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Tuesday, 17 September 1974
Page: 1154


Senator SIM (Western Australia) - I am absolutely appalled by the proposals which have been put by the Government. Senator Murphy rightly has received credit in the past for his advocacy and support of the establishment of a Senate committee system. Senator Murphy, in opposition and in government in previous Parliaments, realised that the role of the Senate was entirely different from that of the House of Representatives and that the operation of a committee system was a proper role for the Senate to play. He has been credited with being the architect of the Senate committee system. Today his speech indicates that he is now the undertaker who is burying the Senate committee system. His proposal that the 5 committees- leave out the other 2 committees for the moment- should merely finish dealing with the references which they have before them is nothing more than a burial of the Senate committee system, a system which has won great credit for the Senate. I think Senator Murphy would acknowledge that.

Many of the Senate committee reports have had great significance not only in Australia but also overseas. Let me say to Senator Murphy and to Senator Hall, who opposes the reestablishment of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on the basis that we have a joint committee, that as one who served on both committees- indeed, I served for many years on the Joint Committee about whose ability even today to carry out proper investigations I will say a few words- the report on Japan was held to be of great significance overseas. In the United States it received great credit. In Japan it is being used as a textbook in Japanese universities. Japanese professors wrote seeking additional copies of the transcript of evidence to use as a textbook in their lectures in universities in Japan.

I have been involved with sub-committees of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. In all the years I have been associated with them there have been only 2 reports which have received any prominence. One was on the Middle East. I think that was in the early 1960s. Another was on the Indian Ocean. By chance I happened to be the Chairman of that subcommittee, which issued that report within 12 months. There was a sub-committee on the South Pacific which sat for two or three years but the report has never been tabled. There was a sub-committee on Indonesia, which sat for some years but only an interim report was tabled.

We found that with this type of committee there were great problems as a result of the difficulties in getting members of the House of Representatives to attend committee meetings because of their other responsibilities. I found, as did others, that it was an almost impossible task and that they did not treat the matter with the same seriousness and the same degree of responsibility because of the different role and responsibilities they had compared with members of the Senate. I say with great seriousness to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) that there is a place for a Senate committee system. If we are going to abolish a committee, let us abolish the Joint Committee. Let us follow the American system where there are Senate committees and House of Representatives committees. In fact, it is a system which I personally would favour. There is a role for a Senate committee system.

I understand the problems facing the Leader of the Government in the Senate. He has got his marching orders from his peers. There is no question that there is within the Government a desire to destroy the Senate committee system. Senator Withers has said that we had difficulties and we did have difficulties. When I took over the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee we had difficulties with our own Government. Here we are moving into an area of sensitivity. Because of the strength and the support that I got from the President in those days and from Senator Drury, the Deputy Chairman of that Committee, these difficulties were overcome. I believe that they should be overcome. I agree that Senate committees are a nuisance to governments. But some governments regard the Parliament as a nuisance too. The function of committees is not only to better inform the Parliament so that it can compete more successfully with the expertise of the Executive but also to put a parliamentary view. A parliamentary view from both sides might well differ from an Executive view.

I look with great foreboding upon this proposal to kill the Senate committee system. It is inevitable that the Government's proposal will kill the system. It will kill the expertise that has been developed within the Senate itself and the secretariat that is required to service the committees. It will kill the expertise we have been able to gather together from universities, from industry and from outside in order to assist committees. It will kill the relationship which has been growing between the Parliament, the universities and the public. There has been a growing awareness of the value of the committees to which people have been able to come and to talk to parliamentarians. The committee system has been of tremendous value, in a sense, in bringing Parliament to the people. I know that it is hopeless, but even at this stage I hope that in a very short time with a change of government in this country we will restore this system as it was and all committees as they were established. Senator Georges may grin. But there will be a change of government and the pathetic Budget which was produced tonight will only hasten it. We will restore this system because it is of great value to the Parliament and to the country. I am appalled that tonight Senator Murphy will become known as the undertaker who is burying the Senate committee system.


Senator Murphy - I am pleased to hear Senator Sim say that when eventually, in the fullness of the decades to come, members of the Opposition come to power they will restore the committee system with all the committees as they existed previously. He will recall that the introduction of that system was moved by the Party which now occupies this side of the Senate. I had the honour of moving for its introduction.


Senator Sim - I give you full credit for it.


Senator Murphy - Thank you.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster) Order! The Minister may recall that he has already spoken on this amendment. If he wishes to address the Senate again he will have to seek leave.


Senator Murphy - I was closing the debate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- You have spoken on this amendment. I do not think you have the opportunity to close the debate.


Senator Murphy - I ask for leave to speak.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- The Minister has sought leave to continue his remarks. Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.







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