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Monday, 15 February 1999
Page: 2712

Mr NUGENT (4:17 PM) —As has already been said, in the last parliament I chaired the Standing Committee on Procedure, so I have taken some interest in these matters for quite some time. In terms of the motion put by the honourable gentleman from Chifley, I acknowledge that he has had a longstanding and sincere interest in these matters, but I am disappointed that last year when the committee undertook a major review of the committee system, which was then 10 years old, with a view to looking at how it might be improved, he did not take the opportunity to make a submission or put these proposals forward. I think that might have been constructive. However, we will move on and deal with the particular issues.

Mr Wilton —That is just point scoring.

Mr NUGENT —It is not point scoring. The fact is that there was a mechanism there where these things could have been debated and they were not debated. Shortly after the committee brought down its recommendations, these motions were put on the paper. It is not point scoring at all.

Whilst I accept that most of these proposals are obviously made in good faith, in practical terms I have some difficulty with a number of them. In having extra committees, we have a problem in the sense that we already have some 28 committees that members of this chamber are likely to serve on. One of the things that clearly came out of the review last year was that members felt that there were too many committees, that the committees were too large and that generally everybody was getting swamped. The recommendation of the report that came out of the Procedure Committee was that we should actually reduce both the size and the number of committees. I was one who was disappointed that the government chose not to reduce the number of committees, although the government did in its response to that report agree that we should reduce the size of those committees.

In terms of motion No. 5 concerning the committee on appropriations and staffing, that would be another committee and it is something that can be done by mechanisms that already exist. I am therefore not convinced that that would be an appropriate way to go. In terms of the Senate estimates, half the problem is that that becomes a political circus. I for one do not particularly want to see that extended.

I want to talk briefly about motion No. 7—the closure of a member under standing order 94—where the honourable gentleman suggests the addition of the words `or speaking to a motion of dissent'. This is when the gag is applied. Whilst I understand the intent of the motion, it seems to me that the way the wording is applied could cause a problem. This could occur whoever was in government—and, let us face it, one takes a different perspective in government from when one is in opposition. I spent six years on that side of the chamber and your objectives and how you operate are totally different from the way your objectives operate on this side.

Mr Horne interjecting

Mr NUGENT —I intend to spend a lot longer than six years on this side. It seems to me that, unless I have misunderstood it completely, this in fact would open up the opportunity during a censure to a filibuster type operation because you could never actually turn it off.

In the presentation of petitions, like many members in this chamber I think that we do not deal adequately with petitions. My concern is less with the way they are presented and read out and whether it is done by the petitioner or the member and so on and so forth than it is with the fact that we do not deal with them in any substantive way. We do not respond to the petitioners. We do not take any action as a result of the petitions. If we really are to make the chamber and the parliament more responsive to the electorate, then we should be looking at ways to respond to those petitions.

I think questions to chairs of committees is a sensible idea and one that I would personally like to see advanced. When it comes to time limits on questions, my concern about the limit of time on questions is this: if you had 20 questions—as we have at the moment—and they average four minutes each, then you are talking about one hour and 40 minutes. So four minutes is probably too high a figure. But I do not think that timing is the concern; it is the content. Again, whichever side is in government, it is the content which is the problem and I would like to see that addressed in ways other than the placing of artificial time limits on questions. (Time expired)