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Monday, 14 August 2000
Page: 18818


Mr ROSS CAMERON (12:37 PM) —It is my pleasure to follow the member for Chifley and to endorse the totality of his remarks. The three significant recommendations of the report involve the change of name to the Second Chamber but also, more particularly—moving away from the cosmetic recommendations—the idea of the introduction of interventions in a spirit of experimentation. The report recommends that the Main Committee ought to be a centre of experimentation in procedure and that it provide us with an opportunity to trial, test and innovate with a degree of freedom which we may not feel here in this chamber.

Certainly, a longstanding concern of mine and, I know, of many members is the extent to which Westminster can become a very heavily stage-managed series of fora. Coming into this place at times, it seems that the actual architecture, the geography of the chamber, is not necessarily conducive to really spirited debate and exchange of ideas. The word `parliament' itself comes from the French `parler', but the idea of speaking and of a discussion or dialogue taking place often does not materialise in practice—even down to the technology of the place and the fact that one of the recommendations of the report is that we ought to be able to sit wherever we like in the Second Chamber. One of my frustrations is that each time I walk in the door I am required by the technology, in order for you to be able to recognise me and for me to be heard on this microphone, to sit behind the nameplate `R. Cameron'—when it may be that on a particular measure or bill I would rather sit with the opposition but the assumption of the rigidities of the technology requires me to sit with the government on every occasion. I am, 99 times out of 100, delighted to sit with the government and almost invariably prefer to be here than on the other side but, as a matter of principle, I object to the idea that it is a rigid assumption of the place that I must sit in my place on every occasion. I think it adds to the rigidity and to the calcification of debate.

It is interesting that this cavernous chamber, which is beautifully capacious and accommodating, is in contradistinction to Churchill's recommendation after the House of Commons was bombed during the Second World War. He gave a speech setting out the principles upon which the chamber should be rebuilt, and one of the things he recommended was that it ought to be too small for the number of members it had to accommodate. His point was that, for a sense of atmosphere, you wanted to cram the members in so that there would be this exchange of ideas and of argument—whereas more often than not we wander into this place and find just a vast empty cavern. One can give speech after speech after speech and wonder whether the words completely disappear into the ether without recognition by anyone. So it is pleasing that the little band of absolutely dedicated parliamentary news network listeners out there occasionally ring up and give one a response to a speech: it is quite encouraging.

But we have to remember that the parliament is in competition with, in particular, the media on the question of who will set the public policy agenda in this country. There is competition which takes place, and we constantly have to demonstrate our relevance to ordinary Australians. They have to look at what we are doing and feel some identification with it. So, when it comes to this question of should we experiment or not, my view is that we do not have a choice: we have to rehabilitate politics, rehabilitate the parliament and inject it with freshness, vitality, spontaneity and genuine debate and dialogue. On that basis I heartily commend the report to the House.