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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15042


Mr BEAZLEY (3:30 PM) —Mr Speaker, I will frame my remarks in the form of questions to you in relation to the ruling that you have just given and to back up remarks made by the member for Grayndler. Firstly, is it not a fact that the capacity for the frontbench of the government to pass questions around amongst themselves—from ministers to ministers, prime ministers to ministers, ministers to prime ministers—is entirely a product of the accountability of the executive, that it is an effort on the part of standing orders to reflect a sensible process in question time for those questions that are to secure information from the executive and that it is unrelated to any other aspect of parliamentary procedure and practice? That is the first question to you.

Secondly, on a reading of the member for Grayndler's questions, isn't it so that all of them, even where policy issues are mentioned, are related to a set of events concerning the committee? The one which the minister chose to respond to, which was the character of a particular set of budget cuts, was related not to those cuts themselves but to a delay in the consideration of matters by that committee. Therefore, again, it was directed towards the committee.

Thirdly, I know it is difficult for Speakers, because they often feel compelled to follow the vicissitudes of relationships between backbenchers and executives and the rest of it. But, Mr Speaker, is it possible for you to go away and reconsider this? I say that because we have a long-standing set of operations of this parliament. It is very difficult to get a situation in this parliament where there is at least a degree of independence in the operation of committees—including committees, obviously, with government majorities, as most of them have in this chamber—from the executive. The independence between the two of them is absolutely critical to the independent functioning of parliament, difficult though that is with the executive sitting in parliament. To encourage a situation whereby a minister can take over a question about committee procedures—and that question was entirely about committee procedures—seriously limits the authority of a backbencher of this parliament, sparse though that authority already is.