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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2354

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(5.37) —The Opposition will support the motion for the suspension of Standing Orders which has been moved by Senator Harradine. Like the rest of the Senate we did not have prior notice of the course which he proposes and we have not, therefore, had a chance to look in close detail at the sub-clauses of the detailed motion he wishes to move. But that does not affect our judgment at this stage that the matter which Senator Harradine seeks to have the opportunity to debate is a matter which properly should be debated in this place.

One does not have to rely on Senator Harradine's viewpoint for that. A bipartisan viewpoint has been expressed in the report of Estimates Committee A to which Senator Harradine has already referred which points out the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence which was given to the Senate when it was seeking to exercise its appropriate role to supervise this important area of public expenditure. In the words of the report the information received was ' again considered by the Committee to be less than adequate'. We have squarely a situation in which on the report of Senate Estimates Committee A something warrants the attention of the Senate sitting as a whole.

I suppose the success or failure of this motion will again be determined by whether the Australian Democrats support it. I merely refer to some of the arguments which I believe should sit with the Australian Democrats in determining their attitude. The Australian Democrats have indicated in their platform document a belief that the Parliament should have an adequate opportunity to consider legislative matters. For example, they are committed to the idea that the support of two-thirds of the chamber will be required for a motion that a Bill is urgent and a debate be limited in time or guillotined. I think the principle contained in that Democrat statement is very clear. The Democrats have chosen to walk away from it with respect to their support of the guillotine but I believe that they should consider the report of Estimates Committee A and also consider joining with the Opposition in the support we are giving to Senator Harradine's motion.

The Democrats' platform also provides a series of things which I believe are very attractive if one believes that the chambers of the Parliament should exercise their function. For example, they require a two-thirds vote to dispense with the legislative time-table and less than a 50 per cent vote to extend the legislative time-table-a clear statement that the Australian Democrats believe in proper parliamentary scrutiny. This is an occasion when they are being asked to give that opportunity to the Senate to scrutinise an area of government expenditure of some $300m plus which has not been satisfactorily dealt with before the Committee. Indeed, when a Bill is before Parliament the Australian Democrats commit themselves to having it scrutinised clause by clause, including any delegations of power by the relevant standing committee.

Senator Jack Evans —Does this have any relevance to this motion?

Senator CHANEY —It is of considerable relevance. The fact of the matter is that the Democrats claim to be committed to proper parliamentary scrutiny. What is being sought is an opportunity to scrutinise a matter in the Appropriation Bills which Estimates Committee A has pointed out has been questioned--

Senator Jack Evans —Well, debate the issue and we will listen to it.

Senator CHANEY —The issue cannot be debated under Standing Orders unless this motion is passed. Mr President, Senator Jack Evans invites me to debate the issue. That would clearly be a breach of the Standing Orders and you would pull me up. The issue, of course, is why we should suspend the Standing Orders. The point I wish to make is the point that I made earlier; that is, that there is clearly, on the face of the report of Estimates Committee A, a matter which has been dealt with unsatisfactorily by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is a matter in which there has certainly been a desire--

Senator Robert Ray —Read the whole report.

Senator CHANEY —I have read the whole report. Mr President, Senator Robert Ray is always helpful in these debates. He is now claiming that the Estimates Committee, of which he was part, does not recommend action now. It may be satisfactory to the Labor members of this place to authorise $324m of expenditure without regard to the unsatisfactory nature of the responses given by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but the Opposition does not regard that as a satisfactory acquitting of its parliamentary responsibilities. The fact that Senator Robert Ray does regard it as satisfactory is a matter for him and his conscience. In any event, Mr President, for the reasons which I say are adequately explained in the report of the Committee, we will be supporting the motion which will simply give us an opportunity to examine properly the matters which are raised by this Estimates Committee report. I am simply putting the additional argument that on the principles which have been publicly espoused by the Australian Democrats, namely, that they do believe in adequate parliamentary scrutiny, they, too, should be supporting Senator Harradine in this matter.