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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 343


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE (3.34 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

This is the 20th report of the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing. It deals essentially with the question of the estimates for 1994-95. I remind the Senate of the terms of reference, from Senate standing order 19, which read:

  The Committee shall inquire into:

(a) proposals for the annual estimates and the additional estimates for the Senate;

(b) proposals to vary the staff structure of the Senate, and staffing and recruitment policies; and

(c) such other matters as are referred to it by the Senate.

  The Committee shall:

(a) in relation to the estimates—

(i) determine the amounts for inclusion in the parliamentary appropriation bills for the annual and the additional appropriations, and

(ii) report to the Senate upon its determinations prior to the consideration by the Senate of the relevant parliamentary appropriation bill;

(b) in relation to staffing—

(i) make such recommendations to the President, and

(ii) report to the Senate on any matter; and

(c) make an annual report to the Senate on the operations of the Senate's appropriations and staffing, and related matters.

  On this occasion the appropriations and staffing committee resolved that there would be an additional amount of $1,704,500 for the 1993-94 year. As I recall, this was a unanimous resolution of the committee based on the best judgment of the members of the committee as to the minimum funding required to provide the Senate with the capacity to function in a reasonable way. In the event that the Minister for Finance disagrees with the committee, there is a mechanism in place as to how that problem should be resolved.

  However, over a number of years—this year being no different from the past year, the past year being no different from the year before that, and that year being no different from the year before that—the government chose to ignore in spirit and letter the terms of the resolution of the Senate. That resolution was reinforced by a motion presented to the Senate by former Senator Richardson, the chairman of Estimates Committee A. It is a resolution by one of the government's own members, and it was carried unanimously by the Senate. But the government seems determined—for whatever reason—to arbitrarily seek to impose upon the Senate its judgment as to the necessary funding required by the Senate for its management.

  I am very mindful of a comment once made by a previous Minister for Finance, former Senator Peter Walsh, when the Senate was contemplating appointing an additional select committee to inquire into a matter which the Senate had judged at that time was of sufficient importance that it required further consideration. Former Senator Walsh said that he would put a stop to that by ensuring that the funding was not available; in other words, he was threatening to strangle the capacity of the Senate to fulfil its obligations unto itself and to the Australian people.

  That exemplifies the reason why the Senate, by way of resolution, is determined to play a paramount part in the level of funding that it requires for its proper functioning. The government continues to ignore the proper and due process. In the past couple of years the government has come back to the committee at a very late stage in respect of the proposed Senate funding levels and has made it impossible for the committee to respond.

  This year, for instance, one of the items proposed was continued funding of $52,000 for an information and technology systems officer in the Table Office. For reasons which are not apparent to me—and presumably are not apparent to the majority of the committee—the Minister for Finance has indicated that that amount will be deleted. It seems that there is a sense of determination on the part of the government to insist that it is deciding the amount and that it will change whatever appropriations are determined by the committee. The former Minister for Finance, Mr Willis, was written to on a number of occasions in relation to this process. More recently, the new Minister for Finance, Mr Beazley, has also been the subject of correspondence and we have received his responses which, I might say, give very little more than a modest glimmer of hope that the proper processes will be put in place in the future.

  My personal view is that the Senate should have exclusive right to make a judgment about the level of funding that is necessary. I see the cynical look on Senator Ray's face, because the last thing a government wants is a chamber in which it does not have the numbers having the funding that is necessary to do what it wants to do in scrutinising the performance, conduct and management of the government.


Senator Robert Ray —Rubbish. Who scrutinises the Senate? The Senate itself.


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I know that the Labor Party's history is based on its scant regard to the constituency that elects it, but the coalition takes the view—


Senator Robert Ray —Not a view you expressed from 1975 to 1983—not one of you.


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It is a view that I have always held and I do not think Senator Ray would deny that.


Senator Robert Ray —I will look up the record from 1981 to 1982 to see the brave speeches that you made then.


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I would be very surprised if Senator Ray thinks that public utterances in this chamber are the only way of conveying a point of view. My memory is that most of the decisions that government makes are made behind closed doors and not in this chamber.

  However, the committee has now before it correspondence in respect of the processes in this matter. I wish to put on record again that the government seems determined not to satisfy a resolution of the Senate, which was carried unanimously on the last motion initiated by former Senator Graham Richardson. I hope that by this time next year we are able to report that the proper processes have taken place and that the government accepts the paramount responsibility of the Senate in determining the funding necessary to allow this place to function in a proper way.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.