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Tuesday, 17 September 1974
Page: 1137


Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) -I think that there has been a degree of misunderstanding, as Senator Carrick said, as to what would be the effect of this motion if it were carried. Likewise, there has been a lack of understanding or an appreciation of how Senator Withers' amendment seeks to cure the position. The first point of distinction is that to which some advertence has already been made, and it is that the Government's motion seeks to reduce the number of Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees from seven to five. The 2 committees which will not be re-established are the Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs and Defence and on Industry and Trade. If one examines the matters which were outstanding with the Standing Committees on Foreign Affairs and Defence on 10 April this year when the 28th Parliament terminated, one finds that they included the question of the adequacy of the Australian Army to perform its necessary part in the defence of Australia. I understand that work on that particular term of reference had been done by the Committee.


Senator Sim - The report is already prepared.


Senator GREENWOOD -From hearing Senator Sim's interjection, I understand that if the Committee could be re-established the report which has already been prepared could be presented. Why therefore should not that Committee be re-established in order to enable, at the very least, that report to be presented? It represents work done by the Committee. The report contains information. Surely it would serve a purpose to enable those interested to see the way in which the Senate Committee has reported in that area. The other matters that were referred to the Committee deal with Thailand, the recognition of China and the status of Taiwan, and the role of ANZUK. They are all matters which obviously have relevance. They reflect decisions of the Senate at some time in the past that the Committee should look at each of those matters. I think it totally unsatisfactory that without any explanation being given by Senator Murphy- he simply put his motion before us and expressed the hope that the Senate would support it; we were not given any other arguments in favour of the motion- we should delete from the list of committees a committee which originally was constituted when this committee system was established in 1970.

The other committee which is not to be reestablished under Senator Murphy's proposal is the Standing Committee on Industry and Trade. If one examines the matters which were outstanding with that Committee on 10 April of this year one sees that they refer to the promotion of trade and commerce with other countries, the operation of Australia's international trade agreements, and the development of trading relations. It may be that that work has been completed because it has been the subject of 2 reports over the period of some 3 years that that Committee was in existence and was working on that term of reference. The other matter under consideration by that Committee was the economic consequences of the introduction of a 3 5 -hour working week. That matter was referred to the Committee exactly 12 months ago tomorrow. It seems that that is a matter also upon which work can be done and a report of value presented. Why should not that Committee be re-established?

When one examines the terms of reference for the remaining 5 Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees which are to be reestablished I note the curiosity that no further terms of reference are to be given to those Committees. They are to be limited to the terms of reference which they have been given in the past. This again justifies, I think, the apprehension of Senator Withers that if Senator Murphy's motion is carried there will not be an opportunity for these Standing Committees to take on board at short notice within an area in which the members of the Committees have been developing some expertise a particular matter which warrants inquiry. I agree with the suggestion that one can establish select committees. Maybe we have not established enough select committees over the last two or three years, having regard to matters which could have been referred to them. But that is a matter of judgment and views may differ. The point is that if we are to have Standing Committees, surely they should be available to have referred to them matters which arise from time to time. I think of the Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. Some six or seven matters are currently within its terms of reference. Some of them, of course, go back over 3 years. The Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations has 3 matters before it. One would suppose that they must be nearing the stage of completion. When they are completed that Committee will have no further work to do. The Standing Committee on Health and Welfare has already presented a report in respect of one of the 5 matters which are before it. There is obviously considerable scope for that work to be completed. But, again, after it is completed what further work is to be done by that Committee? The same might be said about the Standing Committee on Social Environment.

My sole point in rising was to indicate the terms of reference currently available for the existing committees which it is proposed to reestablish, to indicate the work which will be lost if the 2 committees which by our amendment we seek to have re-established are not re-established and also to stress the value of a committee system. The arguments were strongly presented by present Government senators in the momentous debates which took place in June 1970 when these committees were established. They said that the value of a committee system is in the body of understanding, expertise and better informed senators that the committees promote and in the way in which issues of concern to the Senate can be dealt with speedily in a miniSenate atmosphere rather than in the chamber of the Senate. I feel that the problems which the Labor Party in Government now sees ought not to obscure its outlook so that it will deny what its members saw as so virtuous when they were in opposition. I hope that the Senate will accept the broad proposition that whether there are five or seven committees- I hope there are seven- at least there is an ability for these committees to continue with the work which might be referred to them from time to time as the Senate is so motivated. One other aspect of Senator Withers 's amendment proposes that there should be an easier method by which matters can be referred to a committee. It goes hand in hand with the idea of making the committee system a permanent and constructive part of the Senate's work. I fear that the Government's motion will set back the clock for a period if it is carried.







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