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Thursday, 24 October 1974
Page: 1979

Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - As Senator Rae has already indicated we are not debating the substance of the report of the Securities and Exchange Committee but merely the reconstitution of the Committee and its constitution. The Government will move an amendment to the motion moved by Senator Rae. The essence of the amendment concerns the tradition which has applied in the Senate over the years and as all senators know, since the Committee was originally constituted there has been a change of government. The Government believes that we ought to recognise that tradition and in accordance with it the Government should have increased representation on the Committee. I want to make it clear from my own personal point of view as an original member of the Committee that despite the long and controversial history of the Committee and its findings I believe that the Committee had a genuine desire to get at the problems of the industry which we set out to investigate. I pay a tribute to Dr Rose who was an essential part of the investigation which took place and also the drawing up of the report.

One should also pay a tribute to the work of Senator Rae who worked hard on the Committee. I think all members of the Committee worked hard but the important feature which everybody recognised is that the securities industry had never been investigated. Very little was known about it. One of the inhibiting factors for the Committee in its initial stages was the lack of knowledge of how the securities industry works. Although this is not the time to delve into the work of the Committee it ought to be said now that there was a combined effort to bring forward to the Senate an objective and impartial report. I believe that this is what we have in the report.

I was unaware that Senator Rae would be moving an amendment to the motion which appears on the notice paper. For the last 12 months or 1 8 months the most controversial feature has been the delay in the tabling of the report. Honourable senators, especially those of us who were here before May, would remember that many questions were asked of Senator Rae about when the report would finally be tabled. I know, as other members of the Committee would know, that it was the intention of the Committee and the officers involved to bring to the Senate a comprehensive report which was not short circuited by the time factor.

In my view that was the principal reason for the delay in the tabling of the report. However, I am concerned now that an amendment should be moved which deletes the time factor. Senator Rae is suggesting that in paragraph (4) of the motion of which he gave notice the date 30 September 1974 should be deleted. I suggest to him that in the interests of the Committee and the Senate we ought to insert a completion date. One of the compelling and convincing parts of his original motion was the specific date on which the report would be brought to the Parliament. There is a limit to the period for which the Senate should be expected to wait for the presentation of the final report. We would be in error if we allowed the presentation date to remain open by approving of the words 'as soon as possible'. It has already been pointed out by interjection that as soon as possible' might be 31 December 1979.

Senator Murphy - If we are lucky

Senator WRIEDT -Perhaps Senator Murphyis right. We do not want that situation. It was recognised in the original motion that a date should be stated by which the report would be brought to the Senate. I suggest to Senator Rae who, as did the rest of us on the Committee, endeavoured to adopt an impartial and objective approach to its work, that he think seriously about the terms of the amendment that we propose. I move:

1.   Leave out paragraphs (1 ) and (2), insert the following new paragraphs-

(1)   That the Select Committee on Securities and Exchange which was functioning immediately prior to the dissolution of the Senate on 1 1 April 1974. be re-constituted to enable the Committee to finalise its report to the Senate to be presented not later than 30 November 1974.

(2)   (a) That the Committee shall consist of eight Senators, four Senators to be nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, three Senators to be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and one Senator to be nominated by the Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate.

(b)   The Committee shall elect as Chairman one of the members nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

(c)   The Chairman may from time to time appoint a member of the Committee to be Deputy Chairman and the member so appointed shall act as Chairman of the Committee at any time when there is no chairman or the Chairman is not present at a meeting of the Committee.

(d)   In the event of an equality of voting, the Chairman shall have a casting vote.'.

In paragraph (3). leave out 'preparing the final two chapters of, insert 'finalising'.

In paragraph (4), add 'but. in any event, not later than 30 November 1974'.

There are 2 essential points to be determined. The first is whether we should change the composition of the Committee in view of the change of government. I think there are very strong arguments based on tradition, which I indicated earlier, to support that contention. On the other hand, I would agree that there are strong arguments to support the retention of the Committee in its original form. It has been suggested that because Senator Wheeldon and I are now Ministers we shall not be on the Committee. I do not really believe that in view of the stage of development that the Committee has reached that is a particularly valid argument. Nevertheless, there are strong arguments to maintain the continuity of the Committee and the Government accepts those arguments. But we have to weigh that against what have been the traditions of parliamentary committees. Without knowing what is the Opposition's point of view or what is Senator Rae's point of view to the suggested date of 30 November, I would suggest to the Senate that there ought to be an acceptance of a date when that report should come before the Senate. Those are the 2 essential points to be considered.

But, in particular, in view of the history of this Committee and the widespread publicity that has been associated with it and the widespread criticism of the fact that this final report has never come before the Senate, we would not be doing the Senate a service if we were now to allow a final date to be deleted from the motion which is carried in the Senate. I hope that the Opposition will see the wisdom of maintaining a deadline, as it were, by which this final report should be presented. I would imagine that 30 November gives a reasonable time span, because at the time Senator Rae originally drafted his motion he considered, I think quite rightly, that 30 September was a date by which the report could be finalised. In our amendment we are suggesting that the time be extended by 2 months, and I feel that that is adequate time.

Senator Rae - You are suggesting 5 weeks.

Senator WRIEDT -The date in the amendment is 30 November.

Senator Rae - That is 5 weeks away.

Senator WRIEDT -Originally the date was 30 September, I thought, and we are suggesting that -

Senator Rae - Can I put it this way: My original suggestion was from 9 July to 30 September, which is 2% months. What you are suggesting is 5 weeks. I made the point earlier that during the original suggested period there was a period of parliamentary recess anticipated of something like 6 weeks.

Senator WRIEDT -I would think that the important point, though, is the final date which we determine and the time that we allow for the final preparation of the report. That is why I would have felt that we were extending the period from 30 September to 30 November. Anyway, that is the Government's position. I would be loath to see the Senate accept an amendment which leaves open the period of time and does not allow for some discipline to be exercised. That sort of discipline was accepted and respected by the Government in the original motion and there was a preparedness on the part of the Opposition to accept that discipline. 1 believe we would be wrong if we were now to reject it. On behalf of the Government I have moved the amendment which has been circulated. I believe that we would be very remiss if we broke the traditions which apply in the Senate concerning the Government membership of these committees. I would draw to the attention of all honourable senators the fact that a precedent would be created which may or may not be right. I doubt whether there has been a proper time to determine the effects of taking such a step tonight in relation to just this one committee. I commend to the Senate the amendment which I have moved on behalf of the Government.

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