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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 190

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (11.42 a.m.) —I want to mention two other matters that flow from the changes that are about to be made and this is the only opportunity to do so. The first concerns the transition and how existing references will be dealt with. I want to put on the record how I think they should be dealt with. Obviously there are some major inquiries that are part heard. We will now have new committees in some instances covering a different mix of portfolios. No doubt, there will be changes in the composition of the committees.

  The changes we are about to make will require a new committee to continue with a reference that had been given to what is described as a predecessor committee. It becomes obvious that, if there are inquiries that are not concluded after 10 October, the new committees will take on where the old committees left off. However, it would obviously be unwise if it were the new members that took on that responsibility because they would not have heard the evidence that had been put. I presume, therefore, that as a matter of practice we will adopt the facility that will be provided to appoint substitutes for any particular matter before a committee. The substitutes in this instance would be those who constituted the committee that had been taking evidence under the old system. That is certainly how I envisage we would adapt to the transition.

  Some of these inquiries are obviously very important. There is the inquiry into the CSIRO which particularly interests me. It is taking a lot of complex evidence and it would be a nonsense if a new committee composed of new people had to try to pick up where the old committee had left off. I am not sure whether that was intended by the draughtsman of these changes, but certainly that is the way I interpret that they should be implemented.

  The second matter is that the number of chairs has been approximately determined on a basis to better reflect the number of parties and independents within this chamber. Reference to the `Leader of the Government' determining those numbers refers to the government of the day—that is, the ALP. In the event of what we anticipate will happen at the next election—that the government changes—we are likely not only to be in government but also to have a significantly larger number of senators than the ALP opposition at that time.

Senator Coates —You are amazing!

Senator HILL —That is very likely. Even Senator Coates would agree that that is likely to occur. We have six more senators now. In the event that we are successful in the other place, we are not going to lose six senators as well, I can tell Senator Coates that.

Senator Coates —I am just fascinated by your thinking ahead.

Senator HILL —I raise it because some believe that there should be within this standing order some reflection of the spirit of how this has been determined. In many ways that is an inappropriate thing to write into a standing order. I presume that is why there has not been an attempt to do so. But, because it is inappropriate to write it into the standing orders, the basis upon which these numbers have been determined should nevertheless be put on the record so that after the next election, and subsequent elections, when there must then be a renegotiation according to the numbers in the chamber, those who then conduct that renegotiation will be aware of the basis upon which these changes were made.

Senator Ferguson —There might be only two Democrats.

Senator HILL —There might be only two Democrats. We can only hope. We have always seen the Democrats and the Labor Party as much the same, anyway, so I do not think that will make a lot of difference. This issue is important. I do not know whether it would make a substantial difference in relation to the reference and legislation committees, but it may well make a difference in relation to the mix of appropriate chairs for the other committees that are included.

  It has to be accepted that the formula is weighted in favour of the government, even though the government does not have the majority in this place. We have recognised that. Nevertheless, we have said that this document is a step in the right direction because there is an attempt to reflect the fact that the government does not control this chamber and that the chamber has a right to choose the chair of its committees. It is important to put the rationale for these numbers on the record at this stage because a reapplication of that rationale will be necessary after the next and following elections.