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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3465

Senator COLSTON(9.13) —I rise to oppose the motion moved by Senator Hamer. I do so on a number of grounds which I will expound shortly. First of all, I point out that when it was proposed that the Australian National Maritime Museum Bill 1986 be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, which I chair, there was no consultation between Senator Hamer and me. I would have thought that it would have been normal courtesy for Senator Hamer to come to me prior to notice of motion being given yesterday and mention the matter to me. I heard of the matter, as we often hear of matters around this place, because of gossip that was going on in the corridor. I point out that Senator Hamer did not pay me the courtesy of even consulting with me to see whether there were any problems about this.

The Australian National Maritime Museum Bill 1986 has had no controversy. There has not been any public controversy about it. There has not been any controversy within the Parliament. It has not been debated at all in this chamber.

Senator Puplick —Then how do you know that there is no controversy?

Senator COLSTON —It has not been debated at all in this chamber. If it had been debated in this chamber and there were conflicts and the chamber decided that it should go to a committee, so be it. It has not been debated here, we do not know whether there is controversy within this chamber, and therefore, under these circumstances, it is a folly to refer to a committee a Bill about which we do not know whether there is any controversy, especially when we consider what this is going to mean to the public purse. As I will show later, it could cost the public purse over $10,000 for the Committee to look at this particular reference, and that is $10,000 which I think could be more wisely spent in other ways. When the notice of motion was given yesterday I did not know what its purpose was, whether it was proposed that we examine the Bill and decide its intent--

Senator Chaney —You just want to take the summer off like the rest of the Queensland ALP.

Senator COLSTON —If Senator Chaney wants to carry on with his stupid interjections in the way he always does, he may continue to do so, but I will disregard him. If he wants to get up later and make his point of view known, I invite him to do so. I did not know whether we were to examine this Bill and decide on its intent or whether we were to examine the wording of the Bill to determine whether it would give effect to the intention of the Bill. If those two matters were all that we were to look at, it would probably require only one meeting of the Committee and then we would be able to bring down the report. However, from the comments that were made by Senator Hamer this morning, I understand that there has to be some public input and examination. In that respect, it looks as if the Committee would have to advise whether this is the appropriate legislation and inquire into the Bill's acceptability among interested parties.

The inquiry into the Bill by interested parties raises a number of practical considerations. The first major practical issue is the availability of members to attend meetings. Members of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts have already indicated that their commitments during the recess would make it difficult to obtain a quorum for a meeting until early February. The Committee would have to meet privately to decide how to proceed with the reference. The Committee has scheduled a public meeting for 16 December and I suppose that its members would be able to meet privately on that day. Other committees may have greater difficulties in arranging a special meeting, but I leave that to any other senators who might wish to speak.

If the Committee proceeds with this inquiry in the same way as it has done with other legislation referred to it, it will seek submissions from interested parties and conduct a public hearing. How do we seek submissions? Usually this is done by direct invitation and by advertisements in the Press. It would not be possible to place Press advertisements before the third week in December. Sufficient time would then have to be given for interested parties to make submissions. Given that the Christmas recess and the New Year intervene, it would not be realistic to expect submissions before the end of January. Moreover, it may be difficult to contact appropriate potential witnesses at this time of the year and to have them appear at public hearings. In any event, the Committee would not be able to hold any public hearings until early February. The Committee has already scheduled a public hearing on another reference on 12 February 1987.

I wish to mention something about public hearings. Given that the Committee would not be able to hold a public hearing until February 1987, this would leave little time for the preparation and printing of the report. It is worth noting that the Government Printer usually takes about a fortnight to produce a camera ready report. Of course, a report could be produced with our own duplicating service. Additionally, the Committee would have to meet at least once to consider the Chairman's report. I will tell the Senate what happened last time we had to produce a chairman's report when a reference was given to this Committee and the report had to be brought down by the first week of sitting of this Budget session. During that time I lost my committee secretary, who had to go overseas with a delegation; I lost one research assistant who took up a position elsewhere within the administration of the Senate; and I lost a steno-secretary, which meant that the only staff I had available for some part of the time was a research assistant. In other words, at that time a research assistant and I had to bring down the report. We did so but only after asking for a week's extension of time. The research assistant and I brought down the draft report which went to the Committee and this was accepted with only a few modifications. These are the sorts of practical problems that we have.

I would like to say something about the costs. If the Committee were to advertise, as it seems that we will have to do, and proceed to public hearings, I have estimated that the cost of the exercise would be $14,500. If honourable senators are interested, I can outline why it would cost $14,500-$14,509, to be exact. If a sum of $14,500 is to be spent, I think that it should by spent on an issue on which this Senate or members of the public themselves have indicated that there is some controversy so that we are given some indication of where we are to go with a particular Bill.

If this motion is passed by the Senate, I would expect all members of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, especially those opposite who will vote for this motion, to attend all meetings and to assist in every way possible including in the preparation of a draft report-not as happened last time when a matter was proposed to us by the Senate, and when on a number of occasions it was very difficult to have anybody from the Education and the Arts Committee to assist. I oppose the motion on the grounds I have raised. I urge all honourable senators to look at this legislation to see whether they feel that it is really worth while proceeding in this way.