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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2019

Senator JESSOP(6.16) —I move an amendment to the motion to take note of the report as follows:

At the end of the motion, add:

``, and the Senate agrees with the Committee's recommendations''.

The Joint Standing Committee on the New Parliament House recommended in this report, which was presented in November 1985, that legislation be passed to delineate the precincts of the new Parliament House for the purpose of making particular statutory provisions in relation to the precincts. The Committee is not under the illusion, which confuses a great many people, that the parliamentary precincts have any special status in law or that the ordinary law does not apply in the precincts. This matter has been the subject of consideration by the Senate over a number of years. In particular, I refer to the interest displayed by former Senator Reg Wright from Tasmania.

The Committee considers, however, that a statute is necessary to delineate the precincts and to make it clear beyond any doubt that the Presiding Officers have the management and control of the buildings in the precincts on behalf of the Parliament and on behalf of the Commonwealth; that the police are obliged to remove persons from the precincts at the direction of the Presiding Officers; that the Crown should initiate prosecutions at the request of the Presiding Officers for any offences committed in the precincts; and that particular laws apply in the precincts where there is some doubt as to their application. The Committee has recommended that the whole of the area enclosed by Capital Circle be the parliamentary precincts.

It appears, and this is referred to in the Committee's report, that the Government, at least in the past, has taken the view that the parliamentary precincts should be restricted to the area of the building actually used by the two Houses, and should not include the parts of the building allocated to the Government, so that the Government would have exclusive control over the Government area. I consider this to be an outrageous suggestion which ought to be resisted by the Parliament, and that is partly why I have moved my amendment.

By custom, a large part of the present Parliament House has been set aside for the use of the executive government. This allows Ministers the convenience of having offices and staff close to the two Houses. It has the severe disadvantage that the area occupied by the Executive tends to expand as Ministers make demands for more and more space, and the private members of Parliament, in relation to accommodation, tend to become the poor relations in the building which is supposed to be for the use of the Parliament. This practice of allowing the Executive to occupy a large part of the legislative building is peculiar to Australia. Other parliaments do not allow Ministers to have their principal offices in the legislative building.

Unfortunately, this practice of giving the Executive a large part of Parliament House has been continued in the new building and, in fact, in the course of construction of the building, the Executive has expanded the area occupied by it so that it now intrudes into the central area of the building. Having gained the occupancy of a large part of the new building, it is quite outrageous for the Government to claim exclusive control over parts of what is meant to be Parliament House. The two Houses should insist that the whole of the new building and its surrounding area be administered and controlled by the Presiding Officers on behalf of the Parliament.

The other reason for this amendment is that there now appears to be some resistance in the Public Service to the idea of providing for the precincts by legislation. Following the report of the Joint Committee, former President McClelland had a Bill drafted by one of the Senate's consultant draftsmen to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. The Bill was sent to the Prime Minister for consideration, and to all members of the Committee. There has still been no response by the Government to the proposed Bill. It is suspected that this is because of resistance in the Public Service to the idea of formally declaring the customary powers of the Presiding Officers in relation to Parliament House. The bureaucracy would perhaps prefer to leave those powers undefined and uncertain so that they could be encroached upon in the future. By passing this amendment the Senate will support the Joint Committee and indicate its belief that the two Houses, through their Presiding Officers, should have responsibility for controlling and managing the new Parliament House.

Senator Robertson —Hear, hear!

Senator JESSOP —I note Senator Robertson's acknowledgment. This bone of contention has existed for a long time where the Executive has exerted too much influence over the Parliament itself. After all, constitutionally the Executive Government is the instrument of the Parliament. Members of Parliament are supreme to the Executive. I hope this amendment will attract the support of the whole of the Senate because in this way we can demonstrate our interest and our recognition that the control of the Parliament and its precincts ought to be fairly and squarely in the hands of the Presiding Officers.