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- Start of Business
CRIMES ACT AMENDMENT (FORENSIC PROCEDURES) BILL (NO. 1) 2006
CUSTOMS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MODERNISING IMPORT CONTROLS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006
FINANCIAL TRANSACTION REPORTS AMENDMENT BILL 2006
MIGRATION AMENDMENT (VISA INTEGRITY) BILL 2006
PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE AMENDMENT BILL 2006
TRADE MARKS AMENDMENT BILL 2006
ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT (ELECTORAL INTEGRITY AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006
- In Committee
- Adoption of Report
- Third Reading
DO NOT CALL REGISTER BILL 2006
DO NOT CALL REGISTER (CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTS) BILL 2006
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Evans, Sen Chris, Coonan, Sen Helen)
Income Tax Cuts
(Scullion, Sen Nigel, Minchin, Sen Nick)
(Forshaw, Sen Michael, Vanstone, Sen Amanda)
(Adams, Sen Judith, Abetz, Sen Eric)
Managed Investment Schemes
(Wong, Sen Penny, Minchin, Sen Nick)
Information Technology: Internet Censorship
(Barnett, Sen Guy, Coonan, Sen Helen)
(Siewert, Sen Rachel, Abetz, Sen Eric)
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Fierravanti-Wells, Sen Concetta, Vanstone, Sen Amanda)
(Webber, Sen Ruth, Minchin, Sen Nick)
(Bartlett, Sen Andrew, Santoro, Sen Santo)
(McLucas, Sen Jan, Santoro, Sen Santo)
Law Enforcement: Child Sex Exploitation
(Troeth, Sen Judith, Ellison, Sen Chris)
Citrus Canker Outbreak
(O’Brien, Sen Kerry, Abetz, Sen Eric)
- Skilled Migration
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL ANSWERS
- TASMANIAN PULP MILL
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- LEAVE OF ABSENCE
- INDIGENOUS ARTISTS
- IRAQI CHILDREN
- MISS ANNE LYNCH
- MR DAVID HICKS
- Scrutiny of Bills Committee
- Privileges Committee
- Senators’ Interests Committee
- Corporations and Financial Services Committee
- Public Works Committee
- AUDITOR-GENERAL’S REPORTS
- DELEGATION REPORTS
- RENEWABLE ENERGY (ELECTRICITY) AMENDMENT BILL 2006
- BROADCASTING SERVICES AMENDMENT (SUBSCRIPTION TELEVISION DRAMA AND COMMUNITY BROADCASTING LICENCES) BILL 2006
- EXCISE LAWS AMENDMENT (FUEL TAX REFORM AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2006
- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Wednesday, 21 June 2006
Senator FERGUSON (6:43 PM) —I listened with interest to Senator Ray’s contribution because we are all aware, on this side and the other side, that he is one senator in this place who has seen the changes that have taken place, particularly over the past 10 or 15 years but even prior to that. I do not necessarily agree with everything he said, but can I say that there are one or two misconceptions that ought to be cleared up because of the contributions that were made by some of the other previous speakers to this debate who were not here at the time the changes were made. Senator Ray informed me of a couple of things that I did not know were quite the case in relation to the changes that someone outside would say that he notoriously negotiated with former senator Noel Crichton-Browne. We were here at the time and there was not anybody on our side who objected to it, I can tell you that.
I am concerned when I hear people say that this is the Prime Minister imposing his will on the Senate. I just had a chance to do an interview on the radio with Mr Kelvin Thomson from the other place and it only confirmed my view on how little those who work in the House of Representatives know about Senate procedures and the way we run the committee system in this place. I would suggest that, if the Labor Party want to get spokesmen talking about Senate changes, they should get someone from the Senate rather than somebody from the House of Representatives because of all of the misquotes and misapprehensions he put in place.
Although senators may not believe this, this has been driven by senators on the coalition side. That was where it started. It had nothing to do with the Prime Minister’s office, as Senator Brown would like to think. It was driven by senators on this side. We have been talking about it for 12 months. Senator Ray might well say, ‘Why have you waited 10 years to bring this up?’ We have waited 10 years, Senator Ray, for the obvious reason that we did not have the numbers beforehand. That is the obvious reason that this has been raised. And, in fact, it has taken us a long time to convince the Prime Minister that we want to make these changes and they should be made.
This is not about money, as somebody suggested. One of the hang-ups about this was the fact that those of us on this side felt that deputy chairs of Senate committees should receive some remuneration and that, if we had remuneration for deputy chairs of Senate committees, it would only be fair that remuneration should be paid to deputy chairs in the House of Representatives. That was a bone of some contention. So that has been the hold-up and is one of the reasons that this has not been brought forward before.
I listened carefully to what Senator Ray said about the two-committee system of references committees and legislation committees. In the early days of this dual system, there was a respect that legislation would go to legislation committees and that committees would generate references and would conduct inquiries into those references with an opposition majority or a government minority. I do not believe that members on this side actually became perturbed about the committee system until it reached the stage in the late nineties when legislation was being sent to references committees, where the government was in a minority. Legislation was being sent to references committees when in fact it was the understanding on this side of the chamber—it was certainly my understanding in 1994—that references committees would deal with references and all legislation would go to legislation committees.
I think it is fair to say that, at that time, the one reason for the change was the fact that the government had only 30 senators, the coalition had 36, the Democrats had, I think, seven, the Greens had two and there was Senator Harradine. That was the state of the chamber at that time. As Senator Ray mentioned, there were murmurings about the coalition taking over chairs of committees because they were the majority party. I happened to be of the view that governments should chair those committees—although, being a reasonably new senator in 1994 I was not outspoken about it because I really did not know enough about the committee system at that time to state that point of view. The only other comparable committee system that I know of is in the United Kingdom, where there are opposition chairs of committees—based on the numbers in the House of Commons—but the opposition never has a majority on those committees. The government always has a majority, but they do share the chairmanship around so that the opposition do actually chair some committees in the House of Commons.
I was disappointed to hear some of the comments made, particularly by Senator Brown, about this being all the Prime Minister’s doing and that it is the government drunk with power. The generation of this proposal came from within the Senate, from coalition members of the Senate. That is how it originated—within our backbench. I was on a small committee almost 12 months ago looking into this, but it has taken us until today to manage to come up with this proposal. One of the reasons that many of us wanted this is that we knew that ministers and others were very unhappy about political references or any other references going to a references committee where the opposition would control the reporting of that committee and would have a monopoly on the majority report. So it has been the practice in this chamber to refuse to send the references to the committees.
I think that the Senate should be looking at many matters of public interest, but the government and government senators will only be confident of looking into these important matters of public interest when they know that the report will not be controlled by a minority of members of the Senate—that is, those who are opposition chairs or Democrat chairs. I am hopeful that these changes will give us an opportunity as coalition senators to have more references in the public interest. Members opposite might not always like the report that is prepared.