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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 187

Senator BOURNE (11.23 a.m.) —One of the basic tenets of the Australian Democrats' proposal to change the committee system is that this option be available to participating members. This was discussed and considered at Procedure Committee meetings. I believe that Senator Hill was present at those meetings. I think he is a little confused by what I said previously. I said that I did not want to see the occasion arise—and the possibility is there—of a participating or indeed a full member of any committee turning up with a dissenting or minority report, not having participated in the hearings by questioning witnesses, not having attended public and private committee meetings or perhaps having attended only one meeting. I do not think that is fair to anybody, and I hope that would not happen.

  However, this is a completely different issue. Any member of this Senate who feels strongly about several issues would find it almost impossible to be on more than one committee. I know—I have tried and I am still trying. As all senators know, it is very difficult to be on a great many committees. It is okay for the government, the opposition and the Democrats because we have enough members to go around and can go to most of these committees and be full members of the committees. We will get our point of view across.

  However, Senator Harradine, Senator Chamarette and Senator Margetts do not have enough members to be on every one of these committees—and they feel strongly about more than one issue. If any one of us is prepared to be a full participating member in respect of any reference to a committee, and to put in the work on that reference, we should have every right of a full member of that committee. At the moment, the opposition can swap members of committees. A member of the opposition who is very concerned about a particular issue can be a full member of the committee for that time—perhaps on a reference committee. That would continue to be the case.

  That is not the case with the Independents and the Greens. It does not work like that. This is very unfair on anyone but the government, the opposition and, to a certain extent, the Democrats. We can be represented and can swap around on most committees as full members; so can the opposition and the government.

  We do not want—and this is one of the absolutely basic changes to this committee system that I am very concerned about—a particular point of view not to be represented, as happens now. At the moment any one of us can be on a committee, question witnesses and participate in committee meetings—as long as the chairman of the committee agrees. Senator Coates, as chairman, did this for me when we had the finance and public administration inquiry into the then Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Under Senator Coates, the committee members agreed that I, as the Democrats' foreign affairs spokesperson, could go to every meeting of that committee. I was even involved in writing the report. As it happened, I agreed with the report and did not want to write a dissenting report.

Senator Coates —So did Senator Hill; but that is another matter.

Senator BOURNE —Senator Hill went along at the same time. Even though Senator Hill and I both had a particular interest and expertise in the matter, turned up to the meetings and questioned witnesses, went to the private meetings and went to the report writing meetings, neither of us had the right to put in a dissenting report should we have so wished. That was all right for Senator Hill because he had Liberal members on that committee and he could write a dissenting report. I do not know whether he did; but he had the possibility.

Senator Coates —You remember; he did.

Senator BOURNE —I do not know whether he did. It looked like his writing to me, but I could be wrong. He could have had the Liberal members put in the dissenting report. I did not have that possibility. If I had felt the same way as Senator Hill could have felt, I could not have done that. I agreed with the report, as it was. I had been involved in the writing of the report and had agreed with what the majority report had said.  We want to change that option, so that if either Senator Hill or I were on that committee—if it and the reference existed today—and disagreed with the majority report after we had been to the majority of those meetings, participated fully, questioned witnesses and been to the report writing meetings, one or both of us could put in a dissenting or minority report even though we were not full members of that committee.

  I want to extend that right of Labor and Liberal members to the rest of us. I think it would be very unfair if the two majority parties in this chamber disagreed with that. One day we may be the government and other senators here may be in the minority. They should keep that in mind.