabinet maker and a craftsman of some distinction, if I wanted an opinion about a piece of furniture I would not be asking the local butcher. As the President of the Law Institute of Australia said, complicated procedures impose indignity and delay and as everyone is prepared to admit, with the exception of Opposition honourable senators who have spoken in the debate, impose expenses and charges far beyond the means of many people to meet. For a couple to be forced literally to continue a pretence of marriage makes a mockery of the whole concept of marriage. The failure of a marriage when reconciliation is impossible is a tragedy. The consequential effects on the couple involved and children, if any, can do irreparable damage to the rest of their lives. Notwithstanding the ingenuity of man, there is no way in which laws and rules can be made to regulate human nature and in particular human emotions. Therefore, the next best measure to provide a dignified termination of the relationship must be adopted in the interests of the couple in particular and in my view in the interests of society as a whole. In my view, the existing Matrimonial Causes Rules - this is also said by a leading authority in this field - are antiquated, archaic and degrading to the victims of such rules and do more to destroy the institution of marriage than any other cause.
I am endeavouring to be as charitable as I can in the course of this debate because I am asking the Opposition to recast its thinking about its proposal to disallow these rules. I must confess that the only conclusion I can draw from the contributions I have heard to date from Opposition members is that they are deliberately attempting to misrepresent the genuine intention of these new rules.
– I do not think that is a fair proposition to put to the Senate. I would object to it as an unparliamentary imputation. It is an absurd proposition.
– Before I was interrupted - and I accept the interjection for what it is worth - I was about to say that a complete review of the Act and the rules must take some considerable time. This is to be readily seen on looking at page 226 of yesterday’s Senate notice paper. Under the heading ‘Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees’ the first item is the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee. 1 note that on 7th December 1971 the Senate gave to that Committee a reference entitled ‘The law and administration of divorce, custody and family matters’. It is true that an interim report was presented on 31st October 1972. I am referring to this not as a criticism of that Committee, because I can imagine the tremendous amount of work involved and the complexities of the subject matter which the Committee is examining, but to point up the protracted delay that obviously must ensue before that Committee completes its deliberations and finally reports its recommendations to the Senate.
What I am saying, in effect, is that if the Senate disallows these rules, then the Senate in my view can be legitimately charged with negating its responsibilities to thousands of Australian citizens who are personally affected by the rules. The amendment to the Matrimonial Causes Rules which the Senate is being asked to disallow will not correct all the evident anomalies in both the Act and the rules. However, I refer again to what the President of the Law Council of Australia has stated. He said:
Hie obvious intention of these rules is to reduce the indignity and delays.
That is a significant statement and one which 1 believe the Senate should take note of. What I am saying to the Senate, in effect, on behalf of the people who have made representations to me to represent them in this place is simply that I am not convinced thai these rules impinge upon the legislative powers of this chamber and the other chamber. In his contribution yesterday Senator Wheeldon pointed up quite clearly that these amending rules are simply an amendment of those rules which are already provided for within the meaning and terms of the Matrimonial Causes Rules. Therefore, in my view, it is to mislead this chamber to suggest that the amending Matrimonial Causes Rules require complementary amendments to the Act. I repeat that over 30,000 Australian citizens - and how many children none of us would know - are affected directly by the proposal which is before the Senate today.
In my short contribution to the debate I have not endeavoured to intrude into a field in which, in the technical sense of the word. I am not competent. I have relied on an informed source. I think all honourable senators, particularly those who are of that profession, would agree that the Law Council of Australia is an acknowledged authority in Australia. 1 repeat that the Opposition should reconsider its suggested proposals and that it should allow the amended matrimonial causes rules to remain and to be applied. I trust that in the interim period the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs will be able to complete its work and report to the Senate, and that a thorough review of both the Act and the rules appropriate to this day and age, 1973. will be adopted.
– I support the disallowance of these rules, for several reasons. I have been informed that they have been drawn hastily and that they will not achieve what they set out to achieve. They have many weak points. Some of those weaknesses have been discussed already and have been pointed out in the Senate. One is the matter relating to discretion statements. I believe and I have been told that the whole position has been left up in the air. Another weakness is the matter associated with custody problems. We have been told, since the debate commenced, that an amendment had been made to a rule which has been repealed. We were told by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) (hat the rules were not drawn up by the Parliamentary Counsel. The AttorneyGeneral is unwilling to state the name of the legal gentlemen who took part in drawing up these rules, but he has said that several lawyers are involved. He is not willing to say what fee was paid, if any, to these people. 1 make it quite clear to the Senate that I am very much in favour of divorce law reform - easier, cheaper and simpler divorce. This attitude is also the attitude of the Australian Country Party. We are definitely not against divorce law reform, but we believe that it will not be achieved by these rules. The Governor-General’s Speech, which was delivered a month ago at the opening of Parliament, referred to the Government’s intention to introduce a Bill to reform the Matrimonial Causes Act. A month has gone by. I do not know how much progress has been made on this Bill. We suggest that when these rules are disallowed the Attorney-General should, without any undue delay, introduce a comprehensive, up-to-date and modern divorce law reform Bill which can be. debated in its entirety in the Parliament. The reform should not be by way of a hotchpotch of rules which are only a patchwork, we are told, at best. That is what the Senate is debating.
The rules came into effect on 1st February this year. I have been informed that the number of divorce petitions has fallen considerably because of uncertainty and because many lawyers will not take cases in the present set-up. Almost 2 months have elapsed under those conditions. When the rules are disallowed there will be even more uncertainty There will be that uncertainty until the Government is prepared to introduce a comprehensive Bill which will cover the whole situation and which can be debated in the Senate so that all the minor troubles and objections can be ironed out. The Government should introduce something substantive that will stand up in the law courts and that will be satisfactory to all the people whom Senator Brown mentioned as waiting to take court action. I support the repeal of the rules but I also support the suggestion for reform of a very considerable area of the divorce law. I ask the Senate to disallow these rules and I appeal for the early introduction of a comprehensive Bill to cover the whole subject.
– in reply - In rising to reply to the debate upon this subject I shall take the opportunity of using the 2 or 3 minutes available before the suspension of the sitting for lunch to refer to one specific matter. When I first addressed the Senate in moving this motion I took the occasion to say, as reported at page 495 of Hansard, when referring to the question of legal fees, that:
I for my part - I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues - would oppose to the nth degree a client or that client’s adversary being exposed to excessive demands for professional fees.
Would you believe, Mr President, that in the report of that situation in the Hobart ‘Mercury’ the following day, what is attributed to me is that I said that I ‘disagreed to the nth degree’ with the decision to impose a maximum amount of Si 50 on an undefended suit, and $500 on defended suits.’ That just shows how innaccurate may be the impression conveyed of a man’s speech when it is retailed to the country. It is not possible for me to suppose that that inaccuracy is due to incompetence; there is some much more sinister motive than that when a reporter can report that I opposed a limit on fees when actually what I said was that I disagreed in the nth degree and would oppose to the nth degree a client or a client’s adversary being exposed to excessive demands for professional fees.
I raised the matter not only in my own interests but in the interests of the Senate and I raise it on a specific basis, and that is that the editor and reporter of that journal be invited to apologise to the Senate and to me for that inaccurate reporting as a first step in the redress of the grievance. It is quite obvious, I should think, that ignorant reporters throughout the country are parading the idea that the only opposition to these rules stems from the fact that there is a limitation of costs provided in the rules. That may be their impression and if they report it on their own responsibility they are entitled to what credit or discredit they get from it. But when they are reporting responsible speeches in this place, this Parliament will lose its status unless it insists upon accuracy, fairness and, for my part, adequacy.
I turn, following that preface, to a consideration of the debate. I find myself greatly indebted to my colleagues, particularly Senator Carrick and Senator Durack, for the careful exposition of the vice in the regulations which this motion seeks to disallow. Their contributions make it unnecessary for me to attempt a review of them. J would not wish at any time to claim a better exposition of the objections to these matrimonial rules than was contained in the speeches of my colleagues.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 p.m.
– The next point that I want to make with regard to this debate relates to the approach of the AttorneyGeneral. His speech consisted of a series of quotations from the evidence of witnesses and statements submitted mainly to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and
Legal Affairs, of which the Attorney-General was a member. That Committee has made an interim report on one subject. As Senator Durack pointed out, that report has been entirely misconceived in the rules. The point I want to make in serious criticism of the Attorney-General is that if he cannibalises the material before committees to which he has access in this premature, partial and distorted way, he is doing as much to destroy committees as he did on the 15th and 16th of this month to destroy the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. If witnesses come before a committee, it is entitled to take their evidence into consideration together with that of other witnesses who may yet be called. It is for the committee to report the summation of that evidence to this chamber. It is not for any person who is given access to confidence in the committee to come here before all the evidence has been received, before all the witnesses have been heard by the committee, before committee discussion and before a formulation of the credible and responsible part of that evidence is made by the committee which we have appointed as distinct from the individual, in this instance, distorted, opinion of Senator Murphy.
If this is done prematurely in that way witnesses will shun our committees and we will have no respect for committees. This is not the first time that Senator Murphy has stolen confidences from a committee. When we were on the Senate Standing Orders Committee Senator Murphy, having got our views, rushed into the Senate with motions to appoint standing committees of the Senate. It is essential that confidences within a committee be kept if our committee system is to be regarded as having integrity and as providing guidance. I am a member of a standing committee - I joined it last week - of which Senator Brown, Senator Wheeldon and Senator James McClelland are members. It is the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. If I were to reveal the confidential opinions which have been submitted to that Committee upon the subject of this debate, I would regard myself as completely subverting the Committee and as a traitor to the confidence that Committee members share with each other. The Committee collectively gives respect to the witnesses it hears without retailing the evidence, or those portions of it that suit a particular point of view, before all witnesses have been heard, before the Com mittee has formulated opinion on the responsibility that it should carry and before the Senate has had the opportunity of considering the Committee report.
We have a classic example of what someone described as a bull at a gate. In every herd you will get a rogue steer. He will be testing the fences wherever there is a slight weakness. This is a typical instance. The rogue steer has sought a little publicity by trundling through, on his own responsibility, regulations which are inconsistent with the Act. As Senator Carrick and Senator Durack most cogently pointed out, this has created procedures calculated to the concealment of matters upon which the law - that is, the statute - requires judges Vo exercise their discretion as a condition for granting divorce. We would be better treated if, in debates and opinions submitted, we had those which were objectively formed upon an impartial and disinterested experience of divorce on a professional or humanitarian basis, lt is not satisfactory to me to hear the views of people whose practice in the divorce court is as a litigant and not as an objective, professional point of view. I do not want to hear from someone who simply confines himself to an expression of opinion as a layman on the impact of the rules upon particular cases.
The last point I want to make is »o say how I despise an Attorney-General who resorts, for his cost rules, to the allegation that there is a small section in the legal profession practising a racket - as the AttorneyGeneral has said, it is mostly only in his own city - in the field of the divorce rules. It is that sort of thing which occurred in collusion cases in Sydney 2 years ago which led to either one or two barristers and two or three solicitors being struck off the rolls. If the Attorney-General has any evidence of anybody participating in that racket it is his duty to see that that person is robbed of his professional status. The Attorney-General would know that if a client complains about an account - even in this racketeering section - it can be submitted on request to the Taxing Master who is bound to cut it down to the limits of fees prescribed by law. Furthermore, he is bound to bring the existence of this racket to the notice of the judges.
– If the bill is cut down by a certain percentage the solicitor has to pay the costs of the application: is that not right?
– I think that is only in cases where costs are paid by a defendant who represents a fund. I am speaking only of the rules which apply in my State of Tasmania and the High Court. These proper avenues of preventing excessive costs and racketeering are available to the Attorney-General. Just imagine the type of logic and the integrity which is posed by the Attorney-General when he bases justification for rules that outstrip amendments of the Act - in fact, anticipate them - on the existence of a small racket in the legal profession. Senator Brown called our attention to the fact that about 30,000 spouses are affected by divorce proceedings each year. Probably 3 million-odd people may be affected by these divorce rules in the course of time. But our job as legislators is to see that the principal Act that has been operating since 1959 is thoughtfully amended and appropriate rules amended in consequence of that. With those observations, Mr President, I think the Senate ought to be ready to vote upon the motion.
That the motion (Senator Wright’s) be agreed to.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 1 March (vide page 107). on motion by Senator Murphy:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition will not oppose the passage of this measure but I must say that its support is qualified. The qualified support is conditioned by the fact that the Opposition doubts whether the history of this measure in the Senate is to the credit of the Senate and what the Bill is doing is perpetuating a farce. It is perpetuating a farce although it is necessary that there should be laws of evidence in the Australian Capital Territory and this is the only way in which we can ensure that there are laws after 31st March 1973. It is a farce because originally this measure was introduced as an ordinance. That ordinance was disallowed by the Senate so as to enable debate to take place on the matter and although that debate was commenced about 12 months ago, in fact it has never been concluded. What we are doing today is perpetuating a body of law which some18 months ago the Senate said should be examined in detail, and for that reason disallowed an ordinance.
I propose to trace the history of this matter just to indicate what has been the background to this Bill. In 1968 the previous Government established a committee to consider and recommend a new code of evidence for the Australian Capital Territory. The existing body of evidence law in the Australian Capital Territory was noted for its antiquities, the questionable relevance of many of the provisions which were embodied in it and also the fact that the provisions were difficult to locate and determine. It was necessary that there should be a revision of the law of evidence. A committee was appointed of highly skilled and competent people. Mr Justice Fox of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, the Solicitor-General of the Commonwealth - if my recollection is correct - and other distinguished members of the legal profession consulted with legal experts throughout the world. After an investigation of approximately 3 years it recommended a law of evidence which was acknowledged to be as modern and progressive as any body of law of evidence in Australia. It undertook a painstaking job of work in the best way in which reform of the law can be made. When the work was completed a new evidence ordinance was introduced. That became law early in 1971.
For those who wish to see the original ordinance I point out that it was No. 4 of 1971. I should say that, apart from an interim of approximately a week in August 1971, the provisions of that ordinance have been operating in the Australian Capital Territory since 29th March 1971 and, as far as I am aware, no objection has been taken and no complaint has been made as to the adequacy or the efficacy of the provisions. Doubtless from time to time problems can arise in practice. Those problems can be aired and resolved by the judges. But, in terms of the suitability for the Australian Capital Territory, I am not aware of any opposition which has been expressed, except for the opposition which came from a number of members of this chamber in August 1971. At that time the ordinance was disallowed not on the basis of the merits of the ordinance but on the basis that it represented substantive legislation which more properly should be introduced by way of substantive legislation. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that the vote which was just taken in the Senate was on an issue as to whether the Matrimonial Causes Rules were substantive legislation. Of course, those who said that they were not substantive legislation adopted a different view some 12 months ago with regard to the evidence law of the Australian Capital Territory.
The real uniqueness of what the Senate did in August 1971 lay in the fact that it represented the first time that the Senate had taken the view that the laws of the Australian Capital Territory ought to be made by Act of Parliament and not by ordinance under the Seat of Government Act. I think it is a matter that is still to be resolved as to what should be the effective means of self-government or government in the Australian Capital Territory. The seat of government legislation provides to the executive Government of the day the means by which it can determine what laws shall operate in the Australian Capital Territory. An advisory council does provide some means whereby the representative opinion of certain elected persons in the Australian Capital Territory can be heard and considered before the legislation comes into force. But we all recognise that for the Australian Capital Territory there is a future which includes the formulation of some form of self government in that area. The difficulty which I think confronts the present Government, as it confronted the previous Government, is: What are the areas in respect of which there should be effective self government? 1 have observed that there is at the present time a fragmenting of many functions which previously were undertaken by the Department of the Interior and which are now being transferred to other departments of the new Government. So the prospect of selfgovernment, as I believe several members of the Advisory Council view it, may become less viable and less attainable. I know that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Enderby) has suggested that some decision on this matter can be made within approximately 6 months. But I wonder whether that is not a pious hope that is designed to accommodate present abilities to earlier election promises and whether, by the end of this year, a situation will not have arisen in the Australian Capital Territory whereby any effective selfgovernment will be limited to areas so few in number that the persons who have been concerned to promote the cause of selfgovernment may feel that there is not very much merit in what would then be available.
That is a current problem. It is one in respect of which 1 believe the present Government should make its intentions clearer than it has. The Government should make it apparent that what is occurring in the separation of various functions is part of a broader scheme and take the people of the Australian Capital Territory into its confidence. The Government’s present conduct is a curious departure from the standards which the present Government was setting itself when it was claiming that it would provide an open form of government in office and take the people into its confidence. What we have been seeing in the last 3 or 4 months is a government which has been more arrogant, more restrictive and more secretive than anything which could be pointed to on the part of its predecessor. I simply say that this is an area in which the Government should make clear how the various steps which it is taking at the present time fit into its long range plans for the Australian Capital Territory and allay, if it can. the widely held suspicion that things are occurring on an ad hoc basis without any planning or any future prospect whatsoever.
The legislation which is now before the Senate flows from a situation which is comparable to the situation to which 1 have adverted because the Senate decided to disallow an ordinance and in its place to substitute legislation passed by the national Parliament. 1 do not believe that the national Parliament should occupy a great part of its time in dealing with the affairs of the people of the Australian Capital Territory - not because those affairs are not important but because the national Parliament ought to be able to give the greater bulk of its time to affairs concerning the nation. The attitude which the Australian Labor Party adopted in August 1971 was. I suspect, an ad hoc move without sufficient concern for the consequences which would flow from the precedent which would be created if every piece of legislation concerning the Austraiian Capital Territory were to be enacted by the Parliament. One of the consequences of the decision which was taken in August 1971 is the legislation which is now before us.
This is the third piece of legislation which deals with the same matter. First of all the Australian Capital Territory Evidence (Temporary Provisions) Act was enacted in 1971 in circumstances which do not reflect credit upon the way in which the Senate considered the legislation. It was passed by the Senate in approximately half an hour without any debate at all, simply because necessity demanded that legislation be introduced. It was to operate until 31st March 1972. In February 1972, as the then Attorney-General, 1 introduced a Bill which contained the provisions of the ordinance enacted in legislative form The opportunity was provided for debate and debate did ensue over a period of [ 2 days on provisions of the Bill. The Bill reached the Committee stage of debate. It was then referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, where it has reposed for the last 12 months, apparently without any action being taken by that Committee to report to the Senate as to whether the substantive provisions were or were not adequate. Because the matter was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs it was necessary to have some legislation to continue in force a body of law of evidence in the Australian Capital Territory. So the second Australian Capital Territory Evidence (Temporary Provisions) Bill was introduced which provided for a period of 12 months for its period of operation. That period of 12 months will expire on 3 1st’ March of this year.
I should stress, however, that the reason why a time limit was imposed upon the operation of the legislation on each of those prior occasions was that it was anticipated that the actual ordinance which had been disallowed would be the subject of a study by a committee and ultimate debate by this chamber and that, as it was then approved or approved after amendment, it would become the body of law. It was not the fault of the previous Government that the committee to which this matter was referred by the Senate was unable to report back in a way which permitted that debate to take place. We are not faced with that situation now. What we are faced with now is legislation which proposes to continue in force for a period of only 6 months. What happens at the end of that 6 months? I have not the faintest doubt in my mind that we would be presented with another Australian Capital Territory Evidence (Temporary Provisions) Bill - which would be the 4th piece of such legislation - and that we would be expected to pass that legislation for possibly another 6 months or so. In that way, as I have said, we would be perpetuating a farce.
The Attorney-General when introducing this measure indicated that what he has in mind is not the current ordinance; he is thinking of something totally different. How different, we are not informed. When introducing the Bill, the Attorney-General said:
I am now considering introducing legislation to establish a Federal code of evidence, which would apply in both the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. It is obvious that legislation for this purpose could not be enacted before 31st March next, and some further extension of the existing temporary arrangement is required.
As I have said, what that legislation is to be we do not know. It is certainly not the basts upon which the temporary provisions were enacted on earlier occasions, namely, that we should have the opportunity to consider, after a report from the committee, the provisions of the existing ordinance. What is intended by Senator Murphy is that at some stage in the future there will be a new code of evidence. Having regard to what we have seen of
Senator Murphy in recent weeks I am confident that he would not have the time or the staff, notwithstanding what the inclination might be, to have this new code of evidence in operation by 30th September next. Therefore the Opposition will move in the Committee stage that the provision in the Bill which would limit its operation until 30th September next and no longer should be removed.
The Opposition proposes that there should be an amendment which will enact this ordinance into law and ensure that it continues as the law until such time as the new code of evidence has been brought down and enacted, if it is to be enacted, as a different body of substantive law. We think that this is an appropriate and satisfactory course to pursue. As I have indicated, this law of evidence - the body of law which is contained in the ordinance and which is kept in force by the Act - has been in operation in the Australian Capital Territory, I think, 2 years to this very day. It has served its function and it would cause a great deal of inconvenience and unnecessary problems for the persons engaged in the courts of this Territory if there was to be a continuing uncertainty about whether the body of the law of evidence was to continue in force on Monday, if this Bill were not passed through both stages today or, on 30th September, the question arose whether the Senate had passed the necessary enabling legislation to continue it into the future.
It is necessarily a measure which is necessitated by the history of this event. I think it is a sorry history and it indicates that if the Senate is to take the drastic step of rejecting legislation by disallowing an ordinance, it is always proper to have regard to the consequences of that step. Tt is a matter to which the Opposition had to give serious thought in regard to the debate on the Matrimonial Causes Rules which has just concluded. It was obviously a matter which should have had attention given to it when this evidence ordinance was disallowed some years ago. and likewise it is a matter which must always be borne in mind when it comes before the Senate. We are faced with a situation now which necessitates enabling legislation. The Opposition will support the legislation but will seek to amend it in the Committee stage in the way I have outlined.
– I do not intend to weary the chamber by speaking at anything like the length at which Senator Greenwood has just spoken but there are some things which I believe ought to be said about this matter. Senator Greenwood has said that it somehow reflects discredit upon the Senate that it is necessary for this Bill to be before the Senate today. In fact, the actions which led to this matter coming before the Senate today were taken as a majority vote by members of the Senate at a time when the Australian Labor Party numbered only 26 of the 60 senators present in this chamber. A substantial number of senators other than members of the Labor Party supported the rejection of the Australian Capital Territory Evidence Ordinance, which has led to this Bill being introduced.
It is rather laughable, having heard tor most of yesterday and this morning from honourable senators opposite about how disgraceful it is that the Matrimonial Causes Rules should be amended by additional rules, and how important it is that important matters of substantive law should be dealt with by legislation, that Senator Greenwood, despite the defeat which his Party suffered on this matter earlier in the Senate, should now once again be saying to us that a matter so important as the Australian Capital Territory Evidence Ordinance should not have been dealt with by legislation. For 2 days Opposition senators have been telling us how important it is to have legislation and not regulation, yet what we hear today is some argument about how much better it would have been to have had it done by ordinance and that somehow it reflects little credit on the Senate in saying that this important piece of legislation should have been dealt with by an Act of Parliament and not by ordinance.
It is an important piece of legislation, lt is not sufficient merely to say that the ordinance applies to the Australian Capital Territory, that it is a local matter which is not of national concern. It is of national concern. The Government acknowledges, as it did when in Opposition, that the proposals for a new law of evidence for the Australian Capital Territory were of very great importance. We believe that they could and, in fact, should act as a pattern, if we agree that they are properly drafted and contain matters of substantive law, for the laws of evidence for the whole of the Commonwealth, because in matters of criminal law and the law of evidence it must be obvious that the Commonwealth Parliament, with the much greater resources available to it, should be setting a pattern for the States which do not have the same resources available to them.
For that reason not only Labor senators but a majority of honourable senators disallowed the ordinance when it was before the Senate in 1971 and the Act had to be introduced in order to make provision for laws of evidence inside the Australian Capital Territory. In fact this Act which, to all intents and purposes, is being renewed by the Bill which is before the Senate today was introduced only because of the initiative of Senator Murphy. But for Senator Murphy’s action there would have been no law of evidence in the Australian Capital Territory. Senator Greenwood, who has been speaking in such a derogatory manner about the Leader of the Government in the Senate, did not have sufficient wit at the time to handle the matter and if the conduct of the nation’s laws had been left in his hands without the assistance of the Opposition, as it then was, there would have been no law of evidence for the Australian Capital Territory.
However the position was salvaged after a majority of honourable senators rejected the evidence ordinance, not because of the substance of that ordinance necessarily, but because we believed that it ought to be dealt with by an Act of Parliament. But after it had been rejected it was through the initiative of the Opposition that the legislation was passed. The Bil) was passed when it was referred to the House of Representatives from the Senate at a time when the previous Government, now the Opposition, had a majority in that House. Instead of endeavouring to deflect attention from himself and some of his many other misdeeds as Attorney-General, Senator Greenwood should have had the decency to pay a tribute to Senator Murphy and the action of the then Opposition in supplying evidence law for the Australian Capital Territory by introducing a Bill which became an Act and made certain that laws of evidence would apply inside the Australian Capital Territory.
Senator Greenwood has told us that despite the fact that some undertakings were given we still have not introduced a Bill to embody what ought to be provided in respect of evidence law for the Australian Capita] Territory. That is the second time we have heard this claim. Yesterday and this morning we were told that top priority should have been allotted to the Matrimonial Causes Act. Now we are told that top priority in our legislative program as the new Labor Government should have been an evidence Act for the Australian Capital Territory. Is it seriously suggested that the Matrimonial Causes Act and the law relating to evidence in the Australian Capital Territory should have been the first things dealt with by the Government?
If the Opposition is so keen on having legislation brought before the Parliament it should not have wasted the time of the Senate with a nonsensical motion about Wilfred Burchett. It should have endeavoured to ensure that legislation would come through this chamber. The whole plan of the Opposition has been to sabotage Labor’s legislation up to the point where one might ask to see the colour of the Opposition’s money by having a double dissolution, by going back to the people of Australia and asking them what they think. We are proud of the action we took on the evidence ordinance. We believe that it should have been disallowed, because it is a matter for substantive legislation. We intend to introduce substantive legislation to deal with the matter. The purpose of this Bill is to make provision for the continuance of the law of evidence in the Australian Capital Territory. This provision would never have been made had it been left in the hands of the former Attorney-General, Senator Greenwood, and the defunct government of which he was a member.
– I had not intended to speak in this debate and I have no prepared material, but I think a few words must be said to put the record straight following the remarks of Senator Greenwood. I take it that Senator Greenwood was addressing himself to the period in August 1971 when the evidence ordinance came before the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. I was a member of that Committee at that time. The ordinance came before the Committee as a result of the operations of the Evidence Act of New South Wales. We had dissociated ourselves from that legislation and we had no evidence law in the Australian Capital Territory. Evidence law became operative by the gazettal of an ordinance.
The Regulations and Ordinances Committee looked at the matter and decided that such inroads were made into the question of evidence that substantive legislation should be introduced to be debated in the Parliament. It therefore recommended disallowance of the ordinance and the introduction of suitable legislation. When the matter came up for discussion in the Senate the Senate disallowed the ordinance. As Senator Wheeldon has just said, while we did not have a majority in the Senate at that time, a majority in the Senate voted for disallowance of the ordinance. The Parliament decided that it was not a matter to be covered by an ordinance.
In the following week Senator Greenwood, as Attorney-General, found that the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court would not hear criminal cases because there was no operative law of evidence. Senator Greenwood appealed to the Senate to reverse the decision to disallow the ordinance because the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court could not operate and because he was unable under the Acts Interpretation Act to bring in an amending ordinance or to take any other action for a period of 6 months. If we were to wait for an amending ordinance, 6 months would pass before the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court would be prepared to hear criminal cases.
Senator Murphy, as Leader of the Opposition, said on that occasion that the difficulty could be cured immediately. He said that if we did not agree to Senator Greenwood’s appeal to reverse our previous decision, he would introduce a Bill containing the provisions of the disallowed ordinance. That was done. Other reasons were available in support of substantive legislation, one being that the ordinance contained some provisions which are repugnant to the average Australian. They are still operative today. One such provision is that a spouse can be compelled to give evidence as a witness against his marriage partner. That is not generally the case in law. It was one of the provisions of the ordinance and it is one of the provisions of the Bill. Another repugnant provision is the acceptance by courts of computer studies without consideration of whether there is sufficient protection of people who may be convicted or even hanged. A further provision is that in certain circumstances an accused person can be compelled to answer a question that may incriminate him. That is not the position in other law.
– Do you concede that right to the alleged terrorists?
– 1 do concede the right. The terrorists were not convicted on their own evidence. They were convicted on files. Ordinary citizens answering accusations in this country can be asked a question, the answer to which may incriminate them. Thus defendants may convict themselves. This is a part of the legislation which is repugnant to me. As I recall it, in the late hours of the night when Senator Murphy introduced his Bill I expressed the views that I have just stated. I said that having in mind the civil rights of ordinary citizens the Bill should never become an Act of this Parliament.
We were told that the question was going to a legal committee for examination. A restriction up to 12 months was therefore to apply. It is true that the Committee has not done its job or honoured the Senate with a report which should have been furnished. The committee with whom the fault lies had during the whole time of its operation a majority of supporters of the Government of that time. No attempt has been made to obtain expert opinion on what should constitute a proper evidence Act for the Australian Capital Territory. I think Senator Murphy suggested a limitation of 6 months simply because we have not had lime properly to debate acceptable legislation. I see now that an amendment will be moved to remove the date. I am told that there could well be acceptance of the amendment on this side of the Senate based on the comforting knowledge that within 6 months an amending Bill will be introduced to remove the objectionable provisions. I ask those who support the legislation to consider whether sufficient attention has been given to the admission of computer studies as evidence and to the proposal that a spouse should be. compelled to give evidence against the other partner of the marriage.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to move an amendment to clause 3 of the Bill in the term of the amendment that has been circulated. I move:
As I indicated during the course of the second reading debate on this Bill, the purpose of the amendment is to give an indefinite operation to this legislation and not to have its operation restricted only until 30th September 1973. It will then be in the position of any other legislation in that it will have an indefinite operation until it is amended at some stage by an Act of the Parliament. If the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) introduces his legislation in due course for a code of evidence and the Parliament passes it, it will have the effect upon pre-existing legislation which all amendments to the law have. This, to the Opposition, appears to be a more satisfactory course in the light of what the Attorney-General said is to be his intention rather than to have the legislation remain in force for 6 months and then possibly be faced with the position that further legislation needs to be passed for another short period.
-I oppose the amendment for the reasonsI have stated before. The amendment gives an unlimited operation to an Act of the Parliament that has features which are repugnant to all decent sections of the community. Consistent with my previous attitude, I will oppose it. I have some confidence that the present AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy) will act more expeditiously and with more expert knowledge than did the previous Attorney-General. Although it may not do undue harm to the confidence I have in the present AttorneyGeneral that he will remove the undesirable features from this evidence Act - I do not make a big issue of it - I want it recorded in Hansard that at least I am opposed to permitting an amendment which, unless something is done, will enable the Act to remain in force indefinitely.
Amendment agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Willesee) read a third time.
Motion (by Senator Willesee) agreed to:
That the Senate, atits rising, adjourn until Tuesday next at 3 p.m.
Debate resumed from 28 March (vide page 652), on motion by Senator Willesee:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– On behalf of the Opposition, I indicate that we support the Remuneration and Allowances Bill 1973. Without making a lengthy speech, I would like to make a few comments. Firstly, Mr Deputy President,I regret that the President is not in the Senate chamber. If he were, I would have congratulated him because at long last he is receiving more money than the Clerk. This sort of anomaly has been suffered for some time. However, I commiserate with ordinary senators who are still receiving less than the Secretary of the Joint House Department. I think that it would not be a bad arrangement if you passed on to the President a request that a comparison be made of the present salaries of all the senior office bearers of the Parliament and what honourable senators are receiving at this stage.
– But the Secretary of the Joint House Department provides excellent lunches.
– I would not comment on that. Secondly, I think the Government is deserving of congratulation for acceding to what has been said in the Senate for a long time, namely, that there ought to be no discrimination between members and senators with respect to electoral allowances. I know that other people in other places have different views. But some of us - you, Mr Deputy President are one - represent a State in the Senate which is bigger than most of the House of Representatives electorates combined.I think that at least the Senate has achieved some form of justice there.
Also, I am personally pleased to note, as I am certain all honourable senators would be pleased to note, the exchange between the Leader of the Opposition in another place (Mr Snedden) and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in which the Leader of the Opposition said that he understood that in the proposed retirement allowances legislation the
Government intended to remove the Discrimination between the sexes in the Parliament. The Prime Minister agreed that this was the Government’s intention. I am quite certain that both Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield and Senator Guilfoyle will be pleased to note this. My only regret is that Dame Ivy Wedgwood who was a member of the Senate for so long - this was one of her causes for a number of years - is not in the Senate to see this at last achieved. If I were to make some criticism of the other parts of the Bill, I would make the criticism I made to Mr Justice Kerr. As a former member of the Whips’ union, I have always felt fairly strongly about the remuneration of the Whips. If there is one group of people who are terribly underpaid in the Parliament, it is the Whips. Mr Deputy President, although I am not quarrelling with what you receive as Chairman ot Committees, I have never been able to understand why the Whips should be so shockingly paid in comparison with the Chairman of Committees. I think that most of us who have acted as Whips have said - I know that Senator Cotton, who is here, said this and that former Senator Scott, who was the Government Whip before Senator Cotton, said it - that it is the hardest job in the Parliament. You end up bad friends with your leader, you end up bad friends with the troops and you are the buffer in the middle. While it is a fascinating and exhilarating life, it is also a fairly dangerous one. As I say, Whips are terribly underpaid and I would hope that when next the question of parliamentary salaries is considered, Whips are given their proper due. That is only a personal expression.
I refer to one other part of the second reading speech made by Senator Willesee. He said:
The Government believes that machinery should be established for the future regular reviews of parliamentary salaries.
We have no quarrel with that. Then he went on to say:
There have also been suggestions that parliamentary salaries should be tied automatically to some index.
That is a matter for debate. What worries me is the next sentence in which he said:
It is this Government’s view that a tribunal should be established in order to put this whole matter on a regular basis with automatic reviews and in respect of members salaries probably- and I agree it is only probably - having automatic effect.
I think that I ought to say at this stage, without trying to prejudge what might happen, that I and a number of my colleagues on this side of the chamber would have serious reservations about its having automatic effect. We still believe that as people elected to this place to make decisions we ought to take responsibility for our decisions. I just mention that as an indication of a point of view that is very strongly held by many of my colleagues.
I turn to the other provisions in the Bill. We make no comment about the provisions relating to Ministers of State. We believe that the increases in the salaries and allowances of holders of certain judicial offices and Permanent Heads of departments are overdue. I do not think that anybody on our side quarrels with the quantum that is to be paid to the Chief Justice of the High Court and the others in judicial offices or to the Permanent Heads of departments. But possibly I should advert to one thing. I recall that when similar Bills were introduced into this Parliament, I think in 1968, Senator Greenwood and other honourable senators made some comment - I think within the chamber - as to this modern innovation of paying allowances to certain people who do not have the same sort of pressures put upon them as do members of Parliament in respect of electoral allowances. I notice that these allowances will continue to be paid under this Bill. I assume that there is still some justification for them, but I must say that I personally have reservations as to whether they should be paid. But that may also be a matter for discussion later.
The Opposition will look forward with interest to see what comes from possible future legislation in respect of retiring allowances. With those remarks I indicate that the Opposition will not oppose the second reading of the Bill.
– I want to take a few minutes to make some remarks on this Bill. Firstly, we in the Australian Country Party believe it is necessary that the salaries and allowances paid to parliamentarians and to the other people mentioned in the Bill should be reviewed. As has already been pointed out in the second reading speech, there has not been a review since 1968. Because of adjustments in the cost of living since that time and because of the increased responsibilities that have been placed on members of the national Parliament, I believe that the increased salaries and allowances should be paid to enable every member of the national Parliament to carry out his responsibilities in an efficient and proper manner.
We in the Country Party raise some queries regarding this Bill. Firstly, as a group of people who represent country areas we have always believed in the principle that people who live in country areas throughout the length and breadth of Australia have rights in this national Parliament equal to those of their city cousins. We, as a Party which essentially represents people in country areas, believe that we should have rights equal to those of other members of this Parliament.
– The one vote one value principle.
– What I am saying is that we should be given status in this national Parliament equal to that of members of other parties. Over the years the Country Party has had a strength of approximately 20 members in the House of Representatives and from 5 to 7 members in the Senate. When in government we have played an important part in carrying out government responsibilities. Since 5th December last we have joined the Opposition parties, and I believe that in both Houses of the Parliament we have played an important part in Opposition.
I believe that as the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) has behind him 20 members in the House of Representatives and 5 members in the Senate, he is entitled to a status in this Parliament. Because of the responsibility borne by him and by his party, I believe that his status should be at least equivalent to that of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place, Mr Lynch. I am not just saying something in order to try to lift the status of the Leader of the Country Party in the situation which is presently developing. This man, until recently, as the Leader of the Australian Country Party was the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
But if that is not sufficient let me refer back to 1947 when the Labor Government was in office. At that time a Bill for an Act to amend the Parliamentary Allowances Act was introduced by the Labor Government. Clause 2 (1.) of that Bill stated:
After section seven of the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1920-1938, as amended by the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1947, the following section is inserted: 7a. In addition to any other allowance payable under this Act, an allowance at the rate of Four hundred pounds a year shall be payable to the Leader in the House of Representatives (not being the Leader of the Opposition) of a recognized political party not less than ten members of which are members of the House of Representatives and of which no member is a Minister of State.
So even then the Labor Government provided for the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the other place. It is interesting to note that at that time an allowance of £400, equivalent to $800 today, was paid to the Leader of the Australian Country Party and an allowance of £600, which is $1,200 today, was paid to the Leader of the Opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition at that time received no allowance. Therefore, the status was established then. All we say is that the status of the Leader of the Country Party should be equal to the status of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place.
We are not saying that the Leader of the Country Party should receive more than the Deputy Leader of the Opposition receives. We are not saying that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition should get no allowance. We are saying that the status of the Leader of the Country Party should be raised to the status of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place. To maintain the status. I move:
At end of motion add - but the Senate is of the opinion that the salary and allowances of the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the House of Representatives should be identical with those of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– I second the amendment.
– I have endeavoured to show the Senate what happened in 1947. I turn now to what happened when this Government came into office after the resignation of the former Prime Minister on 5th December last.
– That is when the dictatorship came in.
– That is so. At that time a question about the status of the Leader of the Country Party was raised. The Leader took the opportunity of writing to the Prime Minister asking where he stood on this matter. On Sth February the Prime Minister replied to the Leader of the Country Party. The Prime Minister replied:
I am writing about the salaries and allowances of office holders under the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952-1970.
As from 5th December when your Government resigned, your position became that of the leader of the third party in the House of Representatives and under the Parliamentary Allowances Act 1952-1970 you are entitled, in addition to your salary and allowance as a member of Parliament, to a salary of $2,500 per annum and an allowance of $750 per annum. In the expectation, however, that the Act will be amended to take account of changed circumstances, I have authorised the same payments to you as to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition - an additional salary of $5,000 per annum and allowance of $1,500 - as from 5th December.
The Prime Minister gave to the Leader of the Country Party the same status that was given to the Leader of the Country Party in 1947. Under this Bill the the additional salary of Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the other place rises from $5,000 per annum to $7,500 per annum. The additional salary of the Leader of the Country Party remains at the $5,000 that the Prime Minister gave him on 5th December - a very generous gesture and a great recognition of the status of a leader of a Party in the Parliament. All we are asking for is that due recognition be given to the Leader of the Country Party. I suggest that the Senate join with me in expressing this opinion. That is all that I am asking the Senate to do.
– Are the Liberals with you?
– We will see. I want to see whether the Labor Party is with me.
– We are not.
– Of course they would not be with you.
– Of course they would not. I have never known the Labor Party to do anything that was fair and just. Earlier it was said by way of interjection that if I want equal status I should ask the Government to take some of the. extra salary off the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and give it to the Leader of the Country Party. Is that justice? Is that the sort of justice for which the Labor Party stands? If one union goes to the arbitration court and gets an increase in wages, is it suggested that other unions should say that they will take some of that extra and give, it to the other workers who did not get the increase? I do not think so.
– ‘Will you be supporting the Bill?
– We will be supporting the Bill, but we hope that justice will be done in this place.
– I have been deputed to speak on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labor Party. We will support the Bill. There has been no increase in parliamentary salaries since 1968. We believe that the relativity with that section of the Public Service with which we were equated previously has been lost entirely and that what is being done by the present Government is entirely justified. I want to be fair and say that the action which the Government is taking is being taken with much more efficiency than the action which was attempted by the previous administration. On the point which has been raised by Senator Drake-Brockman, our Party is of the opinion that there is every reason for an examination of the relativity between third parties. We believe that there should be such an examination. Because we believe that, although the amendment does not cover the whole question of relativity in which we are interested - it is at least a token of the belief of a number of senators that there should be an examination of such relativity - we will support the Bill, but we will vote for the amendment moved by Senator Drake-Brockman
– My views on parliamentary salaries and allowances were made quite forcefully last year. The reasons for my views are quite simple. Firstly, when we offered ourselves for election or re-election each of us knew the conditions of service. Presumably we were willing to accept them. I feel that we should abide by those conditions until the people agree to any increase. I feel that no parliament should propose changes in salaries or allowances during its own period of office. Any rises should apply only to the next parliament so that the people will have a chance to say whether they think the increases are warranted. Secondly, last year when salary increases were being considered, the timing was most inappropriate. Cases were before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission which could have been influenced by our action in Parliament. There were definite signs of inflation and pensioners had been given a miserly increment in the previous Budget.
The total amount involved in parliamentary increases is not great when compared with the total cost of government but that is not the point. The psychological effect on the nation of an increase in parliamentary salaries last year would have been much more important. I was pleased to see the Government decide against an increase at such a time. In effect the Government did the right thing in postponing consideration of this matter until now. To have clamoured for an increase last year would have set the wrong example for a nation which was faced with inflation and many other troubles. Some of those problems are still with us and I feel that such a huge rise now will be wrong. Compared with the situation in some other countries, our salaries are not high but let us not forget that compared with some other countries our social service payments also are not high. In my view we should first see to it that pensioners and superannuants have their lives made a lot easier before we talk about salary increases. Any increases should apply only after the next election. I am pleased to see that legislation will be introduced to remove the review of our wages from the Parliament. I hope that this is done soon. I have committed myself to the people of Tasmania on this matter and will keep my word by declaring my opposition to this Bill.
– I wish to speak on some aspects of this Bill. When the matter of salary increases was before the Parliament in December 1971 I remind honourable senators that we were considering it in the context of intense restraint which was being urged by the Government in regard to increases of wages throughout the country. I then held the view that there should be no increase whatever in the emoluments of ministers or members. In the context of today, that is a different proposition altogether. There has been such a deluge of public money throughout the country since August last year that it is scarcely possible to keep abreast of the increases that are going on daily in the scales of remuneration in the various sections of the work force.
Today the increase for members and senators from $9,500 to $14,500 is in my opinion an appropriate increase. The increase in elec torate allowance from $2,750 to $4,100 ais* is justified if it is applied for expenditure as an electorate allowance. I say that despite the fact that the percentage of increase of members’ and senators’ remuneration is high - something over 50 per cent. When spread over the period since the last determination that increase represents something of the order of 11 per cent per annum. But when I come to the increases for Ministers of State I have an entirely different view. My view is based upon this fact: The total remuneration for members and senators comes to $18,600 but when I come to the remuneration of Ministers of State I find that they wish us to vote them $34,075.
– And the Leader of the Opposition.
– Let that be. I had not noticed that but I concede it. I hold an opinion that a percentage increase for high office holders is not appropriate in the same terms as a percentage increase for a wage earner on the lower scale. For instance, consider the average remuneration of a Minister of State today at the rate of $25,000. If you apply a 20 per cent increase to it you get a total of $30,000. But if you apply a 20 per cent increase to a rate of $5,000 for a wage earner you get an increase of $1,000. It is entirely incongruous to me that some people - these exalted successors of Louis XIV - although in superior positions and having greater responsibility, but having to live in the same economic circumstances as the wage earner on $5,000, should come in for a serve of $5,000. The increase is not in any way justified on a basis of the same percentage as the lower scales. The automatic acceptance of a percentage increase applicable to a salary of $25,000 in the same degree as a salary of $5,000 has been one of the very potent inflationary factors in the country and one which, in my opinion, established a position of privilege so far removed from equality of opportunity as to be of quite disproportionate dimensions from the responsibility carried. But in this particular case it is absolutely deserving of censure because on the last occasion when proposals were made for increases in salaries of Ministers in December 1971, it was on that basis that the Labor Opposition opposed the whole increase. I agreed with the Labor Party then and I still hold the opinion that no increase was proper at that time. But in addition to an increase, as members of Parliament, from $9,500 to $14,500, and an increase in allowance from $2,750 to $4,100, Ministers of State are asking for an additional increase of $2,750, making their total remuneration and allowances $34,075. To my way of thinking, that, as representative of the section of the people they purport to represent, is absolutely obnoxious to all proper principle.
I deprecate the step taken by the Labor Government towards involvement of judges in political skirmishes. I refer to the inclusion in the one Bill of judicial salaries so that whatever is said in the context of political or parliamentary salaries is discussed on the same basis as judicial salaries. This country depends upon the maintenance of the judiciary as a separate arm of the constitutional government of the country in a very special sense. The more we involve judges in political controversy the more we are contributing to the lessening appreciation of the independence which has to be maintained in relation to the judiciary.
– Does the honourable senator believe in paying high salaries to keep them honest?
– No, I do not subscribe to that either but it is often advanced. If they cannot be honest by natural reaction they have no right to be there.
– Perhaps Senator Gair will give me the courtesy of allowing me to develop my argument step by step. I was about to illustrate the use made in December 1971 of Mr Justice Kerr, as he then was, as a figure to be accepted by all Australia as being of complete independence and judicial quality. He was to recommend to this Parliament - to the Ministry and its members - appropriate increases of salary. I totally disapproved the methods which he adopted as being completely contrary to judicial methods. I made my disapproval clear in the relevant quarters and before him. My illustration now is that if we are to have judges who are to be called upon as being completely independent, then at least we should accord their salary fixation an independent expression in a separate statute.
I come now to the increase which is being voted for the judges. I shall take only as an illustration - it has no particular significance as persona designate - a judge of the Supreme Court of fee Australian Capital Territory. To 1969 his remuneration was $17,000. Then it was increased to $22,000. By this BUI it is being advanced to $29,250. To me that rate, of increase even for such a high office and an office of great independence is altogether incommensurate with the circumstances to which I referred when protesting against the application of percentage increases to the high and low salary levels. The next matter to which I refer is something which is not being determined by the Bill.
– Could I clear up one point in relation to the judges salaries? I was following the honourable senator. Is he saying that the rate is too high or too low?
– I think that the rate of increase is too high. It is out of proportion to the proper relativity to salaries in the lower scales. When we talk about his take-home pay I expect that we are talking about the pay when reduced by taxation. If we are to apply the incidence of the higher rates of taxation to the higher levels of remuneration when we fix salaries, then we are defeating and subverting the progressive scale of taxation in the Income Tax Act which has been accepted by both parties for, I should think, more than 50 years. I was about to refer to something which is not being determined in this Bill but which has been adverted to in the second reading speech. I refer to the tribunal. The one thing that was good about the proposal for salary increases in December 1971 was the constitution of a tribunal, a permanently constituted tribunal.
– But the honourable senator refused the recommendation.
– ‘Just excuse me. I will be permitted, even by Senator Cant I hope, to develop my brief submission in my own way. I am saying that a permanently constituted tribunal is much to be desired. An ad hoc tribunal is anathema. A tribunal which is set up has a function. -In my view its function is to recommend but not, as indicated in this Bill, to fix. We have protested against authorities or tribunals other than the Parliament having the right to fix the dominant salaries in the Commonwealth Public Service, whether they be for heads of departments or officers in statutory authorities. It would be a sad focus on the proper hierarchy of responsibility if, having insisted upon and achieving that authority, we renounced that authority in the case of salaries for Ministers and members of
Parliament. But having set up a tribunal I hope it will be made clear that the Parliament, unless it makes a specific alteration to the Act, will not propose increases higher than those recommended by the tribunal. Therefore we will have a tribunal which operates as an adviser to Parliament, a tribunal which will operate in restraint of the Parliament in case there is any element of self interest, and a tribunal which is established on the basis of permanent independence.
The other matter to which I wish to advert comes by specific reference to proposed section 11a of the Bill before us. I hasten to say how warmly I approve a provision in the Bill which prescribes by regulation the allowances there mentioned, namely travelling expenses and expenses in respect of Canberra. In Committee I shall propose an amendment and invite the Senate to carry the idea that it should toe by regulation that these matters are fixed to cover not only those expenses but also the remuneration which is paid to honourable members and honourable senators as members of committees. I make it clear that it is proposed that members of committees sitting in Canberra on days on which Parliament is sitting should receive no additional allowance. I make it clear also that we are going through the form of passing legislation in this Act of Parliament which gives the impression that this expresses the total content of salaries and allowances payable to members for parliamentary work. The third proposition which should be included in proposed section 11a is that no allowances shall be paid to honourable members or honourable senators other than those expressed in this Act or which appear in the regulations authorised by the Act.
– I shall say a few words on this matter because on the last occasion a salary increase was proposed in this place I, by letter - I was recovering from an accident at the time - opposed any increase in the hope that the Federal Parliament would set an example to the people of Australia. At that time large increases in salaries and wages were being granted throughout Australia. I felt that the Federal Government should set an example. How wrong I was, because even though all of the members of the Parliament did not take the increases to which they were really entitled, in the hope that the people of Australia might recognise the fact that we were trying to set an example, claims for higher wages still were lodged. I feel that the people of Australia are making it very hard for themselves by continually seeking increases. The people of Australia should know that although the salary increases proposed for members of Parliament by the Bill before the Senate may appear to be terrific on paper, in fact they will be infinitesimal because they will automatically put us onto a higher tax scale.
– We will get it back in probate.
– Of course, the tax that we pay will go back to the Government. I sincerely trust, Senator Cavanagh, that it will not go back to the Government in probate; I sincerely trust that it will not be long before probate duty is no longer payable. However I feel that the people of Australia should be made to realise that although this increase of $5,000 being awarded to back bench members of Parliament appears to be a terrific increase, after we pay income tax the increase is not so big, so they need not be quite so worried that we are receiving a large increase in salary.
I support the proposed increase. I sincerely trust that people will take note of the fact that we are accepting it a little reluctantly at this stage, although it is well overdue. Candidly, I was of the opinion - I am still of the opinion - that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Ministers under him should not receive an increase in salary. Perhaps the only members of the Parliament who should receive an increase are the backbenchers. I personally did not care whether or not I received the increase. I am being quite honest about that. I, like Senator Townley, was quite satisfied to continue with the salary on which I appointed to the Parliament. However, I sincerely hope that the claims for increased wages and salaries throughout Australia will come to a dead stop because it is time we realised that we are only spoiling it for ourselves.
– I want to say a few words on this matter. First of all, I feel that the speed with which this Bill is being passed will develop in the minds of the public the idea that we are able to put through measures dealing with our salaries, allowances and so on at a remarkable speed. This Bill was passed through the House of Representatives yesterday and it is before the
Senate today. In my experience in the Senate I have not seen anything quite like the speed with which this Bill is being galloped through the Senate. I feel that we should have been given more time to have a look at this measure in order to think about it. I would like to remark on a couple of aspects of the Bill. Senator Wright has dealt with it very fully. He suggested that an outside body should fix the salaries and allowances of this Parliament, which means that they would be arrived at decisively. I quite agree with his proposition. Parliament, having fought in relation to the right of certain members of the Public Service to fix their salaries, should always retain within itself certain powers in relation to its own affairs.
The other matter I wish to raise concerns committee fees. I take the view that when we attend a committee hearing here in Canberra we should not receive a committee fee. We receive $22 a day as Canberra allowance. We are paid a salary and an electorate allowance for the whole of the year. Therefore I cannot see why we should receive an extra committee fee when we attend a committee hearing in Canberra. I think it is wrong. While we are in Canberra our salary and allowances should cover not only our parliamentary work but also our committee work. Therefore I think it is overspreading the jam if we receive a committee fee on top of the salary, electorate allowance and Canberra allowance.
I have served on the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances for 23 years. Until the present time the members of that Committee have not received a committee allowance. As evidenced by the commendation given a few days ago by the Senate, I believe, very sincerely and very warmly the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has done a remarkably good job in an honorary capacity. The senators who were members of the Committee worked in the interests of this Parliament and this country. I want to make clear that I am concerned about those 2 aspects of the Bill.
– I wish to declare the attitude of the Opposition to the amendment. First of all, I take the point that I do not think one House of the Parliament should attempt to determine what should be the operation of the other House. While I am prepared to concede that the Senate ought to have an opinion as to the status of the Leader of the Australian Country Party, and a considered view as to the status of the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party, and a considered view as to the somewhat presumptuous of the Senate to express an opinion as to what ought to be the status of any person in another place. I think we ought to bear this in mind because we in this place have always been pretty jealous of the rights of the Senate. Many of us would take fairly great exception to the House of Representatives passing a resolution which has the effect of determining something which ought to happen in this chamber. I do not wish to get involved in the argument as to whether or not the Leader of the Country Party and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives should receive the same salary. This is peculiarly a matter for the House of Representatives to determine.
– We are part of the Parliament.
– I know, but if we are to talk about one person let us talk about the lot. I think there is some attraction in what Senator McManus said, that perhaps this whole position ought to be considered right through the Parliament. When one looks at the Bill one would think that only the leader of the second opposition party in the other place was treated differently from anybody else. I do not wish to intrude myself personally into this argument. The Bill provides that the 2 presiding officers should be paid the same amount, and so they should be. The Bill provides that the Chairman of Committees in both Houses should be paid the same amount and so they ought to be. The Clerks in the 2 Houses are paid the same amount and so they ought to be. But the Leaders of the Opposition in both places are not paid the same amount; nor are the Deputy Leaders of the Opposition in both places paid the same amount; nor are the Leaders of the second Opposition parties in both places to be paid the same amount. All I am saying is that this Bill has a large number of anomalies. Why, for instance, should the Government Whip in one place receive more than the Government Whip in the other place? Why should not the Whips receive the same salary?
– Hear, hear!
– And that goes for third opposition party Whips too. I do not run away from that sort of proposition, but I do not feel that we should pick out one anomaly or what could be regarded as an anomaly and say: ‘While we are here this evening let us redraft the whole Bill’. If honourable senators would like some expression of opinion to be arrived at that there is a mass of anomalies in this Bill there may be some point in doing that. But if a tribunal is coming - I imagine a tribunal is to come - to have automatic reviews of this proposition the question of whether that tribunal, as finally set up by this place, has the right to set an automatic entitlement or whether it will have the power only to make a recommendation will have to be determined. All of those questions ought to go before the tribunal. The point of view of the Opposition, as expressed in another place by Mr Snedden yesterday, is that it should accept the Bill as brought in. That is the Opposition’s attitude from start to finish.
– in reply - Firstly, I thank the Senate for the understanding it has shown of the whole situation that has brought about the introduction of this legislation. I now think it is generally understood, although at the beginning of the debate I did not think that some honourable senators did understand the whole situation. When the present Government came into office it was faced with a situation, as honourable senators well know, in which not only had members of Parliament had salary increases held up for a long time but also increases for statutory officers and departmental head’s had been held up since 1971. In some cases departmental heads were receiving less than the assistant head. I do not intend to apportion blame to anyone in this respect. All I intend to do is say that that was the situation confronting the Government.
Before the Parliament met the Cabinet appointed a committee to look into the matter and I, for my sins, was made the chairman of it. I have paid in full. I was not given an easy job. It would have been hard enough just having to make a decision on the salaries of Ministers and members of Parliament; but the committee was given a much harder job than that. It had to take into account for example the reorganisation of departments that has taken place. The point I want to put forward - Senator Withers brought this out in his concluding remarks - is that the committee was not asked to conduct an inquiry; it was asked to right a particular situation. A time element was involved. That was because it was felt that the people involved should not be denied an increase any longer. Right at the beginning of the task the committee had to perform it became apparent that it would be necessary to establish some sort of tribunal.
The points that Senator Withers raised in this, respect will have to be decided. But even if it were decided, for instance, to fix these salaries to the salaries paid elsewhere in the community and thereby remove for all time the problem of parliamentarians having to make up their own minds, on their own salaries, it would still be necessary to have some sort of tribunal to consider the very things that Senator Withers has mentioned, the things Senator Drake-Brockman raised, and things that by way of interjection Senator McManus raised. AH of these propositions - without saying whether any one of them is right or wrong - would have to be considered at some stage by some sort of tribunal. Different situations are going to arise from time to time as there are changes of government, changes of parties, the creation of new parties and the amalgamation of old parties. It will be in the hands of the Parliament as to whether an outside tribunal - which I favour - is set up.
In the early stages of the debate I did not think that Senator Withers had fully grasped the situation, but it was obvious when he made his second contribution to the debate that he had done so. The points he made will have to be looked at by the committee. One thing which has to be remembered in the field of wage fixation is that no matter what evidence is put forward, what amount of work is done and what research is conducted the final decision must be a matter of opinion. Two people with similar backgrounds could look at the same evidence and come up with 2 different sets of figures. What we did on this occasion, after taking the Kerr report as a base for many things, was to come up with a figure which we believed took into account everything - the decision by Mr Justice Kerr, the cost of living, the relativity of these salaries to those of other people - and above all was a fair amount to pay to members of Parliament for the work that they are expected to do and which will encourage desirable types to fill our shoes as one by one we go out of this Parliament.
– ‘How much did it cost the Government to get Kerr’s opinion?
– I do not know. It was a matter involving the previous Government.
– I think we should know.
– That is one thing I did not have to inquire into. I point out to honourable senators that tribunals are already accepted in 3 States - Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. In those States outside tribunals look at this question at regular intervals and fix the amounts of remuneration of State parliamentarians. In Queensland there is a system under which these salaries are automatically related to some sort of index. There again this question is not handled by the members of Parliament themselves. Senator Wright agrees with the setting up of a tribunal but contends that, finally, Parliament should decide what the amount should be. Debates come up every 4 or 5 years as to what the system ought to be. It is all very well to say that members of the Parliament who make laws conscripting people, who send them to war, who increase their taxes and who- interfere with their lives every day of the year if they feel so inclined, should be the people to say: ‘This is the amount of money that ought to be fixed’. That is a very high and noble sentiment. The fact of the matter is that such a system has failed more times than it has succeeded. Last year and 1971 epitomised that trend far more than I can say.
-Brookman has been the advocate for his Party in another place. He went through the details of what has happened and told us about things about which we know so well. What Mr Whitlam was called on to do was to make an interim decision. He need not have made a decision at all. He could have left the situation where certain people would have been receiving about half the amount that he fixed. Mr Whitlam made interim decisions on that. He also made interim decisions on the question of the salary payable to Senator Drake-Brock man and that payable to the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party (Senator Gair). He made interim decisions on the question of ministerial salaries. We acted as we did with respect to ministerial salaries because we have one Cabinet and not a Cabinet and a ministry, as the previous Government had. It is just a question of what the Government in office decides to do. We averaged out the payments. So an interim decision had to be made as to what should be the average, who should receive certain amounts and so on. That was done.
Senator Drake-Brockman talked about the Australian Labor Party not being fair and just. For one moment I thought he was going to vote against the whole Bill. I say that because if the Bill is not fair and just I would not expect anybody to vote for it I am sure nobody would. But I must have misunderstood Senator Drake-Brockman because towards the end of his speech he said that he would certainly vote for the Bill. The situation in relation to the question raised by Senator Drake-Brockman is that the Kerr report gave a substantial increase in remuneration to the leader of the third party. The salary rose from $2,500 to $4,800; the allowance from $750 to $1,400; and the travelling allowance from nothing to $28 a day. But in all those cases Mr Justice Kerr kept the amounts substantially below the amounts to be paid to the Deputy Leader of the. Opposition, whose salary was determined at $7,500, whose allowances were determined at $1,800 and whose travelling allowance was determined $33 a day. So Mr Justice Kerr did not put forward the same argument as Senator Drake-Brockman. The Government has done better than Mr Justice Kerr recommended.
– There was no second Opposition party in the House of Representatives at that time.
– No. But it is my understanding that Mr Justice Kerr allowed for such a situation. The situation now is that the Leader of the Australian Country Party is to get an additional salary of $5,000, allowances of $1,500 and a travelling allowance of $36 a day. Honourable senators may have noticed that we have averaged out in the Bill all the travelling allowances. I could never see why 2 people who travelled somewhere together, who lived in the same hotel and who paid the same expenses should get different allowances. I am sure that had a senior Minister and a junior Minister of the previous Government gone to some place to attend a conference they would not have stayed at different hotels; the junior would not have walked about to find cheaper accommodation. I could never see the justice of that difference and I am glad to see it eliminated. I point out that the fact that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will receive a special allowance of $4,250 compared with $1,800 is not significant, because the $4,250 special allowance - this is one aspect which I hope a tribunal will look at in the future - is not very different from the allowance of $1,800 plus $22 a day. This cannot be evaluated because one does not know how many days the member will spend in Canberra, but when it is worked out as an average there is very little difference. It is Tweedledum and Tweedledee in my book.
– Do you say that Ministers are not paid the daily allowance while in Canberra?
– That is so. Nor would Mr Lynch be paid this allowance because the special allowance covers both the ministerial allowance and the Canberra allowance. I point this out to show that Mr Lynch will receive the $4,250 special allowance but that Mr Anthony will not, yet in the final washup it will not mean anything. I will not delay the chamber on this matter since Senator Withers has said he will not support it. The Government, having worked so long on this Bill, obviously does not wish to see any amendments to it. Should any honourable senator be worried about any aspect of this Bill I repeat that there will be a tribunal of some kind which will look at it.
I repeat also that this was not an inquiry. Mr Justice Kerr worked on it for about 10 weeks and still came up looking for an inquiry at the end of it. My committee did not have anywhere near that time. What the committee did was to take basically the Kerr report, because after all that was the result of an inquiry, and in certain cases we updated the amounts for members but in the case of Ministers we did not accept those increases. Instead we applied a formula whereby - I shall reply in a moment to Senator Wright - there was virtually no increase.
The burden of Senator Townley’s speech was that no member should accept an increase in salary during the currency of his term but should wait until he goes again before the people. Senator Townley is at liberty to do that, as is any other member. But if we did that we would be ensuring that there would be examinations of salaries every 6 years.
– Are you saying that a member does not have to accept the increase?
– Yes. I will come to that point in a moment. Every member is master of his own destiny in this. To look at the situation from an arbitral position for a start, there would be an examination every 6 years or, for members of the House of Representatives, every 3 years. When Senator Townley accepted the payment which was prescribed by law when he stood for election, surely he was enough of a man of the world to know that it could be altered at some time, as it has been altered from time to time since federation. He talked about last year, but we are not debating last year. There are 2 ways in which members of Parliament can deal with this matter of payment. Any member who does not want this increase can make a public statement to that effect and arrange for the increase to be paid to any charity that he likes to name. That would make clear that he was not engaging in a shandygaff arrangement but was following his principle completely through. However, I would draw to the attention of Senator Townley and to any other honourable senator - I must be fair, Senator Townley is the only one who has raised this point - that section 13 of the Act prescribes:
All moneys payable under this Act not claimed within 3 months after becoming due shall revert to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
So if any honourable senator makes arrangements with the accountant about this payment, he has just 3 months to make up his mind because after that period the payment will go into that bottomless pit called the Consolidated Revenue Fund. I want it to be perfectly clear that any honourable senator - Senator Townley or anyone else - who has any doubts about this has a clear way out. He can enter a disclaimer with the accountant and that situation will obtain. If he does not like that, he can do it the other way, that is, give his increase to charity. If we were to follow Senator Townley’s suggestion and wait until 1975, the year of the next election, this would mean that these increases not only would not be fixed today but that there would be n gap between 1968 and 1975 before salaries were again examined.
Senator Wright criticised the increases in the ministerial allowances. Under the old Bill, had it been passed, and accepting Mr Justice Kerr’s report, senior Ministers would have received $13,300 and junior Ministers $9,500.
The Government has not accepted the Kerr report on either payment but has fixed the allowance of 510,500 as applied to a senior Minister of the McMahon Government. I could not follow Senator Wright’s criticism because had the Bill gone through, senior Ministers would have received $13,300 a year. We are not accepting that because one of the criticisms of our Party was that the gap between Minister and private member was becoming too great. This will reduce that gap. Honourable senators opposite might think that we are silly in the head or crazy, but this is the Bill and that is the reasoning behind it. We are not adopting the Kerr report because we do not have differentiation of Ministers. All Ministers are Cabinet Ministers. We have only a Cabinet, not a Ministry, and the allowance is fixed on the old rate which was fixed in 1968 and which will continue until the next inquiry is held.
Senator Wright has said that the Labor Party disagreed with the 1971 situation. The fact is that in 1971 the Bills were never proceeded with in the House of Representatives and, therefore, we never had a chance to cast a vote on them, to move amendments to them or to do anything about them. The then Government withdrew them at that stage. Senator Wright has said also that the judiciary should not be covered by this section. He argued that members of the judiciary are separate people and ought not be caught up in the controversy which may arise out of such a Bill as this. I see his point. However, my belief is that the more sections of wage fixation which can be brought under the one umbrella, the better it is for the whole of wage fixation throughout Australia. We have grown up with the system of so many wage fixation tribunals in Australia, and it is easy, therefore, to play one off against the other. I have an idea, which perhaps I shall not get away with, that the fixation of members’ salaries should be made by a tribunal which is also fixing other persons’ salaries. I know there is argument against that idea but it is consistent with my view that the more wage fixations that can be brought under the one umbrella, the better it will be all round.
I have some sympathy with the proposed amendments that Senator Wright intends to raise. However, <f we debate this today I see difficulties in having it passed today. I think it ought »o be looked at because we are not only importing into it the question of having everything done under regulation - we have done that and we have consistently argued that there should be some checks on these things through the Parliament - we would also be trying to make alterations to the situation today. This is something that the proposed tribunal could well look at. Senator Wright also raised the question of sitting fees for committee members on sitting days and things such as that. That too ought to be looked at in due course by some tribunal whether it be the one that he might lean to or the one I lean to.
Senator Wood commented that we are rushing this Bill through. Honourable members may have noticed that when I stood to reply I gave ample opportunity for others to speak. Counting my 2 speeches and Senator Withers’ 2 speeches, 10 speeches have been made on this Bill.
Some honourable senators have flagged difficulties that they foresee but, as I understood them, they have accepted the difficulties facing the Government and that at least some of them have been ironed out. I have never heard of anybody from either the employers’ or the employees’ side walking away completely happy from an arbitration tribunal. Opinions are involved and opinions must differ. The committee which I chaired faced a very difficult situation. We ran into tremendous problems, one of which was met in trying to keep the salaries of Ministers down. The moment that that is done, relativity problems arise and a pincer movement develops along the line. I thank the Senate for the way in which the measure has been received. I appreciate the comments and the flagging of difficulties that might arise in the future. Thank you for the reception of the ‘Bill.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Drake-Brockman’s amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– I wish to be heard on clause 5 which introduces a new section 11a. into the Act. I move that these words be added to the clause: and in respect of allowances for Committees of the Houses of Parliament.
Thus, the new section 11a. would read:
The Governor-General may make regulations providing for the payment to persons referred to in this Act (not being persons who are Ministers of State) of allowances in respect of travelling expenses and in respect of expenses of living in Canberra and in respect of allowances for Committees of the Houses of Parliament.
– Have copies of the amendment been circulated?
– I have only a limited number of copies.
– When the McAuliffe circus has died down and the roar can no longer be heard, I will continue. The honourable senator should realise that his Government trundled this Bill into the Senate at 10.20 p.m. last night. It was mid-day today before consideration, discussion and framing of the amendment was completed. I have delivered an amendment containing 12 words. I sympathise with the protests coming from honourable senators opposite who are impotent to understand my proposition. I pause to express pathos with such vehemence of protest. Having given to the honourable senator’s leader the typed copies of the amendment that I have been able to prepare, I repeat that the words that I wish the Senate to add to proposed new Clause11 A. of the Bill are: and in respect of allowances for Committees of the Houses of Parliament.
That would mean that allowances paid in respect of travelling expenses and expenses of living in Canberra and allowances in respect of committee work would necessarily be the subject of regulation instead of, as is the position at the present time, an ad hoc decision by the Government or by ministers. For a long time in the Senate we have had difficulty in getting from the government of the day an appropriation of money to finance the servicing of committees. Even today, one of the important items in the Appropriation Bill is always the amount for the servicing of committees. But this amendment does not deal with that. This amendment deals with the expenditure of any appropriation that is provided by Parliament for the committees. Such an anomaly exists in relation to these matters that I submit that such appropriations ought to be made by regulation. Then we would not have Senator Gair complaining that members of the Library Committee have never drawn remuneration or Senator Wood claiming that members of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee have never drawn a remuneration. There would not be a differential in the daily allowances as between committees of the Senate and committees of the House of Representatives. We would have regulations, reviewable by Parliament, to provide for both the sitting expenses and travelling expenses.
If I could have the attention of the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee), to this aspect of the matter, I would suggest that at the present time the clause that provides allowances for travelling expenses already requires regulations to prescribe the travelling expenses of members of the Parliament as committee members. So as committee members, the Clause already includes that part of the allowances to committees which comes under the heading of travelling expenses. As we know, committees are remunerated under 2 heads: Firstly, travelling expenses; and secondly, sitting fees. The purpose of this amendment is simply to include under the regulation power the prescription of sitting fees. It does not prevent the Government from making a differential with regard to committees. But it does require that the sitting fees that are allowed for committees should be reviewable by Parliament. I commend that simple amendment to the Committee.
– Firstly, this Salaries and Remuneration Bill represents a breakthrough in giving the Parliament some sort of knowledge and control over what we are to do in the case of travelling expenses and in respect of living in Canberra. They are the 2 things that are associated with the members’ salaries and that is why they are connected. Senator Wright seeks to move beyond that and go into the question of sitting fees for committees. The moment we deal with sitting fees, we draw into the matter such committees as the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works which have matters pertaining to this in their respective Acts. Without time and without somebody sitting at my elbow to see where all this will finish, I would suggest to the Committee of the Whole that the Bill be allowed to pass like this. When this Bill is passed and the tribunal established, all these things can be looked at in the maturity of time.
Incidentally, it is my view that this ‘tribunal will be set up possibly in the next session of the Parliament, and certainly this year. It would be my view that it ought to sit about 2 years after the inquiry by Mr Justice Kerr. The previous Government decided to have a review. One of the problems then was that 3- yearly intervals would be too long. That would be my view and I would work towards that end. So I anticipate that taking such action is not merely brushing aside these things that Senator McManus and others have mentioned during the debate. It is done in order to get the matter on a regular basis, and finally wash my hands of it altogether. I would suggest this course to the Committee. I see Senator Wright’s point. I suggest to him that he is enlarging it away from travelling expenses. We have 2 forms of travelling expenses - travelling expenses coming to Canberra and the expense called the Canberra allowance, for want of more suitable words. Probably, he is moving into an area covered by other Acts. I suggest that the Bill be passed and in the fullness of time these sorts of things can be looked at.
– As I indicated during my second reading speech the view of the Opposition is that the Bill be passed as introduced. That is not to say that the proposition of Senator Wright has not a lot of attraction. I think that Senator Wright is quite correct when he says that these things ought to be brought to the light of day. I do not know what is the current issue. I do not suppose it is a breach of security to talk about the position. A booklet, I think entitled Rights and Privileges of Members of Parliament’ was circulated to honourable senators last year. It was even marked ‘Restricted’, as if for some reason the fact that members of Parliament are entitled to use a Federal Members’ authority for trunk calls or use travel warrants, even with the restrictions placed on writing one’s own, should somehow be swept under the carpet and kept from the public and the electorate? Therefore, in theory, I agree with Senator Wright that everything to which a member of Parliament is entitled ought to be set down in regulatory form and subject to disallowance by the Parliament if need be.
But with due respect to my colleague, Senator Wright, for whom I have great affection and enormous fear, I think he is doing basically what Senator Drake-Brockman was doing. He is attempting to take the Bill out of what might be called the total harmony or the melody which it will play, and one can take his own guess as to the melody it will play. 1 think there is a general desire that this matter ought to be concluded today, and it would take us a great deal of time to go into the sort of proposition that Senator Wright is canvassing. As I understand Senator Willesee, when the Bill setting up this tribunal comes before the Senate no doubt it will include - if it does not, it ought to and it might have to - provision for these matters to be referred to it. I hope that there would be some enactment saying that everything to which a member in this place is entitled is to be set down in the form of a regulation within the meaning of the Acts Interpretation Act. I do not think I can say it is an undertaking, but on the indication from Senator Willesee that he will use his best endeavours to bring this about, the Opposition will not support the amendment.
– I did not take the time of the Committee in calling for a division. In my usual modesty I refrained, even if I had a supporter, from doing so. I now move a further amendment. It refers to Clause 5 which reads:
After section 11 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: 11a. The Governor-General may make regulations providing for the payment to persons referred to in this Act (not being persons who are Ministers of State) of allowances in respect of travelling expenses and in respect of expenses of living in Canberra.’.
I ask the attendant please to give one of the copies of the amendment that I have moved to Senator McAuliffe, to his Leader and to the Chair. Senator Willesee pointed out, in reply to the debate on the previous amendment, that at the present time the Canberra allowance for every day which a member or a senator of this Parliament spends in Canberra is $22. In addition there is an electorate allowance and a salary. It is not really a reasonable proposition that committee work carried out on a parliamentary day, when one travels to Canberra for the purpose of Parliament, should be the subject of additional emoluments. Yet some committees have been making a persistent practice of sitting on parliamentary days and receiving fees which, in my view, are not warranted at all and certainly are not warranted commensurate with the work performed. That is why I have moved the amendment that no allowances shall be paid for committees sitting in Canberra on days on which the Parliament sits.
To indicate to honourable senators the patience with which I am capable of persevering with a proposition in my parliamentary experience, I point out that I first adumbrated this view in this Parliament 10 years ago. I have found that that is not an undue period in which to achieve anything that is really a matter of restriction of matters pertaining to Parliament. But now, for the first time, I put the proposition on the record and hope that the Committee today will accept without demur such a simple and obviously fair proposition.
– I had no intention of entering this debate until Senator Wright referred to the fact that it could be unfair if the Committee did not accept his proposition. With respect, I think that something has to be said about it. Today there was a meeting of the Publications Committee. We assembled at 1 p.m., in our lunch hour, and we met until, I think, approximately twenty-five past one. We were required to be back in the Senate at 2 o’clock. I do not know whether Senator Wright knows it, but we do not get a fee for that.
– I would not have thought so.
– Senator Wright said that everybody gets a fee. That is not in accordance with fact. My colleagues on this occasion on the Opposition side who were present at the meeting today would confirm that what I am stating is a fact. There is another point about it. Let us take, for instance, the occasions when we travel from say, Queensland for a committee meeting on the Tuesday morning before Parliament meets. It means that we have to travel by a plane leaving Brisbane at 7 o’clock. Because of daylight saving, the plane leaves at 6 o’clock.
– It is still 7 o’clock.
– It is 7 o’clock in normal times, but do not forget that there is an abnormal government in power in Queensland and we have to work to its times, not to normal times. I am quite serious about this. Under those circumstances we have to rise at about 5 a.m. in order to arrive at the airport by 6 a.m. Then we could work until possibly 1 1 p.m. or midnight on Tuesday night. It is not a bad stint, is it, from 5 a.m. until possibly 1 1 p.m. or later? With respect, I do not think that Senator Wright has taken these things into consideration. I do not dispute his sincerity about this matter, but I would suggest, with respect, that if one looks at some of the circumstances pertaining to those who have to travel from far distant States, one will see that Senator Wright’s proposition is not as sound as it may appear on the surface.
– This matter, too, has a bit of a history. I know what Senator Wright means but the wording of his amendment may be open to doubt. It refers to committees sitting in Canberra on days on which the Parliament sits. I presume that he would not have any objection to allowances being paid to committees meeting on days when the House of Representatives was sitting but when the Senate was not sitting. But there could be doubts. Senator Wright is one of those who would remember that many years ago Senator Wood put forward the proposition that no sitting fees at all should be paid. Because I was a member of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee at that time, I opposed the existing situation. It is a few years ago now, but I remember looking into the question, and I found that these committees were not costing so much and they were developing into a pretty good sort of a watchdog on very important sections of government legislation. I referred to the Public Accounts Committee, the Public Works Committee and some other committees at that time. We are not really talking about a large amount of money. I do not think that Senator Wright is saying that we are, I think that he is talking about something else.
Again I say that I have no objection to what honourable senators eventually do about this question, but having just been chairman of the Committee dealing with salaries I realise how dangerous it is to make an ad hoc decision - snapping it off. That is why, after we made some adjustments, we stuck so closely to the Kerr report because at least there was a base. If you start to move away from that base in any one of your opinions - and we did it a couple of times - it is amazing what difficulties you face. I suggest to Senator Wright that in the fullness of time and when we can have a proper inquiry into this question by a body which is completely removed from this Parliament he can then put his argument and somebody might put a contrary argument, but there can be an examination of the situation. I see his point. I saw it in relation to the previous amendment. I think that he will have some success on the previous one when it comes to fruition. I do not know what his chances are with this one. I think it is a matter of judgment. I do not wish to see the Bill amended and have to go back to the other place. I suggest that the Committee should reject the amendment.
– I have a further amendment which relates to clause 5. I move:
At end of proposed new section 11a, add the following sub-section:
No allowances shall be paid to members or senators other than allowances provided by this Act and the regulations.’
We have an Act and we will have regulations under it. The Act and the regulations will provide the allowances that are to be paid to members of Parliament. I submit that under the Constitution members are not entitled to any allowance except that which is provided expressly by the Parliament. If any member accepted the recently introduced stamp allowance, for example, he would put himself at risk. That allowance is an illustration of the patronage that the Executive Government has at its disposal as a means to manipulate and influence members of Parliament.
– You cannot be bought for a stamp, can you? What do you think you are talking about? That is idiotic. I thought you had more commonsense.
– I was not doing an exercise in introspection nor was 1 looking exclusively at the honourable senator who interjected. What I say is that minds stronger than Senator McAuliffe’s have always regarded the relevant part of the Constitution as amounting to a protection by saying that no member of Parliament shall hold office of profit or receive allowances that are not provided expressly in Acts of Parliament and their regulations. The amendment simply makes that clear and prevents discrimination between members and senators, at the instance of the Executive Government, in provisions not approved by the Parliament.
– Honourable senators on this side will not vote for the amendment. As Senator Withers, I think, put it so well, he has some sympathy for these things and he knows that there will be opportunities to raise these matters. I suggest that, as Senator Withers and I have said, there will be chances to look at these matters at a later stage. They will not be left in abeyance. I suggest that the Committee should reject the amendment.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Willesee) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 March (vide page 619), on motion by Senator Willesee:
That the Bill be now read a second time
– I assume that the Government would wish that there be a cognate debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1972-73 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1972-73. I am working upon that assumption.
– Order! Is it the desire of the Senate to have a cognate debate on the 2 Bills but that they be voted on separately? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
– Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1972-73 deals with revenue items, and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1972-73 deals with capital items. Both are for expenditure, in many cases, already undertaken or contemplated to be undertaken by 30th June 1973. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) seeks parliamentary approval for an appropriation of approximately $56m and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) approximately $68m, or a total of approximately$ 124m. To a considerable extent, the purpose of the expenditure, as stated in the Bills, is to cover new and reconstituted departments and the capital works and services necessary to construct or establish those departments as a result of administrative arrangements flowing out of a short period of 2-man government. These arrangements were made on 20th December 1972. They were administrative arrangements. The expenditure has been entered into, contracted for and engaged upon as a result of such administrative arrangements. Both Bills involve also expenditure for various other stated purposes. It is stated that some of the expenditure will be offset by savings in other areas, but those savings are not available because they are appropriated already for certain design purposes and they must be brought to a credit later in the general national accounting.
The Opposition is gravely concerned about what has happened. It is not our purpose to be more than usually difficult, but we believe that here the Senate is engaged upon an exercise of some gravity. We are concerned about what has happened particularly in the setting up of new departments, for which money has been spent already and for which what I might call belated approval is now being sought. There have been quite considerable staff expansions. One reads about the people who have been engaged on various staffs at various advisory levels. One does not know what approval has been obtained for these appointments. One does not know what these people are costing. One does not know to which vote their salaries are being charged and what liability the Commonwealth has towards these people. Are they permanent employees in the Public Service? What liabilities will the Commonwealth have towards them in the future in respect of the various sectors of liability that it has to its employees? These are all matters which in due course have to be properly explained and understood by the Parliament. They have to be subject to scrutiny. One might fairly say to this new Government that if it likes to set up 10 new departments of State, many of which in our view are of very doubtful value and utility, without parliamentary authority, it is the business of the Government to organise their finance and to have its financial proposals subjected to parliamentary and Senate scrutiny in the established form.
I advert to the fact that in 1970 the Senate, in its wisdom - I considered it then a matter of considerable wisdom and, it may be recalled, I supported the scheme - established 5 Estimates committees to enable particulars of proposed expenditure, the Estimates, to be examined thoroughly. Since 1970 all particulars - I emphasise the word ‘all’ - of proposed expenditure have been referred by the Senate for consideration by the Estimates committees. To date the Estimates committees have not yet been reconstituted by the new Government. It will be recalled that there was some discussion about whether what might be called the additional estimates were subject to scrutiny by the Estimates committees but it was agreed that they were. Therefore Ministers of State were required by the Senate, twice a year, to appear before the Estimates committees so that the departments they represented could be examined in detail and with some scrutiny. The particulars of proposed expenditure were then brought back to the Committee of the Senate as a whole and in some cases it conducted further examinations.
I was involved in a number of areas. From the time I came into the Senate I always have been a supporter of the Senate system of committees. I supported that principle, both as a member of committees of various kinds and as a Minister. I was in favour of Estimates committees. As a Minister for a period of time, I found, as did the departmental advisers who accompanied me on various examinations, that the work of the Senate Estimates committees was of great value to the Minister, to the department concerned and to the people of Australia. We thought that some of the scrutinies and examinations were extremely useful. In some cases I represented up to 8 or 9 departments and I do not know of one case when, after the examination was over, the officers concerned did not breathe a sigh of relief and did not equally say that what they had had to do was pretty useful.
The new Government should not lightly set to one side the process of examining the expenditures of government in the Senate in the style that we have adopted. The Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) said in his second reading speeches to these Bills that there was an urgency about them. I refer the Senate to the concluding words of the second reading speech by the Minister in connection with Appropriation Bill (No. 3). The Minister said:
Since the revised Administrative Arrangements Order came into effect necessary expenditures for the new and reconstituted departments on salaries and administrative expenses were, as a matter of practical expediency and with minor exceptions, charged to existing appropriations including those provided for departments which were abolished. This ceased at 28th February 1973. The Bill therefore includes clauses validating those expenditures which, for all legal and practical purposes, are deemed as expenditures for the services provided in the Second Schedule to Appropriation Act (No. 1) 1972-73.
A couple of things flow from that statement. If it is good enough to ask for this procedure to be covered up to 28th February 1973, equally it is good enough to reconstitute the Estimates committees, to put these matters forward for examination, to take a bit longer and present these things to the Senate as a Committee of the Whole with the appropriations properly examined and properly passed in the customary and established style. The Government, in asking us to pass this Bill, asks us to validate moneys already spent up to that date under an Administrative Arrangements Order. Some of us have some reservation about doing so. Particularly do we have reservations about some of the expenditures which have taken place under the new Government’s style. One could argue, as I said, that the arrangements we are being asked to bless could have been extended beyond 28th February in order to allow the style of doing this in the Senate to be maintained.
I want to deal with these 2 Bills in the broad. Appropriation Bill (No. 3) deals with 3 areas of expenditure - new and reconstituted departments under the Administrative Arrangements Order that I mentioned; appropriations to the Aboriginal Advancement Trust Account; and an increase in the level of the Advance to the Treasurer. The total appropriation sought in the Bill is $56m. There is a qualification in that not all of this money will be needed. A saving of $24m is expected from the previous appropriations which are no longer legally available. These appropriations are subject to transfer. In the departmental area, salaries total $19,468,000 and administrative expenses amount to $10,731,000- a grand total of $30,200,000. The savings are estimated to amount to $24.4m. The extra amount required is $5,800,000. It has been stated that the cost of central offices for several new departments - I emphasise the word ‘several’ because this is not precise or specified - is only $572,000. I would like to see these matters subjected to greater scrutiny if we had more time. The extra cost for the central offices for these several departments is stated to be $4.5m. That amount is being brought into account now rather than in April. The Government requires $10,850,000 for the Aboriginal situation. Of that sum, $7.5m is to go to the States for housing, education and health. Those are admirable objectives. The balance is for the Commonwealth’s purposes and amounts to $3,350,000 of which about $850,000 is for legal aid.
The Government is seeking $15m for the Treasurer’s Advance. Appropriation Act (No. 1) previously provided $30m of which $12m already has been issued. The balance available is $18m. The commitments due, totalling $31m, are not uncommon in Treasury accounting and one therefore would be disposed to support this as a matter of course. However, one might ask a broad question about Appropriation Bill (No. 3), a question which we of the Opposition would have been asked, I am sure, had we been the government: Why not wait for the departments to be reconstituted so that their proposals could be brought up properly for consideration in April/ May in the proper style? Why not have discussion in the Parliament and in the Senate Estimates committees anyway? One would want to test the wisdom of having 37 departments of State instead of 27. One would want to have this justified in view of what it means to the Australian people who ordinarily must pay the cost. One could argue that this has led to administrative confusion and perhaps overlapping. One would want to see whether that was true. The cost of several new departments, as far as I can ascertain, will be about $5m for this half year and about $10m for the full year. But that is not precise and has not been established and we are not able to check in the time available.
I turn now to Appropriation Bill (No. 4). We are dealing with the capital works area in which there are several reconstituted departments of State calling for capital expenditure. There is a special loan for New South Wales. The total appropriations sought in this Bill amount to $68m. The proposed capital works area requires $67,944,000. The Government anticipates savings totalling $21m. The position therefore, I think, is that New South Wales is to get $15m. The outlay of $31m for employment creating purposes in the States is all part of these appropriations. One would like substantial details about some of these expenditures. There are new demands for various departments as follows: Department of Services and Property, $435,000; Department of Aboriginal Affairs, $630,000; Attorney-General’s Department, $93,000; Department of Education, $55,000; Department of Social Security, $35,000; Department of the Treasury, $46m; and the Department of Works, $19,800,000. One could ask: What are these expenditures for? The Opposition is concerned with what it is being asked to contemplate and to pass.
Particulars of these expenditures have been circulated. I understand that they were tabled in the Senate on 13th March 1973. One therefore could very properly argue that the Government has had time to set up the Estimates committees and to have the material examined in what I call the proper style. I believe that the. Government has been dilatory in not doing so. I think the Senate ought to pay very serious regard to the fact that what has been a clear Senate decision and a clear Senate practice is being departed from substantially. This morning there was an indication that the Government was anxious to have these Bills passed by this evening. For my part I have not had anything like enough time for a proper discussion on the matter in the manner which I think ought to be adopted. These Bills should have gone to the Senate Estimates committees and the committees should then have come back to the Senate and reported to the Senate as a whole. The problem one is left with is: How does one protect the Senate and what it wants to do in maintaining the style of its behaviour in relation to financial expenditures of government and of departments of government. Obviously the Government is not prepared today with a body of advisers from the various departments to answer questions from the Senate in Committee of the Whole. The Senate itself has departed very largely for afternoon tea. So honourable senators can see the problem. One cannot let this sort of thing pass unchallenged and without sufficient regard to the true consequences of such an act. Therefore we propose the following amendment to these 2 Bills taken together:
At end of motion add - but the Senate whilst agreeing to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1972-73, and the associated Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1972-73, does so under protest as -
new Government departments were created prior to consulting with the Parliament and ensuring that sufficient moneys would be made available by the Parliament to service such departments, and the Senate is of the opinion that should such a procedure be adopted in the future, then the Senate ought to reject such appropriation Bills; and
the established procedure of submitting such measures to proper scrutiny by, appropriate Senate Estimates committees has been abandoned.
The Senate agrees with the Bills because of the undertaking by the Government that they will be submitted for scrutiny to the Estimates committees when established before the Senate rises at the end of the autumn session.
We put that amendment down because we believe it would be sensible for the Government to agree to give us an undertaking that these Bills will go to the Estimates committees in the proper style prior to the Senate rising for the autumn session. It is on that basis that we submit the amendment. I ask the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate to accept my assurance that this is only my method of helping him to obtain the passage of this legislation. The alternative is for us to decline to pass the legislation, which is quite wrong, or to protract debate on a Committee of the Whole basis until his advisers are here, even if it takes us beyond the sitting time. What I have tried to do is to find a method which allows him to obtain what he requires in relation to the legislation. This allows the Senate to keep to its practice and its principles and subject these expenditures to the proper and established method of scrutiny.
– In speaking to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) I shall make 2 points in relation to the general expenditure of the Commonwealth Government as envisaged in these Bills. I support the comments of Senator Cotton. The main burden of the point he made was that it has been usual, in the development of the committee system in the Senate, for appropriations and estimates to be submitted to the various estimates committees of the Senate. This is not being done in this instance, and Senator Cotton has said that he wishes an assurance from the Government that this will be done. I support that view because I feel that in the overall establishment of committees in the Senate nothing has been more important than the change which has taken place by honourable senators being able to directly question Ministers and the heads of various departments on the reasons for ongoing expenditure, or initial expenditure, whatever it may be.
Appropriation Bill (No. 3) throws into light one or two interesting aspects. I do not doubt that the committees of the Parliament which have been established over many years will give some scrutiny to the expenditure and to the several aspects which are put forward by this Bill which require scrutiny. For instance, I understand there is the suggestion in this Bill that the amount which is made available for the Advance to the Treasurer should be increased. It is regrettable to me that this has been found necessary, but there are some words in the second reading speech which indicate the reason for this. It is certainly uncommon to find in March that it is regarded as necessary that there should be an increase in the level of the Advance to the Treasurer. I have no doubt that the Joint Committee on Public Accounts which is a most wonderful watchdog in relation to these matters will scrutinise that point.
A matter which concerns me as a senator and, undoubtedly, the public in general, is the fact that the Government on taking office decided in its wisdom to expand enormously the various departments which control and administer the Government’s policies. Undoubtedly this is one of the reasons why the Advance to the Treasurer is insufficient to meet those claims from the amounts made available in the 1972 Budget. I believe there is great concern in the community at the escalation in the inflationary rate at the present time. Since this Government has taken office there has been a further escalation which, I believe, in this year will see inflation running at the rate of about 10 per cent to 12 per cent. This will be one of the highest rates we have ever experienced. It will cause damage to the community and to individuals who rely on fixed incomes to maintain any reasonable standard of living. But that is as it may be. We are beset with a government which has little heed for the amount of expenditure which it may incur. Certainly these 2 Appropriation Bills pinpoint this argument. I noted one point which caused me concern. I will be pleased if the Special Minister for State (Senator Willesee) will answer whether what this Government has done is legal. I refer to that part of the second reading speech on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) which states:
Since the revised Administrative Arrangements Order came into effect necessary expenditures for the new and reconstituted departments on salaries and administrative expenses were, as a matter of practical expediency and with minor exceptions, charged to existing appropriations including those provided for departments which were abolished.
Will the Minister please have his advisers inform the Senate whether that was a legal move by either the Administration or by the present Government. My understanding is that it would not be possible for expenditure to be made unless it was under the particular head for which it was originally appropriated. Again I endorse the comments of Senator Cotton who stated that these 2 Bills should be referred to Senate Estimates committees. The amendment which he has moved, has my support. In speaking on the Appropriation Bills I take the opportunity to mention one or two matters in relation to the fruit canning industry in Australia. Today at question time I posed a question to the responsible Minister. There are several matters of great concern to most important sections of the industry in my State of Victoria - in the Goulburn Valley and in other areas - over what has happened recently. The reason for this concern is a decision by the United States Tariff Commission that imports of canned Bartlett pears from Australia will become subject to special dumping duties. Apparently this decision was the result of a Tariff Commission investigation which found that the pear canning industry in the United States was likely to be injured by reason of imports from Australia. Apparently a complaint was filed by Pacific Coast Canned Pear Services Incorporated of Seattle, Washington, in 1971, and the matter was investigated by the United States Treasury Department in 1972. That Department advised the Commission that canned Bartlett pears from Australia were being or likely to be sold at less than fair value as defined in the Anti-Dumping Act.
Australia sent representatives of the industry to the United States, and these representatives were giving evidence to the Tariff Commission at a time when 3 Ministers of the present Labor Government decided that it was within their province to criticise the United States Government. The 3 Ministers to whom I refer are Dr J. F. Cairns, Mr Uren and Mr Clyde Cameron. These Ministers went out of their way to be abusive to President Nixon and to the Government of the United States. I think all of these things have some reaction and it is the view of many people who are involved in rural industry and who perhaps depend on their ability to export to other countries for the survival of their industry that slanderous comments made about leaders of nations with which we are on friendly terms and with which we trade can be damaging to the interests of the Australian community.
So at that critical time when the United States was adjudging whether any duty would be imposed on Australian canned pears, it could well have been impaired by the fact that 3 senior Ministers of this Government - although I believe there are no senior and junior Ministers in the Labor Government; all are of equal status - expressed a united view which could have been taken to represent the view of the Australian Government. I think it is a regrettable state of affairs. I have noticed that those Ministers have been curbed in the last month or two. Perhaps that was at the direction of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who in his wisdom realised that Australia’s foreign relation ships would be damaged if those Ministers were left to run free. Although Dr J. F. Cairns said that he would not be curbed by anybody, it is like a breath of fresh air or clean air that no such comments have been made recently. I hope that that situation will continue because it is in the interests of the Australian community to maintain relations at the highest level with the administrations of the countries with which we trade.
Also in relation to the fruit growing industry and particularly those people in the industry who are affected by the rural reconstruction scheme, my attention has been drawn to certain regulations which have been introduced in relation to the fruit growing reconstruction tree-pull scheme which was introduced by the former Government and has been continued by the present Government. The present Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) indicated a formula whereby a $500 maximum grant per acre for a clear fell is to be administered. My understanding is that one State government has introduced some regulatory matter whereby under the formula a grower who is unable to sell fruit to a cannery is offered $200 less per acre. I ask the Minister for Primary Industry to please take up this matter and find out whether or not that direction is contrary to the principle that lay behind the initial treepull scheme, namely, encouragement for reconstruction. It appears to me that if there is no opportunity for a grower to dispose of his fruit he is one who should be encouraged by being granted the maximum amount of financial support to remove his trees. To me the removal of trees is most regrettable. Some alternative method should have been found to avoid that course being taken, but in the light of the present situation the various Ministers for Agriculture or Primary Industry agreed to such a scheme being implemented. It appears to me to be quite stupid that a State government may reduce by $200 per acre the full benefit of $500 per acre to a fruit grower who is unable to sell his fruit to a cannery. I ask the Minister to please investigate this matter in the interests of maintaining a proper reconstruction scheme as was initiated by the former Federal Government.
I refer again to the fact that the 2 Appropriation Bills before the Senate have given rise to great consternation on the part of Opposition senators, particularly my Country Party colleagues, because quite a considerably increased amount of money is required by the present Government to administer the very much expanded bureaucracy and Public Service which this Government envisages are necessary to run the Government of Australia. I ask the Government to be a little more attentive to expenditures. This will be necessary if Australia is not to be thrust into the problems caused by very great financial escalation which some other countries have experienced. 1 draw the attention of the Government again to the wonderful record of the administration of the former anti-socialist Government over the 23 years it was in office. Whatever arguments may be put forward against that Government, it maintained throughout the whole of its administration a lesser rate of inflation than any other like country. I believe that achievement is a wonderful mark in its favour because undoubtedly year after year governments face difficult financial times. Such a record will not be achieved by this new Labor Government with its out of hand attitude to expenditure. I plead with the Government to be cautious in the appropriation of funds for the administration of Commonwealth affairs. I think Appropriation Bill (No. 2) and Appropriation Bill (No. 3) pinpoint very clearly the volume of expenditure which is now necessary under this Labor Government. I protest at this expenditure and suggest, as does Senator Cotton, that the appropriations proposed by these Bills be referred to Senate Estimates committees.
– I wish to say a few words in relation to these Bills and formally to second the amendment which was moved earlier by Senator Cotton and not seconded hitherto. 1 am concerned about the proliferation of Government departments, with the consequent employment of large numbers of personnel, whose functions have not first been the subject of scrutiny by the Parliament. Both of the Bills which are before us seek to validate the appropriation of moneys for capital works and services for new and reconstituted departments resulting from the Administrative Arrangements Order of 20th December 1972. We have been asked to support arrangements entered into without prior reference to the Parliament. 1 concur strongly with the concern expressed by Senator Cotton and Senator Webster. I am concerned, as must be many other people in Australia, at the present Gov- ernment’s policy of distributing moneys widely and quickly without proper consideration being given to the projects on which great amounts of public moneys are being expended. I instance the proposed new arts council. I noted a comment in this morning’s issue of the ‘Australian’ by Mr Clifton Pugh, an artist who is a member of the Australian Council for the Arts, in which he said:
We have to work hard to stop a vast bureaucratic monolith being set up.
He was referring to the Council. He went on to say: lt has been stated by one member of the Council that the new authority will have a permanent staff of 200.
Up till now the Council for the Arts has been a body which has been constituted of 5 boards comprising 25 members. The proposal is to have a council of 26 members and 69 members of various boards. To this point of time 95 persons will form the direct administrative section, as it were, of the new council. lt should be borne in mind that none of the costs associated with it is set out in these Appropriation Bills. The important thing to do is to anticipate the increased expenditures which will arise from these initial actions. If the council members of the various boards were to hold a meeting at a central point in Australia - say Canberra - and if each of those 95 persons were to require an outlay on his behalf of, say, $200 return on air fares it would cost the taxpayers $19,000. If 6 meetings were held in one year and they were attended by all of the council members and members of the boards the cost for air lares alone would be $114,000. That is about a quarter of the amount previously provided in the general area of the Council for the Arts. It is because of my concern at the implications of the initial expenditure entered into by the Government that I have risen. On the surface it does not appear to be very much.
I notice that Appropriation Bill (No. 3) provides for new expenditure of about $5. 8m and that Appropriation Bill (No. 4) provides for new expenditure of about $10m, allowing for the recoupment of moneys which otherwise would have been spent in other areas. The amendment very rightly emphasises that the departments about which I am complaining were created prior to any consultation with the Parliament and without any steps being taken to ensure that sufficient moneys would be made available to them by the Parliament. I think it is a salutary step to move as Senator Cotton has moved in his amendment for the Senate to express the opinion that should such a procedure be adopted in the future the Senate ought to reject such Appropriation Bills. That I support very strongly. The established procedure of submitting such measures of expenditure to the proper scrutiny of appropriate Senate Estimates committees has been abandoned on this occasion. In this respect there is further cause for real concern. The Senate has established a series of estimates committees which, in my opinion, have had a very salutary effect on governmental outlays. There is greater departmental respect now for moneys being spent in certain directions because of the knowledge that every item of expenditure can be looked at extraordinarily closely by these committees. If the situation were to persist whereby moneys were authorised for expenditure in this sort of Bill without any background of parliamentary oversight we would be in a very retrogressive stage insofar as the monetary control of the country is concerned. I support the amendment very strongly. I will also support the passage of these Appropriation Bills.
– in reply - Mr Deputy President, those honourable senators who have contributed to the debate have dealt largely with what was contained in my second reading speech and the reasons for the introduction of this legislation. My understanding of the situation concerning the setting up of new departments is that it is the government which does the setting up and the Parliament which controls them at a later stage by overseeing their expenditure. I cannot remember any new department ever being created in any other way. It is true that the present Government has created, abolished, amalgamated and excised departments more than is usual - probably more than ever before. The Government has not sought to refer these additional estimates to estimates committees because of what would be involved in this exercise. Firstly, the Parliament has already passed a Bill which allowed for the savings involved. When money is appropriated to a heading it must be spent under that heading.
– Actually it is not appropriated to a department; it is appropriated from revenue and is voted to a department. I think that is strictly correct.
– Yes. Last year the Parliament voted $6 1.565m to the Department of Social Services. Of course, all of that sum was not expended. Up to 28th February we lived off that and that is why there is a validation section in the legislation. It is now necessary to appropriate money to the Department of Social Security to enable it to carry on. It has been giving effect to a lot of the decisions that were made prior to 28th February. According to Appropriation Bill (No. 3) there has been a saving of $24.4m in that respect. By taking that amount away from the total appropriation sought in the Bill of $56m one gets $32m. From that $10m will go direct to expenditure on Aborigines. As Appropriation Bill (No. 5) and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) will be introduced in April or May - they are the ones which the Senate usually sends to the estimates committees for examination - it did not seem to the Government to be necessary to have the additional estimates provided for in these Bills subjected to the scrutiny of the estimates committees. It would be a waste of a fair amount of time to do so, especially as the estimates committees will be able to scrutinise this expenditure in April or May in connection with Appropriation Bill (No. 5) and Appropriation Bill (No. 6). The Senate did not seek to take this kind of action the other day when a saving was involved. I think it was wise that it did not. It accepted those appropriations.
Those honourable senators who have participated in the debate have dealt largely with what is set out in my second reading speech. The concluding part of the amendment is as follows:
The Senate agrees with the Bills because of the undertaking by the Government that they will be submitted for scrutiny to the estimates committees . . .
The Government has never given that undertaking. As I understand it, Senator Cotton is demanding that we should give that undertaking.
– I do not wish in any sense to be obstructive. Senator Willesee knows me well enough to believe that because there would be no chance to have this matter resolved, I was seeking from the Government an assurance that in due course these Bills would go before the Estimates committees, and that undertaking, I understand, represents what he intended to do.
– No. Senator Cotton knows well the difficulties that one has when acting for other departments, particularly the Treasury. My understanding is that Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) will come to the chamber in April, which is next month, for the extra appropriations needed between now and the time of presentation of the Budget, and that they will be the Bills which will go before the Estimates committees. Although this specific expenditure will not be in it, the whole thing will be caught up. There will be extra expenditure of new departments but there will be no extra expenditure, I imagine, for those departments that have been abolished because we have in fact saved money on them. As Senator Byrne has pointed out, we cannot take expenditure from one department and put it into another. I suggest that there is hardly any need for the amendment. Senator Cotton has criticised the way in which the new departments were set up, and that is fair enough. No problem arises there. The honourable senator has mentioned that in his first point and has made his criticism. Senator Cotton says also that it is established procedure and that we have moved away from it. We are only moving away from it because I think it is wise so to do, particularly as the new Appropriation Bills will be introduced in April. That question can be dealt with then. I understand that is when the Bills will go to the Estimates committees.
I do not agree with Senator Laucke that the Estimates committees have been the great success that he claims or that we have the departmental officers shivering in their boots. In all transactions in life,I think, one has to trust somebody somewhere. I have thought that the problem of the Estimates committees is that they go too deeply into minutiae. Senior people are appointed to run departments, and I trust them to buy such things as furniture or to change the refrigerator at a certain time. I think the committees read too much into these matters. If we look at some expenditures-
– For example, a vote of $90m under the heading ‘Incidentals’ would warrant investigation.
– Yes. In my estimating days in a very mild way in the Public Service I was never as good as that.
– That figure was for the Post Office, I think.
– Yes, and that is where 1 worked. This is the sort of thing the committees should look at but I think one can get in too deeply. The Public Service has its own system of vetting people and has its own standards for them. It brings them in at various levels and they go to various levels. I do not think the committees have had the effect that Senator Laucke suggests they have had. I wonder whether they have been a success in many ways. Although the old way was cumbersome, at least each one of us became aware of these things. The whole problem of Estimates is fiddling and very difficult to look at.I suggest to Senator Cotton that his amendment is unnecessary. It is unnecessary to send these Bills to the Estimates committees because the whole question will be under scrutiny in April which begins within a few days.
– I am in some difficulty now because I am not satisfied with the observations of Senator Willesee in their entirety. May I proceed to make a statement?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT(Senator Marriott) - Order! The Minister has closed the debate.
– Then, we will go into Committee.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTThe Question on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1972-73 is: ‘That the words proposed to be added to the motion by Senator Cotton’s amendment be added’. Those in favour of the motion say ‘aye’, to the contrary ‘no’. I think the ‘ayes’ have it.
– Was that the amendment?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - That was the amendment.
– That is the difficulty. Senator Cotton wanted to say something about it. I want to vote against the amendment and, if necessary, divide though I was hoping we would not get to that situation.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENTSenator Cotton may apply for leave to make a statement.
– To facilitate the work of the Senate, 1 seek leave to make a statement.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - I am not being discourteous to anybody but 1 wish to facilitate the work of the Committee and to understand the problem that confronts the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. What he has had to say, however, does not depart from the essential facts that were mentioned here by the Opposition. What the honourable senator has not made perfectly clear, although I think it is his intention to make it clear, is something like this: Because the total expenditure involved in Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4) will come to account when Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) are dealt with by the Senate - that will be before the end of the autumn session - and Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) will be referred to the Estimates committees, the matter will be put under examination in that style. May I ask Senator Willesee whether that, is the situation?
– I ask for leave to make a brief statement.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia - Special Minister of State) - I was a little hesitant on this because if the Senate decides - the Estimates committees have not yet been set up - when Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) come before this House that they should be sent to the Estimates committees, there will be an opportunity for honourable senators to examine Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4) in conjunction with them. That would be the situation. If Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) go to the Estimates committees then honourable senators will be able to look at Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4).
– That is, there will be no formal reference to Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4) but they may be considered in conjunction with the formal reference of the others?
– Yes. I cannot see how one could get them out of the Estimates committees. However, I am not an expert on that procedure and perhaps I should not have said that. We would have no objection to looking at the situation of new departments. There would be no need to look at the savings made on other departments because they would have disappeared. There would be no point in that though honourable senators could do so if they wanted to. That is the way I see the situation. Honourable senators know that the Party leaders are waiting to meet about the committee system.
– I seek leave to make a further statement.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Senator COTTON (New South Wales) - We are seeking to elucidate the details here. We are still not clear whether expenditure covered by Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4) passes unscrutinised or is incorporated as part of expenditure in due course in Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6). We need to know that. What disturbs me also is this comment by the Acting Leader of the Government, who is representing the Treasurer: ‘If Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) go to the Estimates committees’. The Senate has an established practice that all Appropriation Bills go to the Estimates committees. Therefore, when we hear the word if about Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) going to the Estimates committees is this contemplating a change in style and approach by the incoming Government to the treatment of financial expenditure and examination of it by the Senate? I am not saying that that is the case; I am saying that one can draw that inference. I do not want to have the situation when Appropriation Bills (No. 5) and (No. 6) come up and are then examined by the Estimates committees - if that happens; I am becoming disturbed now - to be told: You have already agreed to Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4) and they are not under examination’. That is not satisfactory to me. I am sorry, I do not want to be difficult, but I am anxious that we should stick to the amendment because it observes, in my view, what might be described as a sanction of what I believe was not being done as it ought to be done. That is what I say, and Senator Willesee can disagree with me, if he wishes to do so. I am particularly anxious that the financial scrutiny of the Senate, either in the Committee of the Whole or in the established practice of the Estimates committees, then back to the Senate itself, ought to be maintained right across the structure of financial expenditure.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT(Senator Marriott) - Senator Cotton, surely you do not want to start the debate again. You were given leave to make a statement.
– If this is what you wish me to do, then we will proceed even further before the night is over because I am determined that this matter will not be swept away. I want to know what the position is. I have acceded to Senator Willesee’s request to help. The fact of life is that the amendment has been passed.
Senator WILLESEE (Western Australia - Special Minister of State) - by leave -I am sorry that Senator Cotton is getting upset about this matter. If the amendment has been passed, that is that. Senator Cotton asked first whether this expenditure is to be merged into the new expenditure. No, it is not, but I can overcome that by saying that in respect of Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) I will give an undertaking that if Appropriation Bill (No. 5) and Appropriation Bill (No. 6) go to the Estimates Committees, he can also ask questions on those Bills. That is only fair. I come back to the point by saying thatI agree with Senator Cotton when he states that he wants oversight of expenditure by one of two methods. The first method is that which has grown up over the last couple of years - scrutiny by Estimates Committees. The second method is scrutiny by the Committee of the Whole. The experts advise me that they have information here if Senator Cotton wishes to cany on with some of these points, but he is trying to be helpful the other way. Let us say that we do not send these Bills to the Estimates Committees. The Opposition desires an undertaking that when all the Bills have come up, senators will have an opportunity to ask questions either in the Estimates Committee or in the Committee of the Whole.
– On Appropriation Bills (No. 3) and (No. 4)?
– Yes. I am not trying to waver, but you have not set up your committees.
– You have not set them up. You are the Government.
– We have not set up the committees or, to be more accurate, the Parliament has not set them up. Some people are not very enamoured of the committees and a decision has to be made.
– It was done on your own motion on 14th March.
– That is a part I do not handle; it belongs to Senator Murphy. I think Senator Durack is right. I do not claim to know everything that goes on in the Parliament or in all the departments.
– But you moved the motion.
– I moved it for Senator Murphy. I read it out and I did not take a lot of notice of it. That is the situation. If these Bills are referred to the Estimates CommitteesI give an undertaking that senators can look at Appropriation Bill (No. 3) and Appropriation Bill (No. 4). Do you want to go on with this now?
– The amendment stands.
– If that stands, you still must have your Estimates Committees.
– It does not say so.
Amendment agreed to.
Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Debate resumed from 28 March (vide page 619), on motion by Senator Willesee:
That the Bill be now read a second time
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-I wish to refer to the appropriation in Division 917, Payments to or for the States, in respect of a special loan to New South Wales, to be paid on such terms and conditions asthe Treasurer determines. I am interested in the words ‘such terms and conditions as the Treasurer determines’. Have the terms and conditions been agreed upon as between the Commonwealth and the State. If so, what are they? Or are they still the subject of difference? If so, can the Minister indicate the main areas of difference? I would have assumed that long since the actual terms and conditions have been agreed upon. 1 find it a little unusual that that expression appears in a capital works Appropriation Bill, an amendable Bill. 1 want to know in what way the Treasurer is reserving mastery in regard to this provision for New South Wales. It may be that the Senate would require a little safeguard to see that the loan is being supplied on terms that we think should be applied.
– The terms and conditions of this loan, which are similar to those imposed on the special loan of $17.5m made during 1971-72, are as follows: (a) The loan will be repayable over 5 years by annual instalments of $3m commencing one year after the date on which the loan is made; that is the date on which the funds are paid to the State with the proviso that the State undertakes to repay more than $3m in any year if its budgetary position permits. The Commonwealth will agree to the postponement of an annual instalment if it is satisfied that the State’s budgetary position in the year concerned does not permit repayment to be made without deficit financing. This will not affect the requirement that the whole of the loan be repaid by the end of 5 years from the date that the loan is made, (b) The loan will carry interest at the rate applicable to Commonwealth securities having a currency of 5 years offered in the Commonwealth loan last preceding the date on which the loan is made. If no 5-year security is offered on the loan, the rate will be based on a determination as to the rate that would have been applicable if such security had been offered. The rate to apply on that basis would be the subject of discussion between the respective treasuries. No interest will be payable or chargeable on the loan in respect of the period of 1 year from the date the loan is made. After then, interest will be payable twice annually commencing 18 months after the date on which the loan is made.
– I would like some information about the appropriation of some S30m for grants for employment creating purposes. Will the Minister be so good as to inform me of the basis on which that money is being distributed among the States? Is it in accordance with a formula that has been agreed upon by the Premiers?
– The grant for employment creating purposes to
New South Wales, in the Sydney metropolitan area, is $9m. A grant of $9,220,000 goes to Victoria for employment creating purposes in the metropolitan area. Queensland ii to receive $2m for employment creating purposes in the metropolitan area. Other details are as follows: South Australia, employment creating purposes in the metropolitan area - $4,620,000; Western Australia, sewerage works, Perth- $3,500,000; Tasmania, employment creating purposes in the metropolitan area - $710,000; housing and educational buildings - $lm; sewerage works, Launceston - $3 00.000.
– I wish to add a few comments with regard to this matter. I indicated in a question to the Minister the other day that the matters of grants and especially special grants to what have been called the claimant States is getting out of balance under the Commonwealth Grants Commission. It seems to me that the allocation of these unemployment grants, possibly for good reason, is having regard to none of the considerations that applied to apportionment of reimbursement grants or even works and housing. I just place on record my concern as to whether these things are not adding to the imbalance of the apportionment of moneys that the Federal Government makes available to the States.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Willesee) read a third time.
Sitting suspended from 5.52 to 8 p.m.
General Business Taking Precedence of Government Business
– I move:
Mr President, I will come to the explanation of the motion shortly, but I think it is fair to say that all of this has arisen out of a statement put down by you on the evening of
Wednesday. 27th March last, and reported at page 567 of the daily Hansard. It has arisen out of the proceedings that day. Admittedly the order of the business was changed somewhat due to a resolution of the Senate approved slightly after 3 o’clock that day. Whilst the time is not stated in Hansard it would appear that at about 10 or 12 minutes past 8 that night the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) said:
I ask that further questions be placed on notice.
You, Mr President, then gave the call to Senator Greenwood. Senator Greenwood then rose and addressed a question to the AttorneyGeneral. You, Mr President, thereupon rose and made a statement to the effect that you had received a letter that day from the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and then you went on to discuss what had happened prior to, during and after 26th September 1967. I said that evening, Mr President, that for the sake of honourable senators who sit behind me I would have this matter raised for discussion again.
The purpose of the motion is to do 2 things. Firstly, it is designed to place clearly on the records of the Senate that until some standing order comes into this place limiting the rights of honourable senators to ask questions, the only method of limiting the rights of honourable senators to ask questions was for the Senate so to decide.I take no objection to the fact that if a Minister moves a motion to that effect and gets it carried that is the will of the Senate, and those who desire to ask questions must put up with it.
The second matter is that what we on the Opposition side are saying is that Ministers in this place quite rightly are accorded certain rights and privileges over and above those of other honourable senators, and Ministers ought to have these other rights and privileges so that they are able correctly to discharge their duties of office. The Senate recognises that the Ministers have certain rights. But in return for those rights there is an obligation on Ministers also to discharge their responsibilities to honourable senators. What we are saying is that if those honourable senators who become Ministers of the Crown wish to be recognised as Ministers in this place, there is an obligation on them to answer questions with promptness and accuracy. We realise that Ministers are entitled to answer questions as they see fit, but always within the sort of rules that they must do so with promptness - and that does not mean an instantaneous reaction - and, certainly, accuracy. That is why in the motion we refer to ‘appropriate to ministerial responsibility’.
Before proceeding further we ought to review what happened on Tuesday 26th September 1967. If one turns to page 217 of the Journals of that day one sees that under item No. 3 the following appears:
QUESTIONS: Questions without notice were answered.
The Minister for Supply (Senator Henty) moved - That further Questions be placed upon the Notice Paper.
The President stated that it was the practice of the Senate that a Minister had the right to ask that further Questions be placed on the Notice Paper, without proposing a motion.
And the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) having objected, in writing, and moving - That the ruling of the President be dissented from-
The President stated that no ruling was involved.
I interpose to say that it must have been a most curious discussion because the Journals then go on to say:
If one refers to the Hansard report of that day one finds that it was a most curious discussion. The Journals continue:
– That Questions without notice be proceeded with.
Debate ensued on motion of dissent.
Question - put.
On a division Senator Willesee had 28 supporters and Senator Henty could muster but 22 others behind him. It is rather interesting to note that on that day my former colleague from Western Australia, Senator Branson, voted with the Opposition, as did Senator Hannaford, Senator Gair, Senator McManus and Senator Turnbull. The question that the President’s ruling be dissented from was resolved in the affirmative. Then Senator Willesee moved that questions without notice be proceeded with, and that was put and passed on the voices. I state that at the beginning because this morning when I was moving my motion to rearrange the business I rather felt that Senator Willesee did not want this matter to come on tonight, that he preferred to have it dealt with when Senator Murphy was present. But on a reading of Hansard and the Journals, I suppose nobody took a more active part in what was eventually done that night than Senator Willesee himself.
I think it is fair to say that before the suspension of the Senate for dinner this evening I was browsing through Hansard in order to get some material to prepare a speech. I stopped browsing started to read intently and decided that it was not necessary for me to prepare a speech and that all I needed to do was to quote the 3 speeches made that afternoon by Senators Willesee, Murphy and Gair, because I did not think the proposition could be put better. Therefore I imagine that after I resume my seat the motion will be carried on the voices, without dissent.
Senator Willesee had some very interesting things to say. As recorded at page 882 of Hansard of 26th September 1967, he commenced by saying ‘Mr President’, as all honourable senators do. He said:
Mr President, I regret very much that I have to speak to this motion.
Then he said something which really warmed my heart. He said:
A great deal has been said today about precedents. The fact is that the Senate has a vastly different role to perform than has the House of Representatives.
Then he spoke about what Mr Speaker Cameron had done in the House of Representatives. I am not trying to take the speech out of context. I will just skip what is not germane to the debate tonight. He said: lt applied particularly under Mr Speaker Cameron when it was determined that debate should be confined to very narrow limits. I have always felt that this is one restriction that should not be placed on the Senate.
He talked about other things. There was an interjection (tom Senator Webster, and one from Senator Gair. Senator Willesee continued:
Today we are faced with a situation where I do noi see any greater urgency regarding the matter of questions without notice than I have over the period of 18 years that I have been a senator here. For some reason or other, the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Henty) - maybe it was because of the type of questions that were being asked by the Opposition - suddenly decided that all further questions without notice should be placed on the notice paper.
This ghost arose again last Wednesday night. He continued:
We have spoken about precedents. Let us examine the precedents of the Senate. One precedent of the
Senate has been that never has it been agreed that the length of question time should be curtailed. Even when the Senate has sat all through the night and discussions have been held between the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition as to how the business of the Senate should be arranged for the next day, never - not while Senator McKenna, certainly Senator Murphy, or anyone else has led the Opposition - has the suggestion been made that the length of question time should be curtailed. To do that is to strike at the fundamental roots of democracy and at the principle that a Government should stand up to its activities.
– Who said that?
- Senator Willesee said that. It is one of the finest speeches that I have read for some time. That is why I felt that I have no need to prepare a speech of my own. He discussed what happened in the Lok Sabha in India and in the House of Commons. Again I am not taking the speech out of context. He continued:
There has been talk of precedent. The precedent in the Senate is that questions without notice run their full time, even when they bite into the time to be devoted to very important debates which could affect the security of this nation. We have always stood by the right of Opposition senators, and Government senators too, to question Ministers without notice. What is the situation today? I suggest that it was unprecedented when the Leader of the Government rose and made 2 contradictory statements. On his own admission he first requested that further questions be put on the notice paper. Then he moved that this be done.
He talked about the procedural mess into which the Senate had got at that stage. I think that that is the burden of Senator Willesee’s contribution to the debate. As recorded at page 884 of Hansard he said:
A decision of the Senate must be the will of the Senate. That is why I have reluctantly moved disagreement with your ruling. Her Majesty’s Opposition wishes to put certain questions to the Government. For political considerations, which should not be allowed to intrude into the great institution of the Senate, the Government says: “We do not like these questions. They are embarrassing to us. Therefore we will not hear them any more’.
He finished with the magnificent sentence:
This is an intolerable situation.
– I know how he felt.
– I can well imagine that. Senator Murphy followed Senator Willesee in speaking to the motton. Senator Murphy said:
I second the motion. The issue here is simple. We are dealing with the supervisory functions of one of the legislative chambers over the Administration. The Leader of the Administration in this chamber (Senator Henty) has taken a step aimed at ending the scrutiny of the Administration. Those senators in Opposition, or senators obviously representing a clear majority in this chamber, wanted to continue with the scrutiny and questioning of the Administration. The Leader of the Government himself proposed a motion that question time be ended. You, Mr President, put that motion to the chamber. It was obvious that there was a preponderance of Noes.
That brings the matter down not merely to one of whether there should be a continuance of question time and a continued scrutiny of the Government on a subject on which apparently it is extremely sensitive but also to one of whether the democratic majority is to prevail in the Senate. The issue is as simple as that. Is the Leader of the Government able to say: “This is the end of the scrutiny’? Are you, Mr President, able to say: ‘I am not making a ruling at all. I am not making any decision. But question time must end’? That is not the way in which any deliberative assembly such as the Senate operates.
I think that is a fair statement as to how we feel. Later he said:
It is of no use to talk about a practice. It is of no use to point to a particular standing order. Anyone who does not understand that, when there is a clear majority or an absolute majority of a deliberative assembly in favour of a certain course, those in the majority are entitled to have their will does not Understand anything about the Standing Orders or the practices of the Parliament. That must be so.
That must be so today. He continued for a short time in very much the same vein. As recorded at page 885 of Hansard, at 4.27 p.m. Senator Gair rose and said:
Mr President, it is with a measure of regret that I support the motion of dissent from your ruling. 1 am left with no alternative because 1 believe that the action of the Government today is one of the worst displays of arrogance, petulance, discrimination and denial of the rights of the Opposition that I have witnessed in any Parliament in which 1 have served.
– Was that Senator Murphy speaking?
- Senator Gair is speaking now. Senator Hannaford interjected:
For how many years has the honourable senator served in parliaments?
Senator Gair said:
I have been in the political life of this country for more than 30 years.
He talked about his career in parliament. Senator Henty replied. As recorded at page 887 of Hansard, at 4.40 p.m. Senator Cavanagh said:
I would be very reluctant to vote against the normal practice of the Senate, and I suggest that we need to give this question very deep thought. But I ask those who talk about breach of the normal practice to indicate to me the precedent that is alleged to have established this normal practice. I can remember one occasion during my 5-5, years in the Senate when Opposition senators asked a barrage of questions of the then Minister for Civil Aviation., the late Senator Paltridge, and the then Leader of the Government moved that further questions be put on notice. As the Government then had the numbers in the Senate, that motion was carried. 1 take it that on this occasion, as the Minister representing the Minister for Air (Senator McKellar) was being overburdened with questions, the Leader of the Government (Senator Henty) moved a motion similar to that moved by the late Senator Paltridge on the earlier occasion to which 1 have referred.
– What are you trying to do?
– I am proving the simple fact that the motion I have moved normally must naturally attract the support of all those who spoke on that day. Senator Bishop spoke at 4.57 p.m. and made a contribution of much the same order. Senator McManus rose at 5.10 p.m. and spoke in much the same vein. Senator Willesee replied at 5.15 p.m. As I said before, the motion was carried 29 to 23.
If we are talking about precedents, Mr President, the motion moved by Senator Willesee which was carried that day, dissenting from the ruling of a President, and his subsequent motion that questions without notice be proceeded with, established the precedent that there is no limitation to honourable senators asking questions unless a majority of honourable senators so determines. That is the burden of my motion and that is what we of the Opposition mean that when we say that in the absence of any standing order dealing with this matter the right of honourable senators to question Ministers is limited only by the judgment of the Senate, and by that we mean the whole Senate. I believe, and I am fortified in my belief by the remarks of Senator Wright sitting behind me, that all that was decided on 26th September 1967 was that there is no limitation to asking questions on notice unless the Senate by motion resolves otherwise. That is the position we want to make quite clear in the Senate tonight.
– That is not in dispute.
– I am glad to hear that.
– You cannot even read what was printed in Hansard. You said ‘questions on notice’.
– Do you mean questions without notice.
– I mean that questions without notice may be asked without limitation.
– You did not say that.
– If that is the best sort of debating point the honourable senator can raise, I suggest that he read Hansard. It is as simple as that, Mr President. I do not mind that sort of noise coming from honourable senators opposite. One gets used to it if one is brought up on a farm. I was always able to get above the noise of the chooks, even early in the morning. What I am putting to the Senate tonight is that we assert the right of honourable senators to ask questions without notice unless the Senate otherwise determines. It is as simple as that.
I refer now to the second leg of the matter. We have put forward the proposition that while there are certain privileges which attach to being a Minister in this place there are also certain obligations. I think I need not spell this out; it cannot really be spelt out in detail, ft is a matter of the Ministry and the Senate exercising good sense on each particular occasion. We ask that questions be replied to with promptness and accuracy and appropriate to ministerial responsibility. We recognise that there is a ministerial responsibility but we say that there is a need for promptness and accuracy. I commend to the Senate the motion I moved earlier.
– I listened with attention to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Withers). At last I have arrived! People are starting to quote my speeches - an ambition I have always had. I had thought that no-one took any notice of me over the years.
– I am only glad that I am a lawyer.
– The honourable senator should read more of them. Senator Withers put forward the point that we should adopt the attitude he suggests until some standing order for the Senate is agreed to, and until then the Senate should decide. Firstly. I wonder whether we could get a standing order which would overcome the situation. If we could, I would have no objection but I do not know how we could establish such a standing order. If we can, okay, but I think there would be tremendous difficulty in setting out such a standing order in view of the particular circumstances which face a national parliament. I refer to the sort of things with which a national parliament may find itself involved - a world war, a budget session, a taxation matter, and all sorts of other things. I think it would be tremendously difficult.
Let us keep this matter in perspective and not do anything silly which will reflect on us for a long time. I know that we can get caught up in the emotions attaching to a particular situation. Last Tuesday, after about one hour and 40 minutes - I want honourable senators to note the times - the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) asked that further questions be placed on notice. That was after one hour and 40 minutes. Mr President then made a statement to the effect that if the Minister in charge of the House asked, after a certain time, that further questions without notice be placed on the notice paper, he believed that he would have no alternative but to call on the next business. Now, behind that statement there is the entire history of the Government having control of the business of the Senate.
– Why did you not suggest that in 1967?
– 1 know that Senator Sim is trying to assist me but I ask him to let me put the matter in my own way, inadequate as it may be. He can speak later. I commenced my speech tonight by saying that you can get caught up in local situations and I think it would be a pity if we laid down something that would govern this Senate for perhaps many years. In years to come somebody might quote the speeches we are making tonight. If this matter goes on for that long I do not know whether I will be around to listen to what is being said because time is starting to pass me by pretty rapidly. However, I put this in all seriousness: One of the regrets I have relates to the fact that the President, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack, asked some 10 days ago, I think, for the party leaders to get together with him to look at the matter of the asking and answering of questions. Let us be a bit objective. I do not think that question time, particularly in the last few weeks, has done any credit to a national parliament.
– You are right.
– I do not want anybody to get over-sensitive about this but that is the situation. The idea has been built up that the good time for tourists to visit Parliament is question time. I have wondered for many years whether it is the best time. The serious debates, and the tremendous research put into them by honourable senators and, I think, by members of the House of Representatives, have been far more attractive than some of the question periods. 1 know perfectly well that because of the type of political situation we have in Australia, question time is bent a lot because honourable senators try to gain propaganda value. I wonder if people realise that the theory of Parliament in the Australian situation has been badly eroded. The theory is that we meet here, adopt an objective point of view and arrive at a decision. Because of the way politics have grown up in Australia, with the party system so firmly entrenched, the real decisions of Government and of Opposition are made in the party rooms. What happens in the Parliament becomes, to a degree, a ceremonial procedure. Superimposed on this are questions relating to propaganda and the electorate. Members of the Australian Parliament probably are more involved with their electorates than are the members of any other Parliament in the world. Some members of Parliament are tremendously aloof. They are there as legislators and legislators only. But in this country the situation has not grown up in that way. I do not make any comment on whether that is good or bad. The fact is that members are involved in electorates; they are involved in doing work which may be better done by departments; they are involved in ceremonial procedure; they are involved in the party rooms in policy making and they are involved in the business of asking questions with all this content coming into it. Often it is obvious that somebody has asked a question which is designed almost for the town, the suburb or the area in which he lives. Across the chamber we hear lots of ribald and friendly remarks about this sort of thing because we understand why this is being done.
Let me return to the narrative as I see it. There is no doubt that the President’s statement was in accordance with practice. He was in line with President Sir Alister McMul]in’s statement in 1967 that it was the practice of the Senate that a Minister had the right to ask that further questions be placed on the notice paper without proposing a motion. In getting this matter into perspective I stress that the Chair is guided by the practice of this chamber. On Tuesday last Mr President followed practice. I do not think any honourable senators could criticise him, whatever the decision might be on that. He said he was not prepared to throw a practice overboard unless he was directed to do so by the Senate. Of course the Senate has a perfect right to change practice. No-one disputes that. But before the Senate changes its practice it should consider very carefully a number of considerations.
Reference may be made to the 1967 debate when certain expressions of opinion were voiced by myself, other members of my Party and by members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party. I uphold the traditions of the Senate and its rights as strongly as does any other honourable senator in this place. But we must get some reason into the matter which we have before us tonight. The first thing to be remembered is that question time is now of much longer duration than it used to be. In 1967 question time was taking an average of 45 minutes. On the particular day to which I have referred it was 30 minutes. Senator Gorton, as he then was, made the point that question time had run for an hour. There was an interjection and he broke the time down to 50 minutes, but the records show that it was closer to 30 minutes. He was objecting, after 30 minutes, to the request that question time should go on. The fact is that this year question time has extended over about 2 hours. That is 4 times the period which was taken when I raised my objection in 1967. I think that any fair-minded person would say that that is a vastly different situation from that which we have had, not on one day but day after day when obviously there has been a pre-arrangement on the part of honourable senators opposite to keep question time going at any cost. Be that as it may. I have drawn the line and pointed to the contents that come into the situation. If honourable senators think there is some political advantage in that, then I suppose they have on their side one of those contents which I have mentioned.
I am merely saying that we are a national Parliament, we are living in very fast moving times and I wonder whether this is the sort of image of half of this Parliament which honourable senators opposite want to be projected to the general public and to other countries. I do not think anybody can deny that this Government has allowed reasonable time for questions. The problem is that the time taken by questions is becoming disproportionate to the time available for other urgent business. Some reason must be put into these proceedings. My first point is that no-one on this side of the chamber denies the right of honourable senators opposite to ask a reasonable number of questions. The only point at issue is the amount of time which should reasonably be allowed for questions without notice, having in mind that honourable senators also have the opportunity to put any number of questions on the notice paper. I remind the Senate of the practice in relation to the right of the Minister in charge to ask, after a reasonable time, that further questions bc placed on notice. 1 repeat that in 1967 President Sir Alister McMullin stated that it was the practice of the Senate that a Minister had the right to ask that further questions be placed on the notice paper without proposing a motion. This practice is based upon the rule of procedure that there is no obligation upon a Minister to answer questions. In other words, it is entirely discretionary with Ministers whether they answer questions.
– From what is the honourable senator quoting?
– 1 am not quoting. I am reading and referring to what Sir Alister McMullin said in 1967. 1 now remind the Senate of the practice in the House of Representatives. I point out that there are twice the number of members in the other place that there are in the Senate. The official description of procedure in the House of Representatives is as follows:
The period of questions without notice begins shortly after the commencement of a silling and continues for approximately 43 minutes and is ended by the Prime Minister requesting that further questions be placed on the notice paper.
I have never seen that challenged at any time in the House of Representatives. Let us look now al the Hansard record for the House of Representatives. On 4th October 1933 Mr Speaker is reported in this way: lt is entirely within the province of a Minister to refrain from answering questions. The Right Honourable the Prime Minister having intimated that rt is his desire that no further questions should be asked at this stage. I must, therefore, call on the next business.
Then on 13th October 1955 Hansard reports Mr Speaker as follows:
When the Leader of the House indicates that questions shall cease, the Chair has no alternative in the matter. . . lt will be seen, therefore, that the practice is the same in both Houses. If the Senate wishes to change that practice, that is its right. But honourable senators should think very carefully. If question time in the Senate has been unreasonbly curtailed there may be a case for change. But that is far from the position. Honourable senators are enjoying more question time than ever before. J point out that questions continue past the 45 minutes allowed for broadcasting so there cannot by any complaint in that regard. The foregoing represents some of the considerations which honourable senators must bear in mind when proposing any change in our well-tried practice. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that honourable senators are having their rights taken away. Indeed, they enjoy considerable latitude at question time. I put this to the Senate: Do not change our tried procedures without deep thought. But if honourable senators believe that improvements can be made, that is fair enough. The best way to go about that is to refer the matter of questions to the Senate Standing Orders Committee for a report. There would be other advantages in this because the length of question time is not the only matter which is concerning honourable senators. 1 look at the motion which has been put down by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and I wonder whether it is even workable. It states:
That, in the absence of any Standing Order on tha matter, honourable senators’ right to question Ministers is limited only by the judgment of the Senate, and that Ministers who seek recognition from the Senate are obliged to answer Questions. 1 think that what the honourable senator means by ‘seek recognition from the Senate’ is writing in the fact that there is no obligation on Ministers to answer questions. So if a Minister wishes to sit in his seat, he may. I used to see that done here quite a lot when I first came to this place. The Minister would just sit there, the President would look at him and then turn to the next questioner.
– They did not tell us that. They have conveniently forgotten that.
– I can remember it being done. 1 can remember too a Liberal, of whom I was tremendously fond. I thought that he was a very capable fellow. But we would ask him a series of questions and he would say: ‘No; no, T do not know; I have not got a clue; yes’, and then he would sit down. Looking back later, that was generally the situation. It used to be quite humorous but the fact was that he was answering to the best of his knowledge. The motion then continues: with a promptness and accuracy appropriate to ministerial responsibility.
I do not quite understand the middle section of the motion but I do appreciate that Senator Withers wants questions answered with a promptness and accuracy appropriate to ministerial responsibility*. 1 am glad that he included that phrase in the motion because within ministerial responsibility is the question of timing, lt would be fatal to answer certain questions. Honourable senators can imagine that in such areas as taxation and foreign affairs it would not be in the interests of Australia to make pronouncements.
Senator Withers also referred to the fact that I did not want this motion brought before the Senate tonight. 1 suppose that was a reasonable assumption, but I explained this morning that Senator Murphy is away; he is a member of the Standing Orders Committee; he is a lawyer and has the instincts in relation to drafting and the nuances of English which quite frankly I as a layman do not. have. I quite admired some of the former Ministers who are now in the Opposition for the way in which they answered questions. We have this peculiar situation in the Senate that is talked about around the corridors and about which we have never been able to do anything, that there are 3 times the number of Ministers in the other place that we have in the Senate. The Ministers in the Senate have to represent in this place the Ministers in the House of Representatives. When the present Opposition was in government Senator Wright and the other Ministers were faced with the same situation. lt is quite impossible to answer accurately and truthfully questions concerning a portfolio which the Minister in the Senate only represents. For instance, I represent the Treasurer, who has a complicated portfolio, and I represent also the Minister for the Australian Capital Territory. Obviously what Senator Sir Magnus Cormack was trying to do but never succeeded in doing was to have put on notice questions which sought detailed information.
If any honourable senator genuinely wants information - I am certain that I speak for all the other Ministers as well - he can put a question on the notice paper or, if he likes, he can come to me personally, as one of the
Liberal senators did the other day. He said: ‘I am very genuinely interested in this matter. Can you give me some documents on it,’ I said: ‘I will refer it to the appropriate Minister and if the information he supplies is not sufficient, ring me or come around and see me and I will certainly get the documents you require if they are available.’ The matter with which he was concerned related to international economic situations. So if an honourable senator genuinely wants information there are a dozen ways he can get it. It is quite ridiculous for honourable senators to ask questions concerning those portfolios for which ministerial responsibility rests in the House of Representatives.
– We will read the ‘Financial Review’ in future. It will probably be more productive.
– -I do not read newspapers very much because 1 find that–
– You ought to.
– I do not think I ought to.
– The date and the price are the only things that are right.
– I acknowledge that as a very good interjection from Senator Drake-Brockman. 1 often wish that members of Parliament would not read the newspapers so much because 1 think they stifle their own honest endeavours and they come into this place much more inhibited than they would be otherwise. They think they have to react to what they read in the newspapers. But, of course, we obtain most of our information from the newspapers. It is very difficult for a Minister when he is asked: ‘Did you read an article in the newspaper? Do you think it is true?’ To paraphrase what Senator DrakeBrockman pointed out, more often than not it is not true. I think any Minister would be silly to say: ‘Yes, there has been a war in Patagonia’, or something to that effect because of what appeared in the morning’s newspaper. 1 received a phone call the other morning at half past six. A fellow said: ‘We are on the air. Could you please tell us about the war that has broken out in’ - I will not mention the name of the country. I said: ‘Listen, I am still asleep.’ He said: ‘Haven’t you read the paper?’ I said: ‘No, I have not read the paper. I am quite incapable of reading the paper at this time.’ He said: ‘You cannot help me very much.’ I said: ‘Brother, we really agree. That is the understatement of the year. I do not know what you are talking about. I have not read the paper and even if I had read the paper I would not trust the headlines of a newspaper that said that a country was at war.’ Of course, the newspaper was completely wrong in its statement.
I said this morning that I would like this debate adjourned until Senator Murphy returned. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack obviously was trying to bring a little dignity into this place, and I would like the Senate to have a reasonable opportunity to deal with the matters that come before it. We are a new government that has been elected with a mandate to do certain things. Obviously the Opposition disagrees with a lot of the things that we want to do; 1 do not think it disagrees with all of them. People outside think that every Bill will be opposed, when in fact there is much more reasonableness in this place than the newspapers sometimes make out. lt is the responsibility of the Opposition to say whether it intends to amend or oppose a Bill, or what other attitude it intends to take. From what I have read I understand that the attitude of the Opposition is that it accepts broadly that we have a mandate but where it believes we do not have a mandate it will feel free to have a look at the situation. I do not think anybody can argue with that point of view. 1 come back to the point that we can get caught up in local situations, such as has arisen out of the visit to Australia of the Prime Minister of Yugoslavia, and what in the view of the Opposition was the unprecedented action of Senator Murphy after taking over a new department.
– He took it over all right.
– What 1 am trying to say here is that we now have a local situation and the Senate has before it a ministerial statement which will be debated in due course. Harsh things have been said, but if this motion is carried tonight before we have an opportunity to sit down and look at it. the hands of the Senate will be tied. As Senator Withers pointed out tonight - he quoted something I said in 1967, so I have arrived - by carrying this motion the Senate will write into the records of this Parliament something which will not be very good for the whole of the Parliament. When J objected that day in 1967 question time had been proceeding for about 30 minutes and the average time was 45 minutes. Question time has now been extended to 2 hours. Honourable senators opposite should be honest with themselves: A lot of the questions they have asked should have been put on the notice paper. I suggest to honourable senators opposite that many of those questions could well not have been asked. I repeat that if any honourable senator genuinely wants information I do .lot care whether he comes to my office to see my staff or, if he wants it in advance, rings me when the Senate is not sitting. I will do everything in my power to get him the information he seeks. If an honourable senator genuinely wants information I will certainly do everything possible to get it for him, and if any follow-up information is required that will be supplied also.
Today I gave Senator Mulvihill some information which has not yet been confirmed. It concerned a very delicate situation in which he is interested. I told him that when it was confirmed I would let him know. I will not be answering a question in the Senate on the matter unless the honourable senator asks me about it. We are a national Parliament and honourable senators have certain rights, and the Government will not in any way derogate from those rights. Honourable senators have been adopting the practice of asking questions for 2 hours. We have suggested that question time should be confined to about an hour and a quarter. Today, I think, it lasted an hour and 25 minutes before I finally asked that remaining questions be put on the notice paper.
Today the Senate found itself in a very unusual situation. I was sitting at the table and honourable senators were asking me questions in relation to a department that is one of the most difficult to administer in the lexicon of the national Parliament. I refer to the Attorney-General’s Department. Superimposed on that, honourable senators continued to ask questions about the delicate situation on which they have been questioning Senator Murphy. How do honourable senators expect me or anybody else in this chamber - I include honourable senators opposite - to answer questions about this matter on which questions have been asked now for so many days. But even when I asked that remaining questions be put on the notice paper there were complaints. I put it to honourable senators as fair minded people that they should defer debating this matter further until we have had reasonable time to consider it. We will not be going back to the 30 minutes of the days of 1967. A completely reasonable period of time in which to ask questions will be allowed. The responsibility for the effective use of that time lies with the Opposition. It can use that time more effectively by putting on notice those questions that obviously will have to go on notice anyway because they are impossible to answer off the cuff.
When it comes to answering questions concerning the portfolios for which I am responsible in this chamber I adopt a very simple approach. It is an approach that Senator Drake-Brockman described very well 2 or 3 years ago, probably when he was being chipped, in the sort of ribaldry that goes on in this place, about not answering questions. He said: ‘I will tell you what I know and, what I do not know I will find out for you’. I also adopt that attitude. In any field for which I am responsible I will tell honourable senators what I know, even if it would be embarrasing to me to do so.
– Who said that?
– I am saying it now.
– You did not answer a question in that way today.
– It is the honourable senator’s opinion that I did not answer that question.
– It is a fact.
– It is not a fact. Because of the way in which he is going on, I am starting to have less regard for Senator Webster’s opinion. I do not have anything to hide in this place. Although something may cause temporary embarrassment, I think it should be remembered that the nation is bigger than any one of us. I for one will take a leaf out of Senator Drake-Brockman’s book and tell honourable senators what I know and I will do my level best to get for honourable senators whatever information I do not have immediately at my disposal. Obviously those questions for which an answer is not readily available will have to go on notice. I think honourable senators should endeavour to get question time down to the seeking of information and pressing for answers on something which honourable senators think ought to be changed. I think that should be the point of question time. I have spoken for longer than I intended. I shall conclude my remarks by moving an amendment to the motion. I will do so because I think that those honourable senators who look at this matter in all reasonableness will appreciate that, after 73 years, there is no great urgency about changing the system tonight. I move:
– It was very regrettable and disappointing to see the flippant and indefinite way in which a motion of such importance as this was debated by Senator Willesee. I think that the first thing we should be conscious of is that the Senate has certain constitutional limitations. Particularly with regard to appropriations for ordinary annual services our limitations are quite severe. It is stated in the Constitution that the powers of the Senate shall be the same as the powers of the House of Representatives but the limitations, in the nature of things, of a second House, are quite severe. For instance, apart from the Senate’s limitations in respect of finance, it is the majority in the other House that determines which political party in the country has the opportunity of government, with all the power and influence that that confers upon that political party.
It ought to be one of the experiences in which we rejoice that there has been introduced into this place a system of election that has given to this place in the representation of the people a variety of political opinion that is not capable of being expressed elsewhere. We have a situation at present in the Senate where the Government is represented by a minority of senators - 26 in number - and where those not of the Government are 26 supporters of the Liberal and Country Parties, 5 supporters of the Australian Democratic Labor Party and 3 independent senators. I have referred to those facts because it is quite obvious that the right of that Opposition to question the Government upon matters of administration is a very important one - a right not to be subordinated simply because the Government has a majority in the House of Representatives. The Senate, by exercising these rights over the years and because of the work that has been put into the effort, has built up a situation where it is now a formidable unit of government in this country. There is not one of us here who is deserving of his salt who does not think that we should retain the authorities and powers that we inherited, unqualified, by our presence here, so that those who come after us will not be in a position to say that we have disparaged our inheritence
The motion which is before the Senate concerns the right of members of the Opposition to question those Ministers who owe their appointment to the Crown, who owe their nomination to the political party that has a majority in the other House and who owe their recognition in this place to the members of the Senate. Mr President, we could say that we will not have any representative Ministers. We could say that we will give audience to the Ministers from another House providing they submit themselves to questions at the appropriate time. We could alter the system in a revolutionary way in those respects. Bui we are dealing at the present time with a factual situation where the nominees of the Government in the other place consist of 6 honourable senators who discharge portfolios in their own right and represent, I think. 21 other Ministers. J believe that nobody, especially somebody who has recently left such a difficult situation, is unconscious of the difficulties involved in being ready with information in response to any question, instanter. But that is not what is involved here. The question that is being debated today has arisen from the fact that you, Sir, took the occasion on Tuesday of this week, as reported at page 567 of Hansard, to state:
Notwithstanding the September 1967 proceedings, there is still no obligation upon a Minister to answer questions, and if the Minister in charge asks after a certain time that further questions without notice be placed on the notice paper I believe that I have no alternative but to call the next business.
I submit with great respect, Sir, that that proposition is entirely unacceptable. The idea that Ministers are not under any obligation to their chamber to answer questions is heretical. lt is the very essence of a Minister’s responsibility to answer the questions of the members of the chamber in which he sits. In fact, some of the constitutional treatises go so far as to say that the other powers and authorities of the individual back bencher have been so eroded that perhaps this is the only effective parliamentary exercise that is still left to the back bencher. It is not in any degree a proposition to which I subscribe, but the fact that constitutional authorities go so far indicates the importance of erasing from the record the proposition that there is no obligation upon a Minister to answer questions. If we got to that situation, Mr President, Ministers could snap their fingers at us and simply do what Senator Willesee erroneously, according to his recollection, said Ministers had done in the first years of his experience here - sit in their seats, he said, and just wave the question aside. If the question is impertinent or insulting the Minister, of course, as a matter of self respect will say: ‘1 decline to answer’. But if the question is not improper in its form the Minister is obliged to answer accurately and with a promptness that is proper if he recognises his obligation in the Parliament to answer questions that are put by members. T submit it is nothing to the point as to how long the question period is.
– All duy.
– All day, if necessary, of course; and all the week, if necessary, on occasions when the Senate by a majority thinks that that is the proper thing to do. lt is stated in the elementary book on Senate procedure which our Clerk provides from time to time:
The Standing Orders prescribe no limit to the duration of questions without notice.
– Read the last sentence in that paragraph.
– He cannot read.
– Listen to the Tasmanian devil.
– I hear the interjections; ‘He cannot read’ and ‘The Tasmanian devil’ coming from the side whose leader has rested upon dignity to curtail our constitutional right to question, and the insulting suggestion is made that I take a sentence out of context and do not convey its substantial meaning, and I am asked to read the whole of the text. I shall do so. The introduction to the chapter is:
Without doubt. to the onlooker the must obvious manifestation of responsible government Le., the direct accountability of the executive to the Parliament, is question time. For about an hour, Senate Ministers are subjected to questions of private Senators, both Government members and Opposition members, with respect to the administration of their departments and the departments they represent in the Senate on behalf of Ministers in the House of Representatives. With a variety of questions, the searchlight is thrown on to all aspects of Government….. ‘ ‘’’.”=, and Ministers must account for their administration.
Ministers must account for their administration. The text goes on:
Questions can be asked without notice, or upon notice, only at the time set down for the purpose. Questions on notice are not called on by the President until after questions without notice have been disposed of. The Standing Orders prescribe no limit to the duration of questions without notice. In practice about three-quarters to one hour is usually occupied on questions . . .
– I will go on only when I get silence. If the dignity of the Senate is served by acquiescence in interjections taking the place of speech, I will try to assert myself above them. The text goes on:
In practice about three-quarters to one hour is usually occupied on questions without notice at the expiration of which time the Leader of the Senate may ask Senators to put any further questions on the Notice Paper.
– That is right.
– May ask, not authorised to direct in a manner that compels the President to have no alternative but to call on the next business. The Leader of the Government may ask, and if the majority by impression or otherwise assents, the President, of course, in the orderly conduct of business calls on the next item of business. That passage, now quoted in full, shows the elementary and fundamental part of ministerial responsibilities to answer questions, and the passage in the text of the statement which you, Mr President, read on 27th March that there is still no obligation upon a Minister to answer questions’ is a piece of printing which should be completely rubbed out of our records in this day and age.
Mr President, 15 years ago I was confronted with the proposition when I moved a motion to table papers that that practice was obsolete, that in the view of the Public Accounts Committee and for other reasons there was no need to table papers, and my motion was rejected. I am a patient soul, a submissive soul, but very persistent in the pursuit of principle and the preservation of the constitutional rights of this chamber, and not only the preservation, the improvement of them. Therefore, Mr President, I do not find myself at all persuaded that what Senator Willesee put forward in response to the speech that was made by my leader, Senator Withers, and what was supported by Senator
Murphy, can be accepted tonight simply because it is said that we have lost dignity by extending our question time, and that the tourists will cease to regard question time as the most interesting period of our performance. To hear the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate refer to that guff is really lowering the status of a proper conception of the principle that we are debating.
I rise to say that if a Minister in this chamber is to be absolved from the obligation to answer questions according to ministerial responsibility, having regard to our other constitutional limitations, that constitutes an important deprivation of our fundamental constitutional rights. Then, having said that, and conceding to the Minister the judgment of any person who rises to that position of responsibility and is accredited by the Crown to this chamber as a Minister whom we should recognise, we trust his sense of responsibility ordinarily as to the manner and time of answering. But when one comes to the curtailment of a whole series of questions by direction of the President, in effect, by putting some proposition to the President that gives him no alternative but then to call other business - that is a deprivation of the Senate’s right to continue questioning and fundamentally erodes our authority.
Much has been said about the time taken on questions. I have not gone into the menial arithmetical task of calculating - but 1 wish somebody would do so - the entirety of the period from when questions start until they finish, and the proportion of that time taken by those sorts of irrelevant answers that are injected into it, firstly, to avoid the question and, secondly, to put forward political propaganda. Senator Murphy has indulged himself in long propaganda answers to a tedious and intolerable stage - intolerable for private members because of the time they occupied. Some questions are too long but I venture to suggest, without making an arithmetical calculation, that an examination would show that fully 45 per cent of question time is taken up by such answers as would be unnecessary but for an effort to evade the issue and to put forward political propaganda on the part of Ministers.
Obviously we have a Government that has gone around the world to attract a cohort of communist companions from overseas governments. The next step was a visit here by a foreign Prime Minister with his secret police, his praetorian guard. That time was chosen for an assault upon the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, not by a private member or an organised propaganda movement outside the Parliament but by the AttorneyGeneral himself. External overtures are made to communism, uniting the whole communist world as our allies, if not to the displacement of our erstwhile allies then at least showing preference against them. This is accompanied by the internal subversion of ASIO by people who are entrusted with its preservation. That situation demands from an Opposition of any virility, responsibility or purpose whatever a pursuit of questions even until the House adjourns. Make no mistake, if this motion is carried and the AttorneyGeneral reappears at question time next week, many more questions will have to be answered before he satisfies a minority in the Senate or a minority of people outside the Parliament that his purposes behind the assault upon ASIO were proper.
I make no apologies. Whereas Odgers’ book tells us that ordinarily the question period is 45 minutes to 60 minutes, in times of national importance, for as long as we retain the right, we will not recognise in this chamber Ministers who disclaim the obligation to answer questions with accuracy and promptness in accordance with ministerial responsibility. So long as we have that right we shall probe questions of high national importance, such as a very important move for the subversion of ASIO at a time when that organisation had a particular duty not to have its attention diverted from surveillance of the Yugoslav praetorian guard in association with any other Yugoslav Government representatives who may have been here. It was most important that ASIO should not have its attention diverted but at that time a praetorian guard of Commonwealth police appeared. Hitler had special police. These Commonwealth police were deputed to take possession of the premises of ASIO. If that is not an occasion to warrant the Opposition’s persisting with its questions, I do not know what is. My activity has enabled me, without the slightest degree of tiredness, to rise in my place as promptly as I can 15 times during question time but, having regard to the just claims of those who sit alongside me, to be able to ask only about 2 questions in 70 minutes. So that in a full question time of 90 minutes, 120 minutes, or if need be 4 hours, I could ask only 6 or 7 questions.
I have dealt with the matter from the points of view of our constitutional position, questioning being a particular right of the Opposition with a corresponding obligation upon a Minister to answer. I have dealt with the exertion of that right in the particular circumstances of this week. A reflection of only a minute upon the matters to which I have adverted makes it imperative that the motion be carried if the Senate is not to be reduced to a snail’s pace, as the Government would wish. I suggest that the motion should commend itself to the Senate for the preservation of those fundamental rights.
– We have heard an emotional speech from Senator Wright on the dignity, constitutional rights and ability of the Senate by force of numbers to take all day if need be to ask questions oh matters of national importance. On this side of the chamber Ministers have been extremely tolerant in the 3i weeks that we have been sitting in government. From the first day of the session we have allowed questions to be asked for up to 2 hours, long before the issue about which Senator Wright became so emotional ever raised its head. Had standing order 99 been strictly conformed to and had we on this side of the chamber, and the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) in particular, raised the matter not one of the hundreds of questions that have been asked would have been found to be in order. We could have got out from under at that level. The latter part of standing order 99, which very few honourable senators opposite would have bothered to read, provides:
Questions shall not anticipate discussion upon an Order of the Day or other matter which appears on the Notice Paper.
It is clear that all the questions that have been asked of Senator Murphy previously and Senator Willesee today on the ASIO issue could properly have been ruled out of order by the President on the basis of standing order 99. Item 14 on the notice paper under the heading Government Business is ‘Croatian terrorism in Australia’. We have repeatedly said that the Opposition can debate this matter at any time but it has not done so. Honourable senators opposite are still running away from it but they want to conduct an inquisition to get ammunition, not from their own minds or their own research but by question and answer. The Government has not exercised its right to invoke standing order 99 in relation to this matter. It has allowed questions to flow. The anger of honourable senators opposite is due to the fact that Senator Murphy has handled them so well. He has handled them so adequately that they cannot get under his guard.
The former Attorney-General has been damned throughout the nation because of the statement that was presented in the Senate by Senator Murphy. Senator Greenwood said, in effect, that he would answer the charges chapter and verse. He has had plenty of time to do it but has not chosen to do so. As far as I understand, the offer still stands. The Ministers of my Party on the front bench will confirm this. The Opposition could have debated the matter tonight if it wished to do so. It could have been debated yesterday or any day it liked. But Senator Greenwood prefers to sit there and ask question after question rather than get up and answer the charges that have been put down chapter and verse in the Senate. The truth about Senator Greenwood when he was Attorney-General is this: He was so obsessed with catching 20- year-old boys who did not believe in conscription to fight in an undeclared war and women who decided that this conscription action was so wrong that he never had the time to find out whether terrorism existed. Indeed, according to the documents that have been placed before the Senate and the statement made by Senator Murphy, he did not care, which is the most central thing of all. He did not care. That has been proved.
What honourable senators opposite have tried to do is to use question time as a venue to switch the Attorney-General’s action to an attack on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Two newspapers and one commentator on the radio have said that the former Attorney-General has been discredited for all time. His great ambition was to enter the Senate, float through gently and quietly, except for some nights when the moon was full and then get into the High Court. He intended to sit there in judgment on everybody. He has missed out because the people of Australia saw through these people and threw them out of office. All of his sins, or many of them, have come home. No doubt, if it were necessary to go through the files of the Com monwealth Police and ASIO we would find many more things that he has swept under the carpet that should have been brought to the light of day. But his obsession was such that he had to arrest young university students, pluck teachers out of schools at which they were teaching children, put women in gaol for handing out pamphlets that were against the principles that honourable senators opposite believe in. He was very adept at this. He used to have the Commonwealth Police running all over Sydney in droves because someone had made a telephone call that so and so was in a certain house at such and such a time.
– On Christmas Day.
– Yes, on Christmas Day. In other cases it was in the middle of the night because he thought one of these terrible lads who was refusing to accept the blood ballot of this country was hiding in a place. While this was going on these Croats, with complete immunity, were building their bombs. He said ‘There is no evidence that these organisations exist’. Buildings were blown up. Flats of individuals in this country were blown up. People were living in terror for their lives and he was running around looking for some person who on principle would not fight in a filthy war. Honourable senators opposite would use question time in the Senate as an excuse for an interrogation. No honourable senator would ever say that I have never stood in support of the rights of honourable senators at every level. I have supported their right to speak. I have never supported either in the Caucus of my Party or in the Senate the right to reduce a person’s right to speak. In fact, I believe that the original Standing Orders of the Senate that go back many years were correct and proper. They stated that no honourable senator should be placed in a situation where he would have to sit down after half an hour, an hour or an hour and a half. But since the Labor Party became the Government, each day at question time, long before this matter arose, honourable senators opposite took up to 2 hours on questions and wanted to ask further questions. We were very tolerant in that regard. We have never at any time said that question time would be curtailed. The Ministers have sat in the Parliament and answered questions competently and as fully as they could. This is a far cry from the situation that prevailed under the former Government when Ministers asked for every second question to be placed on the notice paper. Let us examine in detail the motion that Che Senate is asked to pass tonight. It states:
That, in the absence of any standing order on the matter, honourable senators’ rights to question Ministers is limited only, by the judgment of the Senate .. .
This is nothing more or less than a simple operation of the numbers game. The motion states further: . . and that Ministers who seek recognition from the Senate are obliged to answer Questions with a promptness and accuracy appropriate to ministerial responsibility.
I recall an occasion when the Acting Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Malcolm Scott, was being questioned by honourable senators who were then in Opposition in relation to aircraft noise in Sydney. He answered questions in the Senate in direct denial of the Minister’s answers in another place. Two honourable members from the House of Representatives, Mr Arthur and Mr Bosman, whose seats were in danger were running over to the Senate chamber to hear the false answers that Senator Malcolm Scott was giving in reply to questions asked by Senator Douglas McClelland. Honourable senators opposite talk about answering questions accurately and correctly. How do we assess this? Honourable senators opposite would never believe anything said by an honourable senator on this side of the Senate, whether it was true or false, if it served their interests to make political capital out of the protection of the great right wing organisations that they have fostered in this country. This is a fact of life.
People who for 20 years have wanted to be Australians are now naturalised citizens. But honourable senators opposite would not even naturalise them. Do honourable senators know why? It is because they were members of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria, that terrible left wing State. So if a person becomes a member of the ALP in Victoria he is not entitled, in the view of honourable senators opposite, to Australian citizenship. This is the type of freedom that they wish to impose on us. This is the type of thing they want to do to frustrate the Government that has the numbers in another place but has not the numbers in this place. We are not greatly concerned about this situation. Honourable senators opposite can filibuster and stall for as long as they like, but eventually they have to come before the people of this country and their actions are on record now and will be on record for years to come. The judgment of the people of Australia will be that the Senate also requires a majority of Government honourable senators. They will make that loud and clear.
I listened very intently to the remarks made earlier in the debate. Senator Withers was referring to an incident that occurred in the Senate before I was a member of it. It was in relation to a protest by Senator Willesee after it was requested that all further questions be placed on notice. That was after a period of only 30 minutes of questioning, not the 2 hours that has been used up day after day by the Opposition that is so frustrated that it is trying to find some outlet to get back at the Government. It was after a mere 30 minutes. Even at this time, the situation was that the normal period for questioning was 45 minutes to an hour. Honourable senators opposite are. using this as a precedent to move a motion that will take out of the control of the Government the passage of urgent legislation that must be passed if the Commonwealth is to continue to function. I warn honourable senators opposite that if they proceed with this motion it will be at their own peril. The Australian people will decide at the ballot box whom they want - whether they want the Government that is prepared to legislate on the basis of the mandate it has secured or whether they want the carping Opposition that is frustrating the legislation that we propose to pass on behalf of this nation and the people within it.
The motion is cumbersome and stupid and it should never be carried by the Senate. Perhaps it will be carried because honourable senators opposite have the numbers. But if they carry it they will rue the day. I hope that honourable senators who think about these things will vote against the motion which obviously is designed to frustrate Government business and for another purpose that I believe is becoming apparent. I do not like to raise this point, but 1 believe that this is true. This is an obvious attack on the President whose unbiased operations in the Chair are disturbing honourable senators opposite. He has carried out his duty with a lack of bias that is really something of which he should be proud. He has carried out his duty in a competent way. Because of the petulance of some honourable senators opposite who cannot get the call to ask questions 7 or 8 times in a row they are making this indirect attack on a man who I believe is one of the finest Presidents that this Senate has ever had.
– Order! I should like to say to honourable senators, if they will permit me this observation, that whereas it is entirely permissible in debate to diverge from the subject matter of a substantive motion for the purposes of illustration, I would be grateful if they would confine themselves to the substantive motion moved by Senator Withers.
- Mr President, in the light of the concluding, remarks of Senator Poyser, I want to assure you that as far as I am concerned, this is no attack upon you at all. There is the proposition that question time should be limited by a particular device, and practice has been quoted in support of that proposition. There is also the proposition that we should not limit question time. The Australian Democratic Labor Party supports the proposition which has been put by Senator Withers. In the last Parliament we had the spectacle quite often of Ministers being singled out and asked to bear a very heavy burden of questions, as Senator Withers has pointed out, not only for one day but day after day. The questions certainly did not have the relevance or the importance to this nation of the matter that has engaged the attention of the Senate for the past week.
I refer to the occasion when the then Minister for Customs and Excise, Senator Scott, was merciful to an employee in his Department who had sought mercy and in respect of whom supporters of the present Government, had they been trade union officials representing the men, would have asked the Minister to do precisely what he did. I heard Senator Scott suffer a barrage of questions day after day for nearly a month. I do not know that that was in the interests of the nation, ft was more a personal vendetta over an act of charity that had been extended by the Minister, and 1 do not think it added to the dignity or prestige of the Senate.
The situation that has brought about the question that we are discussing tonight, however, is entirely different. Senator Poyser spent quite some time in pointing this out, although T thought he approached it from the wrong angle. He suggested that some of the questions that have been asked were out of order because we have had placed before us a paper which purports to deal with the question of Croatian terrorism. But for several days the nation was perturbed because there had been a raid on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, lt is yet to be decided whether this had anything to do with Croatian terrorism, if such a thing exists in this country. 1 have an authority to quote in this regard. The paper that was placed on the table of the Senate alleging great acts of Croatian terrorism was in itself denied by some of the evidence that was produced by the Minister who placed the paper on the table, in documents which were seized from ASIO and which were marked secret’, but whose secrecy was lifted by the Minister himself, other acts of Croatian terrorism are alleged by ASIO. For instance there is a very strong allegation and belief expressed by ASIO in a document headed ‘Document A 1.1’, that the Yugoslav Government is engaging in murderous activities against Croat emigres in various parts of the world. Surely the fact that the Minister, after a raid on ASIO, presents a paper purporting to discuss Croatian terrorism, which is what Senator Murphy has sifted from the papers that he himself seized, does not deny us the right to ask questions about terrorism being practised in other countries by the Yugoslav Government itself. I quote from page 2 of this document A 13 which is marked ‘Secret’ but which now has been declared not to be secret. It states:
However, on 20th April, 1969, the founder of HNO General Maks Lubric was murdered ai his villa in Carcagente, Spain. It was widely believed at the lime that this killing occurred at the instigation of the Yugoslav security authorities. There is circumstantial support for this view inasmuch as the Yugoslav authorities have made no secret of the fact that they are prepared to operate outside Yugoslavia in order to revenge acts of terrorism committed against Yugoslavia. Furthermore, overseas sources indicate that in recent years there has been a growing volume of murders and attempted murders committed on prominent identities within the Croatian emigre community of Europe.
I suggest that there is the refutation of Senator Poyser’s argument that the only thing before the Senate is the paper that has been produced by the Minister, which suggests that all he found in ASIO was some evidence of Croatian activity in this country, and that the only matter that we are supposed to consider is that paper.
This document was released by Senator Murphy, and 1 am certain that he would not have declassified secret documents without personal knowledge of what each one of them contained. We were to have a visit from the Yugoslav Prime Minister, accompanied by members of the Yugoslav secret police, and in this document which, as I say, was released by Senator Murphy, ASIO says that there has been growing world opinion - and I presume that ASIO would have received that information from other security organisations - that the Yugoslav Government itself was engaged in acts of terrorism and murder in other countries. It would be a reasonable assumption, failing any stronger evidence that we have to date that Croats in this country have been solely responsible for acts of violence, that the acts of violence could have come from this other source which has been revealed in the documents that have been declassified and tabled here by Senator Murphy himself. It is for Senator Murphy to answer whether he considers that it would improve foreign relationships to remove the secrecy from this document and have it become public property between this country and the country whose Prime Minister was invited to come to Australia by our Prime Minister. Surely nobody can limit our right to ask questions on these matters. The Minister has produced a document. I have dealt with only one of the things disclosed by the document, that is, the matter of Croatian terrorism as alleged by him. 1 believe that the other aspect is far more important than the documents that have been tabled by Senator Murphy. I believe that at no time should question time in the Senate be limited. Questions are asked to elicit information. We have a stack of documents that is at least 3 feet to 4 feet high.
– Not everyone got a copy of them.
– No. It will be weeks before we know all that Senator Murphy apparently knows about the documents. He is the one man who should know everything that is in every document, because he has declassified these documents which were formerly secret documents. They are now public property not only for this country and for this Parliament but for people throughout the world. We know that security organisations have many means of gathering information. Many of the documents and letters are signed. This Parliament should not be limited in the time spent in dealing with them.
We must consider what would be the effect of limiting the time spent on questions. I refer to what happened in the previous Parliament. I could quote many examples of what happens once question time is limited in any way. The Senate often debated the motion for adjournment until 1 a.m., 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. Sometimes perhaps the matters discussed during the debate were not of great national importance. For weeks during adjournment debates we discussed a 4-year- old case about some Aboriginal girls at Yuendumu.
– And the Bogle murder.
– We had the Bogle murder mystery solved for us after many long hours of sitting during the adjournment debate. The limiting of question time in the Senate would lead to a far greater sacrifice of the time of the Senate due to the consequent extension of adjournment debates. One of the remarkable features of the whole discussion on this matter of tremendous national importance that has developed from the various aspects of the raids on ASIO by the AttorneyGeneral is that the matter has not been raised during an adjournment debate. I refer not only to the raids on ASIO but also to what the Attorney-General alleges is Croatian terrorism, although I have failed to find any proof yet that it is actually caused by Croats. One man who has been charged said that he is a Serb and not a Croat. I wonder where we are getting to when we say specifically that the terrorism is caused only by Croats. But that is for another debate at another time.
I have deliberately not touched upon matters which have been dealt with by Senator Wright and Senator Withers when they spoke to the motion. I have dealt with other aspects of this matter which I think are relevant to the discussion. The matter is not an unimportant one. We are trying to arrange the business of the Senate reasonably so that we can deal with problems of great national importance. It was the Government and the AttorneyGeneral who projected into the Senate the question of the importance of a national security organisation which has been established for a considerable period of time, a security organisation which governments of all political complexions-
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Order! Senator Little, you have had a great deal of latitude on this subject. I think it is time for you to connect your remarks to the motion.
– I shall endeavour to do that. I thought that everything I said in the course of the debate was at least relevant to the views expressed by Senator Poyser. He was given complete latitude. All that i have done has been to reply to him and introduce the question of whether the limiting of question time would-
– You are speaking of a matter which should not be limited by limiting question time.
– 1 think that reference to the transference to the adjournment debate of matters which could be dealt with by way of question and answer is very relevant to the motion. Surely we are considering the whole ambit of the work of the Senate and whether the Senate should use 1, 2 or 3 hours, or all the hours up to the time of adjournment, on questions if it be the will of the Senate.
If the motion is carried and if it is left to the good sense of the Senate, as it has been on each occasion this week, to decide that question time shall come to a close after 2 hours or even 3 hours, 1 believe that the good sense of the Senate will prevail. The Senate is composed of people who are well capable of taking into account other business which is before it and which is important to the nation. They will not be carried away to the extent, which Senator Wright suggested when making his point, of spending the whole day on questions. We know the consequences. We would have to make more hours available for the adjournment debate if we limited question time. We did sit late at night on some occasions. I am certain that honourable senators will keep this matter well to the forefront of their minds and that they will limit, of their own volition, question time rather than have a procedure adopted - whether by practice or under the Standing Orders - by which question time ends automatically at the will of a Minister. I support what Senator Wright has said about the rights of Ministers in this area. Certainly no Minister can be expected to answer a question if he does not know the answer. When he does answer I think it is his responsibility as well as his right, as a Minister, to answer to the best of his ability. Minis ters have made mistakes. They must be expected to make mistakes. They must be expected to make errors of judgment. If they do their best 1 do not believe that they will be judged harshly by the Senate for their mistakes at any time. I believe that if the whole matter is left in the hands of the Senate it will be in very safe hands. It is for that reason and for the reasons and the propositions which have been stressed in the course of the debate that I believe that a limitation should not be placed on question time. I believe that a time limit on questions dealing with the content of the statement made by the Attorney-General on ASIO is completely unacceptable to the idea that the Senate should play its role in the government of the country and in the actions of a government, whatever its political complexion may be. It is for those reasons that I on behalf of the Democratic Labor Party, support the motion.
– I believe that the whole purpose of the motion is to sabotage the President of the Senate. It has no purpose other than that. The sabotage has been committed by members of his own Party. Let us examine the motion moved by Senator Withers. The first point that he makes is that question time should continue at the will of the Senate. That has been the position since 27th February. Question time has been continued at the will of the Senate. Long before the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation matter arose and long before the matter of Croats in this country arose, there was an extension of question time at the will of the Senate. The motion also refers to ‘Ministers who seek recognition’. Recognition by whom? They are Ministers authorised by the GovernorGeneral, the Queen’s representative in this country. It is not up to the will of the Senate to recognise them or not. They have been sworn in as Ministers of the Crown and form part of Her Majesty’s Government in this country, lt is not for honourable senators opposite or anyone else to recognise them; they are recognised by the proper authority. The motion continues: . . from the Senate are obliged to answer questions. . . .
I repeat: ‘obliged to answer questions’. I have been in the Senate for nearly 14 years.
– Too long.
– I suppose it is too long. I quite believe that it is too long, lt is too long for some people to have lived on this bloody earth.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Senator Cant!
– What does the learned Clerk of the Senate say in his book ‘Australian Senate Practice’? At page 149 of that volume he said:
It is a well established rule of procedure that there is no obligation upon a Minister to answer a question. It is entirely discretionary with Ministers as to whether or not they answer questions.
That was a ruling given by President Baker, President Gould, President Givens, President Lynch and President Mattner, and it was never disputed. Each of those Presidents of this Senate has ruled that a Minister is not obliged to answer questions. We are dealing with a motion moved for political purposes in an attempt to embarrass the elected Government of this country. The Opposition is trying to impose these sorts of conditions upon Ministers. The motion says that Ministers are not only ‘obliged to answer questions’ but are required to answer them ‘with a promptness and accuracy. . . .’ I practically gave away question time in this place because I could not get answers to questions. Every time I asked a question, after having done some research on the subject, it was placed on the notice paper. I have had questions to Ministers in this place on the notice paper for up to 7 months without getting an answer.
– That is why we should not curtail question time.
– It does not matter whether we curtail the time or not, Senator Little; we are not going to have question time lasting for 7 months. The motion says that Ministers should answer questions ‘with a promptness and accuracy appropriate to Ministerial responsibility.’ What is meant by the phase ‘accuracy appropriate to Ministerial responsibility’? I have sat in this chamber and watched question time abused and prostituted for political purposes day after day. Senator Wright was one of the greatest offenders but he stood here tonight and made an emotional speech in support of this motion. Another great offender, a former Prime Minister, Senator Gorton as he then was, used question time every day for political purposes. We talk about Ministers being subjected to questions. 1 remember question time when we were deal ing with the VIP aircraft flights. I remember the then Prime Minister of Australia, the late Harold Holt, and the then Minister for Air answering questions in the other place in which they said that flight manifests were not available. I remember the late Senator McKellar, who represented in this place the Minister for Air, answering questions by saying that flight manifests were not available. Yet during all that time Senator Gorton was sitting on the manifests in his seat in this chamber.
– And he produced them.
– And later he produced them. He was sitting on them in that seat.
– The record shows that.
– Of course it does. That was absolute sabotage of his own Prime Minister. That is exactly what the Opposition is trying to do tonight to the President of the Senate. A little while ago when Senator Wright was speaking there were some interjections from this side of the chamber. The interjectors said that he could not read. Senator Wright took umbrage at people making that statement. He was asked to read the whole paragraph from which he quoted the first sentence but did not do so. Whether or not he can read is another matter but I shall read that paragraph and indicate the words that Senator Wright left out.
– I do not know whether it was deliberate. You accused him of not being able to read. I refer to page 141 of ‘Australian Senate Practice’. Under the heading General’ these words appear:
Questions can be asked without notice, or upon notice, only at the time set down for the purpose.
A mark appears at that point to draw attention to the passage I read earlier relating to a ruling by President Givens. The author continued:
Questions on notice are not called on by the President until after questions without notice have been disposed of. The Standing Orders prescribe no limit to the duration of questions without notice. In practice, some half -
That is the word that the honourable senator could not read - - some half to three-quarters of an hour is usually occupied on questions without notice . . .
– I think you are reading from a different place.
– I am reading from the latest issue of ‘Australian Senate Practice’.
– Who wrote it?
– It was written by the learned Clerk of this Senate who stated that some half to three-quarters of an hour’ is the practice in this place. Senator Wright could not read the word ‘half. Whether that was deliberate or whether he cannot read is another question about which I make no charges but I say that he did not read the quotation.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the imputation that I deliberately misread or omitted to read relevant material should not be made against an honourable senator. My text is:
In practice, about three-quarters to one hour is usually occupied on questions without notice.
I think Senator Cant should withdraw the imputation that 1 was misreading or omitting to read relevant material.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) - Senator Cant, I leave it to your good judgment. You have heard the explanation.
– I do not propose to withdraw what I said. I extend to Senator Wright the courtesy that someone has typed the quotation for him and has done so inaccurately.
– It is a photographic copy. I lay it upon the table to test the honourable senator’s honesty and eyesight.
– A most peculiar machine.
– Yes. It is a photographic copy of those words in the fourth edition of that work. This just shows what a pigsty the honourable senator is used to.
– 1 have the latest issue of Australian Senate Practice’ and the only reference in the margin relates to President Givens of 1917-1919. I can hardly conceive that the Clerk would not have had the full quotation in previous editions of ‘Australian Senate Practice’. Anyhow, if Senator Wright is offended I will withdraw the words but I maintain my view that the Clerk of the Senate has, in ‘Australian Senate Practice’, instructed the people of the world, not just of Austra ia, that question time extends for some half to three-quarters of an hour. Mr Deputy
President, I do not know how far you will allow me to proceed. Senator Wright said: The idea that Ministers are not obliged to answer questions in the chamber in which they sit cannot be countenanced’. No Minister is obliged to answer a question. At any time any Minister can ask for a question to be placed on notice.
– For answer later.
– Yes, for answer later and at his convenience.
– No, at the convenience of the Senate.
– At the convenience of the Minister. The Minister has to provide the information for the answer. He can leave it as long as he likes. I have already to’d the Senate that I have waited up to 7 months for an answer because the question was political and embarrassing to a Minister at the time. A Minister can leave a question on notice for an indefinite time if he wants to do so. lt is the prerogative of a Minister not to answer the question at the time. Yet the proposition which Senator Withers puts forward is that the Minister shall answer with promptness and accuracy. That sort of ruling cannot be countenanced by this Senate. Senator Wright went on further to say that time was occupied in providing irrelevant answers in order to cover up or to evade the question. The honourable senator should remember that even before he was a Minister he complained about irrelevant answers to questions. On many occasions during the time he was a Minister honourable senators who now form a Government but who then sat on the Opposition side complained about the irrelevant answers which Senator Wright gave.
– I do not remember one occasion.
– I am not one to say that the honourable senator does not have a good memory; he has. But on this occasion 1 say that it is convenient. The proposition is put that Ministers place irrelevancies in answers in order to evade the questions. I do not agree that my Ministers have done that. I think that in the short time they have been in office they have done a remarkably good job in answering the questions which have been rolled up to them by an Opposition which has 23 years of information behind it. The new Ministers have not been shown any courtesy to allow them to obtain the knowledge of their portfolios which will enable them to answer questions. Right from the start they have been bombarded with questions. I say that the whole of the proposition put by Senator Withers is wrong. Senator Wright goes further, or perhaps not further because Senator Withers’ motion is to the effect that the end of question time shall be at the will of the Senate. I am not too sure whether Senator Withers meant what Senator Wright stated, namely, that this could go even until the adjournment as laid down by sessional orders. When Senator Wright was speaking he said that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation matter demands that the right be given to the Opposition to extend question time even until the time of the adjournment.
It is the science of numbers which destroys democracy. Because they have the numbers on the opposite side, honourable senators have become so arrogant with their power that they think that they can subvert the Government. But there is always a day of reckoning. I assure honourable senators opposite that the day of reckoning will nol be far away if they continue with the tactics which they have been adopting since 27th February. The Government of Australia has been given a mandate by the people. It is a mandate to implement the policy which it placed before the people. The Government will not be frustrated by an Opposition majority in the Senate because we will go to the people and honourable senators opposite will answer for their misdeeds if they continue in this manner. The motion before the Chair tonight is impractical and incapable of being enforced. lt should not be before the Senate at this time.
– I rise to support the motion and, in doing so, to indicate that I feel that there are misconceptions about what the motion says and what its consequences will be if it is passed. Honourable senators will appreciate that what has occurred in the last 2 days is something which has not had an expression in this chamber, certainly in the 5 years that I have been here, and I understand for a very much longer period. It is a practice which is found in past records and is honoured by the fact that the President made a ruling. What was that ruling? This is the kernel of the problem. The ruling was that if a Minister of the Crown at any stage says to the Senate that all further questions will be put on notice, then no further questions without notice may be asked. That is a power which could deny the right of any honourable senator, and particularly of honourable senators on the Opposite side, to ask questions if Ministers felt that the heat was getting too strong. It could be done after 5 minutes of question time; it could be done after half an hour of question time; it could be done after 2 hours of question time. The power is an enormous power because it concedes to a Minister the opportunity to terminate questions whenever he pleases. To me, this is a denial of the rights of honourable senators. It strikes fundamentally at the functions of honourable senators in this place. We must recognise that the right to ask Ministers questions is one of the inviolable rights of any member of Parliament. 1 pass no comment on the practice which has developed in the other place where they have 45 minutes of question time each day. This means that any member of the House of Representatives, if all of his colleagues want to ask questions, may have to wait 3 or 4 weeks before he can ask his question. It is not for me to comment upon those procedures and the way in which that House conducts its business. But in this chamber over many years we have had an unlimited question time. On some days question time has gone for 15 minutes; on other days it has gone for 2 hours or longer. It is a right which I regard as so precious that it ought not to be cut down. What is involved in the actions of Senator Murphy in the past 2 days in asking that, further questions be put on notice is the introduction into this chamber of a limitation on question time without the will of the Senate being expressed on whether that is what it wants. I cannot overstate the value of question time to a democracy and the functioning of Parliament. Ministerial responsibility, the accountability of Ministers to Parliament and the awareness of the public depends upon people being able to ask Ministers questions about those things on which Ministers do not want to speak. I can only say that on the experience over the last 2 or 3 days, in relation to some issues raised over the period of this Parliament under the new Government, we of the Opposition have formed the clear impression that there are Ministers who do not want to tell those things which Opposition members want to know and which the Ministers are in a position to tell. We are a distinctive House in which we have evolved over the years distinctive roles, and our unlimited question time is one of them. I feel that if an occasion arises where appropriately question time could go for the whole of one day’s sitting it would be a desirable thing, if the public interest demanded it and if there were sufficient senators who wanted to ask questions. On the other hand, if there is no great issue at stake - and we have seen days when few people have wanted to ask questions - then why should not question time finish after 5 or 10 minutes?
What I believe should be maintained is the right of honourable senators to ask questions and that right on any particular day should be terminated only by a vote of the Senate and not by a direction of the Minister of the day. That is what the motion before the Senate is designed to achieve, because the Leader of the Opposition, when he moved this motion, made it abundantly clear that its purpose was to change that situation which had been created by Senator Murphy’s request to you, Mr President, and your ruling. It is a proper thing that on an issue such as this we should have the opportunity for discussion. I can only regret that there has been - I am expressing my opinion - a complete refusal by those Government senators who have spoken to acknowledge what this motion is about. There has been, I think, an evading of the real point which is at issue because there have been occasions in the past when those persons who are now in Government strenuously asserted the right of all senators to have an unlimited question time.
The Leader of the Opposition, when he introduced this motion, referred to the debate which took place in 1967. He referred in particular to statements made by Senator Willesee and Senator Murphy on that occasion. Their attitude when in Opposition then was made abundantly clear and we respectfully adopted what they said. But that is not the only occasion on which these things have been said. If honourable senators look at the Hansard of 25th October 1972 they will find in terms which admit of no equivocation at all Senator Murphy himself stating the position in these words:
A major decision was taken several years ago.
I assume he is referring to the 1967 debate in which both he and Senator Willesee had participated and to which reference has been made - by which we agreed that there should not be then a limitation, and there has not been a limitation since then. It is true that question time has been extended. The Opposition feels that a great part of the reason for that is to be found in the excessively long answers given by Ministers.
He was entitled to his view. I do not think it depends on who is in Government whether some answers are long, and I suppose it really does not depend upon who is in opposition whether the Opposition feels that Government Ministers are not being as responsive as it would like them to be. Senator Murphy continued:
I shall not stipulate which Minister or Ministers but some have given excessively long answers to the point of unreasonableness. If a limitation were placed upon question time it would milan that the rights of honourable senators could be effectively cut down.
Those remarks were made in a debate on a motion one week before the end of the sitting to limit question time, I think to half an hour. But that was done by motion, and it always can be done by motion if the Government has a case in which it wants the Senate to agree that, for example, other business is more important. But let it be done openly. Let it be done by motion.
Senator Cavanagh has been vainly interjecting but I assure him that I regard this as a serious matter on which I want to state my attitude in my own words. On that occasion Senator Cavanagh said:
I agree that curtailing question time is a novel matter.
Of course, he was in Opposition when he said this. He then said:
I do not think it is a matter of deciding this on party lines.
I repeat that he was in Opposition at that time. He and Senator Georges made much the same statement. Senator Georges said:
I feel strongly about putting an arbitrary time limit on question time, especially since, as has been pointed out, no time will be saved at all. It is important that certain questions which the Opposition has in mind be asked. What Ministers do in answer to those questions is their responsibility. As Senator Cavanagh said, it is in their hands. They can simply have questions placed on the notice paper if they so desire. However, it is important that the questions be asked even if they do not receive an answer at the time.
That is a view which we of the Opposition express and, believe me, it is a view which was never denied in the period we were in Government.
– Come off it!
– Come off it!
– I hear interjections but 1 say to those honourable senators who interject that they never on one occasion heard Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, who was Leader of the Government in this place for 5 years, say to the President: ‘I ask that all further questions be put on the notice paper’. He never did that.
– Yes, he did.
– He never did. What Senator Murphy did this week introduced a novel procedure. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson’s practice - this is where 1 think Senator Turnbull is doing Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson an injustice - was to indicate to the Senate that it was about lime we got on to other business. He would attempt to do it by suggestion. Sometimes he would get a reaction which was favourable and it would bc acted upon quickly. On other occasions question time went on for quite a long period. But I ask any honourable senator to point cwn. any occasion on which Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, when he was Leader of the Liberal-Country Party Government in this place, ever did what Senator Murphy has done within 3 weeks of actually becoming Leader of the Government in this place. It is that sort of situation which requires us-
– Today it was not questions; it was persecution.
- Senator Cavanagh brings in an attitude which I feel is not really helpful to an elucidation of the issues. What he says is nonsense and irrelevant. To talk about persecution is unwarranted. The point 1 am simply making is that what we are concerned to preserve here is the right of honourable senators to be able to ask their questions, and to be able to ask their questions as long as they are prepared to ask them and until the Senate, by voting on a particular day, says in effect: ‘Well, that should be the end of question time’.
It is suggested that the business of the Parliament, the business of the Government, could be impeded if we were to have an unlimited question time. I agree that that problem may arise from time to time. It has arisen in the past. As I have indicated, an effort was made by means of a motion to put the whole issue before the Senate and to have the matter resolved by vote. A responsible Senate is responsive to that sort of approach. But if we have a particular issue of outstanding moment on which questions are desired to be asked, then it is incumbent upon this Senate to so maintain its rules and practice that question time can last for as long as senators wish. I would not be surprised, if there is a reluctance on the part of particular Ministers to answer questions, to see question time go longer than the 2 hours which it has lasted on occasional days already this year.
What we have witnessed over the past 2 days in connection with the raids which Senator Murphy conducted on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation offices has been an unwillingness to provide information as to the purposes for which those raids took place. We have been asking in this Senate why Senator Murphy made certain visits; why he took the police with him; why it was necessary to seal the safes; why it was necessary to herd people into a holding area; why it was necessary to expose to the public the fact that one area of his administration could be dealt with only with the forces of another area of his administration. We have not received informative answers to any of those questions. lt is not just the Opposition senators who are taking the view thai questions are not being satisfactorily answered. Editorial writers in newspapers are reacting in the same way. I believe it is unreasonable for Government supporters, in loyal support of their Leader, to think that the questions have been answered satisfactorily. I can say that if the present supporters of the Government were in Opposition and an issue of comparable magnitude arose, there would be no end to the questions that were asked of the Administration and there would be no end to the determination of the present supporters of the Government to get as much information as they could.
I am not being unreasonable when I say that if we of the Opposition have learned something about the art of asking questions it is only because we experienced for so many years the tactics of honourable senators who are now in government. I go further and say that we are, and shall be, a more effective Opposition. We shall utilise the powers that We have to ask questions with a view to getting information. The present Government should not feel averse to providing information. It was honourable senators opposite who sought to belittle the previous Government by saying that it followed the demeaning practice of knowing what was best for the country and of believing that only it should know what was best for the country. There has been a change in that attitude. As I said earlier this week, in the three or four months in which the present Government has been in power we have seen more arrogance, more secretiveness and a greater refusal to give information than can be said of any particular incident in the last three or four years of the previous Government. If that is the situation, is it any wonder that an Opposition which is vigilant in the interests of the people and concerned about the rights of honourable senators in this place should be concerned to ensure that question time shall be preserved in its present form? It is for the Senate as a whole and not for an individual Minister to say when it shall be ended.
I believe this to be a tremendously important matter. As I see it we are still seeking information about an unprecedented action by the Attorney-General. We ought to be able to ask questions while the issue is still a matter of public concern. On each of the last 2 days question time has been cut short. The AttorneyGeneral was not present today to answer questions. I hope that he will be here and prepared to answer questions for as long as honourable senators want to ask them on the next day of silting. I hope to be able to give the Senate the opportunity of determining this issue. I think the Senate ought to have the question resolved.
– Let us speak on it. If you think it is so important, why are you gagging it?
– Who is applying the gag now?
– I think it is a matter which ought to be resolved by the Senate. On the other hand, it is a matter upon which we are evolving and determining thi rules by which the Senate shall conduct its business.
– Who is stopping the debate?
– I have not moved any gag, nor am I stopping the debate. What I am saying is that this matter ought to be determined tonight. If there were any genuineness on the part of the Government it would set a time at which by common concurrence, we could let this issue go to a vote. The motion states that until there is a standing order on the issue the proposed practice should prevail. I believe that it is a matter which, in due course, the Standing Orders Committee can look at if there is to bo satisfaction with what is being done. But I do believe that the Senate would not be acting in the traditions which Government senators observed and sought to uphold when they were in Opposition and which my colleagues and I, now that we are in Opposition, seek to uphold, but were to take away from honourable senators the right to ask questions. That is what is involved in the tactic - the procedure - which unprecedentedly was used by Senator Murphy on 2 occasions this week.
– Mr President, I think it is clear from the contributions to the debate by Senator Little, Senator Wright and Senator Greenwood that what they are proposing is a direct result of the debate which should take place on the statement made by the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) on Croatian terrorists. Instead of taking up the debate on that statement the Opposition proposes to place upon the Senate a stricture which did not exist when it was in government. They are now putting forward something which on many occasions each of them has denied to the Senate. May I refer to what has been the practice in the past. On 26th September 1967, the then President of the Senate, Senator Sir Alister McMullin, took the chair at 3.24 p.m. and read prayers. Before 3.57 p.m., which was the time when Senator Murphy raised an objection, the then Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Henty, moved that further questions be put on the notice paper. The President Sir Alister McMullin, then said: ‘The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those of that opinion say aye’. The Government supporters said ‘aye’ and Senator Murphy then challenged the President. That was the practice adopted in 1967 by the former Government. One of the speakers in that debate was one of the speakers in tonight’s debate, namely, Senator Wright. I wish to quote the words that Senator Wright used on that occasion. I ask honourable senators to contrast what Senator Wright said tonight with what he is reported in Hansard at pages 892 and 893 as having said on 26th September 1967. His words were:
My point is this: Having taken the matter to this stage now, surely it would be better tor us to say that we accept the Minister’s intimation that it was appropriate to terminate questions, as time-honoured recognition of the chamber’s right to ask further questions if the chamber insists on it, and an indication that, in the Minister’s discretion, the time had arrived to terminate the period allotted for questions. On the other band, we can allow this matter to occupy further time and, after due thought and consideration, pass any motion that the majority of the chamber feels is appropriate to the proper understanding of the Minister’s intimation.
Senator Wright continued:
If my view is right, judgment would dictate to the Senate the acceptance of the Minister’s intimation in the spirit in which I have interpreted it - not as a denial of the Senate’s right but as an indication that a time had been reached when it was appropriate that questions without notice should be terminated for today. With what prestige can we renew this matter if dissatisfaction is occasioned by subsequent experience without the Senate putting the matter to a formal vote today.
There may be a case for considering what procedures should be adopted in the future about question time. Tonight Senator Wright took us on a great excursion on a new theme. He wants the Senate to be able to question a Minister, without restriction, on a matter which the Opposition is not prepared to debate. The Opposition has no excuse for not debating that matter. All the former Ministers who are now in Opposition had great experience in avoiding questions or in giving lengthy answers to frustrate the. then Opposition. They were very experienced in handling questions.
-O rder! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the Senate, I put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Clerk reported to the Senate that the following Notice of Motion had been delivered to him by Senator Byrne:
That, on the next day of sitting, he would move - That the amendments of the Matrimonial Causes Rules, as contained in Statutory Rules 1973, No. 8, made under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959-1966, and disallowed by Resolution of the Senate on 29 March 1973, be referred to the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs.
Senate adjourned at 10.30 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
Mr BIJEDIC: VISIT TO AUSTRALIA
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLAND - The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
– On Thursday 15th March 1973, Senator Greenwood asked me the following question without notice: 1 refer the Minister to the statements issued by the United States Government on 14th March, that it was using every means of communications to express concern to Hanoi about the heavy flow of troops and equipment into Laos, Cambodia and South Viet-Nam, and specifically that the confirmed movement of about 30,000 troops, 300 armoured vehicles and heavy artillery is expressly contrary to the Paris ceasefire pact. I ask him: Will the Australian Government also express its concern? Will it use its influence with Hanoi and the North Vietnamese Government? Will it withhold its proposed diplomatic representation in Hanoi so long as that Government acts contrary to its pledge not to send its troops into other countries?
I said that as I understood it. the question was based on a press report, the validity of whichI did not know. I undertook to make some inquiries and let the Honourable Senator have an answer. The following is provided for his information:
The Australian Government is aware of the statements issued by the United States Government on 14th March, and subsequently also, of course, of President Nixon’s comments at his news conference on 15th March.
In answer to a subsequent question on notice from Senator Webster, I expressed the Australian Government’s concern at the developments mentioned by Senator Greenwood, and said that the Australian Government deplored any action whatsoever which harmed the prospect of re-establishing peaceful conditions in Viet-Nam.
In relation to the action proposed by the Honourable Senator, may I also remind him of the fact that the Australian Government is not a party to the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Viet-Nam, nor is it a signatory to the Final Act of the International Conference on Viet-Nam held in Paris. Australia does not, therefore, have any formal standing or responsibilities in relation to compliance with the terms of those Agreements.
asked the Minister for Customs and Excise, upon notice:
What evidence has the Western Australian Minister for Primary Industry submitted to justify that State being exempted from the ban on kangaroo exports.
Senator MURPHY - The answer to the honourable senator’s questions is as follows:
I assume the honourable senator was referring to statements made and a paper distributed to a recent meeting of Ministers in Melbourne by the Honourable A. W. Bickerton, M.L.A., Western Australia, who is Minister for Fisheries and Fauna in that State.
Mr Bickerton told the meeting of controls over the taking of kangaroos in Western Australia. This was in support of a request that the decision to maintain an embargo over the exportation of products and manufactures of the kangaroo be reviewed.
Broadly, Mr Bickerton referred to the following:
The foregoing information was supplemented by soma general comments concerning the economic factors of the kangaroo product industry in Western Australia.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 29 March 1973, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1973/19730329_senate_28_s55/>.