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Wednesday, 22 August 1973
Page: 252


Mr DALY (Grayndler) (Leader of the House) - I move:

(1)   That a Joint Committee be appointed to inquire into, report on and make recommendations for-

(a)   a balanced system of committees for the Parliament;

(b)   the integration of the committee system into the procedures of the Parliament; and

(c)   arrangements for committee meetings which will best suit the convenience of Senators and Members.

(2)   That the committee consist of three Members of the House of Representatives nominated by the Prime Minister, one Member of the House of Representatives nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, one Member of tha House of Representatives nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the House of Representatives, two Senators nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, one Senator nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and one Senator nominated by the Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party in the Senate.

(3)   That every nomination of a member of the committee be forthwith notified in writing to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

(4)   That the members of the committee hold office as a joint committee until the House of Representatives expires by dissolution or effluxion of time.

(5)   That the committee elect as Chairman of the committee one of the members nominated by the Prime Minister or by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

(6)   That the Chairman of the committee may, from time to time, appoint another member of the committee to be the Deputy Chairman of the committee, and that the member so appointed act as Chairman of the committee at any time when the Chairman is not present at a meeting of the committee.

(7)   That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of three or more of its members and to refer to any such sub-committee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to examine.

(8)   That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to move from place to place and to sit during any recess or adjournment of the Parliament.

(9)   That the committee have leave to report from time to time and that any member of the committee have power to add a protest or dissent to any report.

(10)   That five members of the committee constitute a quorum of the committee, and a majority of the members of a sub-committee constitute a quorum of that sub-committee.

(11)   That in matters of procedure the Chairman or Deputy Chairman presiding at the meeting have a deliberative vote and, in the event of an equality of voting, have a casting vote, and that, in other matters, the Chairman or Deputy Chairman have a deliberative vote only.

(12)   That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources.

(13)   That the committee or a sub-committee have power to authorise publication of any evidence given before it and any document presented to it.

(14)   That the committee may proceed to the despatch of business notwithstanding that all members of the committee have not been appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy on the committee.

(15)   That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the standing orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the standing orders.

(16)   That a message be sent to the Senate acquainting it of this resolution and requesting that it concur and take action accordingly.

In the previous debate in which we discussed the times of sitting much time was taken up, or comment was made, that the committee system could not function with the new sitting hours. Consequently this motion gives us an opportunity to debate this aspect and that is why I hope that ultimately this motion will be supported. This is a very important motion. It seeks that the proposed committee will make recommendations for a balanced system of committees for the Parliament, the integration of the committee system into the procedures of the Parliament, and arrangements for committee meetings which will best suit the convenience of senators and members. Those 3 terms of reference should, I think, be supported by all members of this Parliament because this is an opportunity and an attempt to bring to the Parliament some formality in regard to committees.

In the first place I list the number of committees as shown on the notice paper for the House of Representatives and the Senate and seek leave to have them incorporated in Hansard.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins (SCULLIN, VICTORIA) - Order! Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEES

Standing: House, Library, Privileges, Publications, Standing Orders, Aboriginal Affairs, Environment and Conservation

Joint Statutory: Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, Public Accounts, Public Works

Joint: Australian Capital Territory, Foreign Affairs and Defence, Prices

SENATE COMMITTEES

Select: Road Safety.-

Standing: Disputed Returns and Qualifications, House, Library, Publications, Privileges, Regulations and Ordinances, Standing Orders

Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees: Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Education, Science and the Arts, Finance and Government Operations, Foreign Affairs and Defence, Health and Welfare, Indus.ry and Trade, Social Environment.

Select; Civil Rights of Migrant Australians, Foreign Ownership and Control, Securities and Exchange, Shipping Services between King Island, Stanley and Melbourne.

Estimates Committees: Estimates Committee A, Estimates Committee B, Estimates Committee C, Estimates Committee D, Estimates Committee E, Estimates Committee F

Joint Statutory: Broadcasting of Parliamentary Proceedings, Public Accounts, Public Works

Joint: Australian Capital Territory, Foreign Affairs and Defence, Prices


Mr DALY - Fifteen committees in the House of Representatives, and 25 committees in the Senate are listed. It is true that some of these are also amongst those shown on the House of Representatives notice paper, but suffice it to say that there are many committees functioning at the present time. The committee system is a very important part of the legislative machinery of many parliaments throughout the world. For instance, in the USA most of the work of Congress is done by standing committees. These are permanent, specialised committees to which relevant legislation is referred for hearings and recommendations. There are also select committees created for special work and there is also the Committee of the Whole, which is the whole legislative body acting under relaxed procedures for the sake of speedier action. In Canada there are 14 standing committees in the House of Commons. They include committees on privileges and elections, railways, miscellaneous private Bills, public accounts and banking, commerce etc. Before a committee in Canada can act at all a Bill must be referred to it. Committee hearings provide legislators with the opportunity for questioning witnesses in order to gain information on Bills. After it has completed their inquiries a committee must then decide what action to take and report to the Commons.

In Great Britain, committees are not given the importance of committees in, say the United States, although many Bills are considered by a Ways and Means Committee. The point I make is that in these three Parliaments, the committee system is well advanced and streamlines the proceedings of the Parliament while at the same time giving a better informed presentation of the legislation to the Parliament.

The purpose of this motion therefore would provide for inquiries into the functioning of committees such as these, firstly to sec if the committee system could be effectively used in our Parliament.

It is essential that a balanced system of committees of the Parliament be decided upon and, at the same time, the incorporation of the committee system into the procedures of the Parliament, such as is happening, say in Great Britain, Canada and U.S.A. might well be of advantage to this Parliament.

I believe this would enable us to overcome many of the problems associated with matters in the Parliament and discussions that have arisen in recent times. An extension of the committee system might well provide longer hours for debate, better presentation of debates in this Parliament and more information and in many ways might not only speed up the processes in Parliament but make it possible for us to make better informed decisions. The practical side of the committees is one that must receive consideration. Members of both Houses are finding it exceedingly difficult to regularly attend Parliament and at the same time attend meetings of committees of which they are members. Sittings of the House interfere with committee meetings. For instance, such things as the calling of quorums can interfere with them, whilst committees are in session divisions may take place. Interference occurs and all these factors are making it most inconvenient for members to attend committee meetings. This Committee could inquire into the question of pairs, of quorums and of how the Standing Orders could be amended to allow members to participate in committee meetings and at the same time how these committees could within the functions of Parliament, be useful in the deliberations that take place in this chamber. In any case, it is quite true that the present system must be investigated in order to give the committees a real standing in the parliamentary sense and also to fit them into the Australian parliamentary system.

It is inevitable that we will not be able to continue with the sittings of our Parliament without some arrangements being made in an orderly way for the committees to function not only independently in their inquiries and all that goes with that but also at the same time for their deliberations and their decisions to be presented to this Parliament in a way that will provide for better debate and speed up the practice and all that goes with it. 1 suggest in all good faith to this House that this matter must be faced up to. It was mentioned even in a debate earlier tonight that members were finding it exceedingly difficult to attend committee meetings because of the sittings of the Parliament. As I have mentioned, there are numerous committees. It is only right that these committees should have been established. They are all important committees when they are appointed and members should be given the opportunity to attend meetings. But there is nothing more annoying or distracting than when in the middle of hearing a witness in a committee a quorum of one of the Houses of Parliament is called or there is a division or something of that nature. I think at this advanced stage we should be able to arrange for the committees to function effectively. Some arrangements should be made amongst responsible men for the committees to function without interruptions.

This is only one aspect of this matter. More importantly, committees could play a tremendous part in the deliberations of this Parliament. It is idle to suggest otherwise. We cannot continue in this Parliament with the kind of procedures we have at this time and avoid criticism from the Opposition - probably this could be brought forward quite rightly - that full time has not been given to some debate that some member is interested in. I think that if this proposed committee could study closely the workings of the committee ' system in other countries and bring back here its findings and we could then incorporate them in our parliamentary system, that would be beneficial to both sides of the Parliament. The proposed Committee will consist of 5 members of this House and 4 members of the other place. The chairman will come from either House.

Honourable members have all read no doubt the terms of reference that I have suggested. We are open to correction if honourable members thing the terms of reference could be suitably amended whereby the system could be improved.


Mr McLeay - Where are they?


Mr DALY - They are on the business vaper. They are there for discussion. I hope that the House will not dismiss this lightly. If there is one issue on which honourable members might well take a non-party view it is the functions and the workings of committees and what can be done to improve the committee system in this Parliament. It is in all good faith that I submit the motion to the House. Naturally it has Government support. If honourable members opposite have constructive suggestions that might help, if they think there is a way in which we can improve what has been suggested here, if they feel that their suggestions could be of benefit to the Parliament, I hope they will come forward with those suggestions, because it is very important not only in the ordinary routine workings of these committees that something be done to give them set times to meet and set responsibilities and also internally to bring them into the parliamentary system. I think it is vital in this day and age, and something must be done.

This is an unusual motion; we are asking the House to set up a committee to inquire into committees. But this matter has been so long delayed, and 1 think it is well worthy of the consideration of this House. I submit it in all good faith and I hope that the Opposition parties will consider it carefully. Let us see if we cannot work out some proposal that will allow us not only to let the committees function without the interruptions I have mentioned, but at the same time give some contribution to the deliberations of this House and the other House. I think would be beneficial generally.

Debate (on motion by Mr Sinclair) adjourned.







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