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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18620

Mr ORGAN (4:53 PM) —Mr Speaker, I rise today to express my concern about the way in which fundamental changes to the administration of this parliament have been brought forward in this House today. On Monday I received a letter from you referring to the Podger report—tabled on 23 October last year—telling me that a motion giving effect to a recommendation to amalgamate the three joint service parliamentary departments into a single department would be put before the House in the first fortnight of the spring sittings. I would draw your attention to the fact that I did not take my seat until 11 November 2002 and had no knowledge of the amalgamation proposal until I received your letter on Monday.

However, I do recognise that your office provided me with a copy of the report around 11.30 this morning after I phoned you to express my concern about the way in which the matter was raised in the House, which is with what I see as undue haste, though I am aware of your particular reasons for this action. The draft daily program for this House distributed last night does not mention such a motion, nor did my office receive a copy of your notice of motion which, I now understand, was distributed last night at around 6.30. I first became aware of it when today's daily program—the blue—was delivered to my office around 8.45 this morning, 15 minutes before the commencement of debate.

I recognise that you have apologised for not ensuring that I was properly informed that the matter was to be raised today, and I thank you for that. Also, I appreciate as much as anyone the need for efficient delivery of services to the members of this House, and to our colleagues in another place. But a proposal which will cut 35 administrative staff positions from the parliament sets the alarm bells ringing for me, and it was a matter I was seeking to pursue.

There are a number of issues which concern me about the proposal, and in the short time available to me here now I would like to give one quick example. I have been informed today that there are no additional resources or appropriations provided by this House when it sets up select committees, such as the one inquiring into the recent Australian bushfires, on which I am privileged to serve. The work undertaken by parliamentary staff in support of such committees is over and above the functions for which the parliamentary departments are funded, and I am informed that this results in people working considerable amounts of unpaid overtime.

Then there is the question of the additional cost of the heightened security arrangements now put, or being put, in place. I believe that that cost is in the vicinity of $20 million, split between the two chambers, and I note that the changes proposed in your resolution result in savings of about half that sum. I have not had the opportunity to take in all the detail of the new arrangements which are proposed. I am concerned that this amalgamation and the loss of 35 jobs will increase the amount of overtime being undertaken by the staff who so ably support us in our work as the people's representatives. Your letter of Monday, 11 August says that the duplication of corporate, personnel and similar functions will cease, but what does that mean in practice? Where is the detail? What effect will it have on the work of the elected representatives and on individual members of staff?

As I do not have the resources of a major political party at my beck and call, I rely heavily on the work of parliamentary support staff, and I am concerned that the move proposed in the motion passed today may impact on my ability to perform my parliamentary duties and properly represent the people of Cunningham in this place. Had I been adequately informed about this important matter, I too would have spoken in the debate on your motion this morning. It is a matter of deep regret that I was not able to make a contribution on such a key issue as the resourcing of this country's primary legislature, because there was simply too little detail provided for me to judge the matter on its merits and too little time allowed to consider the implications.

The brief debate that did take place was rather insubstantial and more about backslapping and who thought of the amalgamation idea first—Labor or the government—rather than substantive issues concerning the implementation of the amalgamation and the management of the risks involved in such a major administrative change. In closing, I urge you to ensure that the process of amalgamation now in train results neither in any diminution of the services provided to members of this House nor in the forced redundancy of any members of the hardworking and talented parliamentary staff who, during my short term here, I have found to be ever helpful and efficient.

The SPEAKER —I appreciate the contributions made by all members in the adjournment debate tonight and the accommodation, particularly by the member for Moncrieff, which has made it possible for the member for Cunningham to be called when he was.