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Tuesday, 2 June 1970

Mr LUCOCK (Lyne) - The speeches that have been made in this House this afternoon have revealed one thing, and that is the complexity of this problem. One of the dangers into which we may be falling in regard to this is to feel sometimes that the mere appointment of committees will solve all the problems that this Parliament has been confronted with over a period of time. I would think that what we have to look at perhaps more than anything else is not only the matter of the appointment of committees - and I think there is some merit in this - but how within the framework of parliament as we know it we can make this Parliament work.

There are many factors in regard to this question that have not been stressed in this discussion of a matter of public importance. When I speak of government and opposition I am not speaking in terms of the Parliament as it is at the moment but of government and opposition as such in a parliamentary system. Both government and opposition have a particular role in parliament. To my mind the one section cannot assume the role of the other. The opposition's role is certainly a very important one. It is one that is necessary to present a point of view that keeps a government on its mettle in introducing legislation.

It may be said that because one party has been in power for so long the element of opposition and government has been lost. This is the factor relating to our Parliament at the moment The other factor, I believe, is ' that in speaking about committees some people' have not given sufficient thought to the position of cabinet and the executive in our parliamentary system. A great deal has been said about backbenchers not having enough authority, not having enough influence and not having enough weight in debates on matters that are brought before the House and that they are merely rubber stamps to set the seal on executive policy. This is not correct because at party meetings a backbencher has the opportunity to present to cabinet and the executive his thoughts. This has been done on a number of occasions with a degree of strength and determination. As a report appeared in one of our daily newspapers in relation to this, I am not betraying any secret in saying that a subcommittee of the Standing Orders Committee was formed of which 1 had the privilege of being Chairman and that sub-committee comprised the honourable members for Wills (Mr Bryant) and Ryan (Mr Drury). The sub-committee gave some thought to the alteration of the present system of arranging sitting days. I feel that if the Parliament were to sit for a longer period much of what has been mentioned today as committee work could be carried out on the floor of the House which is perhaps the most important place to which attention should be given to various subjects.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) said that there was a unanimity displayed in our committees when the members were reaching their conclusions. This is true. I wonder if committee work became an established fact, whether a degree of this unanimity would be lost because political influence could then come into committee deliberations which is not there at the moment. I appreciate that this is conjecture but I just wonder whether the political atmosphere of the Parliament might be transferred to the committees if they were greater in number than they are at this stage, lt is not wise to compare the committee system which is in operation in the United States of America with our parliamentary system. In the United Stales Cabinet members can be appointed from among people outside Congress and not from members who are elected by the public. The system in the United States is completely different in the sense that there is not the division between the parties as there is in our own Australian Parliament.

One other factor which I think has been overlooked is that we are nol only members of Parliament but we represent electorates and must give our time to our electorates. I believe that many people appreciate that the importance of (his place must in many instances override electoral considerations. But we cannot get away from the fact that we are representatives of electorates. One of the greatest factors in our democratic system is that people can approach their member and that member is their voice on the Moor of this House in Canberra. I do not think that we should ever forget that. Of course, there is a difference between electorates. Some members of Parliament represent small areas - I will not say that they are the size of a pocket handkerchief - but some areas are small compared with other areas, which cover many, many square miles. One personal feeling 1 have is that unfortunately we have too many elections. I accept the fact that honourable members who are supporters of a government perhaps do not look forward to an election with the same degree of optimism in certain circumstances as do Opposition members whose position cannot be worsened whilst the position of government members can be. But, quire seriously, I believe that because Senate and House of Representatives elections are held at different times, unfortunately, there are too many elections and we do not get the continuity of government that is really necessary to valuable government.

I am not speaking in this way because the coalition parties are the Government. In this instance I am referring to the government in the general sense. I believe it would be of advantage - and- I have said so in this House before - for the Parliament to give some thought to either a 4-year or a 5-year term. In the long run, I believe, this would not make a great deal of difference to any one of the parties in respect of holding office. But. because of the short life of a parliament our legislative programme is frequently crammed into a limited period. This position arises because we are constantly facing an election of either the Senate or the House of Representatives. [ do not think this is conducive to good government.

I now come back to the point that I made in the first place. I believe there is a deal of merit in the committee system. However 1 feel we should also look at the ability to make parliamentary committees work to a far more beneficial degree. Some comment was made about the Committee stage of a Bill in this House. May 1 point out, having had some experience i , 1'iis regard, that the Chairman of Committees who points out to an honourable member that he is wandering a' little from the particular clause under discussion is not the most popular person in Australia. In exactly the same way, if the Chair points out, in a second reading debate, that an honourable member is wandering a little from the subject matter of a Bill, his ruling is not very popular. I believe that this state of affairs can be met by extended hours of sitting and additional sitting days to enable more time to be given in this House to the consideration of legislation. While I believe that there is merit and that there are many advantages in the committee system, I think we should be careful to realise that this is not the complete answer to the problem. One of the answers is that we work together to make this Parliament a more effective instrument in government.

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