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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23737


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (12:32 PM) —I rise in support of the committee report that has been tabled, entitled Arrangements for second reading speeches. I too would like to congratulate both Margaret May, the member for McPherson and the Chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure, of which I am a member, and Deputy Chair Roger Price, the member for Chifley, on their initiative. They have worked together, have given us leadership to experiment and have recommended experimentation in new fields. Indeed, I can echo the comments that were just made across the other side of this chamber that this committee has indeed been quite innovative in its thinking and that this particular chamber, this second chamber, is where experimentation has been allowed to take place.

One of the criticisms we all receive when people come to visit Parliament House is that they are always amazed that there is nobody really in the House of Representatives when debate is taking place, particularly on second reading speeches. We always give the answer that we are in our offices doing work—and we are—with the television on and that if there is a need to go down to the chamber we will. But I think there is a need for more interaction between the government and the opposition, even during a second reading speech, which is the statement you make about the philosophical framework with which you regard a particular piece of legislation. I think that this innovative change to allow some questions to be asked will enliven the debate. When I first went into the Senate, there was a rule that nobody was allowed to read speeches and I became accustomed to that being the rule; when I came to the House, I found of course that the practice is different and you may read speeches—and speeches are largely read. I think this change would reinject spontaneity and a bit of surprise and encourage more people to attend in the House. I think people who come and visit and look at the chamber will see that as more the exercise of democracy as they would like to see it.

The other thing that concerns me is that by and large the only images of this House that we put out for the general public to view are from question time, which is a time, traditionally, when we are challenging the other side, attempting to provoke them and, in the simplest of terms, placing the battlefield in the area of debate. I think it is a shame that we do not see more images of what happens in committee work and what happens when there is a good debate, on the detail of a bill perhaps—when there is some interchange. I hope that the House of Representatives may pick up our other recommendation—that we hold estimates hearings for the House of Representatives as well as for the Senate—so that the public can see that there are many other things we do besides question time. Compared to the rest of the work we do, question time is really a bit of an aberration, in the sense that it is more heated, shall we say, than it might otherwise be. The public do not see any of the cooperative work that is carried out, particularly the committee work.

Again, I want to compliment the chair, the honourable member for McPherson, and the committee as a whole for the work they have done in looking at new innovations and in looking at the way things can change to make the chamber more responsive and interactive. I think the idea we have of putting a screen in the chamber and showing what a division is all about would be helpful not only to people visiting in the gallery but also to one or two other folk who come in and say, `I wonder what we're voting on.' I think that is another good suggestion that has come out of this committee. I have been very proud to have been a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure. I think we have had good leadership from our chair and from our deputy chair. The committee have worked together to produce a large number of reports, and I think the work we have done on the reorganisation of the standing orders—to make them more accessible and comprehensible—has been quite seminal. So I commend this report, Arrangements for the second reading speeches. I give this report the same recommendation that I have given other reports that the committee have brought forward—that is, I commend this report to the chamber.