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Monday, 1 June 1998
Page: 4250

Mr MOSSFIELD (1:10 PM) —The decision of the Standing Committee on Procedure to recommend the non-reappointment of the statutory committees relating to Corporations and Securities, the National Crime Authority and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation is opposed by the opposition members of the committee. As these committees relate to the country's crime prevention and security programs, they should remain intact to allow the parliament of the day the opportunity to act as a watchdog in these important areas of Australian security and law enforcement.

I also would like to compliment the secretary of the committee, Robyn Webber, the project officer, John Cummins, and the chairperson, the member for Aston (Mr Nugent), and those members of the committee who have been able to spend sufficient time to draw up such a comprehensive report.

The review of the House of Representatives committee system has allowed all members the opportunity to express their views on the effectiveness of the system. Some eight members of the House of Representatives made written, constructive submissions indicating on the whole that most members were supportive of the present system. A further five took part in the round table discussion. As indeed the report states, the existing committees enable scrutiny of all areas of government, and the current system has generally served the House well. However, the committee was of the view that, with the passing of time, there was an argument for some rationalisation and modification.

One of the major difficulties encountered by members of parliament was that insufficient time was available to attend all the committee hearings that they were committed to. This difficulty could be overcome by reducing the number of committees, reducing the size of the committees, reducing the number of committees each member could sit on or setting a particular period of the parliamentary week aside for committee hearings only. While a case was made out to reduce the number of joint standing committees, there was disagreement as to which committees should be dispensed with and doubts raised as to whether the role of the committees that were not reappointed could be adequately covered by existing committees. The structure of the committee system is a matter for the government of the day and, with an election expected this year, this report of the Procedure Committee gives the incoming government some options for the restructuring of the committee system if they so desire.

One drawback of the current committee system is that when public hearings are held during parliamentary sitting weeks they are frequently interrupted by divisions and the call on members' time to perform other parliamentary duties. It is discourteous to witnesses, many of whom travel considerable distances to attend committee hearings, to have their submissions interrupted by divisions or by members of the committee walking in or out to attend to or come from other parliamentary duties. These interruptions are an inefficient way of taking submissions, with broken discussions and some members being unable to return to the hearing. With this government's insistence that Australia should have efficient industries—which we all agree with—it is only right that we should lead by example and also have an efficient parliamentary system.

One very positive aspect of our parliamentary committee system that should continue is that committees are able on occasions to get out into the wider community to conduct hearings. I particularly saw the benefits of this during an inquiry conducted by the Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training into issues relating to the employment of young people. During this inquiry the committee travelled to remote parts of Australia to receive evidence from employers and community and school groups. I believe this was very valuable, particularly to the school children concerned, who were not only able to see members of parliament at work but also able to participate in the committee work and have their views recorded in Hansard.

There is a need to further promote the work of the committee system to the general electorate. In my discussions with community groups in my electorate, I am occasionally advised that the electorate is not always impressed with the combative nature of some of the proceedings of parliament. I am advised that the general public would like to see more cooperation between the government and the opposition on major issues affecting our country. When I explain that this cooperation does occur in committee hearings and that most committee hearings are conducted in a bipartisan way, I receive a better reaction.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —Order! It being 1.15 p.m., in accordance with standing order 102C, the time for consideration of committee and delegation reports has concluded. Does the member for Aston wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?