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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 177

Senator HARRADINE (10.44 a.m.) —I will not canvass all of the matters that have already been canvassed on the importance of the committee system. I notice that the opposition has a proposal to amend Senator Robert Ray's motion to include a committee on international committees and treaties. I understand that that will be deferred, so I will not debate that here. It will give me the opportunity of taking off the Notice Paper a notice of motion that I have had there since the mid-1980s. The day has obviously come for the idea of having a Senate committee consider implications of international treaties. It is very interesting to see that it has taken about 10 years for the day to come.

Senator Coates —Nothing to stop the subcommittee of the foreign affairs committee doing it.

Senator HARRADINE —It is a very good to see the situation arise where people are focusing on this matter and the importance of it. I said I was not going to canvass that matter, and I will not. I am grateful to all of those persons on the Procedure Committee—from the government, the opposition, the Democrats and the Greens—for the work that they have done. I thank Senator Bourne for keeping us informed about her proposals and also the various discussions that have been taking place in the committee.

  It is important to note the changes particularly to the legislation committees. The functions of those committees are really functions of the Senate as a whole—for example, on estimates committees. The debate in the committee of the whole is now assisted by the work of the estimates committees. Those estimates committees examine the estimates which are proposed by the various government departments for the purposes of the legislation currently before us. That aspect of the legislation committee, of course, assists the functions of the Senate committee of the whole. Again, the function of the consideration of any bills, including draft bills, to be referred to the legislation committees is also a function of the Senate as such.

  Under those circumstances, it is desirable to ensure that individual senators are able to attend and participate in the operation of those particular committees. The way that this motion is drawn up, however, says that participating members may be appointed to the committees. At the present moment, so far as the work of these committees is concerned with the consideration of estimates and draft bills—like the Friday committees—I can notify the chairman, go along to the committee hearings as an individual senator and ask questions—as I would have been able to do if the functions were being performed by the committee of the whole. Now, however, one has to nominate as a participating member.

Senator Coates —That just gives you additional rights.

Senator HARRADINE —I understand what you are saying, Senator Coates. But if it is suggested that by being a participating member one ought to be there for 50 per cent of the time, that is not going to be possible unless there is bi-location.

  I attend many of the hearings of estimates committees to ask particular questions. The legislative committees will be dealing with community affairs. Obviously I have interests in matters of health, social security and the economy. On a number of occasions I have questioned the Treasury about economic matters. At estimates committees I have asked questions about the environment, industrial relations, employment, recreation, communications and the arts, tourism, finance, foreign affairs, legal and constitutional affairs, rural and regional affairs, the Attorney-General's Department, and transport.

  Under this proposal it will be possible for four estimates committees to be meeting at the same time. We would need to have `quadruple-location' to be present 50 per cent of the time. Under this proposal I will need to nominate as a participating member of all of those committees. It has to be understood that it would be absolutely impossible for me to be present all the time for all of the committees, despite the desires that I might have.

Senator Coates —You need to recognise that there is only one of you!

Senator HARRADINE —The trouble is that the constituents do not seem to recognise that at times.  The second point that should be taken on board is this: how do the procedural orders and resolutions of the Senate of continuing effect, as they relate to the estimates committees' and the committee of the whole's consideration of estimates, apply if this particular motion—

Senator Robert Ray —It did occur to me and I have been assured.

Senator HARRADINE —I will leave it at that and see what transpires.