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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 595


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(5.27) —I simply want to indicate to Senator Durack for the record that the distrust and distaste that he has expressed towards this side of the chamber and me in particular are fully reciprocated. Let me move more specifically to the reasons that the Government has taken this course and has been unco-operative, in the terms which Senator Durack has just expressed. Of course, the reasons are twofold: firstly, the enterprise of setting in train a committee at this stage before the criminal processes have been exhausted for what is essentially a criminal allegation was wrong in principle, as I have said over and over again; and, secondly, to establish the proceeding in that particular way, particularly in the way in which the Opposition has sought co-operation through legislative support for an independent commission, would have been constitutionally unsound, highly unlikely to withstand scrutiny in any challenge under section 72 and therefore not only would create a situation in which this Parliament or the criminal courts would have to second guess that process but also would prolong an agony for the people and institutions in question that has already gone on too far.

Let me just correct for Senator Durack the record about the way in which this sort of situation has been dealt with in recent years. I asked the long- suffering parliamentary officers to tell us circumstances over the last 10 years in which select, joint or joint select committees had been created with government and non-government members being equal and how that issue had been resolved in terms of the casting vote of the government of the day and the chairman of the day. In other words, I asked for situations in which the government had had control of a committee, notwithstanding the absence of numbers in this chamber in many instances. In 1984 there were two instances: The Senate Select Committee on Volatile Substance Fumes, established on 10 May this year, with two government and two non-government members, the Chairman having a casting vote; and of course the Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge established in March this year, with three government and three non-government members, the Chairman having a casting vote. The Select Committee on Animal Welfare was established in November 1983 with two government and two non- government members, the Chairman from the Government having the casting vote. In 1982 the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege was established on a five government and five non-government basis with a government chairman. When we went into government and the then Government became the Opposition, by agreement and by grace and favour, as it were, we acceded to a position where the non-government Chairman remained in that position. John Spender stayed the Chairman and I stayed the Deputy Chairman for reasons of comity, good faith, harmony and getting on with the business with a proper degree of continuity. That has been the only exception, the only time in the last 10 years, where somebody other than a government person has chaired a select, joint, or joint select committee. Let me give the others just for the record: In 1981, the Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes Senate Select Committee; in 1981 again, the South West Tasmania Senate Select Committee, three and three; the Government Clothing and Ordnance Factories Committee in 1981, three and three; the Parliamentary Appropriations and Staffing Select Committee, on 23 May 1980, three and three, chairman with a casting vote; the Passenger Fares and Services to Tasmania Senate Select Committee, two and two, chairman with a casting vote; in 1976, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Senate Select Committee, three and three, with the chairman casting; Operations of the Mount Lyell Company Senate Select Committee, November 1976, three and three, with the chairman casting; 1974, Foreign Ownership and Control Senate Select Committee, four and four, chairman casting. In every single instance the government of the day, notwithstanding a variable situation so far as concerned the composition of the Senate over that period, has had the formal, technical control of the Committee. There is only one set of principles that would be broken by passage of the motion in the form in which Senator Durack has moved it today, and those are the long-standing convention and principles which have governed the business of this chamber in the composition of committees.


Senator Durack —What about the committee two years ago?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I have not heard about that committee of two years ago. It does not feature in the briefing that I sought and received from the independent parliamentary officers of the Senate. Maybe it was a committee in which there was a majority rather than equal numbers. I do not know the circumstances of that. All the precedents I have had drawn out of the records point to a situation which, as we all know, has been the commonly excepted practice in this place. There is no question of the Government manipulating numbers on this Committee with any prospect of effect, any more than that has ever been the case with committees of this kind-any more than it was the case with the Committee at the first stage of this inquiry. Of course, the realities of the matter are that everybody has to behave with common sense, moderation and respect for principles . That is the way we will behave. We only wish to goodness that was reciprocated on occasion in this place.