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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 16980

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (9:24 AM) —by leave—I would like to address some brief remarks to the proposed change to make sessional order 344 a standing order. In doing so, I support the sentiments expressed by the chair of the committee in her introduction of the report of the Procedure Committee into the House today. In considering the draft report originally, I very seriously considered bringing in a minority report with respect to standing order 344 and the proposed change. I thought about bringing in a minority report not because I had any disagreement with the work of the Procedure Committee but, more importantly, because of the manner in which I believe the government sought to impose its view on the Procedure Committee and the House itself to achieve a change in standing order 344.

As the House appreciates, the current standing order 344 has stood the test of time, virtually without change since 1901. The standing order is about how the committees of this House should seek to operate. Unlike the rough and tumble of the House itself, as evidenced at question time, throughout the history of our committees there has been a genuine endeavour by all involved to work in a constructive and cooperative way to achieve outcomes which are to the betterment of the House and, more importantly, the people we represent. On that basis, I believe that the great majority of people who participate in our committees—and I must say I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to participate in the Procedure Committee—seek to actively work in a cooperative manner to try and achieve outcomes by consensus rather than the normal approach to decision making, which is by having a vote by the members of the particular committee or party. For that reason, I think this standing order has stood the test of time since 1901.

However, in late 2002 we had a problem. We saw the provisions of this standing order invoked because of an endeavour by one member of a particular committee to achieve a political outcome, not necessarily in the best interests of the workings of that committee—and there is no requirement to go into the detail of the nature of that committee. It was clearly about achieving political points, and I think the member stands condemned for the way in which she conducted herself in the workings of that committee. As a result of that, a proposed change in standing order 344 was discussed by the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee came to the conclusion that the standing order, as it currently stood, had stood the test of time and was being applied in an appropriate manner. Not content with that, a member of the House ensured that the government expressed a point of view contrary to the view of the Procedure Committee, the end result of which is now reflected in proposed standing order 344.

Against that background, I simply say to the House today that, having seriously considered whether or not to bring in a minority report, I then came to the conclusion that, in addition to the proposed change in the standing order, the Procedure Committee sought to give the House some direction as to how this new standing order should be applied in the future. I specifically refer to the following recommendation as embodied in the report, which has been tabled by the chair today:

The committee further recommends that the new standing order should be interpreted and applied in a manner consistent with the presumption that proceedings of committees should be by agreement.

That is very fundamental to the operation of what I believe is our whole committee structure—that is, that our committees should seek to operate in a non-political, constructive way by agreement. The report goes on to say:

The next edition of House of Representatives Practice should make this clear.

I dwell on that. As far as I am concerned, that is in essence the crux of the report presented by the chair today. There is a change in the standing order, in essence achieved by direction of the Leader of the House. He has had his way—and so be it. I am concerned that, unfortunately, some people on the other side of the House, having originally opposed the change in standing order 344, have succumbed to the pressure and direction of the Leader of the House. That is the nature of politics and, unfortunately, the manner in which the party structure operates in the House from time to time.

Having said that, I give credit to all members of the committee for the other part of the recommendation, which stresses in no uncertain terms that, in the application of this new standing order, the fundamental and most important premise on which these committees work should be maintained—that is, the application of standing order 344 should be on the basis of consensus and cooperation to ensure that this standing order is not used to politicise the work of our committee structure. On that basis, I fully support the recommendations in the report, as detailed by the Chair of the Procedure Committee, and I commend them to the House.