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Tuesday, 25 November 1986
Page: 3685

Mr ADERMANN(9.05) —First of all, I would like very much to commend the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Procedure, which has put a lot of time and work into what is an excellent report. It was good to have on the Committee members who have been members of this House for quite some time. For instance, the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh), the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron), and the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Millar) in particular, have been members of this House for quite a long time and, therefore, without denigrating the other members of the Committee, were able to make a tremendous contribution to the report because of their years of experience. I commend the members of the Committee for the work they have done.

Very definitely, if this report were taken up it would streamline the Parliament and it would give opportunities to back benchers. I would like this debate this evening not to be monopolised by Executive members. I would like to see members from the back bench having an opportunity to talk on these matters. A number of things have been said about the opportunities of back benchers, which are few, and I think this might be an opportunity for back benchers to make their voices heard.

I was disappointed when the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) seemed to indicate-I hope I misheard him-that these things could not be taken up in this Parliament or in this House. I concede that the totality of the recommendations may not be able to be taken up in the one parliament, but certainly there are some that should be taken up, and taken up urgently. I believe that they are long overdue. I will not repeat what other members have said. I do not want to take all my time because I would like as many members as possible to speak. Therefore, I will pick up just a few matters. I ask the Special Minister of State and the Executive of the Opposition to work together to try to facilitate some of these recommendations because, if they are not taken up, not only will it be another parliament but it will be another committee before we get anything before us again. I believe that there ought to be a bipartisan spirit on many of these matters.

I look, first of all, at recommendation No. 1. This recommendation is very important. I think that the House certainly should sit for a minimum of 20 weeks a year, but I am very much attracted to the recommendation of the Committee that we adopt a sitting pattern of two sitting weeks followed by two non-sitting weeks, sitting from Monday to Thursday each week, with a timetable set out. That makes a lot of sense. I suppose it is common knowledge that I disagree with some in the Executive on my side and probably on the other side, too, who try to tell us that three sitting weeks each of three days followed by one week up will enable us to see more of our families and more of our electorates. I cannot follow that at all.

I believe that the pattern of two weeks on and two weeks off, particularly if the days and times are set down as in the recommendation, would provide us with better opportunities to serve our electorates, to live like Christians and to see our families. Therefore, I very much applaud that recommendation. I believe that the times of sittings are sensible and that, with a will, we ought to be able to adhere fairly closely to those times. I know that there are times when the business of the House has to be got through and Standing Orders have to be suspended. But I believe that those occasions occur a lot more frequently than they ought to in the opinion of honourable members on both sides of the House and with governments of all complexions. I think if we put our minds to it we can adhere fairly closely to these times.

I will not say too much on the proposed business committee. I endorse the procedure but I wish the members of the Government as much luck as I think we would need on this side of the House in getting a government to pick up this matter and look at it in a bipartisan spirit. Unfortunately, governments in this place feel that they are in control of the business when the executive of the government, not the government, feels that it is in control of the business and it will not consult its own back bench, let alone the back bench of the opposition. Although it is a very commendable recommendation, I do not believe that there will be much prospect of either this Government or a government of another complexion setting it up, and I think honourable members who have been here a long time would probably endorse what I am saying.

I mention specifically recommendation No. 7, which deals with opposition business, because there is a diversity of opinion, probably among members on both sides of the House. I like this proposition as it deals with matters of public importance or interest. I am not much concerned about whether they are called `matters of public interest' or `matters of public importance' but I like the idea of three 10-minute speeches from members on each side of the House. I believe that that would lead to the matter being more of public interest and I believe also that it would give an opportunity, which is mostly denied, to members other than members of the executive of a party to speak to matters which are of public interest and public importance. They are important to us in our electorates. They are important to us from wherever we come. They are important not only to the executive of the party but also to us. Surely we have some contribution that we can make I just want to place that on record because a contrary view has been stated; that is, that the first speaker should be allowed 15 minutes and that we should go along as we are now. I put the view of the Committee. I like the idea of an hour in which to debate matters of public interest and I like the idea of three 10-minute speeches. I like the possibilities that offers because I think it gives honourable members on the back bench more opportunity in which to participate.

I turn now to recommendation No. 9, which deals with legislation committees. I was in the Parliament, as were other members of the Committee, when legislation committees were operative and we were able to assess legislation. Despite what has been said, I think they were extremely valuable. I liked the legislation committees. I had the privilege of being a Minister in the Government at the time they were operating. I found no discomfort in going to those committee hearings and talking with members of them. I did not find, as some honourable members have said, that they became partisan political, even to the extent that this House becomes party political. I believe that those committees gave members of the Parliament who were on them-we had an opportunity to get on those committees-more opportunities to ask sensible questions about the legislation and to have a sensible input. I liked the atmosphere of those meetings.

Let me tell honourable members that legislation committees put the Minister responsible on his mettle, as he ought to have been. He had to know all about his legislation. He had to have the answers to the questions when he went to a legislation committee. He did not merely get up in the House and make a second reading speech and comment at the end of the debate if he wanted to. In the legislation committees he was constantly being addressed and was constantly expected to provide an answer. If the answer was not immediately available, it was sought, with the help of departmental officers and from statistics, and that answer was provided to the committee. Perhaps we cannot go into committees to the same extent as the Senate does-Senate committees have a very important role and I would not like to see that role in any way diminished-but I think this Parliament and this House would be enhanced if we had this type of scrutiny of legislation to a far greater degree than we have now. Therefore, I endorse also the Committee's recommendation No. 9.

I agree with much of what has been said about honourable members reading speeches and the other matters but, in the interests of time, I will pick up just one more, that is, the matter of petitions. I think we deal with petitions in a very sensible way. I think petitions are rather non-entities. People say to me: `We will get a petition and present it to the Parliament'. They are enthusiastic and think the matter is so terribly important that they want to put their names on a petition and bring it to the Parliament. What happens to it? Nobody is in the Parliament to hear the petition. Everybody is talking when the Clerk reads out petitions and I defy anybody in the House to say that he or she hears what the Clerk is saying. I do not think that we immediately go to the Hansard the next morning and scrutinise very carefully what petitions have been presented to this House. I do not think that is fair. I do not think that is the way in which our constituencies and the people we represent ought to be treated. Therefore, I endorse the manner in which petitions are to be presented. I also like the paragraph in the recommendation which states:

Ministers be given the option to respond to petitions and the response be forwarded to the Clerk, acknowledged at the end of the petitions announcement and printed in Hansard . . .

Is that not the way in which any responsible parliament ought to deal with petitions? If the petitions that come in are bona fide, and most are-I know that some might be presented in another spirit-the people who put in those petitions ought to be extended the courtesy of some type of answer or response. If a matter has moved them to present a petition, I think common courtesy and the prestige of this Parliament demand that that is the way they ought to be treated.

The other matter I wish to deal with is the provision for quorums. I think we take a different view on this when we are in government and when we are in opposition. The reality is that quorums are used as a device, by an opposition in the main, although an honourable member from the Government side once called for a quorum and one of my colleagues took some umbrage at that. The calling for a quorum is a device used by an opposition. For instance, if we feel that Question Time is being abused or answers are getting too long, our voice of protest can be perhaps to inconvenience the Government. I am not saying that this is a good or a bad thing. It seems to be effective at times. My colleague the honourable member for Bowman (Mr Keogh), who is sitting in the chamber, knows that when he was sitting on this side of the House it was used to achieve the very same purpose. I see what is being said in the Committee's recommendation. I believe that members do no spend enough time in this House, that all too often we are inclined to disappear after Question Time and come into the House at an appropriate time. That does not mean that we are not working. Certainly we are very busy people but I do not like to see honourable members going off too often to committees. I do not like committees to coincide very much with the sitting of this House. It makes it very difficult. I wish we could get away from the situation where we go off to our various committees at the time that the Parliament is sitting-we are elected to be here-and I suppose that that applies as much to me as it does to any other member.

I do not want to say much about Question Time because the Committee will be reporting later this week, or very shortly, on Question Time. I think the appropriate time to talk about its suggestions and recommendations on Question Time is when we have its report before us.

Mr Rocher —The Minister raised it.

Mr ADERMANN —The Special Minister of State (Mr Young) raised it in this House. I do not say that it is irrelevant, but I would like to talk more constructively about it when I have a report and some suggestions before me. I might then have some comment to make about it. The only comment I make is that we have to do something about it. I am not silly enough not to admit that there is default on both sides of the House but it is inappropriate to allow Question Time to take the form that has developed over the years and I would like to say something about that when the report comes in.

Once again I commend all honourable members who have put so much time and thought into this report. I appeal to the Special Minister of State not to say: `Look, it cannot be picked up in this Parliament. We will have to wait for another parliament'. There are certainly some things, and I have named them, that ought to be and could be implemented immediately in this Parliament. I would like to see that done. I would not like to see this report end up in a pigeon-hole and forgotten until we have a new parliament and a new committee.