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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3649

Senator GEORGES(10.53) —Mr President, my remarks are directed to you. I have been here for some time, so you will excuse me if I reflect upon the past. In doing so, may I confess to an impression that we run here a two-ring circus, one here and one in the other place, and the members are merely the performing animals.

Senator Brownhill —Animal welfare.

Senator GEORGES —No, just the performing animals. We perform a function here, to keep the place running, and surrounding us is a whole group of people who really direct the destiny of the Parliament by the decisions that they make. This concerns me. I resent being taken for granted. I want to express my resentment now. I find it very difficult to accept the information that seems to percolate through, that is transmitted around the corridors, that certain organisational changes are taking place within the Parliament which will affect the status of this House, the Senate. They may be minor changes, but to my mind they affect the status of the Senate.

We have a bicameral system; we have a Senate and a House of Representatives-not, as many people believe, a lower House and an upper House, although there are many here who would make decisions, and who have made decisions, which might give one the impression that it is otherwise. Nevertheless, we have a bicameral system, which is a very effective system in the Westminster mode. In fact, it might be an improvement on the Westminster style of government.

I do object to any decision being taken by the executive of the Senate or the executive of the House of Representatives, through the Presiding Officers, without the Parliament being aware of those changes which may affect the status of this House. It may be that, because of the frustration of being here an extra day, I have misinterpreted the rather bemused information I have received today. It seems to me that in the recess, while the Parliament is not sitting, certain decisions will be taken which will affect the status of this House. Certain decisions will be taken in regard to the organisation of the Parliament which will affect the position of the Senate. I do not want in any way to give the impression that I am angry, because I very seldom get angry in this place, but I am disturbed that decisions can be taken without the Parliament or the Senate being aware of them.

Senator Gareth Evans —What are you talking about?

Senator GEORGES —What I am about to get to--

Senator Gareth Evans —It is a very elaborate preamble.

Senator GEORGES —It is a very elaborate introduction to it.

Senator Gareth Evans —Invoking the shame of Jim Odgers and God knows what else.

Senator GEORGES —Yes, but I want to ask the President whether there is some reorganisation taking place which will affect the status of the attendants. Is it the intention of the executive, through the Presiding Officers, to alter the organisation of the Parliament? Is there a move which will bring the attendants under one supervision? Is it the intention of the executive to place the attendants in the position where they will serve both Houses of the Parliament? Is there not to be a separation between those who attend to us in this place and those who attend to members of the House of Representatives? Although it might be only a minor change which will serve the convenience of some people, nevertheless, fundamentally it is an important change. If the attendants who serve us in this chamber are to be interchangeable with the attendants who serve the House of Representatives, a step will have been taken which will affect the position of the Senate.

Senator Gareth Evans —Not before time too.

Senator GEORGES —I know what Senator Gareth Evans's view is.

Senator Gareth Evans —I thought it was your view too.

Senator GEORGES —It is not quite.

Senator Gareth Evans —You have done a bit of backsliding over the last 10 years.

Senator GEORGES —I might have done a bit of backsliding over the last 10 years. That backsliding might not have taken place-this might become evident over the next two days-but for the arrogance of the Executive and the failure to recognise the rights of members of parliament. It seems to me that the rights of members of parliament are now being diminished and that the executives are all powerful, whether they be the executives of the Government or the executives of the Parliament. It seems to me that they have taken the position where the rights of members are being considerably diminished. Let me say to Senator Gareth Evans that if I have backslid, I have backslid because of the view that back benchers like myself have no role to play in this place. It might be because back benchers like myself find themselves with no role to play in the Party they have served for so long. Maybe that is the reason why I have backslid in some way. It seems to come strangely from a person like Senator Gareth Evans, who for so long has taken an independent view, that a senator should be completely subservient to the powers within his own Party upon which he depends for his own advancement. There may be a bit of bitterness in what I say.

Senator Gareth Evans —It may be improving the job satisfaction of the attendants if they did have a bit of diversity. Putting up with this lot in here would make anyone go crazy, wouldn't it?

Senator GEORGES —Yes. Let us just explain what happens in this place and the process through which one goes, having moved from a point of absolute loyalty to a point of doubt. Senator Evans has raised a question that reflects upon the attitudes that we take in this place when back benchers are completely ignored. Let us forget about back benchers of a political party which for the time being finds itself in government and let us take a look at the position of members of this Parliament who suddenly find that decisions are being made without any consultation-decisions which can affect the Parliament, either rightly or wrongly. Let us say that these are the right decisions, but nevertheless they are being taken without the knowledge of the Parliament. I am just asking whether the President is prepared to make a statement to the House which indicates what decisions have been made which will affect the whole structure of this Parliament and which will, in effect, diminish the status of the Senate in relation to the House of Representatives. I see that the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Evans, is shaking his head. Perhaps he is puzzled by the position I am taking.

Senator Gareth Evans —You are being cantankerous and reactionary, George, and you are not a cantankerous and reactionary person.

Senator GEORGES —No, I am not reactionary; I react to decisions or procedures which are not consultative, procedures which one might even consider to be undemocratic. I served on the Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House, and one might wonder why I was on it.

Senator Gareth Evans —You were a very distinguished member of that Committee.

Senator GEORGES —Oh yes, for a short time. I was there for a purpose and that purpose was to frustrate an attempt on the part of the Executive of the Parliament to separate the Executive from the rest of the Parliament. Certain physical changes were to take place in the new Parliament House which would separate the Executive and put it under different security and attendant arrangements, and which would prevent the ordinary member from having easy and free access to the Executive, to the Ministry. We frustrated that because we insisted that the whole of the Parliament, including the Executive, should come under the control of the Presiding Officers because we put our complete trust in the Presiding Officers to protect the rights of the members and the Houses they represent. What troubles me about what is happening at the moment is that certain subtle changes are taking place which will affect the position of the two Houses.

Senator Evans, if he wishes, can come to the conclusion that Australian Labor Party policy is for the abolition of the Senate, but we have moved away from that and it is no longer our policy. We have moved away from it because we have started to realise that complete control in one single House without a supporting committee system could be to the detriment of fair and good government. We have accepted that the Senate has a role. If Senator Evans does not think that the Senate has a role, he should not be troubled by what is happening. I am concerned about the role of the Senate because, in the time that I have been here-perhaps I have been too close to the Senate-I have started to appreciate the role that this chamber can play in the bicameral system and I am offended by any attempt to change that. I am saying that the system is to be changed and I object to the fact that it will be done in the recess. It will be done without the members of Parliament knowing. We will come back here and we will find out that there is no separation between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Suddenly we will find that a decision of the Executive will mean that all attendants in this place will come under one line of supervision and control. We will find, when we come back after the recess, that all the attendants will be interchangeable. I might be incorrect in saying that but I think we will find that all the attendants, be they House of Representatives or Senate attendants, will be dressed alike. That may be a small change but it is a fundamental change--

Senator Gareth Evans —An insignificant change.

Senator GEORGES —The Minister says that it is an insignificant change. It may be insignificant in his mind--

Senator Gareth Evans —I do not know whether it is happening or not.

Senator GEORGES —Yes, but there is a change--

Senator Gareth Evans —Why don't you ask the attendants whether they like it or not? Maybe they would like more job satisfaction.

Senator GEORGES —Maybe they would, maybe they would like an increase in pay. Maybe the Government is not prepared to give them an increase in pay unless they accept certain changed conditions. To Senator Evans it might be insignificant; to me it might not be insignificant. But the crux of the matter is that changes are taking place without our being aware, without members being told or informed. I get back to the fact that this is merely a small ring circus with the larger ring circus elsewhere. We are the performing animals that go through various functions but we are kept in the dark and we are fed fertiliser. Trivial as it may seem, I believe this matter to be important. I suggest that the President take the opportunity to respond and to inform us whether any changes are taking place and if those decisions have been made why we were not informed beforehand.

I object to the subtle way in which decisions have been made in this place which have led us to a position of being over secure. I have argued on this matter on other occasions. I object to older people coming through this place and having to be searched. I have said for years that it is not necessary. There are times when increased security may have to be applied but let it be applied downstairs with the sophisticated surveillance instruments that we have. But it is objectionable not only to people concerned but also to certain members of the Senate that people have to be searched before they come into the galleries. I have objected but we are now conditioned to it. Now I am objecting to this change. Eventually we may become conditioned to it, but I object to it now. I put on record that I object to changes taking place here by Executive decision without parliamentarians being properly informed.