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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 111

Senator WATSON (11.04 a.m.) —The Manager of Government Business, Senator Faulkner, has moved a motion that would have the effect of allowing the order relating to Parliamentary Secretaries to operate as a sessional order. For those listening, it is important to note that the motion states:

That any Senator who is appointed a parliamentary secretary under the Parliamentary Secretaries Act 1980 may exercise the powers and perform the functions conferred upon Ministers by the procedures of the Senate . . .

These very wide and very significant powers really go to the heart of constitutional issues in terms of the responsibilities of Ministers vis-a-vis other members of parliament, which would include, in the second category, Parliamentary Secretaries. The motion continues:

but may not be asked or answer questions which may be put to Ministers under standing order 72(1).

I believe that we are moving into a very dangerous area. The Labor Government continually wishes to attack our constitution and its limitations. It is always moving at the fringes. As my colleague Senator Bishop said, using pre-metric terms, `Give them an inch and they will take more than a mile'.

  Perhaps the fault was on this side. I might have to share some of that blame because as a shadow Parliamentary Secretary I certainly permitted some dispensation in terms of the complexities of the Income Tax Assessment Act and other relevant matters. Most people in Australia acknowledge the expertise that Senator McMullan brought to this area. He had certain responsibilities and he discharged them remarkably well.

  When we remember that income tax issues go to the very hearts and pockets of all Australians, it is very important that such matters be well clarified. We must remember that this Government is attempting to reduce the amount of time spent debating matters. On important matters, including tax matters, the Government can have a cognate debate on half a dozen Bills and give us something like 20 minutes in which to speak.

  The Government has increased the number of Ministers in this place. Therefore, there is no need for the sort of dispensation that was given in one particular circumstance to be applied to a generic situation. The Government has a greater number of Ministers and it has a capacity to handle anything that may arise. I believe that this motion, which seeks to have the order operate as a sessional order, should be defeated.