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Rounding up the flock? Executive dominance and the new Parliament House



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ROUNDING UP THE FLOCK?

Executive Dominance and the New Parliament House

Greg McIntosh Political Science Fellow of the Australian Parliament 1988-89 i

APSA-PARLIAMENTARY FELLOW MONOGRAPH A joint , publication by the Department of the Parliamentary Library and the Australasian Political Studies Association

ISSN 0 157 6860

ISBN 0 642 14977 1

© Commonwealth of Australia 1989

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Department of the Parliamentary

Library. Reproduction is permitted by Members of the Parliament of the Commonwealth in the course of their official duties.

The views in this paper are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of the Parliamentary Library or the Australasian Political Studies Association.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, December 1989.

ROUNDING UP THE FLOCK: PARLIAMENT-EXECUTIVE

RELATIONS AND NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE

CONTENTS

1. PREFACE

2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

3. INTRODUCTION

4. OVERVIEW

5. PERCEPTIONS 1: PARLIAMENT AND THE EXECUTIVE

6. PERCEPTIONS 2: THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE AND PARLIAMENT-EXECUTIVE RELATIONS

7. PERCEPTIONS 3: PARLIAMENT AND THE EXECUTIVE: THE NEED FOR REFORM?

8. CONCLUSIONS

9. APPENDICES

(1) SURVEY FORM

(2) ADDITIONAL STATISTICAL TABLES

10. SELECT LIST OF REFERENCES

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1. PREFACE

" Executive Dominance and the New Parliament House" was written whilst I was Political Science Fellow (1988/89) at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library in Canberra.

The Political Science Fellowship was instituted in 1971 with the aim of providing an opportunity for a political scientist to study. at close quarters, the operation of the Commonwealth Parliament. From 1971 to 1979 the Fellowship was for a period of one year only. In 1980 the Fellowship was extended to a period of two years. During the first year of the Fellowship. the Fellow works directly as a member of Legislative

Research Service of the Parliamentary Library. In my case that meant working with the Education and Welfare and Foreign Affairs Groups of the Research Service. This entailed preparing a variety of detailed papers on various issues as well as the provi-sion of less detailed information and advice to Members and Senators. In the second year the Fellow undertakes a detailed piece of research related the functioning of the Commonwealth Parliament. Previous Fellows had covered a wide variety of parliament related topics including studies of Question Time, the importance of backbenchers in formulating foreign policy and the degree to which Members and Senators specialise

in certain subjects.

I was particularly fortunate to be the Fellow when the Parliament moved from the provisional building to the new Parliament House on Capital Hill. This enabled me to have a personal insight into the area of my research topic - aspects of the Parliament-Executive relationship and the effects of the move to Capital Hill on that relationship. As well, I was concerned with whether as a result of the move, there would be a

renewed interest in parliamentary reform. Following a review of secondary evidence on the issue questionnaires were sent to all Members and Senators and other selected participants in the parliamentary process. The final step was a series of follow up

interviews that were undertaken with some of the respondents to the questionnaires.

Research papers such as this one are inevitably the result of a team effort and I am particularly indebted to a number of people for their help, support and friendship throughout the project - the Parliamentary Librarian. Hilas MacLean, for enabling me to have the total support of, and access to, the formidable resources of the Library;

successive Heads of the Legislative Research Service - Dorothy Bennett, Consie Lar-mour (acting), Trevor Lawton (acting) and Dennis Argall as well as all the MPs and other staff who so willingly participated in the survey/interview process. A special thanks also to Harry Evans (Clerk of the Senate). Alan Browning (Clerk of the House of Representatives), John Campbell (Head of Hansard), Michelle Grattan (President of the Parliamentary Press Gallery) as well as John Kain. Bryan Stait, Dale Daniels,

Derek Woolner, Andrew Chin, Martin Lumb, Linda Calis, Kathy Cole, Gerry Newman, Brad McDonald, Diane Hynes and Sandra Bailey (all from the Parliamentary Library) for their help and guidance. Linda, in particular, had the time-consuming task of putting the final copy of the paper together prior to printing. I am also especially in-debted to John Nethercote, Richard Higgott and Gillian O'Loghlin from the Australian National University and Campbell Sharman from the University of Western Australia for their timely and constructive advice. Many others, too numerous to mention, all played a part via informal advice and support for which I am most grateful. Ian Sharpe. cartoonist with the Canberra Times, was kind enough to allow me to use one of his creations for the front cover. Last, but not least, thanks to Marion (who spent many hours helping with the statistical analysis of the surveys) and Penny for the personal support without which the paper would never have been completed.

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Limitations of the Study

At this point it should be noted that most of the conclusions reached, particularly those related to the effects of the new building on the Parliament-Executive relation-ship, must be tentative. This is primarily because the building had only been occupied for about one year when much of the evidence and the data was being collected. A

much longer period of occupation may well be necessary before any firm conclusions can be laid down. As well, primarily because the topic of Parliament-Executive re-lations is such a large one, only certain aspects of that relationship are examined. Moreover, because the sample size of the "other user" surveys and interviews (cover-

ing selected officials in the Departments of the Senate, the House of Representatives. the Parliamentary Library, Hansard. MPs staff and the Press Gallery) was relatively small, care must be taken to. not overstate the findings. Nevertheless, certain trends and perceptions were evident and I look forward to further studies being done to build on the work contained herein. The reader should also note that the designation MPs

here refers to both Members and Senators.

Greg McIntosh Canberra November 1988

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2. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

THE STUDY

— The study focuses on key aspects of the Parliament-Executive relationship in Canberra, including the affects of the move to the new Parliament House on that relationship.

— In particular, the perceptions of MPs. parliamentary officials and the media are exam-ined primarily through the use of surveys and follow-up interviews.

THE FINDINGS

A: The Parliament-Executive Relationshi

— The conventional wisdom, as expressed by academics and others, is that the Executive dominates the Parliament. Although there has been some evidence of a limited 'parlia-mentary revival' in recent years, particularly in the Senate, it has not been on a large

enough scale to significantly lessen Executive control of the Parliament. The findings of the study confirm this view.

— Only 43% of MPs thought that the Parliament was an effective check and monitor on the Executive. The comparable figures for members of the Press Gallery and for parliamentary officials were 47% and 57% respectively.

— The overwhelming majority of MPs, parliamentary officials and media representatives believed that the balance of power and strength is weighted in favour of the Executive but significantly, only 17% of MPs, 19% of parliamentary officials and 41% of the Press Gallery believed that it should be weighted in favour of the Executive.

— Whilst 59% of MPs agreed that party discipline curtails the ability of Parliament to check the Executive a similar percentage agreed that the current degree of discipline was necessary if we are to have a smooth and efficiently running Parliament. The other two groups had a majority agreeing with the first point but not the second. Only 40% of parliamentary officials and 31% of the Press Gallery believed that the current degree of party discipline was necessary for the smooth running of Parliament.

— Approximately three-quarters of respondents from all three groups believed that the increasing complexity of legislation and other business of the Parliament was making it harder for the Parliament to be an effective check on the Executive.

— Again, approximately three-quarters of all respondents agreed that the Senate has recently become a more effective check on the Executive. This view was particularly strong amongst Opposition Members and Senators.

— Eighty per cent of MPs, 66% of parliamentary officials and 90% of the Press Gallery sample agreed that the House of Representatives is largely a rubber stamp for decisions of the Executive.

— Only 31% of MPs, 26% of the Press Gallery and 39% of the parliamentary officials agreed that both Houses of the Parliament have adequate resources and time to monitor the Executive.

B : The New Parliament House and Parliament-Executive Relations — Prior to the move to Capital Hill much of the speculation as to the affects of the new building on the operation of the political process focused on how it would increase Executive power. The study found that, whilst there are some signs that Parliament-

Executive relations have altered in the new Parliament House, it is probably too early to state a definitive view on whether or not the Executive has, or will, increase in power vis-a-vis the Parliament.

— Sixty-three per cent of the Press Gallery sample agreed that the new building has strengthened the power of the Executive. However, only 39% of MPs and 42% of par-liamentary officials agreed with this proposition.

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- Not unexpectedly, the vast majority of respondents in all three groups agreed that their physical working conditions had improved in the new building.

— Only 13% of Senators and Members believed that working in the new building had improved working relations and contact between MPs and only 10% of the Press Gallery and 24% of parliamentary officials agreed that the new Parliament House had improved

contact between MPs, staff and officials.

— By contrast just over half (51%) of the MPs agreed that the new building had improved their contacts with constituents and outsiders.

— All three groups, and particularly the Press Gallery, believed that the new Parliament House had made face to face contact more difficult and that formal communication, as opposed to informal communication, had become more important.

— Eighty-one per cent of MPs maintained that they now had less contact with members of the other House. Conversely, only 8% agreed that they now had more contact with members of parties other than their own.

-- A substantial majority in all three groups. and particularly the Press Gallery, agreed that the provision of a separate Executive wing had led to less contact between the backbench and the Ministry.

— Approximately one-third of all respondents agreed that, because of the size of the new building, they were now making less use of back-up resources such as the Parliamentary Library and House/Senate officials.

— Whilst 47% of MPs believed that the layout and configuration of the new building was conducive to the efficient functioning of Parliament. only 28% of the Press Gallery and 38% of the parliamentary officials thought likewise. Significantly, approximately one-quarter of respondents in all three groups were undecided on this issue. -

- Forty-two per cent of MPs agreed that it was now more difficult to liaise and work with the Press Gallery and, significantly, 73% of the Press Gallery sample thought it was now more difficult to work and liaise with MPs. Only 39% of the parliamentary officials were of the same opinion.

— Only approximately 30% of respondents in all three groups agreed that they were now using the recreational facilities (for example, the gym, pool and squash and tennis courts) more than was the case in the provisional Parliament House.

C : Parliament-Executive Relations and Reform — Advocates of parliamentary reform have tended to concentrate on proposals that would make the Executive more accountable to the Parliament - this in itself is a recognition of the general perception of Executive domination.

— A majority in all three groups agreed that :

— the Speaker should have a more independent role — Question Time should be extended in the Lower House and supplementary questions be allowed — parliamentary proceedings should be televised — parliamentary procedures be reformed with a view to strengthening

the hand of the Parliament vis-a-vis the Executive — there should be additional staff and research support for MPs — there should be more private members' time available in the chamber.

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— As well:

— a majority of MPs and a majority of parliamentary officials agreed that the Parliament should sit longer

a majority of MPs and a majority of the Press Gallery agreed that electronic voting should be introduced: that the parliamentary committee system, particularly in the House

of Representatives. be expanded and that there should be a higher level of remuneration for MPs.

CONCLUSIONS

The study highlights the need for a re-think with regard to how we describe our national system of government. Because of the obvious dominance of political parties in that system it is suggested that a more appropriate term than the often-used "parliamentary system of responsible government" would be "partymentary system of responsive gov-ernment".

— Whilst there was broad agreement that the new Parliament House had improved phys-ical working conditions there was also varying levels of concern expressed with regard to some of the negative affects of the new complex on the functioning of Parliament. The 'club-like' atmosphere that characterised the old building has gone forever and because of the sheer size of the new Parliament House, the MPs, the officials and others will have to strive to minimise the isolation and lack of personal contact that is already apparent.

-- Whilst a majority of MPs tended to view party discipline as a 'necessary evil', mem-bers of the Press Gallery and the parliamentary officials were much more critical of the affects that strong party discipline has on the Parliament-Executive relationship.

— There was strong support for reform to balance up the Parliament-Executive equation although there was also a high level of pessimism with respect to the chances`of any meaningful reform occurring.

— It is suggested that a Joint Standing Committee on Parliamentary Operations be es-tablished which would enable the obvious interest in reform to be channelled into one forum. This would enable a 'global' approach to be taken, as opposed to the piecemeal and fragmented situation that exists at present.

— Steps need to be taken to encourage more subject specialisation amongst Members and Senators. Additional specialisiation would lead to a more informed backbench and would be one way of evening up the power balance between the Parliament and the Executive.

— An additional Canberra-based research specialist should be allocated to all back-benchers or, failing that, there should be the provision of a 'pool' of Canberra-based research specialists — provided to each party on a pro-rata basis - that could be shared by backbenchers.

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3. INTRODUCTION

This paper focuses on some important aspects of the Parliament-Executive relation-ship in Canberra. Because it is such a huge area for study the emphasis has been on analysing the views of those most directly involved in the parliamentary process (MPs. parliamentary officials and the Press Gallery) in terms of the extent to which

the Parliament does and should scrutinise and examine the operations of the Exec-utive. The second part of the study analyses the perceived effects of the move to the new Parliament House on Parliament-Executive relations and a logical third part of the analysis examines what might be done (if anything) to make the Parliament-

Executive relationship function better or more properly reflect the will of the various participants in the system.

Before proceeding any further it is necessary to define what is meant by "The Par-liament" and "The Executive" in the context of this discussion. Although the strict constitutional definition of Parliament includes the Governor - General as well as the Senate and the House of Representatives, for the purposes of this paper the role of the Governor - General is excluded. Given the events of 1975 there is no longer any doubt that the Governor - General does have real power in certain circumstances but because of time and space constraints the primary emphasis here is on the two parliamentary chambers. For similar reasons the Governor - General is excluded from discussions related to "The Executive" which in this paper refers to the Ministry and the Bureaucracy (the Public Service).

Prior to analysing the primary data a brief discussion is undertaken of some of the key issues related to the Parliament-Executive relationship both with respect to the theory and the practice as observed by academics, politicians and officials over the years. This overview concentrates on secondary evidence and reviews briefly the con-

ventional wisdom with respect to the power relationship between the Parliament and the Executive including the possible effects of the move to the new Parliament House.

The " Perceptions" sections deal with the primary evidence collected via the surveys and interviews. Of particular interest is whether or not the conventional wisdom conforms to the current perceptions of both MPs and other 'up front' participants in the parliamentary-executive process.

Section 7 canvasses the area of parliamentary reform with particular emphasis on the power balance between the Parliament and the Executive. The Conclusions section completes the study.

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4. OVERVIEW

A : THE PARLIAMENT -EXECUTIVE RELATIONSHIP

INTRODUCTION When discussing modern democratic states there is a key assumption about the way in which power relationships are organised. This assumption, stated in its simplest form.

is that those who govern should be in some way accountable and answerable to those governed. In the words of Emy and Hughes:

"The whole issue of accountability is a crucial one for the liberal democratic state be-cause loss of accountability strikes at the basic theoretical justification offered for this kind of polity. The legitimacy of such a state is closely related to its claim to be able to control the exercise of power effectively by legal and rational (or constitutional) means.

Loss of accountability implies loss of democratic control over those in charge of the coercive powers of the state. "(1).

In the Australian context it is held that the government (or the 'Executive) should be accountable to the Parliament. However, it is not the role of the legislature to govern. That is the preserve of the Executive. Nevertheless, there is a general expectation that the activities of the Executive should be closely scrutinised by the Parliament and that significant government initiatives should be brought before the Parliament for detailed examination and approval. According to Pettifer:

"Parliament is not a governing or policy making body. That is the responsibility of the Executive Government. The role of the Houses is to monitor the Executive, that is, the Ministry and its supporting Administration. "(2).

In recent years the situation in the Senate has-been quite different to that existing in the House of Representatives essentially because it is now the norm that minor parties control the balance of power in the upper house. Thus when we are discussing the Parliament we need to distinguish clearly between the different circumstances applying to each House.

The most difficult question to answer is the degree to which Parliament should scrutinise and check the Executive. Where does one draw the line in this regard? Governments have to be able to govern but at the same time they should be accountable to the elected Parliament... "The abiding and unresolved question was and has been, how much control

an Executive Government should exercise over its parliamentary base".(3). Academic opinion varies on just where the line should be drawn and there are those who argue that since Federation there has been a decline in the power of the Parliament vis-a-vis the Executive and others who argue that recently there has been somewhat of a revival of Parliament with respect to scrutinising and overseeing the Executive. The evidence appears to show that both points of view can at least be sustained in part depending on what aspects of the Parliament-Executive relationship are examined. For example,

in some areas of public service scrutiny the situation has improved. Annual reporting to the Parliament by Commonweath Departments is now a legislative requirement (even if still breached on occasions) and Senate Estimates Committees in particular have the

potential capability to delve deeply in to the operations of the bureaucracy. Twenty years ago, these sorts of mechanisms were not in place. Against this point 'however is the enormous increase in governmental bureaucratic activity, especially since the end of World War II. This increased activity, combined with the increasing complexity of the issues and problems dealt with, means that even with better scrutiny mechanisms the Executive may be less accountable to the Parliament than before. Numerous other examples can be cited that would give credence to both the "declining Parliament" ar-gument and the "revival of Parliament" argument although it should be said that the former view has been more strongly put in the literature on the subject.

A host of disgruntled MPs as well as academics have periodically lamented the paucity of mechanisms for Parliament to scrutinise the Executive. In 1938 John Curtin strongly put the Executive dominance view.

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"Parliament as a sounding board for Federal Cabinet. That is how I see the trend in present day parliamentary machinery. Sooner or later, unless the march towards that position is arrested, we shall see the Commonwealth Parliament merely a register for Cabinet's views and decisions to go out to the people through the Press and radio and

then, in due time, to be given effect to (should the reaction be favourable) by legislative processes which, in themselves, are rapidly becoming mechanised. "(4).

H.B. Turner, MP, complained in September 1965 that 'A Parliament that is not armed with information is unable to do battle with a Ministry that has all these facilities at its command... Parliament has left all the great matters which arise from the revolutionary change in our situation to a Cabinet which we pre-sume to be wise and to a public service which we know to be able, to lay down the pattern of survival for us in secret conclaves and to implement decisions so reached by pulling the wool over the eyes of Parliament and the public... This is government by sub-

terfuge, by pulling the wool over our eyes, by never really facing issues, by never really debating them here, and by never giving the public an opportunity to be educated on the great issues that face us as a nation confronted with great problems of survival... None of the great questions that press upon us because of our changed situation in the world has really been articulated, identified, or discussed in this Parliament... Parliament has

declined as an institution in the estimate of the people of this nation... "(5).

Similarly, Crisp maintained that "It is nowadays a commonplace in British countries that Parliament is in eclipse, a pale, even sickly pale, moon reflecting but a little of the shining sunlight of Executive power. Amongst British Parliaments around the world the Australian has perhaps suffered a

more substantial eclipse than most. "(6).

However, one must be careful here not to overstate the "decline of Parliament" point. It is not so much a decline of the formal powers of the Parliament since Federation as a decline in the ability of the Parliament to deal with the awesome explosion in the size and operation of the whole governmental process. It is perhaps better to talk of a decline not in absolute terms but a decline in relative terms:

"Governments now do a great deal that they did not do formerly, but most of what they do was not done by anybody before. In particular it was not done by the legislature. The increase of powers by the executive has not been the result of taking away from the legislature things which it did before. Legislatures, indeed, do more than they did and legislators work longer hours and interest themselves in a wider range of subjects. Ab-solutely their powers have increased. Relatively to the executive government, however, they have, in almost all cases, declined. "(7).

The argument may therefore be that Parliament needs more "sting in its tail" simply to keep up with an increasingly powerful Executive.

The revival argument has essentially centred on developments that have occurred in the Senate in recent times. For example, R. Else - Mitchell has commented that

"The 1970s witnessed the beginnings of a revival of parliament, and of attempts in many areas of policy to compel governments to explain what was being done and why. The conspicuous symbol of this change was not any marked change in parliamentary activity on the floors of the various chambers but in the establishment of committees for various purposes, from the examination of departmental estimates and the scrutiny of bills to

the conduct of investigations into many aspects of administration. "(8).

As well, developments in the House of Representatives in the very recent past, such as the introduction of 8 general purpose committees in September 1987 and from March 1988 a substantial increase in the time allowed for private members' business. may be indicators pointing towards an improved capacity of the lower house to monitor and oversee the Executive. The extent and effectiveness of this "resurgence" is debatable

but certainly some recent developments indicate that at least the signs are there that tentative steps are being taken to improve the operation of the Parliament.

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The concern of this paper is with the opinions of some of the main participants in the process: MPs, parliamentary officials and the media. It is they who by participating or reporting on the processes of government, sustain and shape it. No attempt will be made to determine definitively the extent to which the Parliament should scrutinise or

monitor the Executive. Rather, at the end of the discussion there will be a summing up of the perceptions of some aspects of the Parliament-Executive relationship as seen by the direct participants in the process and an outline given of their concerns about what changes. if any, should take place. Before examining these perceptions it is necessary to set the scene by briefly examining the theory and the practice of Parliament-Executive

relations. It is also necessary to review the situation in each House briefly as there are obvious differences with respect to the relationship with the Executive in each chamber.

THE THEORY In theory the Executive (the Ministry and through the Ministry the Bureaucracy) is di-rectly answerable to the Parliament (from which the Ministry is chosen) and in turn the Parliament is answerable and accountable to the people through the electoral process. There is a so-called chain of accountability which sees the Executive accountable to the

Parliament and the Parliament accountable to the people. This linked chain of account-ability ensures that the governors are answerable to the governed. The most common name given to this linked system of accountability is "responsible government" - the characteristics of which are best known in the Westminster context:

"The framers of our Constitution, almost as a matter of course, took the Westminster model of responsible government (influenced by the colonial experience)) and fitted it into the federal scheme. Thus the role and functions of the House of Representatives are direct derivatives of the House of Commons, the principal features being the system

of Cabinet Government and the traditional supremacy of the Lower House in financial matters. "(9). The Westminster system of "responsible government" also implies a bi-cameral legisla-ture in which the dominant chamber is the lower house as this is where governments are made and unmade. The upper house provides a 'second look' at proposals emanating from the lower house. All legislation must pass through both Houses and be signed by the Governor-General who acts on the advice of the Ministry. The Founding Fathers, as well as providing the above Westminster-type principles of government, also grafted onto our actual system of government some features of the United States experience. In particular, the Founding Fathers tried to ensure that in our federal system the rights and interests of the states, particularly the smaller ones, would be protected by a powerful Senate that, apart from originating and amending certain types of financial legislation, was to have coequal powers with the House of Representatives. A key result of this

"blended" system of government was an inbuilt potential for conflict. The crux of the problem (which was highlighted in 1975) is this : responsible government assumes that governments are made and unmade in the House of Representatives but the existence of a Senate with virtual coequal powers (including the right to reject key financial leg-islation) means that the Senate can "kill" governments. It is not directly relevant to discuss the merits or otherwise of this situation here other than to note that the system of government that we adopted in 1901 was a hybrid one which gave enormous power to the Parliament vis-a-vis the Executive. According to John Summers

"there was (and still is) an expectation that parliament would exercise control over the executive, and would play a restraining and checking role, both on the government's use of its executive power, and on governmental finances. "(10).

It is debatable whether in fact it was ever intended that the Parliament would have total control over the Executive as suggested by Summers but it certainly was intended to have a role in the governing process. However, the development of strong political par-ties, in particular. has effectively seen (with some important exceptions) the Executive become by far the dominant partner in the relationship. The Founding Fathers clearly wanted to set up a system of government that stressed answerability and accountability - the Executive was to be answerable to the Parliament and the Parliament to the people - but in practice this has been difficult to achieve.

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THE PRACTICE Since federation the chain of accountability has been distorted, particularly with respect to the chamber where governments are made and unmade. The situation is summed up well in the Final Report of the Constitutional Commission (1988) :

"It has often been argued that the system of responsible government.., does not operate as suggested to put Parliament in a position to control the Executive. It is asserted that the power position is precisely the reverse, namely that the Government in fact controls the House or Houses which contain a majority of its supporters. This is a result of a number of factors, including the discipline of modern political parties, the extension of statutory power given to the Government, Ministers, officials and statutory bodies as a result of the expansion and increasing complexity of governmental affairs, and the power of the Prime Minister to cause the dissolution of Parliament and a general election. "(11).

The dominance of party

The problem of ensuring adequate accountability stems, paradoxically, from one of the key requirements of responsible government. Governments need to be able to count on a majority (at least in the lower house) in the Parliament if they are to govern. Thus. a degree of party discipline is essential. However, strong party discipline is the main reason why the Executive dominates the Parliament and it may also be one of the main causes of apparent community disquiet with the functioning of Parliament:

"The implication of a predominately team approach to parliamentary matters even to the abrogation of any effective rights of the individual representative raises important questions about the nature of our modern parliamentary system and the extent to which public frustration with it as an institution may relate to undue party cohesiveness. "(12).

Politicians, with very few exceptions, are party members first and parliamentarians sec-ond. Party is the engine room of the Australian political system. Apart from the odd Independent all federal MPs are pre-selected by political parties and are expected to toe the party line on all matters except for the rare conscience issue. Of the parties cur-rently represented in the national Parliament only the Australian Democrats allow their Senators a "free" vote on all matters. The so-called caucus rule in the ALP means that members of that party may face expulsion if they vote in the chamber against a party room decision. Discipline is slightly less rigid in the Coalition parties but even there MPs who cross the floor do so at their peril. Such tight party discipline within the three major parties means that for the most part. the Executive arm of government, having won the majority of seats in the Lower House at the previous election, can dominate

proceedings in the Parliament and most particularly in the House of Representatives. Standing Orders and procedures effectively favour the government of the day and on any issue, bar the odd conscience vote, the government knows that it will win the day. Any hint of division in party ranks, and especially Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet ranks, is seized upon by the media and this further reinforces the dominance of party. According to Reid:

"as a result of the influence of party, the strength of the Executive's control of Parlia-ment is the principal characteristic of the Australian scene. "(13).

In a similar vein Emy says "Today however, the legislature has declined in power and status. It has lost power to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister who depend, not on the confidence of the House, but on a disciplined phalanx of supporters on whose votes they can automatically rely

to defeat censure motions and to rubber stamp their legislation. "(14).

And it is not only the academic observers who strongly put this view.

"In theory, the government must be accountable to the Parliament for all its actions; however, in practice it is the government which dominates the Parliament. My com-ments are not a criticism of the present Government or past governments... Though such a state of affairs was not intended by our founding fathers, it has evolved because of

the rigid party discipline applied by all political parties ...It is the discipline exercised by the parties that allows the government of the day to maintain superiority over the Parliament. "(15).

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The stranglehold that political parties have over the electoral process also ensures that it is extremely difficult for other than party political candidates to be elected to the national legislature. In fact there has only been one member elected to the House of Representatives since 1951 who has not come from either the Labor, Liberal or National

Country) parties - in 1966 Captain Sam Benson was elected to the seat of Batman Vic). Prior to the election Benson had resigned from the ALP and he won the seat as an Independent Labor candidate. In the many hundreds of electoral contests held for seats in the House of Representatives since 1951 only one person has broken the

monopoly of the major parties. It means that aspiring politicians have only a limited choice if they hope to win a seat in the House where governments are made and un-made - they must join and be pre-selected by one of the "big three" political parties. In the Senate the situation is somewhat different because the proportional representation

method of election does allow minor parties and independents to be elected. This fact has meant that in recent years governments have found it difficult to get a majority in the Senate and as a consequence they have been subjected to a more rigorous scrutiny process (some would say obstructionist process) than would otherwise be the case.

Moreover, the entrenched party system and the relatively stable pattern of voting that characterises the Australian experience ensures that a high proportion of successful can-didates for either house of Parliament are decided by party machines and not the voters at large. Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, Joan Rydon, refers to this as

"the tyranny which parties exercise over (the) Australian electoral process". Talking specifically of House of Representatives contests she says that in most elections over 60 per cent of voters live in 'safe' seats. They are compelled to vote, but the decision as to who shall be their local member has already been made

effectively in. the pre-selection of the dominant party. "(16).

The net effect of very strong party discipline is that the Parliament, and the House of Representatives in particular. is beholden for much of its functioning and operation to the Executive (for example, parliamentary funding is determined by the Executive). As a consequence the monitoring and scrutiny that Parliament is supposed to undertake is

severely circumscribed.

Other factors Apart from the effects of strong party discipline there are other factors that have given the Executive the upper hand over the Parliament. The Executive has an enormous in-formation advantage over backbenchers, not only Opposition backbenchers but also gov-

ernment backbenchers. and this combined with the argument that "disunity is death". means that the Prime Minister and the Ministry have a distinct advantage over the Parliament. Over the years the volume and complexity of legislation have increased sig-nificantly and this has made it increasingly difficult for the Parliament to give adequate

ti me and effort to proposals before it. Reid and Forrest, highlighting a recent House Standing Committee Report on Procedure, conclude that

its (the Report) statistics indicated that if control of Executive government is a mean-ingful aspiration, Australian parliamentarians, in their respective houses, are not getting the opportunities that parliamentarians elsewhere enjoy to confront their executive min-isters in plenary sessions. "(17).

The Report clearly showed that the average time spent in the House considering Acts had declined substantially over time - for example, in the 1951-60 period an average of 4.8 hours was spent examining passing each Act compared to only 2.8 hours in the 1981-6 period. (18).

The average MP, whilst better educated than ever, still finds it extremely difficult to keep up with the mass of legislation and other business that comes across his/her desk. The constituency role, particularly for Members of the Lower House, is virtually a full ti me job in itself and the workload on MPs in this area is increasing as the electorate in general becomes better educated and consequently more demanding. As well MPs are expected to participate fully in both party and parliamentary activities (which have also expanded in scope over the years) and quite often it is the private/family arena of their lives that suffers.

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Much of the information that they deal with is highly complex and technical. The net result is often a situation of MPs, under great pressure and never with enough time, relying very heavily on the party for guidance and advice. This allows very little scope for reasoned and thoughtful analysis of issues/problems in any independent sense.

As well the Executive has tended to be selective in how it applies Westminster precedent with respect to its relations with the Parliament (again particularly in the Lower House) and this selectivity has profoundly favoured the Executive. On the one hand "executive ministers have found it to their advantage to limit parliamentary debate with

the Westminister-style of closure and guillotine procedures; they have exploited the scope to call early elections and thus cut short the life of the House of Representatives; and they have copied the constraints of Westminster's method of granting ministers a monopoly over the initiation of bills, and amendments to bills which would increase

expenditure or the burden of taxation upon the taxpayer".

On the other hand ... 'Australian parliaments have been less enthusiastic to copy Westminster procedures for widening the participation of backbench members in debates. For example, they have not pressed for the introduction of Opposition Supply-days to rationalise consideration of the Supply and Appropriation Bills; they have refused to support the notion of non-party presiding officers... they have not pressed to have an Opposition-based Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, to adopt the century-old Westminister arrangements

for parliamentary committees on government legislation and private members' bills, to use the Westminster system of questions on notice with rostered days for ministers and the Prime Minister to be questioned further, to copy the House of Commons' initiatives in establishing a range of specialised committees each to scrutinise the activities of a ministerial department, or related departments, or to place (as per Westminister) strict limits on the scale of permanent parliamentary appropriations of finance. "(19).

Indeed, it is now possible for the present Ministry to control proceedings in the House of Representatives with the support of just 10 other Members. This is because in June 1989 the quorum provision in the House was reduced from 50 Members to 30 Members with the passing of the House of Representatives (Quorum) Act 1989.(20). The current

Hawke Ministry contains 21 Members and, given a Speaker or Acting Speaker, it would be possible for those 21 Ministers, with the support of just 9 other backbenchers, to process business in the chamber. In reality this could only occur if, for example, there was an Opposition boycott of the Parliament or if very few Opposition members were elected. Whilst this is most unlikely to ever occur it does highlight another example of the capacity of the Executive to control the Lower House.

The Senate Much of the above refers to the situation in the House of Representatives but for a variety of reasons the situation is somewhat different in the Senate. There is little doubt an assertive Senate is directly related to two factors -- first, the adoption of proportional

representation in 1949 and secondly, the development of an extensive -committee system dating from the late 1960s. Both these changes have revolutionised the Senate and profoundly affected its relations with the Executive. Prior to these changes the Senate was very much a subsidiary part of the legislature and was variously characterised "as an old men's club, an anachronism, a waste of people's money." (21).

Not only was proportional representation introduced in 1949 but at the general election of that year the size of the Senate was increased from 36 senators to 60 - now there were to be ten elected from each State, not six. Given a situation of more Senators, combined with a new method of voting that ensured the party composition of the upper house would be more even, the Senate began to emerge as a more potent force in Australian federal politics. Commenting on these electoral changes Emy says

'After 1949, the Senate evolved gradually into a constraint upon the government. Be-tween 1952 and 1965 there were seventeen cases of Government defeat in the Senate. In a further 35 cases, party discipline failed to maintain solid party unity, but the defections were not enough to permit an Opposition victory. "(22).

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The finely balanced nature of the Senate after 1949 can be illustrated by the fact that the government of the day has not had a majority in the chamber in the following years: 1949-51. 1955-58. 1961-75 and from 1981 to the present. This situation (where it is

unlikely that governments will have a majority) is the key factor that has seen the Senate become a force that successive Executives have had to contend with.

The figures above indicate that respective governments of the day have only had control of the Senate for ten out of the past forty years and, even when the government did have control of the Senate. there was, and has been, an increasing tendency for more independent action. The dilemma of just what is legitimate scrutiny and what is blatant

obstructionism is illustrated by the following comment. Fusaro, referring to the 1950-51 period, claims that "the conclusion to be made regarding the senate...is not cut and dried... There is much evidence to show that party was on many occasions placed before principle. On the other hand there are also indications ... that the senate did at times perform a legiti-mate reviewing function. "(23).

The same comment could apply equally well today.

Throughout the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s, even when the coalition parties had a majority in the Senate, the upper house continued to show that it was less willing to be a "rubber stamp" or a "mere echo" as it was often labelled in the pre-1949 period. From 1955 to 1974 the DLP effectively held the balance of power and therefore was able to wring a variety of concessions from the government by threatening to vote with the opposition. In recent times the DLP have effectively been replaced by the Australian

Democrats as the "third force" in the Senate and there has also been at least one Inde-pendent elected at each Senate election since 1961. Over the period 1955 to 1958 the Menzies Government had ten bills amended and three compromised by the Senate.(24).

In 1960 ten Senators crossed the floor to support an amendment to the Sales Tax (Ex-emptions and Classifications) Bill. These examples highlight the slowly emerging power of the Senate.

By the late 1960s moves were afoot to greatly expand the Senate committee system, a development that further enhanced its significance in the national parliament. Ac-cording to David Solomon 1967 was an important "turning-point" for the Senate. In that year the following occurred - a group of Senators led the successful opposition to the referendum that would have broken the constitutional 'nexus' between the House of

Representatives and the Senate; proposed increased postal charges were dropped in the face of Senate opposition; the Senate brought to a halt the right of the Leader of the Government in the Senate to curtail Question Time; the Senate successfully insisted that a second Royal Commission be held into the Voyager disaster in the face of Government opposition: Senate action led to documents being tabled in relation to the use of VIP aircraft, again in the face of Government opposition and the Senate provided, for the first time, the Prime Minister of Australia - John Gorton. Moreover

"In 1967 there were eighty divisions, the government was defeated nineteen times, and on seventeen other occasions the voting of the DLP with the ALP against the govern-ment was the cause of the government's defeat. "(25).

Largely as a result of the efforts of Senator Murphy (Labor. NSW) and J.R. Odgers. the then Clerk of the Senate, a series of new committees was established in the late 1960s and early 1970s. These committees ' greatly expanded the capacity of the Senate to scrutinise the Executive and went a long way towards giving the Senate a new forthright profile. It was no longer the place that "politicians went after they died" - it now was a force to be reckoned with. Commenting on the committee developments the Sydney

Morning Herald editorialised "The Senate is now undergoing the most fundamental and dramatic changes witnessed in the Commonwealth Parliament since the States decided to federate 70 years ago. The introduction of a wide ranging committee system will make the red carpeted Upper

House potentially the most powerful parliamentary chamber in Australia. "(26).

The power of the Senate was amply demonstrated in the 1972-5 period when the Whit-lam Labor Government, faced with the situation of a hostile upper house, was eventually forced from office when consideration of its Supply Bill was deferred culminating in the

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dismissal of the Government by the Governor-General. The ultimate sanction that the Senate has with respect to the Executive is to withhold assent to bills that give the gov-ernment the power to spend the taxpayers' money. There is much debate as to whether the Senate should have this power but the reality is, as was shown in 1975, that the Senate does have that power and, given the strong likelihood that present and future governments will not have a majority in the Senate, then a repetition of the events of the constitutional crisis are possible. Thus, in terms of the Senate. there is always the potential for the Parliament to cut off the life-blood of government (money bills) and force an election. (In theory this could also happen in the House of Representatives but, given the reality of tight party discipline, it is extremely unlikely.).

Between 1975 and 1981 the Government had control of both Houses of Parliament but even in this circumstance the Senate was still a much better monitor of the activities of the Executive than was the House of Representatives and sometimes it was even a thorn in the side of the Government. For example, in .April 1976 six Liberal Senators crossed the floor and voted with the Labor Opposition to block the Fraser Government's

proposed legislation that would have abolished the $40 funeral benefit for pensioners.

From 1981 to the present no government has had control of the Senate and this has again led to an unpredictable parliamentary environment. Nevertheless, successive gov-ernments have been able to get most of their legislation through the Senate even if amendments not to their liking have quite often been foisted on them as a consequence of not having the numbers. In these circumstances it is difficult to ascertain just what

is legitimate scrutiny and change for the sake of better laws and what is sheer political opportunism - just what is deemed to be obstructionist and what is deemed to be legit-imate scrutiny will often depend on one's party political stance.

The key point is that the Senate, primarily because the government of the day does not have a majority, can be an effective scrutineer of the Executive in a way that the House cannot be. In the chamber itself, in committees and in the party rooms Senators do play an important role in monitoring the Executive and generally holding the government to account for its actions. Nevertheless, the size of the governmental process and the increasing complexity of the modern administrative state means that this scrutiny and overseeing is patchy, and party discipline, although weaker in the Senate than in the

House of Representatives, is still strong enough to ensure that the Executive is in a strong position vis-a-vis the Senate.

The House of Representatives

With respect to the House of Representatives however, it is much more difficult to find evidence of a resurgence, although the new committees and the changes to allow more time for private members' business mentioned earlier are examples of at least some mi-nor improvements with respect to the House's capacity to scrutinise the Executive. In

other areas though the situation has probably deteriorated. The standard reference on the functioning of the House - Pettifer's 'House of Representatives Practice'- tells us that the control of the Executive has increased over the years:

"The role of the House of Representatives has changed due to the pressures of a chang-ing world, and due in part to these pressures, the needs of the Ministry now dominate the time presently available to the House. "(27)

This view is strongly reinforced by another senior parliamentary official writing in an earlier time. In 1954 F.C. Green, Clerk of the House of Representatives from 1937 to 1955, outlined his case regarding the state of relations between the Parliament and the Executive (28). There was no doubt in his mind that power had shifted from the former

to the latter and that the Parliament was dominated by the Cabinet. He was concerned about the "tyranny of Cabinet" and listed 7 reasons why the Parliament had lost ground vis-a-vis the Executive - : the two World Wars which saw an enormous increase in the powers of the Commonwealth Government; a long-term tendency for more government control in areas that were formerly the domain of private enterprise: the expansion of

social security benefits: the increasing use of delegated legislation; the increasing impor-tance of party discipline; the tendency towards "professional" politicians which meant that party discipline became even more important; and the increasing legislative load

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that the Parliament had to deal with. As a result of all these factors there was, in his words, a "dictatorship of the Cabinet. Another key factor that Green thought had lessened the effectiveness of Parliament was the fact that the Ministers had encroached. in physical terms, upon the traditional turf of parliamentary precincts. He argued that

"7t has always been recognised that Parliament must be the master of its own House and until the Seat of Government was transferred to Canberra that principle was firmly maintained and never challenged. The only Minister who had an office at the House in Melbourne was the Prime Minister, and he occupied it only when the House was sitting."

(29). When the Parliament moved to Canberra in 1927 it was envisaged that the Ministers would be housed in West Block but, because of structural problems with the foundations of that building, the Ministers were "temporarily" accommodated in Parliament House.

This temporary arrangement in fact became permanent and as a result

"Parliament is no longer master in its own house... Parliament House is nothing more than a large Government Secretariat."

For Green:

"This physical intrusion has done more than anything else to lessen the prestige of par-liament at the Seat of Government. Since 1927 a new generation of members has come along which does not realise how the Parliament has been humiliated now that it is no longer master of its own House." (30).

Notwithstanding the changes that have occurred since the mid- 1950s (such as the pro-vision of more staff for members, more parliamentary committees and more members), the predominant view of the power and effectiveness of the House of Representatives. particularly with respect to monitoring and scrutinising the Executive " is very much of the the same flavour as that enunciated by Green:

"By and large the firm hold that Executive ministers have had over the House of Rep-resentatives has not established a parliamentary environment conducive to providing parliamentary scrutiny of governmental legislation, expenditure, revenue raising propo-sitions or the government's administration. The House of Representatives has provided

a platform for party advocacy rather than liberal parliamentary action." (31).

Indeed, today, a common view with respect to the lower house is that it is a "rubber stamp" or a "sausage machine" (32) which exists primarily to endorse the actions of the Executive. According to this view the situation is not far from a "winner take all" after an election has taken place. It is from the party (or parties) that secures a majority in the

House of Representatives that the Executive is formed and if a proposal gets through the party room then it is assured a smooth passage through the House. Significantly, this "winner takes all" view largely excludes the concept of parliamentary accountability for it assumes that it is primarily through the government party that scrutiny and account-ability occur. There are some opportunities for opposition (and, indeed, government backbenchers as well, but party discipline effectively circumscribes a public questioning of the government in most cases) members via debates, Question Time. Matters of

Public Importance, urgency debates, limited private members' time and the like but the whole process is stacked very much in favour of the Executive. The Government has the numbers to "gag" or "guillotine" debates, and even though the odd point is scored in Question Time, competent and well briefed Ministers are not too troubled or called

substantially to account by events in the chamber itself. There can be some meaningful scrutiny via parliamentary committees but even here the government has the numbers. It is extremely rare for legislation to be considered in committees and the new general purpose standing committees, whilst covering all the portfolio areas, cannot initiate their own inquiries and there must be a certain number of government members present to make up a quorum. A glance at some of the topics on which the new committees have recently reported (for example, functions of the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal, en-try or re-entry into the workforce of social security beneficiaries and Vietnam veterans'

counselling services) shows that, whilst the areas examined are of importance, they are hardly getting to the core of key Executive activities. Importantly, the "main game" of

18 -

economic policy is largely immune from examination by Lower House committees. If we take the present Government as an example, some scrutiny may also occur in caucus or in caucus committees but this tends to be patchy at best, and at worst, non-existent.

According to some of the Labor backbenchers who were interviewed on this matter the bulk of the legislative proposals that go to the relevant caucus committees are in a final draft form which makes them very difficult to change, and a common complaint in caucus is the lack of consultation in the formative stages of preparing legislation.

Moreover, some Ministers are reportedly very tardy and even uncooperative in terms of consulting and informing caucus committees of developments and legislative proposals within their portfolio areas. One Labor backbencher has felt strongly enough about the shortcomings of the consultative process to prepare several papers outlining what he saw

as the "problems in relation to the decision making structure of Caucus. Ministry and Cabinet." Not only was excessive secrecy cited as a problem but it was also contended that

"all too frequently Ministers make public announcements on policy matters prior to de-bate in Caucus"; ... "there seems to be an increasing trend for submissions (from Cabinet) to be delayed until the last possible minute then attempted to be rushed through" the Caucus); that public servants have too much control and input into the decision making process vis-a-vis the backbenchers and therefore "the influence of public servants must be (made) subordinate to the influence of Ministers and Caucus" and that the "wall of secrecy" that exists between the Ministry and the Caucus `must be breached for the sake of the unity of the Party." (33).

TO SUM UP It is obvious that there is a strong body of opinion which does ascribe to the "decline (or at least a relative decline) of Parliament" thesis, particularly in the House of Represen-tatives, and argues that Parliament should have "more sting in its tail." This perception

is tested against the perceptions of the current participants in the system in Sections 5 and 6 and the more vexed question of just what can, or should, be done with respect to the Parliament-Executive relationship is dealt with in Section 7.

B: THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE - NEGATIVE EXPECTATIONS

It was predicted well before Parliament moved that the shift of location, whilst bring-ing obvious and tangible benefits, would also bring some unintended and detrimental changes to the Parliament--Executive relationship and possibly to the whole governmen-tal and legislative process. As early as 1981, Weller and Grattan speculated that

"the design of the new Parliament House must have some impact on the way that the executive interacts with parliament. The provision of comfortable ministerial offices will, unfortunately, ensure that ministers choose to work primarily from Parliament House. But their isolation in one section of the building will require changes to standing orders.

Some trade offs between the parliament and the executive - on sitting hours, on the timing of divisions, on the time for which division bells are rung - may be negotiated to allow the two to co-exist within the new conditions". (34). Of particular concern has been the possible effects of the sheer size difference between the two buildings. The new Parliament House is four times bigger than the provisional building. The new complex covers a total area of 32 hectares and the internal floor space covers 75.000 square metres. The new building has 4,500 rooms, 42 lifts and each Mem-ber and Senator has an office covering 28 square metres with motel-like facilities included. Ministerial offices each cover 200 square metres and the Prime Minister's office covers a huge 700 square metres. By contrast, in the provisional Parliament House, offices were often no bigger than broom-closets and even Ministers' offices were so small as to be totally inefficient and inadequate. The extra space in the new complex has meant that excellent offices and working spaces have been provided for Members and Senators but the cost, due to the vast distances that now separate the various working parts of the

Parliament. has been a lack of informal contact and intimacy that characterised the old building.

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Significantly, the new building, once and for all, firmly ensconces the Executive in the parliamentary environs. The Executive wing occupies approximately 20 per cent of the total area of the new building and this fact, combined with its location (at the rear of the complex with its own entrance and facilities), has prompted much comment. For example, one observer predicted that the move to the new building would lead to a "new parliamentary order" and that "...the Executive will assume an entrenched position with its own enclave and Ministers will be physically remote from backbenchers. (35). Kate

Legge maintained that "The vital function of this design (the new Parliament House), invisible to the public and unexplored by the media, is to protect and entrench the executive... For all the warmth of its welcome, our new Parliament House will contribute not to the responsiveness of government, but to its remoteness. It will have a profound effect on the institution of

Parliament, the style of Australian politics, and the scrutiny of government decisions. For the first time in the history of Australian democracy. the executive arm of govern-ment will have a home. Ministers and their staff will be housed, aloof, in a separate wing... The new wing is located deceptively, at the back, so that the modest back door,

not the splendid front, will be the true portal of power. Information - intelligence gath-ering - is the currency of politics : the door stop interview, the corridor conversation, the art of sussing out what those in power would like to keep hidden from the public. Scrutinising the executive and its decisions is not merely the task of Parliament; in a democracy it is its raison d'etre. " (36).

J.R. Nethercote characterised the new Parliament House as an "executive citadel, de-signed as much to meet the needs of ministers as of Members and Senators. Its very structure will probably compel change in procedure". (37).

As well as outside observers politicians themselves also speculated on what the effects of the new building might be, particularly on Parliament-Executive relations. Liberal MP, Ian Macphee. speaking on the move to the new Parliament House. maintained that "We (will have) an astonishing situation of isolation. At present (in the old Parliament

House) when we go down the corridors we can hail or bump into a Minister. We can say, 'Look, I was going to write to you about so and so but I want to put it to you now'. It will not be possible to do this when we move to the new Parliament House. We will have to make an appointment to see a Minister. More and more we will cease to do

that. We will be fobbed off by Ministers' staff and the Executive will become more and more remote". (38).

Whether these types of concerns have, or are, being realised is dealt with in Section 6 (The new Parliament House and Parliament-Executive Relations). Part 2 of the Ques-tionnaire (see Appendix 1) was designed to test the perceptions of MPs (and other parliamentary officials and the media) of the effects of the move to the new Parlia-

ment House, particularly with respect to its effects on Parliament-Executive relations. A significant amount of the discussion that resulted from the follow-up interviews also concentrated on this aspect of the study.

C: PARLIAMENT-EXECUTIVE RELATIONS AND REFORM Many proposals for parliamentary reform have concentrated on making the Executive more accountable to the Parliament and this in itself is a recognition of the general per-ception that the Executive is too powerful in relation to the two Houses of Parliament. The rhetoric of reform has not been matched by actual reform and this is essentially because

"It is well known that ardent parliamentary reformers are not renowned for their party political successes; that neither the party nor the electorate rewards its representatives for martyrdom about parliamentary methods; and that the electorate has not created an incentive for parliamentary change. " (39).

Perhaps the most dedicated advocate of parliamentary reform in recent years has been Sir Billy Snedden who, whilst he was Speaker (from February 1976 to April 1983). waged a sustained campaign in an attempt to improve the efficiency of the Lower House with respect to scrutinising the Executive. Sir Billy was primarily concerned with reform at

the procedural level and his proposals included : a more independent Speaker; the tele-

vising of Parliament: more control by the Parliament over its own finances; an expansion of the committee system; changed hours and days of sitting; a complete review of stand-ing orders and better programming of the business of the House (40). For the Senate various procedural reforms have also been advocated, the most recent being mooted by the Senate Committee on Legislation Procedures which was tabled in the Senate on De-cember 1. 1988. The Committee was essentially concerned with looking at the problem of how to overcome the "rushed" nature of Senate scrutiny of bills. particularly towards the end of sessions, and also the role of committees in examining legislation. The major

recommendations of the Committee included greater referral legislation to committees for detailed scrutiny: a revised sitting pattern so that, for example. committees could meet on Wednesdays without the Senate itself sitting as a chamber: reduction of the

quorum; and various steps to allow more time for scrutiny of Executive proposals. As yet these recommendations have not been acted or agreed upon.

In the case of the Snedden proposals the only two that have been acted upon are the expansion of the committee system in the House of Representatives and the introduc-tion of limited televising of the proceedings of Parliament. In September 1987 eight new general purpose committees were set up with a view to giving backbenchers a formal structure through which they could operate in terms of their portfolio interests. The effectiveness and impact of these committees is difficult to judge but one of their big

handicaps is the fact that all references have to be approved by the Executive. This has been a particular concern of many backbenchers spoken to in relation to this project (see discussion of this in Section 7 - Parliament and the Executive : The Need for Reform?).

Of course more substantive and wide-ranging reforms have been advocated over the years (for example. official ALP policy until the early 1980s included the abolition of the Senate) but in the context of this paper emphasis is on the types of reforms that are

likely to be achievable rather than those that are in all likelihood unachievable. That is not to say that there is not a sound case for more fundamental reforms to our governing process. Rather it is the recognition that realistically any reforms will be incremental and only achieved with substantial agreement from the main players involved. Accord-ingly. the Statements in Part C of the Survey (see Appendix 1) were not related to far-reaching and more radical reforms of the Parliament but were geared to possible

reforms that are more likely to have wide support. The words of Brian Hocking provided the basis for the types of changes investigated... "In particular, where reform proposals are not attuned to the dominant perceptions held by parliamentarians of their role in the

political system, their effects are likely to be strictly circumscribed." (41). This tack of concentrating on the more minor and incremental reforms proved to be the correct one because it became clear from an analysis of the survey returns (where respondents were encouraged to add other comments or points not covered in the statements) and the

interviews (where a conscious effort was made to ask a general question about reform across the board) that the mood among both MPs and the others involved in the study was, with few exceptions, for change on a limited scale. Section 7 of this paper deals with the current perceptions of the MPs and others with respect to parliamentary reform.

21 -

NOTES

1. H.V. Emy and O.E. Hughes, 'Australian Politics : Realities In Conflict' - Macmillan Australia 1988, p.309.

2. J.A. Pettifer, 'House of Representatives Practice' -Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1981. p.30.

3. G.S. Reid. and M. Forrest , 'Australia's Commonwealth Parliament' - Melbourne University Press. 1989, p.469.

4. John Curtin. 'The Decline of Parliamentary Government - A Protest 'in Australian Quarterly, Vol X No.2, June 1938.

5. As quoted in L.F. Crisp. 'Australian National Government' -Longman Cheshire, Melbourne, 1983, pp.465-6.

6. ibid, p.267.

7. K.C. Wheare, 'Legislatures' - Oxford University Press. 1968, pp.148-9.

8. In J.R. Nethercote (ed.), 'Parliament and Bureaucracy' - Hale and Iremonger. Sydney, 1982, V.

9. Pettifer, op. cit., p. 29.

10. John Summers, 'Parliament and Responsible Government in Australia' in Government, Politics and Power in Australia (2nd edition) - (eds) : Andrew Parkin, John Summers and Dennis Woodward - Longman Cheshire, 1982, pp. 11-12.

11. Volume One, - Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, p. 97.

12. Keith Jackson, 'Caucus - The Anti-Parliament System' in The Parliamentarian, LIX. 3, 1978, p. 159.

13. G.S. Reid, 'Australia's Commonwealth Parliament and the 'Westminster Model' in C.A. Hughes (ed.) Readings In Australian Government - St Lucia, 1968, pp. 120-1.

14. H.V. Emy, 'The Politics of Australian Democracy' - Macmillan Australia, 1978, p. 381.

15. Max Burr, Member for Lyons, House of Representatives Debates, March 24, 1988, p. 1291.

16. The Age, 28 April. 1989.

17. Reid and Forrest, op. cit., p. 344.

18. ibid, p. 344.

19. G.S. Reid. 'The Westminister Model and Ministerial Responsibility' in Current Affairs Bulletin, June 1984, pp. 8-9.

20. See Department of the House of Representatives Annual Report 1988-89 - Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1989, p. 5.

21. Solomon. D, 'Australia's Government and Parliament' 5th edition - Thomas Nelson, Australia 1983, p. 73. 22. Hugh Emy . 'The Politics of Australian Democracy' - Macmillan Australia, 1978, p. 203.

23. A. Fusaro, 'The Australian Senate As a House of Review Another Look'in C. Hughes (ed), Readings In Australian Government, University of Queensland Press. 1960, p. 134.

24. J. Hutchison, in R. Lucy, (ed.) 'The Pieces of Politics' 3rd edition - Heinemann, Melbourne, 1983. p. 147.

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25. David Solomon, 'The Senate' in Mayer H and Nelson H, Australian Politics - A Third Reader, Cheshire Publishing. Melbourne. 1973. pp. 529-32.

26. 3/11/70.

27. Pettifer. op. cit., p. 30.

28. Green. F.C, 'Changing Relations Between Parliament And The Executive' in Public Administration, Vol 13. June 1954, pp.65-75.

29. ibid., p. 73.

30. ibid., p. 73-74.

31. Reid and Forrest, op. cit., p. 471.

32. See, for example. H.Emy and O.Hughes, 'Australian Politics Realities In Conflict' - Macmillan Australia, 1988 - p. 320.

33. Internal ALP document prepared by a Labor Party backbencher in December 1984.

34. P. Weller and M. Grattan, 'Can Ministers Cope? Australian Federal Ministers at Work' - Hutchison Group, Victoria 1981, pp. 205, 206.

35. T. Fewtrell, 'A New Parliament House - A New Parliamentary Order ' in Australian Journal of Public Administration Vol XLIV, No. 4, December 1985, p. 323.

36. Times On Sunday, March 8. 1987.

37. Legislative Studies, Vol. 2. No. 2, Spring 1987, p. 5.

38. House of Representatives, Parliamentary Debates, 27 April 988, p. 2221.

39. Reid and Forrest, op. cit., pp. 470-71. 40. See, for example. CPD, House of Representatives. 20 April 982, pp. 1514-1527.

41. 'Reform to What Purpose? The Australian Federal Parliament and Traditions of Reform' in The Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics, Vol. XX 1982. p. 135.

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5. PERCEPTIONS ONE: PARLIAMENT-EXECUTIVE RELATIONS

Brief note on surveys/interviews Three groups of participants in the parliamentary process were targeted through the sur-veys and the interviews - MPs, selected parliamentary officials and selected journalists in the Press Gallery.

In April 1989 all 224 members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were sent a questionnaire (see Appendix 1) that covered a variety of issues and perceptions related to the Parliament-Executive relationship. the move to the new Parliament House and the related issue of parliamentary reform. Throughout the rest of 1989 follow-up interviews were undertaken with a sample of MPs and care was taken to ensure that a broad cross-section of parliamentarians were included. In all. 112 survey forms were sent back (a response rate of exactly 50%) and 69 Members and Senators were interviewed in depth - a sample of just over 30% of the total number of federal MPs.

Taking the 112 survey returns as the total, the response rate by party was Labor 45%; Liberal 37%, National 10%; Democrat 4% and Independents 2%. By chamber the response rate was House of Representatives 65% and Senate 34% which is roughly proportional to the numbers each has in the Parliament. Thirty per cent of Ministers responded - 9 out of a total Ministry of 30 - and the corresponding figure for Shadow

Ministers was 47%. As well, 2 Ministers who did not fill out the survey were interviewed so in fact over 30% of Ministers responded in some way. All States and Territories were represented but, as would be expected, most responses came from NSW and Victoria.

Regarding the interviews. 34% of Senators (26/76) and 29% of Members (43/148) were contacted and spoken to at length. Taking 69 as the base figure, the interviews were split by party as follows : Labor 39%; Liberal 39%; National 10%: Democrat 7% and Independent 3%. Three Ministers were interviewed as were eight Shadow Ministers. As with the surveys all States and Territories were represented but again the larger States

had the largest number interviewed.

In June. July and August surveys were sent to the two other groups concerned - parlia-mentary officials and the Press Gallery. The parliamentary officials group included staff working in the Departments of the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Parliamen-tary Library, Hansard and MPs staff. It should be noted that the survey sent to these "other users" was slightly modified as some of the statements posited to MPs were inappropriate for others. Accordingly, the second survey had 30 statements whereas the MPs survey had 33. Specifically. Statements 13 (related to contact between MPs and constituents), 16 (related to contact with members of the other House) and

other

17, (related

with to contact wi members of oer parties) were deleted from the "other users" survey. As well, Statement 21 was changed to refer to whether or not it was more difficult to liaise and work with MPs rather than whether it was more difficult to liaise and work with the Press Gallery. Apart from those changes the two surveys were the same. As

was mentioned in the introduction, the sample size of these two non-MP groups was small (41 parliamentary officials and 19 from the Press Gallery) and the emphasis was on those people who had worked in both the old and the new building. As with the MPs a number of respondents were interviewed at length - in all a total of 15 parliamentary officials and 10 members of the Press Gallery participated in follow-up interviews. Again

it must be emphasised that the views of these two groups only represented a small number of the total people working in Parliament House and it was biased towards the more senior, longer serving officials and members of the press.

The following discussion is based on an analysis of the surveys received and the inter-views conducted. The MPs perceptions are dealt with first, followed by those of the parliamentary officials, and finally the perceptions of the media are discussed. Unless otherwise stated the comments quoted are from either the survey returns or the inter-

views. It should be noted that at times the percentage figures discussed do not add up exactly to 100% - this is essentially because, for convenience, all figures have been rounded off to the nearest whole number.

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24 -

THE PARLIAMENT -EXECUTIVE RELATIONSHIP

1. The General Perception

The first area of concern was to ascertain what general views existed in terms of the Parliament's ability to check and scrutinise the Executive. Statement 1 (see Appendix 1) on the survey was designed to test perceptions with respect to just how effective the Parliament is in terms of scrutiny. Almost half (48%). of the respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the Statement that 'In general terms, / believe

that the Parliament is an effective check and monitor on the Executive" - see Table 1. However, 43% either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition. Some of the com-ments that accompanied the answers to Statement One indicate that there is a view that the proposition is only correct when the Government does not have the numbers in the

Senate. For example," This is only true when the Government does not have control of both Houses." (Democrat Senator) and "Only part of the Parliament does - the Senate - and only when the Government does not have a majority " (Liberal. MHR, Victoria). As well there was a view put by some Government backbenchers that the real scrutiny occurred in the party room which testifies to the reality that the niain action occurs there and not in the chambers themselves..." The Caucus is a more important check on the Executive than the Parliament" (Labor. MHR. Queensland) and..."At least when you have a Government with a democratic backbench committee and party structure"

(Labor Senator, Victoria).

Table 1: Parliament is an Effective Check and Monitor on the Executive

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 4 39 9 40 8

Party ALP 6 37 10 41 6

LIB 3 31 8 50 8

NP 0 42 8 33 17

AD/IND 0 71 14 0 14

House Senate 3 50 9 29 9

Reps 4 32 9 46 8

Position Held Ministers 0 66 0 33 0

Shadows 8 46 0 38 8

Gov't Backbencher 7 29 12 44 7

Opp'n Backbencher 0 34 11 43 11

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 7 43 21 28 0

4 - 6 years 3 33 10 37 17

7 - 9 years 4 37 4 42 12

10 + years 3 38 8 49 2

Parliamentary Officials 5 52 10 25 7

Press Gallery 0 47 5 37 10

— 25 —

In terms of party responses Table 1 clearly shows that the Liberal respondents were less likely to see the Parliament as an effective check and monitor on the Executive than were the respondents from the other parties. This may be a result of being in Opposition but that does not explain the responses from the National Party which were

largely in accord with the responses from the ALP Members and Senators. 71% of Democrat Independent respondents generally agreed with the statement which attests to those Senators having a strong perception of the Senate being an effective check on the Executive when the Government does not have the numbers in that chamber.

The accepted wisdom concerning the two Houses and their relative effectiveness as a check and brake on the Executive was borne out by the responses. More Senators agreed or strongly agreed (53%) with the statement than did Members (36%). Thus. if we assume they are talking from direct experience the Senators have a much stronger perception of the Parliament being an effective monitor on the Executive than do Mem-

bers. Fifty-four per cent of Members either disagreed or strongly disagreed compared to a Senate figure of only 38%.

One other area of notable difference in attitude to this statement was between Minis-ters, Shadow Ministers and both Government and Opposition backbenchers. Sixty-six per cent of Ministers agreed with the statement whereas only 36% of Government back-benchers were in general agreement with it. Whilst one-third of Ministers disagreed over

half the Government backbench (51%) either strongly disagreed or disagreed with the proposition. Obviously Ministers, from their vantage-point, see the Parliament as a more effective Executive check than do backbenchers from their own party. Similarly, Shadow Ministers as a group, had a dif ferent perspective to Opposition backbenchers. Fifty-four

per cent of Shadow Ministers were in general agreement with the statement whereas only 34% of Opposition backbenchers had this view. In fact backbenchers from both sides of the fence had remarkably similar perceptions. For example. 51% of Government backbenchers were in general disagreement compared to a figure for Opposition back-benchers of 54%; 36% of Government backbenchers were in general agreement compared to an Opposition figure of 34%. These figures highlight the fact that, even with strong party discipline and control in the Parliament, other factors, such as as position held, can also be influential in terms of determining views and perceptions.

An analysis of the responses from the parliamentary officials group showed that they were more likely than the MPs and the respondents from the Press Gallery to agree that the Parliament is an effective check and monitor on the Executive. Their general agree-ment figure fell between that of the Senators and the Ministers - 57% of parliamentary officials either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement compared to 32% who gen-erally disagreed. Several of the "agree" comments qualified their support by saying that

"...it is not as effective as it could or should be" and "...especially as the Government does not control the Senate." Another respondent who agreed with the statement said that "it depends on the quality of the MPs." Examples of the "disagree" comments included "The role of Parliament has declined since the Menzies administration and the executive has become more dominant" ; " Executive control of the House of Representa-tives prevents it acting as an effective check" ; "The Executive thumbs its nose at the accountability to Parliament requirement. The .Executive manipulates standing orders to minimise opposition, especially in the House of Representatives eg. 'gags' and 'guil-lotines' on bills and the Executive places financial strictures on the Parliament."

The members of the Press Gallery surveyed split evenly on this issue - 47% generally agreed that Parliament is an effective check and monitor of the Executive and 47% indi-cated the opposite view. One journalist who agreed with the statement said that "while this is generally true, the rigidities of the two party system and the dominance of the Ex-

ecutive means that the Parliament is becoming less relevant." Another respondent who strongly disagreed with the proposition maintained that " But for the entirely fortuitous Senate check. Executive power would be unfettered."

- 26 -

2. The Parliament/Executive Balance Statements 2 and 3 were concerned with perceptions of the Parliament/Executive power balance as it is and what it should be. Statement 2 said.. "1 believe the balance of power/strength between the Parliament and the Executive IS 1. Weighted in favour of

the Executive 2. Evenly balanced or 3. Weighted in favour of the Parliament". Statement 3 said "I believe the balance of power/strength between the Parliament and the Executive SHOULD BE 1. Weighted in favour of the Executive 2. Evenly balanced or 3. Weighted in favour of the Parliament". The responses to these 2 Statements are summarised in

Table 2.

Table 2: The Balance of Power/Strength Between the Parliament and the Executive

IS SHOU LD BE

Weighted Evenly Weighted Weighted Evenly Weighted in Favour Balanced in Favour in Favour Balanced in Favour of the of the of the of the

Executive Parliament Executive Parliament

Members of Parliament Aggregate 90 7 3 17 47 35

Party ALP 82 14 4 25 61 14

LIB 97 0 3 10 34 55

NP 92 8 0 8 54 38

AD/IND 100 0 0 0 14 86

House Senate 91 9 0 11 42 47

Reps 90 7 3 19 52 29

Position Held Ministers 66 33 0 55 33 12

Shadows 100 0 0 23 31 46

Gov't Backbencher 86 9 5 19 66 15

Opp'n Backbencher 94 3 3 5 42 53

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 93 7 0 12 37 50

4 - 6 years 86 7 7 17 50 33

7 - 9 years 92 8 0 12 50 37

10 + years 95 5 0 22 46 32

Parliamentary Officials 85 10 5 19 58 22

Press Gallery 95 5 0 41 29 29

Regarding Statement 2 the results overwhelmingly favoured the "Weighted in favour of the Executive" option. Thus, the generally accepted wisdom of Executive dominance is certainly shared by a massive majority (90%) of MPs. That is not to say that all of those 90% of respondents thought that that was a disadvantageous situation. The re-sponses to Statement 3 showed that 17% believed that the Executive SHOULD BE in a dominant position with 47% favouring an evenly balanced situation and 35% arguing for the balance to be in the Parliament's favour. It is obvious that a majority of respondents would like to see the power/strength relationship between the Parliament and the

- 27 -

Executive more evenly balanced than it is at the moment.

An analysis by party of Statements 2 and 3 shows some clear differences by political af-filiation but in all cases there was still a majority who saw the Executive in the dominant position and a majority who favoured a more even balance between the Parliament and the Executive. The differences were in the degrees of majority support for the proposi-

tions. For example, with regard to Statement 2. whilst 82% of Labor respondents saw the power/strength as "Weighted in favour of the Executive'. 97% of Liberals, 92% of Nationals and all Democrats and Independent respondents opted for this response. Sim-ilarly. for Statement 3, whilst 75% of Labor respondents wanted an " Evenly balanced"

situation or one that is "Weighted in favour of the Parliament". the corresponding figures for other main parties were Liberals 89%, Nationals 92% and Democrat/Independents 100%.

There was basically no difference between the responses from both Members and Sen-ators to Statement 2 - both groups overwhelmingly (90%+) saw the balance in favour of the Executive - but for Statement 3 a significant divergence of opinion was evident. Senators were much more in favour of the relationship being weighted in favour of the

Parliament than were Members. As Table 2 shows 47% of Senators believed that the balance should be towards Parliament whereas . only 29% of Members advocated this position. Fifty-two per cent of Members opted for an even balance and 19% opted for a balance in favour of the Executive. The comparable Senate figures were 42% and 11%

respectively.

Different perceptions were again apparent when the position held was taken into account. Although a majority of Ministers, Shadow Ministers and backbenchers of all political per-suasions agreed that the dominant power/strength in the relationship rested with the

Executive. less Ministers adopted this stance than in all the other groups. For example. whilst 66% of Ministers saw the Executive as in the dominant position. the relevant fig-ures for the other main groups were Shadow Ministers 100%, Government backbenchers 86% and Opposition backbenchers 94%. Hence it is the people outside the Executive that have the strongest perception of Executive dominance and conversely those with the "weakest" perception of that dominance come from the Executive itself. With re-spect to Statement 3 the reverse was true - a majority (55%) of Ministers believed that the Executive should be in a dominant position whereas only 23% of Shadow Ministers, 19% of Government backbenchers and 5% of Opposition backbenchers thought that this should be the case. in terms of opting for an evenly balanced relationship the relevant figures were : Ministers 33%, Shadow Ministers 31%, Government backbenchers 66%

and Opposition backbenchers 42%. The most obvious difference between Government and Opposition members was the fact that both Shadow Ministers and Opposition back-benchers opted strongly for the Parliament to be in the dominant position with figures of 46% and 53% respectively. The comparable Government figures were 12% for Ministers

and 15% for Government backbenchers. This again is probably a fairly predictable result that mirrors a typical attitude displayed by many parliamentarians - whilst in Opposition one would like the Parliament to be in a very strong position but when one is in Govern-ment it is preferable for the Parliament to be more subservient. However, the fact that the non-Labor parties have always had a strong belief in the theory of parliamentary supremacy may also help to explain the differing perceptions here.

The responses from the parliamentary officials to the issues raised in Statements 2 and 3 were very similar to the responses from the MPs. For example. 85% of the sample thought the balance of power/strength was weighted in favour of the Executive and with regard to Statement 3. 19% thought that the balance should be in favour of the

Executive. The differences in perception between the officials and the MPs were mainly in relation to the latter statement - see Table 2. A higher proportion of MPs (35% compared to 22%) thought that the balance should be more towards the Parliament

whilst 58% of officials thought the balance should be even - the corresponding figure for the MPs was 47%. Notwithstanding these differences there was again an overwhelming majority of respondents who indicated that the power/strength relationship between the Executive and the Parliament is weighted too much in favour of the Executive. Some of the comments related to Statement 3 outlined the main arguments concerning what is

— 28 —

seen to be an appropriate power balance between the Executive and the Parliament. One official who advocated an evenly balanced arrangement said that "Too much dominance by the Executive leaves the party room as the only group that must be convinced about new policy. Stronger committees and third parties, such as the Democrats and

Independents, ensure that greater efforts go into policy/legislation before it becomes law." Another who argued that the balance should be in Parliament's favour maintained that "Ultimately Parliament must prevail as it does. But the separate responsibilities of each branch must be recognised." In terms of the "weighted in favour of the Executive"

argument one official said that "Whilst the Government commands a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives it should, with rare exceptions. retain strength over Parliament."

The perceptions of the Press Gallery with respect to the balance of Executive-Parliament power were similar to the MPs and the officials with respect to Statement 2 - 95% of journalists believed that the balance of power is weighted in favour of the Executive and the other 5% thought it was evenly balanced - but varied markedly with respect to

Statement 3. Forty-one per cent of respondents advocated that the balance SHOULD BE in favour of the Executive (compared to 17% for MPs and 19% for the officials). 29% opted for an even balance and the same percentage argued that it should be in favour of the Parliament. Again it should be noted that well over half the Press Gallery group believed that a shift of the power balance was desirable but obviously the journalists, on average, are more in favour of strong Executive government than the other two groups. One very senior member of the Gallery, arguing that the power of the Executive has

grown over recent years, said that "The Executive remains well on top of the Parliament. To the extent that there has been any change in the trend during my time here (the 1970s and 1980s) I would say that the dominance of the Executive over the Parliament

has intensified. I do not think that there is any sign of a reversal of that trend...and you cannot be optimistic that there will be a reversal of that trend." With respect to the Hawke Government he said..." Factions have been quite important in reinforcing the strength of the Executive against the Parliament. There was once a time when people put a premium on the performance of a government backbencher in Parliament... that was an important factor as to whether he got into the Ministry. But what happens now is...that performance in the faction is more important than performance in the Parliament... the factions are an extension of Executive government... The factions are tied in through the

Labor Party caucus committee system ...into the Executive... Today performance is not only less important in the Parliament than it used to be but performance in the caucus is less important than it used to be."

3. Party Discipline and the Relationship Statements 4 and 5 were concerned with the extent to which party discipline helps or hinders the functioning of the Parliament as a scrutiny body. The main finding was that whilst a majority of MPs agreed that "party discipline effectively curtails the Parliament's ability to be an effective check on the Executive" (Statement 4), approximately the same majority agreed "that the current degree of party discipline is necessary if we are to have a smooth and efficiently running Parliament" (Statement 5).

As has been alluded to earlier, it is strong party discipline that is frequently cited as the main reason why the Executive is in such a dominant position vis-a-vis the Parliament. For example, Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans. says that "The modern party is a device for ensuring that a government formed by that party is not responsible to parliament... through its discipline of its members and its constant drive for cohesion, the party strives, usually successfully, to ensure that all of its members in parliament vote in the same way on every question, other than those few and less important questions traditionally reserved for conscience or free votes. " (1).

Fifty-nine per cent were in general agreement with Statement 4 and 58% were in general agreement with Statement 5 - see Tables 3 and 4. Thus, there is a widespread view that party discipline is a "necessary evil" but that the cost of this level of discipline is a less effective Parliament with respect to monitoring and checking the Executive. It also

0

29 -

means that if party discipline is the main reason for Executive dominance then the desire expressed in Statement 2 (that the power relationship should be shifted more towards the Parliament) is unlikely to be achieved to any great degree. Unless party discipline is

lessened then the Executive will continue to hold the whip hand.

Table 3: Party Discipline Curtails the Parliaments Ability to Check The Executive

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 14 45 12 27 2

Party ALP 4 43 18 31 4

LIB 13 51 10 26 0

N P 33 33 0 33 0

AD/IND 57 43 0 0 0

House Senate 19 47 8 22 3

Reps 11 44 14 30 1

Position Held Ministers 11 22 22 44 0

Shadows 8 54 15 23 0

Gov't Backbencher 0 47 17 30 5

Opp'n Backbencher 23 43 5 28 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 14 36 14 36 0

4 - 6 years 10 40 10 33 7

7 - 9 years 12 50 8 29 0

10 + years 18 49 10 23 0

Parliamentary Officials 22 36 15 27 0

Press Gallery 26 53 0 21 0

— 30 —

Table 4: Current Degree of Party Discipline is Necessary to Ensure a Smooth and Efficiently Running Parliament

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 12 46 7 30 5

Party ALP 20 59 7 14 0

LIB 8 31 10 49 2

NP 0 75 0 16 8

AD/IND 0 0 0 57 43

House Senate 11 36 5 36 11

Reps 12 51 9 26 1

Position Held Ministers 33 55 0 11 0

Shadows 15 46 8 31 0

Gov't Backbencher 18 61 10 10 0

Opp'n Backbencher 2 37 8 47 5

Years of Service 1- 3 years 0 71 7 14 7

4 - 6 years 10 37 13 40 0

7 - 9 years 25 42 4 17 12

10 + years 10 46 6 36 2

Parliamentary Officials 5 35 12 37 10

Press Gallery 5 26 10 53 5

A typical comment supporting the need for strong discipline was that "under a party system there must be a degree of discipline or it would be a shambles" (Liberal Member, NSW). A senior Cabinet Minister maintained that discipline was "necessary, otherwise you would have the 'log rolling' that characterises the (U.S.) Congress". The exam-

ple of the U.S., where there is frequent deadlock and stalemate between the Executive (Presidency) and the Legislative (Congress) arms of government, was cited by several MPs when interviewed as an example of why a degree of discipline was essential in the Australian context, ie. governments need to be able to get things done.

As might be expected (especially given the ALP caucus pledge which effectively commits all Labor MPs to vote according to the majority will of party room decisions), there again were significant differences of opinion between the parties. Whilst just less than half

of ALP respondents generally agreed with Statement 4, almost two-thirds of Liberals (and two-thirds of Nationals) generally agreed with the proposition. All Democrats and Independents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. The results show a clear relationship between the level of discipline experienced in each of the parties and their attitude to how this discipline affects the ability of the Parliament to check and monitor the Executive. The least support for the view, as expressed in Statement 4, came from the party with the strongest discipline (ALP) whereas the Democrats and

Independents (with the least party discipline) were wholly in agreement with the state-ment. The Coalition parties were placed between these two extremes.

— 31 —

These differences were equally evident in the responses to Statement 5. Almost 80% of ALP respondents generally agreed that the "current degree of party discipline is neces-sary if we are to have a smooth and efficiently running Parliament" whereas only about 40% of Liberals generally agreed. All Democrats and Independents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the Statement. The National Party, as happened with Statement

1, were more in accordance with the ALP than its Coalition partner - three-quarters of Nationals generally agreed with the statement. This would suggest that discipline is stronger in the National Party, and accorded a higher priority, than it is in the Liberal Party.

The pro- and anti-views regarding party discipline are summed up by the following comments. A Labor Senator from Victoria said that " Party discipline is part of the democratic process. Electors vote for parties and their policies, rarely for individuals". By contrast a Democrat Senator argued that "Party discipline also works against the basic precepts of democracy itself : duty is to the Party and not to the Electorate" . In general, the Democrats saw discipline as inimical to the proper functioning of the Par-

liament whilst a prevalent view in the ALP was that of the need for strong disciplined parties to ensure workable governments.

In terms of attitude by chamber the results showed, again as might be expected, that Senators had a more negative view of strong party discipline than did Members of the House of Representatives. With regard to Statement 4, whilst there was a majority in both Houses agreeing with the statement, the proportion in general agreement was higher in the Senate - 66% compared to 55% in the House of Representatives. As well, approximately one-third of Members generally disagreed with the statement whereas only one-quarter of Senators generally disagreed with the proposition. It is clear that

in the chamber where discipline is usually much "looser" (the Senate) there was, on average, a stronger feeling against strong party discipline and its effects on the ability of the Parliament to check the Executive. Statement 5 also confirmed this difference of per-ception between the two chambers. Whilst approximately two- thirds of Members either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, slightly less than half of the Senators were in these two categories. The House of Representatives respondents split approximately two-thirds and a third in favour of the need for discipline in order to ensure a smooth and efficiently running Parliament whereas the Senators split approximately 50/50 on the issue. Clearly, attitudes in favour of discipline are strongest in the chamber where

it is applied most rigorously.

The results when looked at from the view of position held also showed significant dif-ferences of opinion. Only one-third of the Ministers saw party discipline as hindering the ability of the Parliament to check the Executive compared to 47% of Government

backbenchers, 62% of Shadow Ministers. 66% of Opposition backbenchers. As men-tioned earlier, all Democrat and Independent respondents were in general agreement with Statement 4. This is in accord with respective party views on the issue but the results again highlight in particular the different perception that Ministers have concerning the effectiveness of the Parliament as a check on the Executive. It reinforces the results as outlined in Statement 1. that is. well over half the Ministers see the Parliament as an effective monitor and check on the Executive and the replies to Statement 4 indicate that they also do not see strong party discipline as a problem in this regard whilst a majority of other MPs have a contary view. The same order of response occurred with Statement 5 - 88% of Ministers saw the current degree of discipline as necessary to ensure a smooth functioning. Parliament compared to figures of 79% for Government backbenchers, 61% for Shadow Ministers. 39% for Opposition backbenchers. All Democrats and Indepen-dents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposition.

With respect to Statement 4 it was clear that the longest serving and most experienced MPs were more likely than their less experienced counterparts to agree that party dis-cipline does hinder the ability of the Parliament to check the Executive. For example. approximately two-thirds of MPs with 7 or more years parliamentary experience generally agreed with Statement 4 whereas only approximately half of the less experienced MPs generally agreed with •the statement. However, concerning Statement 5 the situation was not as clear cut. For example, as Table 4 shows the more experienced politicians

- 32 -

were just as likely to agree with the need for party discipline with respect to achieving a smooth and efficiently running Parliament.

The responses from the parliamentary officials with respect to the party discipline state-ments showed that a similar majority (58% compared to 59% for MPs) were in general agreement with the proposition that "party discipline effectively curtails the Parliament's ability to be an effective check on the Executive." One official who agreed with the state-ment said that "Rigid party discipline in Australia means that the Parliament does not accurately reflect the range of views held and second reading debates are essentially a waste of time except to have something to send to constituents." Another, whilst disagreeing with the proposition, added the qualification that " It need not curtail Parlia-ment's role if the Parliament, through its committees, is given a bigger role. Submission of legislation to committees before it reaches the Parliament, for example, would be a welcome avenue through which backbenchers could have a say. The process of leg-islation having to go over parliamentary hurdles need not clash with party discipline. It could only strengthen the party room against the leadership by increasing their (the backbenchers) chances of being fully informed."

There was a significant divergence of opinion in terms of attitudes to Statement 5. Forty per cent of officials were in general agreement that "the current degree of party discipline is necessary if we are to have a smooth and efficiently running Parliament." By contrast 58% of MPs were in general agreement with Statement 5. As might be expected, the "benefits" of party discipline in this regard are valued more highly by the ones most directly involved with it - the MPs themselves. One official who was "un-decided" on this issue said that "smooth and efficient tends to mean in the Executive interest ensuring that its legislation goes through with a minimum of fuss. Reduced

Executive dominance of the legislative process and a willingness to negotiate legislation through Parliament need not necessarily lead to a less efficient Parliament. Legislation amended in the Senate is often improved as a result." Another official commented that "I think it (party discipline) is a necessary evil. The usefulness of discipline outweighs its disadvantages" and yet another who agreed with the statement said that however "it can be excessive at times. Leaders could make more use of free votes. A bit more latitude for 'safe' dissent could improve the image of Parliament." One, who strongly disagreed with the statement, said that "Democracy cannot respond to measures such as smooth and efficient. They may be requirements of the Executive but they have no

place in an evaluation of the Parliament." The responses of the Press Gallery to Statements 4 and 5 clearly indicated that the journalists were much more critical of the negative effects of strong party discipline than were the other two groups. Seventy-nine per cent of the media respondents generally

agreed that party discipline hindered the Parliament's ability to scrutinise the Executive whilst only 31% generally agreed that the current degree of discipline is necessary to ensure a smooth running Parliament. Thus, even though there was a high proportion of journalists compared to the other two groups who advocated strong Executive govern-ment, the vast majority of the respondents were critical of the degree of party discipline that exists at present. For one journalist "The discipline existing at present stifles de-bate. It makes it easier for the Government to run its affairs, but it does not necessarily mean the best result is achieved."

4. Increasing complexity of government A General Comment The increasing complexity of legislation and the whole governmental process has also been listed as a factor leading to the dominance of the Executive. Indeed is it possible in

a modern and complex society like Australia for the Parliament to be able to adequately put the spotlight on the vast range of activities and undertakings of the government and the bureaucracy? Are we asking too much of the elected institution?

The sheer size of "the government" and its attendant bureaucracy means that it is

impossible for the (at present) 194 non-Ministerial Members and Senators in the Par-liament to scrutinise in detail all the actions of the Executive. To get an idea of the size of the task, consider the following figures - Australia's Gross Domestic Product for 1987/88 was in excess of $295 bin; Commonwe^ith Public $prvicp Outlays as a p.prcent-agp . of GDP were.28.1% and there were 424,600 Commonwealth employees which amounted to 5.5% of the total employment in Australia. (2). It would be expecting far too much of the Parliament to scrutinise and hold to account this vast array of gov-ernmental activity. Thus, the scrutiny must be selective and concentrate on the most important governmental/bureaucratic actions as opposed to the minutiae involved. As well the Ministers and the Bureaucracy, whilst not quite having an information monopoly, nevertheless have access to (and the resources to analyse)) a vast range of information that ordinary members of Parliament do not have. Even if backbenchers did have access to this information, time and other constraints would make it difficult for this informa-tion to be used in a fruitful fashion. As noted earlier, Members, in particular. have a large constituency workload and most of their staff allocation (normally an electorate secretary and two researchers) is concentrated on this ombudsman function. Even by utilising the resources of the Parliamentary Library and the backup provided by commit-tee staff and other parliamentary officials there is no way that the average backbencher can compete with the resources and information available to the Executive. In this sense "information is power" and along with tight party discipline it explains the dominance of the Executive over the Parliament. Many issues today are so complex and wide-ranging that it is extremely difficult for the backbencher to be fully informed and up to date and consequently he/she must rely on the Executive (and in the Opposition case to an extent on the Shadow Ministry) for guidance and support. ideally, most would agree that there should be such a degree of scrutiny and accountabilty as would ensure that the Executive is always kept on its toes and the degree of scrutiny should be such that it engenders an atmosphere of ultimate responsibility to Parliament as opposed to taking

Parliament for granted.

-- 34 —

Table 5: Increasing Complexity Has Made it Harder for the Parliament to Check the Executive

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 20 55 5 18 2

Party ALP 14 51 8 23 4

LIB 23 61 0 15 0

NP 42 42 8 8 0

AD/IND 14 71. 14 0 0

House Senate 25 50 3 19 3

Reps 18 57 7 16 1

Position Held Ministers 0 37 12 50 0

Shadows 36 28 7 21 7

Gov't Backbencher 14 57 8 17 3

Opp'n Backbencher 24 65 0 11 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 43 28 14 7 7

4 - 6 years 16 55 3 26 0

7- 9 years 17 75 0 8 0

10 + years 16 57 5 19 3

Parliamentary Officials 12 58 5 22 2

Press Gallery 16 63 0 21 0

Results Statement 6 was designed to test broad perceptions with respect to the effects of the increasing complexity of the governmental process. In aggregate terms three-quarters of

MPs either agreed or strongly agreed that "the increasing complexity of legislation and other business of the Parliament has made it harder for the Parliament to check the Ex-ecutive effectively" - see Table 5. Three brief comments made highlight the point..." Few parliamentarians really understand the details of any Bills" (Liberal, Shadow Minister): " No MP has the time or the energy to study every piece of legislation before Parliament"

(Labor backbencher); "It is the volume (and fewer sitting days) of legislation which is making an MPs job increasingly difficult to effectively discharge" (Liberal Member). One of the ways of obviating this problem is for MP's to specialise. hopefully in areas where they have some expertise. Indeed a number of Members and Senators interviewed indicated that "increasing complexity" is not really a big problem because there is a high

0

— 35 —

level of specialisation amongst MPs. However, this is not confirmed by a recently pub-lished study of specialisation in the Federal Parliament which concluded that "specialists are still only a small part of the parliament as a whole." (3). If it is true that the majority of MPs are generalists rather than specialists then it means that the Executive, with enormous information resources at its disposal. is dealing witli becl^bpnchers who are up the main inexpert on many of the technical matters brought before the Parliament. This necessarily means that backbenchers face an awesome, and often impossible, task, in terms of giving detailed scrutiny to the activities of the Executive.

Party differences were again significant here. Sixty-five per cent of ALP respondents generally agreed with the statement but the comparable figures for the other parties were - Liberals 84%, Nationals 84% and Democrats/Independents 85%. The differ-ences here are, in all likelihood, due to the fact that generally Government MPs will

have more access to, and be privy to, more information from both the Ministry and the bureaucracy than will non-Government MPs. Particular problems are experienced by the Democrats who attempt to "shadow" all portfolio areas with only seven Senators.

Apart from the leader, Democrat Senators are only entitled to the same number of research staff as are other backbenchers and consequently the task of each individual Democrat Senator (who will be "shadowing" four or five portfolio areas) is an extremely

onerous one. It should be re-emphasised that even though the ALP had the lowest general agreement rate with respect to Statement 6, there were nevertheless two-thirds of Labor respondents who saw the increasing complexity of legislation and other Parlia-mentary business as a handicap in terms of parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive.

On this occasion the views of Members and Senators were remarkably similar - 75% of members in both Houses either agreed or stro ngly agreed with the statement. Obviously the problem of complexity is affecting all MPs regardless of what chamber they belong to.

It is also worth noting that whilst only 37% of Ministers were in general agreement with the proposition. the relevant figures for the other categories were - Shadow Ministers 64%, Government backbenchers 71%, Democrats and Independents 85% and Opposition backbenchers 89%. Ministers were again significantly at odds with all other MPs and this again highlights the different perspective that Ministers, as part of the Executive,

have compared to those outside the Executive.

The perceptions of the parliamentary officials group were broadly in line with that of the MPs - 70% of respondents were in general agreement with the view that increasing complexity has made it harder for the Parliament to check the Executive. Some "agree"

comments included "resources available to Parliament have not kept pace with increas-ingly complex business..."; "it is as much the programming in addition to the volume of legislation that creates a 'mad dash' attitude to legislation especially towards the end of sessions and cognate debates linking bills of doubtful similarities"; "I suspect that most MPs have not got a clue what is going on most of the time let alone what they are voting on" ; "the statistics on the number of bills bears this out as does the length of some bills eg. 1350-odd clauses of the Corporations Bill. Given the time between the

introduction and second reading debates it is impossible for Parliament to thoroughly check all legislation." By contrast some who disagreed commented that "I think that the complexity has in-creased the Parliament's reliance on outside advice eg. committees, lobby groups etc. which is still part of the democratic and parliamentary process"; "The role of Senate committees and the attention paid by the Senate to legislation has been a very strong check"; "there has perhaps been an increase in complexity of legislation but there has certainly been an increase in the level of information resources available."

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The Press Gallery respondents were also largely in accord with the MPs on this issue -79% generally agreed that increasing complexity was making the task of the Parliament more difficult in terms of monitoring the Executive.

5. The Senate As A Check On The Executive For many it has been the activities and operation of the Senate in the last twenty years that has enabled an argument to be mounted that at least part of the Parliament does monitor and scrutinise the Executive in some meaningful fashion. In particular, the oper-

ation of the extensive committee system in the Senate has been cited by academics and others as a positive force helping the Parliament undertake this function. Statement 7 -L 1 believe that in recent years, the Senate, notably through its committee system, has

come a more effective check on the Executive. ") - was aimed at testing the perception of the Senate and its effectiveness as a check on the Executive. As Table 6 shows, 71% of MPs were in general agreement whilst only 18% were in general disagreement with the proposition. The figures confirm the accepted wisdom found in the literature that the

Senate has, in the recent past, indeed become more of a force that the Executive has to contend with. Some of the comments took issue with the statement itself arguing that it is not so much the operation of the committee system that has brought the Senate

more to the fore but rather the fact of smaller parties gaining the balance of power in that chamber, particularly the DLP in the 1960s and early 1970s and the Australian Democrats since the late 1970s. For example. a senior Labor Member stated that "I agree (with the statement) but it has nothing to do with the committee system. It is due to proportional representation preventing government-executive control". Similarly, a Democrat Senator maintained that "however, it is less the committee system than the lack of Senate control (by the government)." For one Liberal Member it was "Not because of committees but because of small parties."

From a party viewpoint there were significant differences of view, particularly between Labor and the other parties. From the interviews it was obvious that there is still a strong resentment of the Senate, particularly by Labor Members, because of its actions in bringing down the Whitlam Government in 1975. This resentment probably accounts for the large discrepancy in the figures - whilst exactly half of the ALP respondents generally agreed with Statement 7 the comparable figures for the other parties were :

Liberal 86%. National 91% and Democrat/Independent 86%. All "negative" comments about the Senate and its role as a reviewing/scrutiny chamber came from Labor MPs. For example, a senior Senate Minister said that "the Senate is not always a very re-sponsible check though." Another Labor Minister commented that "It can just as easily

use the system to frustrate, rather than check, the Executive" whilst a Labor Member maintained that "there is no evidence to support this (the statement). An enormous amount of effort and resources goes into the Senate committee system with very little productive outcome." When analysed by chamber the figures revealed, again as you might expect. that Sen-ators, on average, were more likely to agree with the statement than were Members of the House of Representatives - Senators believed the Senate was more effective in its scrutiny role than did Members. Whereas 65% of Members generally agreed with the

proposition, the comparable Senate figure was 78%. Moreover, whilst 25% of Members generally disagreed, the Senate figure for the same category was only 8%.

--

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Table 6: The Senate Has Recently Become a More Effective Check on the Executive

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 12 59 10 17 1

Party ALP 0 50 16 32 2

LIB 20 66 5 8 0

NP 25 66 0 8 0

AD/IND 43 43 14 0 0

House Senate 25 53 14 8 0

Reps 5 60 10 24 1

Position Held Ministers 0 50 12 37 0

Shadows 7 71 14 7 0

Gov't Backbencher 0 51 15 32 2

Opp'n Backbencher 24 67 3 5 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 21 57 14 7 0

4 - 6 years 13 58 10 16 3

7- 9 years 9 52 9 30 0

10 + years 11 70 8 11 0

Parliamentary Officials 7 70 12 10 0

Press Gallery 26 58 0 16 0

Again different perceptions occurred in relation to position held but this time Ministers and Government backbenchers had similar perceptions and these perceptions were at variance with other subgroups analysed. Fifty per cent of Ministers and 51% of Gov-ernment backbenchers were in general agreement with the statement but the figure for Shadow Ministers was 78% and for Opposition backbenchers it was 91%. Obviously, with respect to this issue, the significant factor in terms of perception is party and perhaps, to a lesser extent, whether the party is in government or not.

Again the responses from the parliamentaryofficials group were similar to those of MPs. Seventy-seven per cent of officials generally agreed that the Senate has recently become a more effective check on the Executive. Most comments were by those who agreed

with the proposition, for example, "it is more effective but it is not as effective as it could be" and "the committee system has proved invaluable in picking up problems with legislation." By contrast some comments by those disagreeing included "not in recent years, perhaps in the period 1976 to 1982" ; "political plurality of Senate composition has contributed more in this regard."

The journalists had a slightly higher agreement rate on this issue than the other two groups - 84% generally agreed with the statement.

0

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6. House of Representatives : A Rubber Stamp?

The vast majority of MPs surveyed (80%) were in general concurrence with the view that "the House of Representatives is largely a rubber stamp for decisions of the Exec-utive" - (Statement 8). Table 7 shows that only 16% of respondents were in general disagreement with the proposition and significantly only two MPs out of the total of 110 who answered this section strongly disagreed with the statement. Certainly the views of academics and other outside observers quoted earlier in this paper are confirmed by the results here. It was clear, particularly as a result of follow-up discussions, that the

prevailing view is that, other than in a formal or technical sense, the House of Rep-resentatives cannot be said to be a legislative body. All Bills must receive the assent of both Houses and the Governor-General before they become Acts but party discipline (in the case of the House) and convention (in the case of the Governor-General) ensure that these legal necessities are completed as a matter of form. The reality is that, apart from the odd exception, proposed Bills originate in the Executive and if the Government party room endorses the legislation then it will certainly pass through the House. One senior Cabinet Minister who agreed with the statement did not necessarily see it as a bad thing saying "that is where the Government is formed": the implication perhaps being that, once elected, Governments need to get on with implementing their program and, if they have the numbers, then so be it. As well. there was a strong view amongst Government backbenchers that. given the enormous information and resource advantage of the Ministers, it was frequently difficult to alter, let alone stop. legislative proposals, either in caucus committees or in the party room as a whole. Often the committees were not consulted by the relevant Minister and thus the degree of caucus scrutiny and

input to legislation was highly variable. According to one backbencher "once a proposal gets to the legislative stage and it is presented to you it is almost impossible to turn the ship around...(The) consultation (between Ministers and the Caucus) needs to happen earlier". Thus even if it is left to the party room to scrutinise and monitor legislative

proposals of the Executive, there is no guarantee that this will be done thoroughly or systematically. The results clearly showed that the term "rubber stamp". whilst per-haps overstating the case a little, is nevertheless a reasonably accurate portrayal of the

House of Representatives relationship with the Executive. The latest Department of the House of Representatives Annual Report (1988-89) itself noted (quoting from a House Standing Committee on Procedure Report) that :- "the House was compressing more and more business into the time available. sufficient time was not available to give ad-equate consideration to legislative and other business; stringent time restrictions were being applied to a wide range of highly significant bills; and sittings extended late into the night was one of a number of factors which had an adverse effect on the health of Members and staff." (4). There would appear to be no doubt that it is extremely difficult, given the advantages bestowed on the Executive and the handicaps facing the Parliament, for backbenchers in the House of Representatives to scrutinise and oversee the Executive in any sustained or detailed fashion.

An analysis of replies to Statement 8 by party again showed predictable results. Whilst all parties were in majority agreement with the view of the House as a rubber stamp, the parties with the "strongest" view were the Democrats/Independents (100% gen-eral agreement). the Liberals (95%) and the Nationals (75% general agreement). Labor

respondents split approximately two-thirds in general agreement and one-third who gen-erally disagreed with the statement. The higher disagreement rate amongst Labor MPs is probably accounted for by the fact that they are in government and thus obviously feel closer to the action than do the Opposition parties. but also because a proportion of them see the caucus committee system and indeed their party room modus operandi

as an effective means of being involved with Executive decision making.

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Table 7: The House of Representatives is Largely a "Rubber Stamp"

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 35 45 3 15 1

Party ALP 8 59 2 27 4

LIB 51 44 2 2 0

NP 50 25 8 16 0

AD/IND 100 0 0 0 0

House Senate 61 28 0 11 0

Reps 22 53 4 18 3

Position Held Ministers 0 66 0 33 0

Shadows 46 46 0 8 0

Gov't Backbencher 9 57 2 26 5

Opp'n Backbencher 57 32 5 5 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 43 36 14 7 0

4 - 6 years 30 47 0 17 6

7 - 9 years 36 44 4 16 0

10 + years 38 49 0 13 0

Parliamentary Officials 20 46 13. 20 0

Press Gallery 37 53 0 10 0

More Senators, as a proportion. saw the House as a rubber stamp than did the Members themselves. Whereas three-quarters of Members generally agreed with the statement. almost 90% of Senators were in general agreement and whilst about one-fifth of Mem-bers generally disagreed with the statement, the relevant proportion of Senators was only one in ten. This strong perception amongst Senators probably accounts for the feeling, even passion with some Senators, that the only real scrutiny occurs in the upper

house and therefore any moves to weaken or lessen the powers of the Senate must be resisted at all costs - ie. the Senate is critical for the proper functioning of our parlia-mentary democracy.

An analysis of Statement 8 replies by position held showed that, on this issue, percep-tions were very much party-driven. For example, exactly two-thirds of Ministers and Government backbenchers generally agreed that the House is largely a rubber stamp for decisions of the Executive. By contrast 92% of Shadow Ministers and 89% of Opposi-

tion backbenchers generally agreed with the statement. Whilst approximately one-third of Ministers and Government backbenchers generally disagreed with the proposition. the proportion for Shadow Ministers and Opposition backbenchers that generally disagreed was less than one in ten. Being in Government and the fact the the Labor Party has, in theory at least, a very democratic and participative party room structure are probably the key reasons that explain the different perceptions noted here.

In terms of length of experience in the Parliament there was one result on this issue worth mentioning. Just under 80% of MPs with less than ten years experience generally

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agreed with the statement whilst 87% of MPs with over ten years experience in the Parliament either strongly agreed or agreed with the "rubber stamp" statement. This tentatively suggests that the older and more experienced politicians were, on average. more pessimistic about the supposed scrutiny role of the House.

Significantly, the parliamentary officials group were less likely to generally agree that "the House of Representatives is largely a rubber stamp for decisions of the Executive" than were the MPs although there was still a strong majority of respondents - 66% - who did signify concurrence with the statement. "Agree" comments included: "There is an increasing tendency to leave amendments to be sorted out in the Senate including those of the government"; (this is) "because the party discipline is total more so than, for example, in the House of Commons"; (it)"goes without saying. They have the numbers to gag debate." Two "disagreement" comments were : 'this is so on occasions but

ignores the role of caucus and its relevant committees which can play a significant role in deciding whether to support legislation through the House" and "backbench committees play a major role." One official who did not respond to the statement did however note that "it is a rubber stamp to the extent that the government always wins but not without some pain. Perhaps a 'rubber stamp' with a thorny handle."

In contrast to the officials the Press Gallery respondents were more likely to agree that the House of Representatives is largely a "rubber stamp" for the Executive. Ninety per cent of journalists generally agreed with Statement 8. One very experienced member of the Press Gallery maintained that "the House hardly functions at all as a chamber of

legislative scrutiny ...(this is true ) not only of legislative scrutiny but also scrutiny of the government."

7. The Resources/Time Question If we are to expect our parliamentarians to scrutinise and monitor the Executive (as well as carry out their constituency and party roles) then they must have at their disposal enough resources (staff, research support, technology) and time to be able to adequately carry out that task. With respect to time there was not one MP interviewed who did not, when the issue arose, complain about the hectic pace of life and the lack of adequate time to carry out tasks properly. In terms of back-up and support for MPs the big problem is determining just what level of resources is enough. Different MPs work and operate in different ways and have different and varying abilities and this makes the task of ascertaining what is an appropriate level of resources and support very difficult. At present MPs are entitled to three full-time staff (an electorate secretary and two researchers) as well as a limited travelling allowance that allows one or more staff to accompany their Member or Senator to Canberra. Most of the Shadow Ministry are entitled to one extra reseacher and office holders such as Whips and Party Leaders and

Deputy Leaders are also entitled to extra staff and allowances. The other main resource provision comes via the Parliamentary Library and the Departments of the House and the Senate. All committees are staffed by parliamentary officials and advice and support from other officials is available on all areas of parliamentary operation. The vast majority of MPs now have computers in both their Parliament House and electorate offices and have ready access to fax machines, photocopiers and the like. For some the present provision is adequate whilst others see the present level of resource provision as insufficient to allow them to fulfil their role as MPs properly. It is also difficult to ascertain whether

in fact the Parliament is keeping up with the Executive in terms of the allocation of additional resources over time but in at least one area - personal staff support - it is clear that the Ministry has recently had its entitlement to personal staff increased at a much greater rate than has been the case for Shadow Ministers. For example, between 1983 and 1989 Ministerial staff positions (excluding consultants and the basic entitlement of three personal staff for all Members and Senators) increased from 165 to 228. Over the same period (again excluding the basic entitlement) the number of staff

positions available to the Shadow Ministry increased from 48 to 57. Thus, over that six year period Ministerial staff positions (excluding consultants) increased by 63 whilst staff positions for Shadow Ministers increased by 9. (5). The dominant position that the Executive enjoys over the Parliament can only be enhanced by resource allocations such as this. It was clear from an analysis of responses to Statement 9 that there was

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a strong perception amongst MPs (and others) that resources were clearly inadequate.

Sixty per cent of respondents generally disagreed with the view , that "both Houses of Parliament have adequate resources and time to monitor the activities of the Executive effectively." Table 8 shows that 31% of MPs were in general agreement whilst 60%o were in general disagreement with the statement. A number of MPs emphasised the problem of lack of time to carry out their tasks adequately. For example, a Liberal Shadow

Minister commented that "Time is the critical factor - coupled with the inefficiency in the arrangement of Parliamentary business and this makes it difficult to be well informed on all matters at all times." One Labor MHR remarked that "No MP has the time or the energy to study every piece of legislation before Parliament." This again highlights

the need and desirability for MPs to specialise because of the impossibility of covering the whole gamut of parliamentary-executive activity.

Table 8: Both Houses Have Adequate Resources and Time to Monitor the Executive

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 3 28 8 45 15

Party ALP 4 33 10 41 12

LIB 3. 23 8 51 15

NP 0 25 8 50 17

AD/IND 0 14 0 43 43

House Senate 3 25 11 50 11

Reps 3 29 7 45 16

Position Held Ministers 22 33 0 44 0

Shadows 0 31 8 46 15

Gov't Backbencher 0 36 12 38 14

Opp'n Backbencher 3 19 8 54 16

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 0 28 22 28 21

4 - 6 years 3 17 17 40 23

7 - 9 years 0 20 4 56 20

10 + years 5 40 0 49 5

Parliamentary Officials 7 32 10 36 15

Press Gallery 10 16 21 42 10

As with other similar issues the Opposition parties felt more strongly about the resources question than did Labor respondents. Approximately two-thirds of Liberal/National Party respondents generally disagreed with the statement compared to only 53% of Labor respondents. Again this difference is probably explained by a Government/Opposition

dichotomy - the governing party tends to have better access to the whole Executive apparatus (including the resources of the Bureaucracy) than does the Opposition. As might be expected a high proportion (86%) of Democrat/Independent respondents dis-agreed with the statement and their main complaint was best summed up by a Democrat Senator who said "A response coloured by my position as a Democrat Senator with

42 -

ordinary "backbench" staff and facilities and six portfolios, four Senate committees etc.to cover." This problem, admittedly self-imposed, nevertheless does explain the strong Democrat position on this matter.

As opposed to other issues there was almost no discernible difference in perception between Members and Senators on the resource/time issue. Sixty-one per cent of Mem-bers and 61% of Senators were in general disagreement with the statement and the rate of general agreement was also remarkably similar - 32% for Members and 28% for Senators. Obviously MPs from both chambers feel equally aggrieved (or happy) in terms of the provision of resources and the time available to monitor the activities of the Executive.

Of all the ways that Statement 9 was analysed (for example, in the aggregate, by party. by chamber, by age), the only group that registered majority agreement were Ministers. Fivty-five per cent of Ministers either strongly agreed or agreed that there were adequate resources and time to monitor the Executive effectively. This again demonstrates the strong perceptional difference that Ministers have on this matter. The other general

agreement rates by comparison were Shadow Ministers 31%: Government backbenchers 36%: Opposition backbenchers 22% and Democrat/Independents 14%. One of the Min-isters argued that the allocation of resources had in fact "gone too far with electorate staff near totally engaged in political work." Broadly speaking the parliamentary officials' responses were similar to those of the MPs - only 39% of the officials group generally agreed with the view that both Houses have adequate resources and time to monitor the Executive. It would appear that. notwithstanding the recent increases in staffing levels for Members and Senators and the provision of new equipment (such as faxes. TVs and computers). particularly since the occupation of the new building, there is still a majority of Parliament House occu-pants who believe more resources are needed. Some comments favouring this included: "The Parliament can do no more than dabble with present resources. I am not sure what would be an effective level of monitoring but the Parliament is not equipped to do very much. It is an effective check on the Executive because of the attitude of the Democrats not because of their resources" ; "Coalition/Opposition resources are inad-equate to effectively shadow Executive activities" : "Senate Estimates Committees are staffed on a shoestring and their scrutiny of the Executive suffers as a result. General procedural research in the Senate is hampered by understaffing"; "This is the basic problem. Nothing much can be done about the quality of parliamentarians except by the preselection process but well supported, well informed MPs are not an absolute impossibility. Non specialist party hacks fill up staff positions and the Library can not fill the gap." A few respondents commented that resources were adequate and pointed to the fact that extra resources may. if granted, be used solely for electoral purposes as opposed to better Executive scrutiny.

On this issue the perceptions of the Press Gallery were largely the same as the other two groups. Only 26% were in general agreement with Statement 9 and a common view was that if backbenchers are to scrutinise the Executive in any meaningful fashion, then additional resources are a necessity.

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NOTES

1. Evans. H. 'Constitutionalism and Party Government in Australia' - Australasian Study of Parliament Group Occasional Paper No. 1, Perth, August 1988, p. 12.

2. Figures provided by Gerry Newman, Director of the Statistics Group - Legislative Research Service, Parliamentary Library.

3. Skene. G. 'Specialities of the House . An Investigation into Subject Specialisation Amongst Australian Senators and Members of the House of Representatives' - Department of the Parliamentary Library and the Australasian Political Studies Association.

Canberra 1988, p. 31.

4. Department of the House of Representatives Annual Report 1988-89 - Australian Government Publishing Service. Canberra 1989, p. 3.

5. Answer to a Question On Notice provided to Senate Estimates Committee E, 28 September 1989.

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6. PERCEPTIONS TWO : THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE AND PARLIAMENT - EXECUTIVE RELATIONS

THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE As mentioned earlier it was speculated before the move of Parliament to the new building on Capital Hill that, as well as much better physical conditions being provided, particu-larly with respect to Members' and Senators' individual working spaces, there may well

be some detrimental changes to the nature of the operations of Parliament and also to the relationship between the Parliament and the Executive. For Barry Jones, speaking soon after the move, these detrimental changes were in fact a reality:

"the atmosphere (in the new building) is dead : indeed I have been at crematoria that were more fun. There is no life, at least not yet. I suspect that the huge scale of the building, the long distances between members' offices and the chambers, or the dining room, or the library is a psychological disincentive against venturing out. In the old Par-liament House, one's own room, with or without a view, was a place to get away from if

working conditions were oppressive. The corridors were generally crowded and it wasn't hard to find colleagues to have breakfast, morning or afternoon coffee, lunch, dinner or supper with. Those casual meetings - even in the lavatories - were not just social happenings, they were important opportunities to exchange ideas, or sometimes gossip.

They helped keep members sane. They were an essential part of the informational flow, providing an opportunity for backbenchers to talk informally with ministers, members of the other house, even with members of other parties... who would have imagined that in our dignified splendor we might miss the raucous, forced intimacy of the old building".

(1) Statements 10 to 22 (see Appendix 1) on the survey were aimed at testing perception's about the effects of the new complex on the operations of Parliament and the interaction and relationship between the Parliament and the Executive.

1. A General View Statement 10 asserted that "1 believe that overall the new Parliament House has strength-ened the power of the Executive over the Parliament." An analysis of the results showed that there was an almost even split between those who generally disagreed (41%) and those who generally agreed (39%) with the statement - see Table 9. Significantly, one-fifth of the respondents were undecided. Obviously, for a significant proportion of MPs it was too soon after the occupation of the new building to make a definitive choice to the alternatives offered with Statement 10. For those who did make a definitive judgement it was clear, from the comments added, that there were strong feelings in both directions with respect to whether the new Parliament House has strengthened the power of the

Executive over the Parliament. For example, one senior National backbencher maintained that "I must strongly agree that this is the case. The Executive, even geographically, are isolated from the backbench. When Question Time is over they seem to 'ride off into the sunset'." Arguing the counter view a Liberal Member claimed that "the Press say this but there is no hard evidence yet". One Democrat Senator who disagreed with the statement said that "Given the ritualistic adversarial system operating in Australian politics and the strong party discipline in most parties (absolute in the case of the ALP) the Parliament (as distinct from the caucus or party room) has little impact on Executive decisions if the Government controls both Houses or the Opposition quarantines some legislation. The size and isolating properties of the Parliament House have little to do with it".

When looked at by party it was found that the Liberal respondents were the ones most likely to generally agree with the statement (59%) whereas the other general agreement rates ranged from 42% for Democrat/Independent respondents to only 27% for National Party respondents. As well, a significant proportion (27%) of National Party MPs were undecided on this issue.

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Table 9: The new Parliament House has Strengthened the Power of the Executive

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 14 25 20 38 3

Party ALP 14 18 14 51 2

LIB 14 45 19 19 2

NP 18 9 27 45 0

AD/IND 14 28 0 43 14

House Senate 8 20 28 40 3

Reps 17 29 13 38 3

Position Held Ministers 11 0 11 67 11

Shadows 0 20 40 30 10

Gov't Backbencher 15 23 13 48 0

Opp'n Backbencher 24 31 21 24 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 15 23 8 54 0

4 - 6 years 20 27 20 30 3

7 - 9 years 19 24 14 38 5

10 + years 8 28 22 39 3

Parliamentary Officials 7 35 27 25 5

Press Gallery 10 53 10 20 6

There was a higher general agreement rate (46%) amongst Members compared to Sen-ators (28%). however the general disagreement rates were similar - 41% for the House and 43% for the Senate. It is clear from the figures. as you might expect given the views expressed by Members compared to Senators with respect to Executive power earlier, that Members are, on average, more concerned with the effects of the new Parliament

House than are Senators and that a higher proportion of Senators are still not sure what the effects of the new Parliament House might be. Twenty-eight per cent of Senators indicated that they were undecided on the issue compared to 13% of Members.

When analysed by position held, the only group to have a majority in general agreement with the statement were Opposition backbenchers - 55%. The others in descending or-der of general agreement were Government backbenchers 38%; Shadow Ministers 20%

and Ministers 11%. Again there appeared to be some relationship between the type of position held and the type of perception gained. For example, Shadow Ministers and Ministers, in general agreement terms, were closer than Ministers and Government back-benchers.

The parliamentary officials group again responded in a similar fashion to the MPs on whether or not the new Parliament has strengthened the power of the Executive. Forty-two per cent of officials were in general agreement with Statement 10; 30% were in general disagreement and 27% were undecided. Perhaps the most significant responses were the undecided ones indicating that again it is perhaps too early for many people

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to have a definitive view on the matter. Some of the accompanying comments give the flavour of the divergent views expressed on this issue : "Previous informal contact with Ministers is now reduced to a minimum thus matters are more likely to be discussed in formal forums which allows less room to manoeuvre"; "The executive wing has effec-tively isolated backbenchers of all parties`'; "I believe the new building has altered the status quo but I am still unsure of the new balance of power": "too early to comment": " this is (the idea of a stronger Executive because of the new building) in danger of becoming an accepted doctrine": "I doubt that the new Parliament House has had much effect in this area but if it has had any it would be in loosening party discipline very

marginally and thus preferably marginally loosening Executive solidarity"; "it seems to me that the layout etc. was designed to do just that - strengthen the power of the Executive over the Parliament." Significantly, the journalists had a much stronger view on the effects of the new build-ing with respect to strengthening the hand of the Executive. Sixty-three per cent of the Press Gallery sample generally agreed with the statement indicating that from their perspective the new physical environment had indeed enhanced the advantages of the

Executive over the Parliament. Several of the comments attest to this fact "The size and remoteness (of the new building) lends itself to this" and "The overpowering vast-ness of the new Parliament House inevitably means that the government is more remote physically and administratively. There was no escaping the Press Gallery in the old

Parliament House." It was clear from discussions with members of the Gallery that it is now much more difficult for them to develop and maintain contact with Ministers and their staff and that as a consequence it is now more difficult to know precisely what is going on. There was a general feeling that "news management" by the Executive was much easier in the new building compared to the old building. According to Peter

Bowers:

"Governments, whether democratic or not, are, by nature, secretive. The new Parlia-ment House is an unhealthylace for democracy because it is a vast hiding place for government and its secrets. "().

2. The Physical Working Environment

Statement 11 was designed to ascertain views with respect to physical working condi-tions in the new Parliament House compared to those in the old Parliament House. Over-whelmingly, the MPs surveyed generally agreed (64% strongly agreed and 30% agreed) that the new Parliament House had improved my physical working conditions."

Only 4% of respondents recorded a negative vote with respect to this statement. Given the overcrowded and totally inadequate working environment that characterised the old building this was a fairly predictable outcome. Positive comments included : "It's great" (Liberal, Shadow Minister): "I now have an office equivalent to that which I left outside

Canberra to enter politics years ago. I was ashamed to have visitors in the previous building" (Labor Senator); "The old parliament House was a disgrace as far as work efficiency is concerned" (Liberal Member). Quite a few of the comments whilst agree-ing with the statement qualified the positive attributes with some problems/hardships caused by the new building - "The office is far more satisfactory but the distances an

MP has to personally cope with are physically exhausting" (Liberal, Member) and "But it's negative in terms of human contact and spontaneous access to the Executive' (In-dependent Senator). Even some of the negative comments had a bit both ways. For example, a Labor Senator maintained that "My personal office is excellent. But the

layout of the new Parliament House is appalling in terms of the way it affects social and political life. Also the new Parliament House has brought out all the inefficiencies of the way Parliament has traditionally been run". (For a full breakdown of the figures relating to Statement 11 see Appendix 2 - Table 1).

In terms of responses by party there was a high degree of consensus with respect to the issue raised in Statement 11. All parties scored similar general agreement rates and there were no significant divergences of opinion. The same can be said for responses by chamber - 92% of Members generally agreed as did 97% of Senators. There was a slight difference between Ministers' responses and those of Shadow Ministers, Govern-

ment backbenchers, Opposition backbenchers and Democrat/Independents. Whilst

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77% of Ministers generally agreed that the new building had improved their physical working conditions for all the other groupings the figure was in excess of 90%. It was also noticeable that there was a discernible difference of perception between those MPs who had been in the Parliament for I to 9 years and those who had served for more than 10 years. In the former group all respondents were in general agreement with the proposition whereas 83% of the latter group were in general agreement. Thus a propor-tion (14%) of the most experienced MPs disagreed that physical working conditions had improved. Perhaps this is due to a greater sense of nostalgia towards the old Parliament House amongst the longest serving MPs as well as the more physically demanding na-ture of the new building. As one very senior National Party backbencher said in response to the statement: "Certainly not. Human contact, distance from committee rooms and chamber, distance from everywhere makes strong demands on the physical capacity of all age groups." It was obvious from the responses to Statement 11 that the parliamentary officials were less fulsome in their praise for the physical working conditions in the new building than were the MPs. Seventy-seven per cent of the officials generally agreed that physical working conditions were better (compared to 94% of MPs) and 15% generally disagreed with the proposition (4% for MPs). The different perceptions here are probably ex-plained by the fact that some officials (for example, some of those in the committee system) have actually got less office space and worse physical conditions than they had before. As would be expected most comments were "positive" but there were a few that alluded to worsening conditions. For example, "the distances I must travel each day within the building are greater. I have an office that is not large enough for the documents I must keep and I am constantly cold - summer and winter." Considering the appalling conditions that the Press Gallery had to endure in the old Par-liament House it was not surprising that there would be strong agreement that physical conditions had improved in the new Parliament House. In fact all respondents generally agreed that this was the case. However, like some of the officials contacted there were some journalists who whilst agreeing that physical conditions were better argued that this was not necessarily accompanied by better conditions in other areas, for example, social contact and in terms of access to information.

3. Formal and Informal Contact Statement 12 dealt with the effects of the new building on working relations and contact between MPs. The experience of our closest parliamentary relative provides food for thought in this regard. In the United Kingdom at least one experienced MP has argued that the provision of office space, where members of Parliament can work in more private and individual circumstances

"has detracted considerably from the efficiency of the Parliament as a whole. In the 1959 Parliament when the only desks available for backbench Members ineligible for the Lady Members' rooms, were the desks in the Library and in the two writing rooms above the division lobbies, the debating chamber, the public rooms and the various committee rooms were better filled. New Members therefore, quickly got to know and understand

the personality and character of each colleague on both sides of the House which was invaluable when seeking their goodwill and anger, or laughter in debate. It certainly remains true today that the more time spent mingling with and getting to know parlia-mentary colleagues, and the less time spent skulking in little offices under the eaves or below ground, the more effective becomes the parliamentary performance and eventually

the greater influence can be exerted from the backbenches". (3)

Significantly, it should be noted that the sorts of changes to individual Members' and Senators' working office space that are referred to by Holland were nowhere near on the scale that happened when the move was made to Capital Hill.

The results from an analysis of the replies to Statement 12 indicate that less contact is taking place between MPs in the new building compared to contacts in the provi-sional building and the interviews also strongly reinforced this finding. Almost 70% of respondents generally disagreed with the statement that "The new Parliament House

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rate amongst Senators than for Members. Twenty-one per cent of Members were unde-cided compared to 9% for Senators and 66% of Members generally disagreed with the proposition whereas 76% of Senators were in general disagreement. Thirteen per cent of Members were in general agreement compared to 15% general agreement amongst Senators. The larger size of the House of Representatives, in terms of seats, may help explain the higher undecided rate for Members - they may not yet have had enough time to fully assess the impact of the building with respect to their working relations and contact with 147 other Members. By contrast the Senate is composed of only 76

Senators.

When Statement 12 was analysed by position held there were found to be significant intra-party differences among the ALP. Of the sub-groups looked at. Ministers had the highest general disagreement rate (88%) and significantly there was not one Ministerial response that either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement. Obviously the views expressed earlier by Barry Jones are shared by a large proportion of his Ministerial col-leagues. The group with the highest general agreement rate (27%) were Government backbenchers who also, amongst all the groups, had the lowest general disagreement rate (42%). In fact all groups had large majorities (75% for Shadow Ministers and 80% for opposition backbenchers) in general disagreement except for Government backbenchers.

Even though Government backbenchers as a group had the highest proportion (27%) saying that working relations and contact had improved in the new ParliamentHouse, there was an even higher proportion of them (30%) who had not made up their mind. It may be that the separate Executive wing has influenced Ministers' negative perceptions

in this area and that by contrast Government backbenchers, not isolated in that way and experiencing the benefits of being in Government. have been influenced in the opposite direction.

There were also some differences of perception in terms of length of service to the Parliament. In general terms the longest serving MPs had the higher proportion either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the proposition. The 7-9 years service group (87% general disagreement) and the 10+ years service group (71% general disagreement} were far more "negative" than the 1-3 years service group (42% general disagreement}

and 4-6 years service group (56% general disagreement). Significantly, the 1-3 years service respondents had by far the greatest undecided rate - (42%). Again the evidence indicated that the the more experienced MPs are the ones most likely to be critical of the new Parliament House and its effects on the parliamentary process.

On this issue of whether there had been improved contact between MPs, staff and of-ficials in the new building the officials group had a higher general agreement rate than the MPs - 24% compared to 13%. Moreover, whilst 70% of MPs generally disagreed with the proposition only 51% of officials were of a like mind. (See Appendix 2 - Table 2). The differing perception here may be related to the fact that the parliamentary offi-cials are full time in Canberra and have had more chance to adapt to the new conditions whereas MPs are only in the national capital for relatively short periods of time and have yet to become used to the different environment. Three of those who disagreed with the statement commented that : "Isolation appears to be the new modus operandi";

,(there is) a "tyranny of size and distance" , "so far away you never see anyone" and Extremely isolating - OK if you worked in the old Parliament House and have a network of friends and contacts but difficult otherwise." The smaller percentage who did agree with the proposition saw positive signs in terms of contact in the new building. For example, "despite the distances involved there have been greater efforts by the staff and

MPs." Several others noted that they "could notice no difference." The journalists were in line with the MPs on this issue as only 10% of the sample generally agreed that contact had improved in the new environment. (See Appendix 2 -

Table 2).

The next statement on the survey was concerned with the effects of the new building on contact with people outside the Parliament. Statement 13 was : "The new Parliament House has improved relations/contact between me and constitutents/outsiders. " In ag-gregate terms just over half the sample either agreed (41%) or strongly agreed (10%)

with the proposition - see Table 11. About one-quarter of respondents were undecided

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has improved relations/contact between myself and other MPs" - see Table 10. Nearly one-fifth of the sample were undecided whilst only 13% (with only 2% strongly agreeing) generally agreed with the proposition. As has been predicted the new Parliament House. essentially because of its sheer size, has made it more difficult for MPs to maintain the degree of contact that they were used to in the old building. Some "disagreement" comments included "Space and distance prevent easy. casual contact" (Minister). "The distances are too great. The building should have been higher and less spread out.

Planning is now required when considering a visit to another office. Fewer communal areas in new building also cut contact" (Labor Senator); "Remoteness makes contact less frequent" (National Party Shadow Minister) and "The problems of isolation have increased" (Independent Senator). Many of the undecided respondents added that "it was too early to tell" and some of the "agreement" respondents noted that there was

no difference" from what they had experienced in the old building.

Table 10: The New Parliament House Has Improved Working Relations/Contact Between MPs

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 2 11 18 49 20

Party ALP 6 12 23 42 16

LIB 0 8 14 55 22

NP 0 9 9 54 27

AD/IND 0 14 14 57 14

House Senate 3 12 9 59 17

Reps 3 10 .21 46 20

Position Held Ministers 0 0 11 66 22

Shadows 0 17 8 58 17

Gov't Backbencher 9 18 30 24 18

Opp'n Backbencher 0 5 14 55 25

Years of Service I- 3 years 8 8 42 42 0

4 - 6 years 4 24 16 40 16

7- 9 years 4 4 4 65 22

10 + years 0 8 20 51 20

There was a higher disagreement rate amongst the non-Labor parties. For example, whilst 58% of ALP respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with Statement 12 the comparable figures for the other parties were Liberal 77%. National 81% and Democrat/Independent 71%. The ALP also had a much higher undecided response

(23% compared to 14% for Liberals and 9% for Nationals) and a much higher general agreement rate - 18% compared to 8% for Liberals and 9% for Nationals. Thus it ap-pears that the Labor MPs, for some reason perhaps again due to the fact that they are in government, are more likely to have a positive view of the new building with respect to contact and working relations with other MPs than are those from the other parties.

In terms of chamber it was found that Senators were more likely to have a definitive view on this issue than Members and also that there was a higher general disagreement

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and there was a similar proportion who were in general disagreement with the statement. One reason for the slight majority agreeing with this statement may be the enormous increase in visitors to the Parliament since the opening of the new building and, even if Only a minute fraction of those extra visitors take the time to approach or contact their local Member or Senator, then MPs will, in general, be seeing more outsiders than

previously. As one Labor Member commented "They (visitors/constituents) are more likely to visit the new House and we are prouder to show them. There is room for them now." Similarly, a Liberal Senator said "I can now have private conversations with them in my office. Also they do not have to wait in the corridor anymore." As with the previous statement many of the undecided respondents added that there was "no difference" from what they had experienced in the old building. Some of the "disagree-ment" comments included "We are now remote from everybody, more particularly the outside world and our constituents visiting Canberra" (National Party, Member) and "I have less time for personal contact with my electorate office and I therefore have less contacts with constituents when I am in Canberra" (Liberal Party, Member).

Table 11: The New Building Has Improved Contact/Relations Between MPs and Constituents/Outsiders

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 10 41 23 19 6

Party ALP 12 43 29 14 2

LIB 8 36 25 22 8

NP 8 33 8 33 17

AD/IND 14 57 0 14 14

House Senate 17 33 22 25 3

Reps 7 43 25 16 9

Position Held Ministers 0 12 25 50 12

Shadows 9 27 18 27 18

Gov't Backbencher 12 47 32 8 0

Opp'n Backbencher 8 38 22 24 8

Years of Service 1- 3 years 31 54 7 8 0

4 - 6 years 11 57 21 4 7

7 - 9 years 8 40 32 16 4

10 + years 4 26 20 41 9

There were some divergences on this issue by party, most notably the fact that the ALP and Democrat/Independent responses were more "positive" than those of the Lib-eral/National parties. For example, whilst in excess of 70% of Democrat/Independent responses and 55% of ALP responses were in general agreement, the comparable Liberal and National party figures were 44% and 41% respectively.

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There were no discernible differences between Members and Senators with respect to Statement 13 but in terms of position held the most notable difference was. like the results from the previous statement, between Ministers and Government backbenchers. When looking at the major parties, Government backbenchers were the only sub-group in majority general agreement (59% compared to 46% for Opposition backbenchers; 36% for Shadow Ministers and 12% for Ministers) and they also had the highest unde-cided rate of 32% compared to the next highest undecided rate of 25% for Ministers. The latter group had the highest general disagreement rate of 62% compared to 45% for Shadow Ministers; 32% for Opposition backbenchers and 8% for Government back-

benchers. Thus, as with the previous issue that dealt with contact between MPs, it is the Ministers that have the strongest "negative" perceptions with respect to the effects of the new building on contacts with outsiders/constituents and it is Government back-

benchers (and Democrat/Independents) who have the strongest "positive" perceptions in this regard.

The analysis of Statement 13 also revealed a direct relationship between years served in the Parliament and responses given. In its most simple form this relationship was : the longer the years served the more likely the respondent was to disagree or strongly disagree with the statement. For example. 85% of MPs with 1 to 3 years experience generally agreed with the proposition compared to 68% for those with 4 to 6 years ex-

perience: 48% for those with 7 to 9 years experience and 30% for those with 10+ years experience in the Parliament. The results here again show that the more experienced MPs are not as enthusiastic about the new Parliament House as are the less experienced

MPs. About three-quarters of MPs, with up to 6 years experience in the Parliament, were in general agreement with Statement 13 but for MPs who had served in excess of 6 years, the equivalent figure was approximately 40%. Again the nostalgia and warmth felt by the more experienced MPs to the provisional building may help explain this sig-

nificant divergence of perception.

Just over 60% of respondents generally agreed with Statement 14 which stated that "The new Parliament House has made face to face communication more difficult for me." Approximately one-third of respondents generally disagreed and 9% were unde-cided - see Table 12. Thus, a clear majority of MPs feel that face to face communication, the most common form of personal contact, has become more difficult in the new Par-liament House. Steps have been taken in several quarters, which is in itself an indication of the recognition of less personal contact, to help overcome this situation of less face to face communication. For example, the Liberal Whip in the Senate indicated that she was

making a conscious effort to invite members of her party to her office for drinks/snacks on a semi-regular basis to help ensure that direct contact between Senators is not lost. As well the lobby just outside the House of Representatives chamber has become a pop-ular meeting-place for Members, particularly after Question Time, and often the Prime

Minister and other Ministers stay and mingle with the backbenchers. Whether these new arrangements will overcome the perceived loss of face to face communication compared to what occurred in the old building will obviously depend on the efforts of the MPs themselves.

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Table 12: The New Parliament House Has Made Face to Face Communication More Difficult

(Per cent)

0

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly

Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 19 42 9 26 4

Party ALP 14 39 10 35 2

LIB 23 43 8 23 3

NP 17 58 0 17 8

AD/IND 40 60 0 0 0

House Senate 16 53 6 22 3

Reps 20 38 9 28 4

Position Held Ministers 22 66 11 0 0

Shadows 15 31 0 46 8

Gov't Backbencher 13 31 8 45 3

Opp'n Backbencher 25 50 11 11 3

Years of Service 1- 3 years 8 46 7 31 8

4 - 6 years 18 39 0 36 7

7 - 9 years 23 41 13 23 0

10 + years 19 44 11 22 3

Parliamentary Officials 19 39 2 34 5

Press Gallery 55 39 0 5 0

In terms of party responses it was the Democrat Independents who had the highest "agreement" on this issue. All Democrat/Independent respondents concurred that face to face communication was more difficult. By comparison 75% of Nationals, 66% of Liberals and 53% of ALP respondents were in general agreement. The trend is again confirmed that the Labor politicians, as a group, are the ones least likely to have negative feelings and perceptions regarding the new Parliament House. By chamber there was

again a difference in perception. Senate respondents were more likely to reply that face to face communication had become more difficult - 69% generally agreed compared to a figure of 58% for Members. Whereas approximately one-third of Members generally

disagreed with the statement only one-quarter of Senators did so. Perhaps the fact that there are only half as many Senators as there are Members may partly explain why the former group are noticing a drop off in face to face communication compared to the latter group.

Ministers and Opposition backbenchers shared common perceptions on this issue as did the other two sub groups - intra-party differences were again evident. Eighty-eight per cent of Ministers and 75% of Opposition backbenchers were in general agreement with the statement compared to figures of 46% and 44% for Shadow Ministers and Gov-ernment backbenchers respectively. The effect of the separate Executive wing probably helps explain the Ministerial perception but explaining the other results is not as easy.

In terms of years service to the Parliament it was again clear the more experienced MPs were the ones most likely to agree with the statement. Approximately

— 53 —

55% of MPs with 1 to 6 years experience generally agreed that face to face communica-tion was more difficult compared to a figure of 64% for MPs with 7+ years experience.

The parliamentary officials group had a very similar perception to the MPs on the issue of face to face communication. Fifty-eight per cent of the former respondents generally agreed that this type of communication was more difficult compared to 60% of MPs.

The comments were in the same vein as those related to the last statement. For ex-ample, "more effort is required to make contact in the new building": "parliamentary life is almost totally phone dependent": "in the old house meetings, both formal and informal, had to be held standing in a narrow corridor now there are pleasant sitting rooms nearby." Again the Press Gallery respondents had a much more "negative" view on this issue than did the other two groups. Ninety-four per cent of journalists were in general agreement that face to face communication was more difficult in the new building. This may be

related to the fact that direct personal contact is part and parcel of being an effective journalist in the Gallery and thus they are more likely to notice the effects of a drop off in face to face communication than, for example, parliamentary officials who are not

likely to rely as much on direct personal communication.

Statement 15 was 7 believe that the new Parliament House has meant that formal communication has become more important and informal contact and communication less important." In the context of this statement informal contact was taken to mean casual, unplanned contact such as the chance meeting in a corridor or bar whereas for-mal communication and contact was taken to apply to planned or scheduled meetings and sessions that are organised mostly on an official basis.

The most significant point in relation to Statement 15 was the remarkable uniformity of the perceptions held when they were analysed by various groupings - (see Appendix 2 -Table 3). It is thus only necessary to deal with this statement in aggregate terms. The

results showed that 65% of respondents either agreed (52%) or strongly agreed (13%) with the statement. Ten per cent of respondents were undecided and 24% generally disagreed that formal communication has become more important and informal contact less important.

Parliamentary officials, however, had a somewhat different perception on this issue to the MPs. Whilst 65% of MPs generally agreed that formal communication had become more important and informal contact had become less important, the comparable figure for the officials group was 53%. Thus, whilst both groups agreed with the statement,

there was a significantly higher proportion of MPs in the affirmative. This again may be due to the fact that the officials, because they work in Parliament House all the time, may have had more opportunity to develop informal channels of communications, particularly when Parliament is not sitting. Some of the comments included : "contact between the Senate and the House at the officer level has been reduced. There is almost no casual contact": "one tends to write more memos and letters" (now) and "so called informal contact and communication will always have a vital role to play in this type of work regardless of the physical environment."

The findings with respect to journalists from the last issue were again evident in their responses to whether or not formal communication had become important at the ex-pense of informal communication. Eighty-three per cent of respondents generally agreed with the statement on this matter, further reinforcing the fact that due to the nature of the work involved in the Gallery it would be expected that journalists would feel the ef-fects more of changing communication methods than would, for example, parliamentary officials. Several of the comments highlighted the new circumstance faced by journal-ists, "Accidental" contacts were an important feature of life in the old Parliament House. The opportunities for this in the new House are few and far between, so arrangements have to be made to see people. This is difficult when they do not want to be seen ie. when an issue is not going their way." If indeed this is true then Executive power will be enhanced simply because it is now easier to avoid "prying" journalists when a Minister or his staff so desire. As one journalist noted "The only chance of (now) seeing a Minister is at a news conference." It is indeed rare for Ministers to call news conferences

— 54 —

unless they have something "positive" to say, for example, to announce a new initiative or policy. As mentioned earlier the new physical conditions have obviously enhanced the Executive's ability to manage the output of, and even access to. information which is the stock in trade for journalists.

4. Contact with Members of the other House There was again a very clear-cut perception with relation to Statement 16 - 'Y have had less contact with members of the other House since moving into the new build-ing." Eighty-one per cent of respondents indicated that they had in fact experienced less contact with members of the other chamber since moving to the new Parliament

House. There was a very small undecided rate (1%) which indicates that MPs have a very clear opinion on this issue one way or the other - (see Appendix 2- Table 4). If we assume that the same number of formal meetings and sessions are taking place in the new building (for example, in the party rooms, in party committees, in parliamentary committees and in the chambers themselves), then it logically follows that a fall-off in informal contact has led to the above response. An analysis by various sub-groups showed no significant patterns or deviations from the aggregate result.

Some of the comments that accompanied replies to Statement 16 indicate the problem or at least the concern of MPs with respect to the new geographic circumstance. For example, one Labor Member noted "What other House?" whilst another Labor Member said "They could be on another planet!". A Liberal Senator commented that "I very

rarely see Reps people in the Senate corridors. Senators must still go to the Reps for office meetings - but it is a long way to walk."

5. Contact with members of Other Parties The results from an analysis of Statement 17 : "1 have had more contact with mem-bers of parties other than my own since moving into the new building" reinforced the replies given for the previous statement. One would expect that if there was less contact between Members and Senators then the same would be true for inter-party contact. A strong majority either disagreed (66%) or strongly disagreed (15%) with Statement 17. Only 8% of respondents were in general agreement - (see Appendix 2 - Table 5). This pattern was evident in all the sub-groups and indicates clearly that the size of the building has reduced informal contacts and meetings across the board. One experienced National Member said :" We are all strangers to each other these days" whilst a Liberal Member disagreed by saying that "There has been much exaggeration about the effect that distance has had on contact...it is my view, after a decade and a half in Parliament. that the difference is marginal - all that is lost is travel time."

6. Effects of a Separate Executive Wing Seventy-nine per cent of respondents generally agreed with Statement 18 that "1 believe that the provision of a separate Executive wing in the new Parliament House has led to less contact between the backbench and the Ministry." Only 12% were in general

disagreement - see Table 13. The major question that needs to be asked in relation to this result is whether or not this reduced level of contact will lead to increased Executive power over the Parliament or whether it will work in the opposite direction. The majority of those who mentioned the lessening of contact in the interviews tended towards the former view whilst others, including one Minister, argued that less contact would put the Executive under greater threat because the Ministry could become too remote from the backbench.

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Table 13: The Provision of a Separate Wing Has Led to Less Contact Between the Backbench and the Ministry

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 35 44 8 11 1

Party ALP 36 36 8 20 0

LIB 37 47 5 8 3

NP 25 58 17 0 0

AD/IND 50 50 0 0 0

House Senate 41 44 12 3 0

Reps 33 43 5 17 1

Position Held Ministers 33 55 11 0 0

Shadows 0 77 0 15 8

Gov't Backbencher 33 36 7 24 0

Opp'n Backbencher 48 40 8 3 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 23 46 8 23 0

4 - 6 years 41 41 7 10 0

7 - 9 years 39 43 0 13 4

10 + years 30 46 13 11 0

Parliamentary Officials 30 40 27 2 0

Press Gallery 31 58 0 10 0

There were some minor differences of reply from the various parties involved with the Opposition and Democrat/Independents all registering higher agreement rates than that registered for the ALP. For example. all Democrat/ Independents generally agreed as did 83% of Opposition respondents. By contrast the ALP figure was 72%. One of the reasons for this difference in perception. slight though it is, may be the fairly general view that you do not expect much contact and support from the Ministry and the Public Service if you are in Opposition. Several of the Liberal National respondents, comment-ing in response to Statement 18, said that they could not really select an alternative because they were in Opposition. For example, consider the following comments - "Af-ter the next election I will know the answer to that question" (Liberal Senator) and

As an Opposition member, I do not know. My contact with this Government Ministry has always been minimal." In other words, they did not have an expectation of contact with Ministers because they were in a different party. This view reinforces the strength of

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the party system and it is akin to the "winner take all" view expressed by many MPs re-garding the situation after an election has been held (see Section 4). It is to be expected that there will be more contact between Ministers and backbenchers from their party but ideally one would like to think that Ministers are available to all MPs regardless of

party considerations. They are. after all, Ministers representing the whole nation and not just those parts of the nation that elect members to the party to which they belong. Another Opposition MHR was of the view that "The Ministry has now ascended into heaven - lesser mortals are far removed from them."

In terms of chamber it was found that, on average, there was a slightly higher agreement rate amongst Senators than Members - for example. 76% of Members generally agreed with the statement compared to a figure of 85% for Senators. This also meant a lower disagreement rate - 3% for Senators compared to 18% for Members. This difference

may be due to the fact that Senators do not have the same constituency demands that Members have and consequently do not have to see Ministers as often in this regard. If, therefore, Senators tend to have more casual contact with Ministers and, as was

noted earlier, this casual contact has dropped off in the new building, then their per-ception will be different from that of Members. When looked at from a point of view of position held it was found that differences did exist between parties. Apart from the Democrat/Independents the highest agreement rate was from both Ministers and

Opposition backbenchers (88%) followed by Shadow Ministers (77%) and Government backbenchers (69%). The pattern again emerges that Ministers are feeling the isolation of the new environment and, for this statement at least, they are joined by Opposition backbenchers. Government backbenchers, as a group, continue to respond in less neg-ative terms than the other groups analysed.

The significant difference of perception between MPs and parliamentary officials on this issue was the high undecided rate for the latter group. Whilst 79% of MPs generally agreed that the separate Executive wing had led to less contact between the backbench and the Ministers and 12% generally disagreed with the proposition the comparable figures for the officials were 70% and 2% respectively. However, whereas only 8% of

MPs were undecided on the issue, 27% of officials were of the same mind. Obviously officials, who are not directly involved with the contact mentioned in the statement, found it much more difficult to judge the effects of the new building in this regard.

The Press Gallery however were able to state a definitive view on this matter and were again the group with the strongest "negative" perception. Eighty-nine per cent of re-spondents generally agreed that the separate wing had led to less contact between the Ministers and the backbench. Several of the comments alluded to this : " Backbenchers have complained to me, not only about the loss of contact with the Ministry but also with each other. Ministers have also observed that they see less of each other and of their colleagues" and "That's what the backbenchers tell me." 7. Use of Backup Resources Exactly half of the respondents either disagreed (47%) or strongly disagreed (3%) with Statement 19 - "Because of the size of the new Parliament House / am now making less use of backup resources such as the Parliamentary Library and House/Senate offi-cials". Nine per cent were undecided and 41% were in general agreement - see Table 14. Significantly. it means that a sizeable proportion of MPs are not getting and using the support of the Library and other officials that they were before unless they are going to other sources for that support and backup. The latter proposition is unlikely and was

not mentioned by any respondents to the survey or by any of those interviewed. It may mean that about 40% of our MPs are now less well-informed and supported than they were in the old building and if "information is power" and if less information and support is being sought, then this may lead to more power to the Executive. One of the Liberal Members who disagreed with the statement asserted that "Most (of the business in this regard) is done by phone both before and after" (the occupation of the new building) whilst a National Member said "Of course there is less use of back up resources. Unless there is a golf buggy (mechanical type) or a skate-board provided to Members they face a route march to get to the Chamber, Committee Rooms or anywhere."

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Table 14: Now Making Less Use of Backup Resources

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 12 29 9 47 3

Party ALP 13 33 11 40 2

LIB 10 33 5 49 2

NP 9 18 9 64 0

AD/IND 14 0 0 71 14

House Senate 8 30 5 53 3

Reps 14 29 9 45 3

Position Held Ministers 22 33 11 33 0

Shadows 8 15 8 61 8

Gov't Backbencher 12 32 13 41 2

Opp'n Backbencher to 34 5 51 0

Years of Service 1- 3 years 7 21 0 64 7

4 - 6 years 7 43 10 33 7

7 - 9 years 20 28 8 44 0

10 + ye ars 13 24 5 57 0

Parliamentary Officials 6 26 3 59 6

Press Gallery 10 26 11 47 5

In terms of party there was some difference of perception on this issue. Both Labor and Liberal were very similar in terms of response with general agreement rates of 46% and 43% respectively whilst only 27% of Nationals and 14% of Democrat/Independent re-spondents generally agreed with the statement. Thus the Democrats, the Independents

and the Nationals were the ones most likely to respond that they were not using the Library and other officials any less. There were only slight differences of perception by chamber, and in terms of position held it was found that most agreement came from the Ministers (55% general agreement), followed by Government backbenchers (44%),

Opposition backbenchers (44%) and Shadow Ministers (23%). Again the isolation fac-tor (as well as the fact that Ministers have Departments to provide their basic support) probably accounts for the higher Ministerial figure than applies to the other groups.

The officials group diverged somewhat from the MPs on the question of the use of backup resources in the new building. Whereas 32% of the officials generally agreed that they were making less use of the backup resources. 41% of MPs gave the same response. Similarly. whilst 65% of officials generally disagreed with the statement, the comparable figure for MPs was 50%. Again the different perceptions here may be a result of the fact that the officials, particularly when the parliament is not sitting, generally have

more opportunity and time to seek out and use these backup resources. Some of the comments on this issue included : "Special visits are involved. The opportunity to drop in whilst passing does not happen as often"; "not less just more formal requests, less

browsing"; "the electronic information and fax compensate for the increased distance"; "the Library is now no longer the hub of the building as it was in the old Parliament

— 58 °-

House so I visit it less frequently, hear Barry Jones sounding off less often and no longer jostle the Senators at the circulation desk" and the "use is different, not less." The Press Gallery's views on this issue were very similar to those of the officials - 36% generally agreed and 52% generally disagreed with the proposition that they were making

less use of the backup resources in the new building.

8. The Effects of the Layout of the new building Statement 20 said '7 believe that the layout and configuration of the new building is conducive to the efficient functioning of Parliament." Just less than half (47%) of the respondents generally agreed with the statement whilst 29% generally disagreed. Sig-nificantly. 23% of MPs were undecided - see Table 15. Obviously it is too early for a

large proportion of those surveyed to have a definitive opinion on this issue. One Labor Member indicated that he would give the new building "eight out of ten" whilst a Labor Senator complained that the "building was too lateral" and that it "should have had more floors and closer proximity." Another respondent who disagreed with the statement said that it was "too big. I rarely go to the Library, the bar or even the dining room" (Liberal,

Shadow Minister). One of the "agreeing" Senators indicated that the central core of committee rooms was a particularly pleasing aspect of the new Parliament House. One of the Ministers, whilst undecided, maintained that the "distances were too great."

Table 15: Layout and Configuration is Conducive to the Efficient Functioning of Parliament

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 5 42 23 20 9

Party ALP 4 46 20 21 8

LIB 8 38 23 15 15

NP 8 42 25 25 0

AD/IND 0 28 43 28 0

House Senate 3 40 23 28 6

Reps 7 42 23 17 11

Position Held Ministers 0 44 22 11 22

Shadows 0 38 23 15 23

Gov't Backbencher 5 49 19 22 5

Opp'n Backbencher 10 37 24 21 8

Years of Service 1- 3 years 7 57 28 7 0

4 - 6 years 7 33 33 23 3

7 - 9 years 0 44 8 36 12

10 + years 8 40 25 13 13

Parliamentary Officials 2 36 25 34 2

Press Gallery 0 28 22 33 17

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There were few discernible differences in the other categories of analysis although in terms of years service to the Parliament it was obvious that the newer members had the greatest "positive" view of the new Parliament House. Sixty-four per cent of MPs with 1 to 3 years experience generally agreed with the statement compared to figures of 40% for those with 4 to 6 years experience; 44% for those with 7 to 9 years experience and

48% for those with 10+ years experience. The latter figure shows that the 10+ group were not necessarily the most "negative" respondents on all the issues raised.

Parliamentary officials split fairly evenly on this issue with 38% generally agreeing and 36% generally disagreeing. As with the MP's sample there was high undecided response - 25% - again indicating that many people have yet to make up their minds on the effects of the building. Clearly the officials are less impressed with the design of the

new Parliament House than are the MPs. Officials' comments included : (the building) "is too spread out"; "more positive than negative points - the big problem is distance": " it is configured for the efficient running of government not Parliament"; "too much wasted space at the centre of the building"; "the building adhered to the design brief.

The design brief canvassed these issues thoroughly" ; "as far as I can tell it is better in efficiency terms than the old place" and "there are a number of significant negative fac-tors eg. the size and poor acoustics of the chambers, the poor design of the committee

rooms and the huge useless spaces in the middle of the building." As with some of the earlier issues the journalists again had the most "negative" view of whether or not the layout of the new building was conducive to the efficient functioning of Parliament. Only 28% generally agreed with the statement but, like the other two groups. the Press Gallery component also had a significant proportion who were were undecided - 22%. One journalist commented "It is great architecture, a fine art gallery and museum, a good hotel. But it is not a Parliament, meaning it is not a House of the

People. My impression is that the hordes of tourists and visitors, except for the few who are doing deliberate business with MPs, are not relating to their members." One who did agree with the Statement argued that "it (the building) still functions effectively - just in a slightly different way." 9. Contact with the Press Gallery

There was a fairly even split with respect to Statement 21- "The new Parliament House has made it more difficult for me to liaise and work with the Press Gallery." Forty-two per cent of respondents generally agreed and 46% generally disagreed. 12% were undecided - see Table 16. One of the Labor Members who agreed with the statement concluded that the increased difficulty was "not necessarily a bad thing." A Liberal Shadow Minis-ter who disagreed with the proposition said that "the Press Gallery is better organised

(in the new building) so while it is further away it is easier to deal with." One of the undecided respondents noted that: "no matter where they were we would find them and they would find us" - Liberal Member.

In party terms it was found that all Democrat/Independents respondents generally dis-agreed whilst among the other parties there was a spread of opinion ranging from 59% of Nationals who generally agreed to 35% of Liberals in the same category. The Labor

Party was between these two with a 49% general agreement rate.

The most significant figures were related to whether the respondents were either Mem-bers or Senators. Whilst 56% of Members either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement only 14% of Senators agreed with it. Similarly, 28% of Members generally disagreed whereas the comparable Senate figure was 83%. Fifteen per cent of Members were undecided whereas only 3% of Senators put themselves in that category. The lo-cation of the Press Gallery on the Senate side of the building probably accounts for the

stark differences in perception here. For many Members the Press Gallery is further away than almost any other major functional/operational part of the Parliamentary complex. The widespead use of fax machines has probably obviated the problems of the physical

distance to some extent but there is still a majority of Members who see a difficulty in this area.

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Table 16: It Is Now More Difficult to Liase and Work With the Press Gallery

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 11 31 12 43 3

Party ALP 8 41 12 37 2

LIB 15 20 15 49 0

NP 17 42 0 33 8

AD/IND 0 0 0 86 14

House Senate 0 14 3 77 6

Reps 16 40 15 27 1

Position Held Ministers 11 55 0 33 0

Shadows 8 46 8 38 0

Gov't Backbencher 7 40 15 35 2

Opp'n Backbencher 18 18 13 47 3

Years of Service 1- 3 years 7 21 7 57 7

4 - 6 years 10 31 17 34 7

7- 9 years 4 52 4 40 0

10 + years 16 24 11 49 0

By office held there were also some differences of opinion. Whilst two-thirds of Ministers and just over half of the Shadow Ministers generally agreed with the proposition. the rel-evant figures for Government backbenchers (47%) and Opposition backbenchers (36%) were lower. This may be the result of the fact that Ministers and Shadow Ministers have to deal with the media on a day to day basis and thus are more acutely aware of the effects of the new building whereas backbenchers have much less contact with the

media. The least difficulty was expressed by the Democrat/ Independents and this may be partly attributable to the location of their offices - all on the Senate side near the Press Gallery - as well as the fact that the media tend to seek them out because of their key position in the Senate. In terms of years experience in the Parliament it was found the MPs with 1 to 3 years experience had the lowest general agreement rate for

this statement (28%) whilst the highest agreement rate (56%) was amongst those MPs with 7 to 9 years experience.

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The parliamentary officials and Press Gallery groups were asked whether or not "the new Parliament House has made it more difficult for me to liaise and work with MPs." In this regard 39% of officials were in general agreement with the statement and 47% were in general disagreement - see Appendix 2 - Table 6. Thus, almost half of the re-spondents believed that the new building did not hinder their ability to work with MPs. Comments covering both the "agree" and "disagree" arguments included : "I think the matter of liaison comes down to personal effort not the building"; "at a leadership level this is very true. Both Howard and Sinclair coups would have been less likely in the old House"; "main contact is via the phone and this has not changed" and now "all done by phone. Very few visits to offices (in the new building). I used to regularly go and discuss jobs with MPs or Senators involved."

By contrast the journalists were much more likely to agree with the proposition put here. Seventy-three per cent generally agreed and only 16% generally disagreed that it is more difficult to liase and work with MPs. As with many of the other related issues with respect to the effects of the new Parliament House it would appear that it is the Press Gallery who have noticed the biggest change in working environment and apart from agreeing that the physical workings conditions are better the general consensus is that other factors, such as access to information, have worsened.

10. Use of the Recreational Facilities

A clear majority of respondents either disagreed (51%) or strongly disagreed (8%) with Statement 22 - '1 use the recreational facilities more now than I did when the Parlia-ment was located in the provisional building" - see Appendix 2 - Table 7. As you might

expect, given the extra distances involved and the hectic pace of life when Parliament is sitting, there has been a fall off in the rate of recreational facility use in the new building. Another factor that may have influenced the result is the fact that now, for the first time. MPs and other occupants of the building have to pay for the use of the recreational facilities. Whilst the sum involved ($27 per half year for MPs and $52 for other occupants) is not prohibitive several of the respondents did complain about the cost and some of the other perceived differences with respect to the organisation of the recreational facilities. For example, one unidentified respondent claimed that "There are 3 barriers to use (of the facilities) 1. Distance ie. to get members together for tennis. 2. Bureaucracy : not a facilitator but a policeman hence a barrier we did not have before and 3. Changing Policy : Why for the first time charge?" Approximately one third of respondents were undecided and a few of those in this category said that they were "too busy" to use the facilities and therefore were not qualified to answer. Thirty-two

per cent said that they used the facilities more than before. For this latter group the newer and more varied facilities (for example, pool and gym) have probably been the key reason for increased usage.

By party there was a somewhat different response between the Coalition MPs and the ALP MPs. For example, whilst 33% of ALP respondents indicated more use of the facilities. 50% of National MPs and 29% of Liberals indicated a higher usage rate.

There was only a slight divergence of opinion in terms of chamber - 37% of Members generally agreed compared to 29% for Senators. As well the Senators' undecided re-sponse was higher than that for Members - 12% compared to 7%. With respect to position held the predictable result (given their workload and the additional distances

involved in the new building) was that Ministers had the lowest general agreement rate (11%) compared to 58% for Shadow Ministers; 39% for Government backbenchers and 27% for Opposition backbenchers. In terms of years' experience the significant result was the distinct difference between the 1 to 3 years experience group and the 10+ years experience group. In the former group 54% of respondents said that they were using the recreational facilities more whilst in the latter group the equivalent figure was only 20%. This dif ference may be explained by an age difference - the less experienced MPs are far more likely to be younger and thus more active physically.

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Both the parliamentary officials and the Press Gallery were largely in line with the views of the MPs on the issue of the use of the recreational facilities in the new building. Fifty per cent of the officials and 53% of journalists generally disagreed with the proposition compared to 31% of officials and 30% of journalists who generally agreed with the state-ment.

NOTES

1. Jones. B. The Age, October 25, 1988.

2. Sydney Morning Herald, May 10, 1989.

3. Holland. Sir Phillip, 'Lobby Fodder? : The Role of the Backbencher in Parliament' - The Alvescot Press. Oxford 1988, pp. 46,47.

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7. PERCEPTIONS THREE: PARLIAMENT AND THE EXECUTIVE - THE NEED FOR REFORM?

The following discussion deals with the views of those surveyed and interviewed on par-liamentary reform and revolves around the responses given to Statements 23 to 33 on the survey form.

1. Longer sittings of Parliament?

A General Comment

If there is a perception that the Parliament is in a less powerful position in relation to the Executive than it should be, then an obvious solution may well be for the Parliament to sit longer. This should enable more time to be spent on the detailed analysis of pro-posed legislation and allow for a more detailed scrutiny of the activities of the Ministry

and the Public Service. When one looks at the number of sitting days the Australian Parliament sits compared to some overseas legislatures, there is at least a prima facie case for such a change. In 1987 the Australian Parliament sat for a total of 84 days. By contrast, in the same year, the Canadian and U.K. legislatures sat for 167 days each

and the U.S. Congress sat for a total of 170 days.(1) However, whilst this reform may be justifiable in the Executive scrutiny sense, it would be extremely difficult to achieve in practice. There is a strong ethos in Australia, mentioned frequently in the interviews, that parliamentarians be available in their electorates for a significant proportion of the year. This is particularly true in times of rapid jet transport where MPs can be back in their electorates within several hours. This ethos does not appear to be anywhere near as strong in, for example, the U.K. and the U.S. where it is generally accepted that national parliamentarians will live full-time in their capital cities where the legislature is located and a significant amount of constituency type activity will be performed from that base. This "being on the spot in the electorate" ethos, so dominant in Australia, would probably kill off any chance of the introduction of longer sitting periods. Also a large proportion of MPs are not in favour of such a change.

Results

From the replies given to Statement 23 - that "Parliament should now sit longer each year" - it was found that there was a bare majority in favour (51%) of the proposition. By contrast 44% of respondents were not in favour and 5% were undecided - see Table 17. Most of those who added comments to the survey return were those who disagreed with the statement. An experienced Labor Senator maintained that... "This will not solve the problems. The bullshit artists who like the sound of their own voice and could talk on every bill will expand their activities to fill in the time. The real question is how you have

more effective debates which are held at predictable times so the press and the public can come along and hear good debating." A Labor Member gave a different reason for not wanting a change - "I would be very loath to see more sitting time in Canberra. More and more Canberra would become the focus and there would be less contact with local bases - this is not desirable." Another Labor Member simply said.. "You have got to be joking!" A Liberal Shadow Minister who strongly agreed with Parliament sitting longer

said that "The larger Parliament means that more members want to speak" whilst a senior Cabinet Minister argued that longer sittings were "the only way to beat the loons in the Senate." One undecided Liberal Member said that "I would like to see us use the present time more efficiently first."

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Table 17: Parliament Should Sit Longer

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 17 34 5 38 6

Party ALP 12 24 4 54 6

LIB 26 42 8 18 5

NP 8 58 0 33 0

AD/IND 17 17 17 32 17

House Senate 18 30 9 30 12

Reps 17 35 3 42 3

Position Held Ministers 22 11 11 55 0

Shadows 31 54 0 15 0

Gov't Backbencher 10 32 4 49 5

Opp'n Backbencher 17 46 5 26 6

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 14 14 7 43 21

4 - 6 years 10 50 3 33 3

7 - 9 years 22 26 0 43 9

10 + years 24 40 8 27 0

Parliamentary Officials 25 35 12 17 10

Press Gallery 21 26 26 26 0

By party there were significant differences of opinion - 36% of ALP respondents and 34% of Democrat/Independent respondents were in favour of the reform but in excess of 60% of Coalition respondents were in favour. The fact that the Coalition MPs are presently in Opposition may have influenced the result somewhat - the longer Parliament sits the

more likelihood the Opposition has to embarrass and hound the Government. Members were marginally more in favour than Senators - 52% compared to 48% -- and there was higher undecided response from Senators (9% compared to 3% for Members).

By position held it was found that Ministers were the "strongest" against the Parliament sitting longer - 33% of Ministers were in favour compared to 85% of Shadow Ministers, 63% of Opposition backbenchers and 42% of Government backbenchers. Obviously. Shadow Ministers want as much time as possible to find faults with the Government in the parliamentary context whilst Ministers take a different view. In term of experience a similar result was found to the previous statement, only in reverse order. This time the

1 to 3 years experience group had the lowest agreement rate (28%) whilst the 10+ years group had the highest vote in favour of Parliament sitting longer (64%). This tends to confirm earlier findings where it was the more experienced MPs who most favoured a

strong scrutiny role for Parliament.

Slightly more parliamentary officials were in favour of longer sittings than were the MPs surveyed - 60% of the officials either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition. Moreover, whilst 27% of the officials were not in favour it was found that 44% of MPs were against the idea of longer parliamentary sittings. Some of the reasons given for

A

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longer sittings included : "Review function cannot be effective given the current balance between time and business": "Due to increased amount and complexity of work this is the only solution"; "Parliament can hardly complain about a lack of influence if it does not sit long enough to address the growing volume of business." Several of those who argued against longer sittings were of the view that the current time available should be

used more effectively and that there could be a danger of "filibustering" and turning the Parliament into a "gabfest" if additional time were allocated.

The Press Gallery sample was the only group not in favour of longer sittings. Whilst 47% were in general agreement with the statement there were 26% against the idea and a similar percentage undecided. Several journalists mentioned that life is much more

pleasant and the workload less demanding when the Parliament is not sitting.

2. A Freeing Up of Votes in the Chamber?

As was demonstrated earlier (see Section 5 on party discipline) there was an ambivalent view of party discipline - many respondents thought that it did hinder the Parliament's ability to scrutinise the Executive but that it was necessary if the Parliament was to function in some "effective" sense and not be a shambles. However, there was a clear

majority of respondents who thought that "there should now be more "free " votes with respect to non-controversiallegislation/motions" (Statement 24). Fifty-eight of respon-dents generally agreed with the statement whilst 34% generally disagreed with it - see Table 18. Some MPs commented on the problem of defining just what is meant by

non-controversial although an overwhelming majority were able to give a clear answer to the proposition. One National Member who strongly agreed with the statement said that "the evidence on the desirability of a free vote is obvious by the way the Mem-

bers react when they are granted a conscience vote" and a Democrat who indicated the same preference added that "It would actually be more democratic to have "free" votes particularly on "controversial" legislation, so that the divisions in the electorate would be reflected in the House. The Senate should line up as a States House rather than on party basis." A Labor Member who disagreed with the proposition argued that there

"is no point in votes on "non-controversial" issues." The result here accords with many of the sentiments expressed during the interview process and reinforces the finding of Statement 4 concerning the effect of party discipline on the functioning of the Parlia-ment.

In terms of party the responses ranged from 100% general agreement from Democrat and Independent respondents to 42% general agreement from Labor MPs. The compa-rable figures for the Liberal and National parties were 72% and 67% respectively. As you

might expect, given the caucus pledge and the overall strength of discipline in the ALP, it was the Labor MPs who were the only respondents as a group who had a majority that generally disagreed (52%) with Statement 24. Nevertheless, there was still a significant

proportion of ALP MPs in favour of more "free" votes.

Whilst both chambers recorded a majority in favour of more "free" votes it was the Sen-ate respondents who had the greater majority figure - 71% general agreement compared to 54% for Members. Traditionally, Senators (particularly those from small parties and to a lesser extent those from the coalition parties) have enjoyed, or insisted on, more freedom from party constraints than their counterparts in the other chamber. This "free-dom" has showed up in the statistics related to this statement.

67 -

Table 18: Should Be More "Free" Votes

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 23 35 7 32 2

Party ALP 10 32 6 48 4

LIB 30 42 11 17 0

NP 25 42 0 33 0

AD/IND 86 14 0 0 0

House Senate 31 40 3 26 0

Reps 20 34 8 35 3

Position Held Ministers 0 22 0 78 0

Shadows 33 25 0 42 0

Gov't Backbencher 13 36 5 41 5

Opp'n Backbencher 29 45 13 13 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 36 43 7 14 0

4 - 6 years 17 40 7 33 3

7 - 9 years 27 32 9 32 0

10 + years 25 33 5 36 0

Parliamentary Officials 25 45 12 17 0

Press Gallery 31 47 5 16 0

If one were asked to predict the reponses to Statement 24 by position held, no doubt most people would say that the group least in favour would be the Ministers (because the Government would have less control over the Parliament) and those most in favour would be Opposition backbenchers (for precisely the same reason). This in fact, was

borne out by the results. Only 22% of Ministers agreed that there should be more "free" votes compared to 74% of Opposition backbenchers; 58% of Shadow Ministers and 49% of Government backbenchers. Obviously the results here are mainly influenced by both party considerations as well as whether one is in Opposition or Government. In terms of years service the only significant figure was the fact that the 1 to 3 years' parliamentary experience group had a much higher general agreement rate than all the other groups -79% compared to 57% for those with 4 to 6 years' experience: 59% for those with 7 to 9 years experience and 58% for those with 10+ years' experience. Perhaps the more

inexperienced MPs have yet to be fully inculcated into the party political psyche that is so strong in the parliamentary setting?

The parliamentary officials sample was much more strongly in favour of 'freer' votes than were the MPs - 70% for the former group compared to 58% for the latter group. Obviously 'outsiders' see a greater need for less party discipline on this matter than those more directly involved. Comments from officials included : "There is a need to break down media and parliamentary emphasis on voting according to party discipline.

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There is also a need for greater toleration of abstention and floor crossing when a gov-ernment majority is not threatened": "who decides what is non- controversial?": "it may be a novel notion but I consider the elected representative should represent his con-

stituency not the strictures of an unelected, unaccountable party machine": "too many non-essential issues get tied up in prestige or political power considerations - free votes would improve the public image of Parliament and the functioning of the legislature" and "if free votes are only allowed on non-controversial issues does not that defeat the

purpose." Seventy-eight per cent of the journalists surveyed were in agreement with the idea of more "free" votes being taken in the Parliament and this again indicates that there is a strong feeling amongst the main participants in the process that a lessening of party discipline would be desirable. According to one member of the Gallery there should be

a freeing up of the system "so that in time we all become accustomed to the fact that there are differences within a Party, and these differences do not necessarily amount to splits or conflicts, and encourage discussion and debate." Conversely another respon-

dent argued that party room discussions are an important process in having the voice of the people heard and that the Australian system is much better than, for example, the situation that pertains in the USA where party discipline is much more relaxed.

3. The Role of Speaker Because of the pivotal role played by the Speaker. especially during Question Time, there have been frequent calls for the adoption of some of the conventions relating to that office as they apply in the U.K. There, once the Speaker is elected he or she is not opposed at election time and generally is expected to keep a distance (for example. not

attending party meetings) from the party to which he or she belongs. From a simple statement on the survey it was not possible to calculate just how much more indepen-dent or how much more like the British model the respondents would like the office of Speaker to be, but there was an obvious feeling of the need to at least move in that direction as the responses to Statement 25 attested.

Statement 25 stated that "The Speaker should have a more independent role." Approxi-mately three-quarters of respondents either strongly agreed (40%) or agreed (36%) with the statement. Only 16% generally disagreed and 8% were undecided - see Table 19. As was evident from the interviews most MPs did in fact take this statement to mean that the position of Speaker in Australia should be more akin to the situation that applies at Westminster. Some of the written comments also mentioned the U.K. situation. For example. a Labor Senator wrote that the "UK system is interesting and could be tried" whilst a Liberal Senator said that "the British system appeals". On the other hand some of the disagreeing or undecided comments maintained that the system either works well at present or would work well if existing standing orders were observed... "The Speaker

has the necessary powers - it is up to the members to heed them" (Labor Member); "Is the suggestion to follow the British model? I really do not believe that we should need to. A wise choice by the House should be adequate" (Australian Democrat Senator) and "The Speaker has sufficient powers to act independently" (Labor Member).

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Table 19: Speaker Should Have a More Independent Role

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 40 36 8 15 1

Party ALP 12 39 14 33 2

LIB 61 36 2 0 0

NP 83 8 8 0 0

AD/IND 57 43 0 0 0

House Senate 48 34 6 11 0

Reps 37 35 10 17 1

Position Held Ministers 22 22 0 55 0

Shadows 77 23 0 0 0

Gov't Backbencher 16 37 16 29 2

Opp'n Backbencher 55 37 7 0 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 46 31 15 8 0

4 - 6 years 43 27 13 17 0

7 - 9 years 21 54 8 17 0

10 + years 53 30 3 11 3

Parliamentary Officials 54 32 7 7 0

Press Gallery 63 31 0 0 5

There were very significant differences on this issue from a party viewpoint. Whilst all party groupings were in favour of the reform stated, the differences in the majority were substantial. All Democrats and Independents generally agreed with the statement com-pared to 97% for Liberal respondents; 91% for Nationals and 51% for the ALP. In fact the only respondents to disagree with the statement were those from the Labor Party. The exceptionally high agreement rate from the the non-Government parties is indicative of the fact that the Speaker's position is primarily a party political one and, regardless of who the Speaker is, the standing orders do tend to favour the government of the day.

On average Senators were more likely to agree with the idea of a more independent Speaker than were Members. Whilst 82% of Senators were in favour of the proposal. the figure for Members was 72%. This may be a reflection of the fact that proportionally there are more ALP members in the House than in the Senate, but also probably because of the stronger tradition of "independence" in the Senate. In terms of position held there were again some distinct differences of opinion. Ministers (with perhaps the most to lose by a more independent Speaker) were the group least likely to support the proposal

(44% general agreement) whereas the group most likely to gain - Shadow Ministers - all agreed that a more independent Speaker was a good idea. Similarly, whilst only 53% of Government backbenchers supported the idea. Opposition backbenchers overwhelmingly endorsed the statement - 92% general agreement. It would be interesting to see how the figures would be if the Coalition was in Government and the Labor Party was in Opposition.

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Parliamentary officials also strongly supported the idea of a more independent Speaker - 86% of respondents were in general agreement and only 7% were opposed to such a change. Most comments were in favour of the proposition. For example, "a strong impartial Speaker is vital to the proper functioning of Parliament"; "the independence of the Pres ng Officers appears to depend more often on the strength of their ipdividual

personalities than the rules or any conventions laid down ''the current ethos of the Speakership is in a very sorry state" and "the Speaker should be more aggressive in enforcing standing orders." Like both the MPs and the parliamentary officials the Gallery sample was also strongly

in favour of a more independent Speaker. Ninety-four per cent of respondents were in general agreement with the statement although some concern was expressed that it was not likely to ever happen. For example. one journalist noted "Stop kidding yourself that

the Speaker is or ever can be independent." Another one commented that "The Speaker is little more than another Government position to keep the Opposition under control and to protect the Government and its Ministers." 4. Question Time A General Comment

Question Time is one of the main parliamentary means for the Opposition to attack the government and for private members to gain information from the Ministry. The effectiveness of Question Time as a means of scrutinising the Executive is debatable

and varies according to factors such as the quality of the Opposition and the Ministry. the Speaker and his/her interpretation of the standing orders, and the general state of political play as it applies to the main parties. As well standing orders favour the government of the day and enable it to circumscribe or even cancel Question Time if it

so desires. It should be said that Question Time in the Senate generally gives greater opportunity for Senators to elicit information as opposed to their counterparts in the Lower House. This is essentially because Senate Question Time lasts longer (one hour compared to 45 minutes) and supplementary questions are allowed. Moreover, recent governments have not had control of the Senate and this makes it a much more even contest in terms of government/opposition byplay. The emphasis here is on Question

Time in the House of Representatives. Theoretically, Question Time should enable the government to be closely called to account for its actions but frequently because of numerous points of order, "Dorothy Dix" questions and long-winded and often irrelevant answers, the reality is that it is largely a "waste of time" (Government Cabinet Minister

in interview). The frustration and general unease with which Question Time is viewed in the Lower House was borne out by the survey responses.

Results Statement 26 said that "Question Time should be extended and provision made for supplementary questions in the House. " There was a clear majority of 70% supporting this reform with 23% either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with it - see Table 20.

From the written comments and discussion in the interviews it was obvious that people in favour of an extension of time were suggesting that an hour would be a more appropriate length of time. The standing orders already allow for supplementary questions but it has been the norm for these to be not allowed. Some of the comments highlighted the depth of feeling of some MPs towards Question Time. For example, a senior National Party

Member lamented that "as far as Question Time is concerned Backbenchers under the present system have 'had their chips"' whilst a Labor Member commented that "I think it is a disgrace to carry on with the present system of members jumping up and down like Jack-in-the-Boxes and there should be a system whereby members list their name and be the only member to stand and then be called by the Speaker." A senior Minister said that "Supplementaries would be alright if the time for questions and answers could be cut down ie. change the standing orders". A Labor Senator commented that "Question

Time is now abused by the Opposition and is not used effectively by them. It should not be extended and Senate abuse of supplementaries by the Opposition

- 71 -

should be studied." Contrary to this a Liberal Member thought that either "Question Time should be extended or there should be a maximum time limit of two minutes for answers." Table 20: Question Time Extended and Supplementary Questions

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 33 37 7 18 5

Party ALP 12 41 6 33 8

LIB 47 37 8 8 0

NP 45 45 9 0 0

AD/IND 83 0 0 0 17

House Senate 34 38 9 9 9

Reps 32 37 5 22 3

Position Held Ministers 11 33 0 55 0

Shadows 46 46 0 8 0

Gov't Backbencher 14 42 8 30 6

Opp'n Backbencher 46 38 10 3 3

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 33 25 8 25 8

4 - 6 years 31 41 7 14 7

7 - 9 years 28 40 8 24 0

10 + years 40 40 6 14 0

Parliamentary Officials 21 47 10 16 5

Press Gallery 37 37 10 16 0

There were significant differences on this issue by party response. 83% of Demo-crat/Independent respondents were in favour of the reforms as were 90% of Nationals and 84% of Liberal respondents. By comparison only 53% of ALP MPs were in favour. Again it must be asked whether these figures are the result of Government versus Op-

position attitudes or whether they reflect party differences with respect to the role and function of Question Time in the House of Representatives. It is probably a combination of both these factors. By chamber there was only a slight variation of response with

Senators marginally more in favour than Members - the latter group recorded a 69% general agreement rate compared to 72% for Senators.

As might be expected, in terms of position held. the group least likely to favour changes to the operation of Question Time were Ministers. They would be the ones most af-fected in an adverse sense by the suggested changes. On the other hand the group with the most to gain would be Shadow Ministers - they could, if the changes were

introduced, not only ask more questions but they could follow up the original question with additional queries as is the current practice in the Senate. The figures showed that whilst 44% of Ministers were in favour of the changes the comparable figure for Shadow Ministers was 92%. Opposition backbenchers were also strongly in favour (84% gen-eral agreement) and Government backbenchers were marginally in favour with a general

agreement rate of 56%.

E

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There was also a sharp difference of view between the least experienced and the most experienced MPs. Whilst 58% of MPs with 1 to 3 years' experience in the Parliament were in favour, the comparable figure for the 10+ group was 80%. The 4 to 6 and 7

to 9 years' experience groups came between these two extremes with general agreement rates of 72% and 68% respectively. Responses from the parliamentary officials group were almost identical to those of MPs. Sixty-eight per cent of officials were in general agreement and in terms of the disagree-ment vote it was found that 21% of officials were opposed to this reform. Typical

"agree" responses included : "current situation is not really an information gathering and information dissemination operation"; "also Ministers' time for answering questions should be restricted and their answers more harshly judged for relevance"; "either this option or that of a Speaker enforcing the principle of Ministerial accountability" and "it

may not help but it is worth a try." One of the "disagree" respondents indicated that "it is not the rules of Question Time that hamper its value for the Opposition, it's their lack of purpose or strategy." Several of the officials agreed with one or other of the proposals but not both, for example. whilst agreeing that a longer question time was desirable a

respondent did not favour supplementary questions and vice versa.

A similar proportion of the media were also in favour of changes to the way Question Time operates in the House of Representatives. Seventy-four per cent of respondents were in general agreement with the statement and 16% were opposed to the changes advocated. For one journalist though change was not necessary because "Question Time

provides little constructive information. It is pure theatre and 45 minutes is enough for any performance." 5. Electronic Voting?

The next reform mooted on the survey was to do with making it easier to record divi-sions with a view to saving time when votes are taken. Writing in 1984 on the need for parliamentary reform The Hon. Mr Justice Kirby summed up the arguments well "The procedures of voting [in the Federal Parliament] are positively antique. When the periods of bells and divisions are added up, they absorb the equivalent of three full sitting

days each year. The possibility of introducing computerized, or in any case electronic, voting systems as exist in other legislatures is surely overdue. The present scramble to the relentless tune of bells is demeaning - as anyone who has seen it will attest. I realize that some defenders of the division system point out that it provides a form of

'cooling off' when feelings are running high. It also amounts to an important tactic by which the opposition can register effective objection to the way in which the business of Parliament is being handled. To adopt electronic voting without compensatory changes could, on this view, weaken this aspect of the parliamentary process. But it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a system that uses modern technology but retains the opposition's advantages by other, less unedifying, procedures." (2).

Already the move to the new Parliament House has seen changes to how long the bells ring - where the bells used to ring for three minutes in the old house they now ring for four in the new one. Therefore, in the present situation even more time than the three days mentioned by Kirby will be spent on divisions. Indeed, the move to the new

Parliament House in 1988 would have been an excellent opportunity to introduce trial electronic voting for, as the results show, it is favoured by over half the MPs surveyed.

Statement 27 stated that "Electronic voting should be introduced into the chamber so that 1 spend less time on divisions." There was again a clear majority of respondents in favour of this change - 59% compared to a general disagreement rate of 33% - see Table 21. One of the respondents who strongly agreed with the idea complained that "the

present system is archaic and time consuming. 'Ringing of the bells, including the bells of the other House, is absurd and annoying" (Liberal Shadow Minister). A Labor Member said that "I have witnessed electronic voting overseas and it is most effective" and a Labor Senator believed that the present system "is very disruptive of committees and consultative work when up to 15 minutes can be spent on one division in one House." A key concern amongst some of those who disagreed with the introduction of

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electronic voting was the potential for it to lessen the contact between members. For example. an Independent Senator thought that "divisions are useful at times to catch up with some MPs" and a Labor Member argued that "it would be better to restrict

divisions to certain times to avoid loss of time." One undecided respondent said that "electronic voting should be used on all occasions except where a division is called on traditional lines. That is we should have electronic voting and divisions as now ie. no votes on the voices" (Democrat).

Table 21: Electronic Voting Should Be Introduced

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 35 24 8 22 11

Party ALP 31 27 8 20 14

LIB 38 18 5 28 10

NP 50 17 17 8 8

AD/IND 28 28 15 28 0

House Senate 36 22 8 19 14

Reps 36 23 8 23 9

Position Held Ministers 22 33 0 33 11

Shadows 54 31 0 15 0

Gov't Backbencher 31 26 10 18 15

Opp'n Backbencher 37 15 10 25 12

Years of Service I - 3 years 21 21 21 21 15

4 - 6 years 33 27 6 17 17

7 - 9 years 52 24 8 12 4

10 + years 32 22 5 32 8

Parliamentary Officials 29 17 27 22 5

Press Gallery 37 42 5 5 10

By party the responses were similar although the National Party respondents had a slightly higher general agreement rate than the other main parties. The results by chamber were almost identical with 59% of Members in favour of electronic voting com-pared to 58% of Senators. The results by position held varied with 85% of Shadow

Ministers in favour, followed by 57% of Government backbenchers, 55% of Ministers and 52% of Opposition backbenchers. As opposed to the previous statement the 1 to 3 years' experience group and the 10+ years experience group had similar perceptions with respect to the introduction of electronic voting. Both these groups had the lowest

"in favour" figures - 42% for the 1 to 3 group and 54% for the 10+ group. The other two groups scored significantly higher general agreement rates. Parliamentary officials were less likely to support the introduction of electronic voting than were the MPs. Forty-six per cent of the officials either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition whilst 27% generally disagreed with the idea. Significantly, 27% of

officials were undecided on this issue. Some of the accompanying comments highlighted e

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the different perceptions on this issue. For example, one who disagreed with the idea maintained that "one, we are not big enough and two, Ministers and Members would become even more remote" whilst another said that "at least during divisions Members and Senators get to see each other. You often see them having serious discussions

at those times. It may be one of the most important forms of informal contact." An "agree" respondent nevertheless pointed out a qualification to its operation 'so long as only Ministers and Members can vote. In the U.S. Congress staff have used "credit cards" to vote for Members. The division itself is an important delaying device." An-other undecided official maintained that "the physical act of crossing the floor carries

more commitment than simply pressing a button and if voting is along party lines does it really matter?" A key point mentioned by many of those who agreed with the idea was the fact that it would be a time-saving mechanism and that time was a scarce commod-ity in Parliament House. Several others noted that the time saved by the introduction

of electronic voting may not be as great as some people suggest. Again, with respect to the introduction of electronic voting the Press Gallery were much more in favour than the other two groups. Seventy-nine per cent of respondents indi-

cated an affirmative response and 15% were opposed to such a reform. One of those in the 15% category argued that "This (the introduction of electronic voting) would further undermine the role of the chambers in the building." 6. Televising of Parliament?

To some observers the televising of Parliament is advocated as a possible way of re-viving the institution, whilst for others its advent would herald a further decline in its effectiveness. The former view is put by Michelle Grattan "The executive's domination of Parliament and the media's concentration on the exec-

utive have for a long time substantially emasculated Parliament It is just possible that television could put a touch of vigor back into the place. " (3).

However. Richard Farmer has argued that, if televised, "Parliament would become the forum of the bland. Cunning politicians would never speak in other than conversational tones. No longer would they address their peers in the chamber. Their audience would be those in the chairs back home. And when that

day comes why bother with Parliament at all. "(4).

At present TV stations are allowed to broadcast certain parliamentary events such as the Budget and the Reply to the Budget, and if proceedings are to be televised in the future it is likely that it will involve selective broadcasting, for example, Question Time and certain key debates rather than a 'gavel to gavel' coverage. According to Kirby (5) there are at least 20 other countries that telecast Parliament in one form or another and

in Canada (which introduced the televising of the lower house in 1977) "the performance of the House is said to have improved significantly and the whole broadcast arrange-ment has been regarded as outstandingly successful" (6). The survey results showed that most MPs favour the Grattan argument although there were some that obviously agreed with the sentiments expressed by Richard Farmer. An analysis of Statement 28 - "Parliament should be televised" - showed that there was a substantial majority of 65% in favour of this proposition with only 23% either disagree-

ing or strongly disagreeing with it - see Table 22. In terms of party opinion it was the National Party (84% in favour) and the Democrat/Independents (71% in favour)) who most strongly supported this statement. Least support came from the Liberals (57%) and the ALP figure was close to the aggregated average - 68% of Labor respondents favoured the introduction of televised proceedings. By chamber there were also signifi-cant differences - whilst 75% of Senators thought that televising Parliament would be a good idea, only 58% of Members concurred. In terms of position held the group least in favour was the Ministers (55% in favour) compared to 61% for both Shadow Minis-ters and Opposition backbenchers and 67% for Government backbenchers. There was also a divergence of view with respect to the least experienced and the most experienced MPs - in the latter category 58% were in favour whilst in the former, 71% were in favour.

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Table 22: Parliament Should Be Televised

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 25 40 12 13 10

Party ALP 28 40 8 10 14

LIB 26 31 17 18 8

NP 17 67 0 8 8

AD/IND 14 57 14 14 0

House Senate 25 50 11 11 3

Reps 25 33 12 14 15

Position Held Ministers 11 44 11 22 11

Shadows 23 38 23 15 0

Gov't Backbencher 30 37 10 7 15

Opp'n Backbencher 24 37 10 16 13

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 21 50 21 7 0

4 - 6 years 33 37 13 7 10

7 - 9 years 25 42 12 17 4

10 + years 19 39 8 17 17

Parliamentary Officials 17 37 25 15 5

Press Gallery 42 53 0 5 0

Again the parliamentary officials were less in favour of televising Parliament than were the MPs - 54% for the former group compared to 65% of MPs. Significantly, there were 25% of the parliamentary officials undecided on this issue. Some of the comments included: "I do not think the cost would justify the interest"; "I would favour the televis-

ing of selected aspects of Parliament": "MPs would act to the screen not to the debate itself. TV also discriminates in favour of the more charismatic personalities ": " it would both increase the level of awareness and interest in Parliament and democracy by the general population. It would improve the behaviour of members in both the House and the Senate" and "the standing and relevance (of Parliament) would be improved... issues ignored by the press could get a public hearing."

Not surprisingly the Press Gallery sample was overwhelmingly in favour of the televising of Parliament. Ninety-five per cent were in general agreement with the proposition and certainly for many of the journalists this innovation would allow not only more flexibilty and scope in terms of covering the activities of the Parliament, it would also, in all

likelihood, make their task of reporting the issues much easier.

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7. Parliamentary Committees

A General Comment - -The next statement was related to perhaps the most commonly touted reform in regard to strengthening the hand of the Parliament - committees. As is mentioned earlier one of the main reasons that some observers have referred to a "reyivai of Pariiarnept" in recent years is primarily because of the development of an extensive committee system in the Senate since the late 1960s. The actual effectiveness of these committees in terms of scrutiny of the Executive has been variable and patchy but there is no doubt that advances have been made and that as a result there are now more mechanisms available to the Parliament through which it can monitor the activities of the Executive.

Committees have not developed in the House of Representatives to anywhere near the extent of those in the Senate although there has been some experimentation in this area. In the late 1970s there was a flurry of committee-initiating activity in the House of Representatives which unfortunately was short-lived. For example. in 1976 the House

established a standing committee on expenditure to examine the whole area of govern-ment outlays and in 1978 several legislation committees were established so that the details of some bills could be dealt with away from the chamber. In 1979 estimates committees were established with a view to examining details of expenditure contained in the main appropriation bills. All three of these initiatives had the potential to allow the Parliament more input into the activities of the Executive, particularly in the area of finance and expenditure, but unfortunately they were dispensed with.

There are several domestic/housekeeping type committees such as the Publications, House. Privileges, Library and Members' Interests and Selection Committees which are effectively utilised to help manage the running of the Parliament, but there are few com-mittees that can be said to be involved with monitoring and scrutinising the Executive in any real sense. The Joint Statutory Committees on Public Works and Public Accounts do engage in Executive monitoring activities but again the scrutiny is very selective, and in the case of the latter committee not always very effective. Indeed a recent meeting of the Joint Public Accounts Committee highlighted the problems associated with par-

liamentary scrutiny of the Executive "Public accountability by federal government departments was a joke, a 'farce' and 'non-existent', the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Mr Robert Tickner, said... The committee heard evidence yesterday from departmental secretaries on why

they failed to comply with guidelines in their annual reports and had not provided Par-liament with adequate information about their activities. Mr Tickner said two-thirds of the departments had failed to comply with Public Service Guidelines" (7).

One wonders just what the attitude of the bureaucracy is to parliamentary scrutiny and oversight when such a breach of Public Service Guidelines, designed specifically to make departments answerable, occurs on such a wide scale before one of the most well-known committees. If this example is indicative of the general bureaucratic view of the Par-liament and its role in the accounting process, it reinforces the general perception of excessive Executive power.

As mentioned earlier eight new general purpose standing committees were established in the House of Representatives (September 1987) in an attempt to have wider backbench involvement in decision-making but their fundamental weakness is that all references to such committees must be approved by the relevant Minister. These committees tend to look at longer term issues, rather than legislation, and as such they are only accountabil-ity and scrutiny bodies in a very general sense. From the interviews undertaken it was ,obvious that the 'jury is still out' on the usefulness of these new committees although

the vast majority of those spoken to thought that they were a move in the right direction. In the Senate the committee system has a better track record and, particularly when the government of the day does not have control of the Senate, there can be rigorous scrutiny of selected aspects of Executive activities.

Results An analysis of Statement 29 - "The Parliamentary committee s ystem should.he ex-panded, particular/yin the lower house" - however showed that the call for reform was

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not as strong as might be expected. This may be due to the fact that an expansion of the system had recently taken place and MPs were still assessing the impact of that reform before advocating a further expansion. Fifty-one per cent of respondents generally agreed with the proposition and 36% indicated they opposed any expansion of the committee system - see Table 23. Whilst 85% of Democrat/ Independent respondents were in favour and 61% of Liberals were in favour only 27% of Nationals thought it was a good idea. 42% of Labor respondents also indicated agreement. The different state of the development of committees in each chamber was evident in the chamber responses -54% of Members were in general agreement compared to only 42% of Senators. The Senate already has an extensive committee system and some Senators were obviously hesitant to expand it further, although the statement did emphasise that the committees should be expanded particularly in the House of Representatives. By position held it was found that Ministers were least in favour (11% general agreement), whilst figures for the other groups were significantly higher - Government backbenchers 50%). Opposition backbenchers (52%) and Shadow Ministers (61%). In terms of length of service to the

Parliament there was a direct relationship between years of service and general agreement rates for this statement - the more experience the less likely MPs were to be in favour. Whilst respondents with I to 3 years' experience had a general agreement rate of 64%. the figure for the 4 to 6 years' experience group was 58%, for the 7 to 9 group 50% and for the 10+ group 41%.

Table 23: Committee System Shoud Be Expanded

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 18 33 13 30 6

Party ALP 13 29 13 35 10

LIB 20 41 10 28 0

NP 18 9 27 36 9

AD/IND 28 57 14 0 0

House Senate 8 34 20 34 3

Reps• 22 32 10 29 7

Position Held Ministers 0 11 11 67 11

Shadows 15 46 23 15 0

Gov't Backbencher 16 34 13 29 8

Opp'n Backbencher 22 30 10 35 3

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 21 43 7 28 0

4 - 6 years 27 31 17 21 3

7 - 9 years 17 33 12 33 4

10 + years 6 35 15 35 9

Parliamentary Officials 10 37 20 30 2

Press Gallery 21 37 21 21 0

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The responses from the parliamentary officials were broadly in line with those of the MPs. Slightly less than half the respondents (47%) were in favour and the general disagreement rate was 32%. Some of the reasons for agreement with the statement were : "it would give access and relevance to the backbench"; "not expanded in terms of numbers of committees but in terms of more inquiries and subjects referred to there

and it is (the committee system) a proven check on the Executive in the Senate. House of Representatives Members often press their points through to their Senate colleagues. Why can't they have their own system? The newly established Reps system appears to be attracting the hi- partisan interest of backbenchers." Several of the "disagree" and "undecided" comments were : "it is more important that existing committees work effectively"; "...already MPs are over-committed to committee work and do not have the staff who can help. More committees would only make this worse "; "present system is adequate to meet the needs of Members": "...perhaps the committees should take on pre-legislative functions"; "committee system is already substantial and vigorous" and "perhaps it should be strengthened rather than expanded. I think the system now makes such a call on Members' time that there is little scope for expansion. Quite a lot could be done to make it more effective." Compared to the MPs and the officials a higher proportion of respondents from the

Press Gallery thought that an expansion of the committee system would be beneficial. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents were in favour of this reform and it was obvious from discussions with journalists that in general they believed that the committee system in the Senate worked reasonably well and a beefing up of the Lower House in this regard would make for a more effective Parliament. However, several journalists were concerned as to whether Members would have enough time and energy to be involved with additional committee work.

8. Parliamentary Procedures A General Comment

Another common suggestion put with a view to strengthening the role of the Parliament is that of procedural reform. Procedures, especially in the Lower House, are weighted heavily in favour of the government and one observer has noted that "The least painful reform for government to accept is in the area of the archaic procedures of Parliament. The aim is to make the parliamentary legislative process more efficient, more effective and more understandable to the citizen." (8).

Apart from the need to make the proceedings in both chambers more understandable and simple, there is a sound case of ensuring a better flow of business through the Parliament. A major problem is the rushing of legislation through at the end of sessions. The wholesale practice of guillotining bills through the Parliament. particularly the Lower

House, makes it almost impossible for any meaningful scrutiny to occur. For example. on November 22, 1988 the Government declared 28 bills "urgent", which had the effect of limiting debate on some Bills to less than 30 minutes. Similarly, on May 23, 1989 32 bills were declared "urgent" including significant legislation on taxation, companies and securities, education, aboriginal affairs and customs. Recent guillotining of legislation through the House of Representatives has been blamed on the Senate because of a

successful resolution, moved by Senator Macklin (Australian Democrat, Queensland), that has had the effect of imposing a cut-off date after which no more legislation coming up from the House will be dealt with by the Senate. However, it should be noted that the "ramming" of bills through the House of Representatives has been going on for many

years and if legislation was brought into the Parliament in a more staggered form and not in a great rush, the problem could be obviated. If the Parliamentary Counsel, where most of the Parliament's legislation is drafted, does not have enough resources (as it is often argued) to manage the legislative flow then it would be a small price to pay if additional resources were provided. Indeed, if legislation is processed more smoothly as a result of additional resources being provided to the Parliamentary Counsel, it may not

be a cost to the Commonwealth. For example, on December 21, 1988 the House was recalled for a special one-day sitting to deal with legislation that was not finalised by

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the beginning of the Christmas break. This may not have been necessary if the legisla-tive flow had been more even throughout the Budget session. The cost of the one day sitting with respect to fares, travelling allowances and other costs was estimated to be $216,333 (9). The avoidance of such one-day sittings would enable a substantial boost

to be made to the resources of the Parliamentary Counsel.

Results Statement 30 was designed to test perceptions in this area, namely that "Parliamentary procedures should be reformed to strengthen the hand of the Parliament in relation to the Executive. " Sixty-nine per cent of respondents favoured this reform whilst 21% were opposed - see Table 24. There were distinct differences of view by party with the Oppo-

sition parties and the Democrat Independents most in favour and the ALP respondents only marginally in favour. The latter group had a general agreement rate of 51% com-pared to 84% for Liberals, 83% for Nationals and 100% for the Democrat/ Independents.

This is probably a fairly predictable response and it may well be influenced, as in some of the other issues, not so much by party affiliation but by which side of the chamber you sit - whether it be government or opposition.

Table 24: Parliamentary Procedures Reformed to Strengthen the Parliament

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 25 44 10 20 1

Party ALP 14 37 10 37 2

LIB 33 51 8 5 2

NP 25 58 8 8 0

AD/IND 71 28 0 0 0

House Senate 30 39 5 22 3

Reps 25 44 11 19 1

Position Held Ministers 0 0 0 87 13

Shadows 28 57 7 7 0

Gov't Backbencher 17 39 15 29 0

Opp'n Backbencher 34 50 8 5 3

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 36 36 14 14 0

4 - 6 years 24 45 10 21 0

7 -- 9 years 31 31 7 27 4

10 + years 22 57 5 13 3

Parliamentary Officials 17 40 25 15 2

Press Gallery 33 44 6 10 6

f

— 80 —

There were no significant differences of perception amongst Members and Senators when dealt with as separate groups but differences occurred when analysed by position held. All Ministers were opposed to the idea, whereas 85% of Shadow Ministers were in favour. as were 84% of Opposition backbenchers and 56% of Government backbenchers. Again

the group with potentially the most to "lose" by changing the procedures - the Ministers - responded predictably and those with the most to "gain did likewise. In terms of years service to the Parliament the responses were reasonably similar although, marginally, it

was the 10+ group that were most in favour - 79% were in general agreement compared to the next highest agreement rate of 72% for those with 1 to 3 years' experience in the Federal Parliament. A Labor Senator from Tasmania summed up a common view with respect to the need for more predictability of debates in the parliamentary chambers.

This was needed he argued "so that Members and Senators can prepare with adequate notice and know that a debate is from 3pm to 5pm on Wednesday, for example. Same day motions or debates are generally a waste of time because nobody prepares ade-quately and the standard of debate is often abusive and low brow. Who would want to listen?" Again there were broadly similar perceptions from the parliamentary officials group com-pared to perceptions expressed by the MPs. Whilst 57% of officials were in favour, there were 17% against the proposition. Comments on this issue included : "the strength (in terms of procedures) is already there if it is utilised. but it is not"; "I do not think this is really possible in a two party system " and "the procedures are fine, it's the will to interpret and enforce them that should be strengthed. Compare the rulings of the Upper and Lower House Presiding Officers where one has the numbers and one does not. The latter tends to provide rulings on merit rather than might." As with most of the other issues raised in this section the Press Gallery sample was again more in favour of changes to parliamentary procedures than were the MPs and the officials. Seventy-seven per cent were in general agreement with the statement and only 16% were opposed to the idea.

9. More pay and entitlements for MPs?

A General Comment The next issue is the one that is arguably the most controversial particularly from the point of view of the general public - MPs' salaries and entitlements. From a reform point of view it is often put that MPs' salaries are not high enough to compensate for the irregular lifestyle and long hours, and in order to attract people of the highest

calibre a decent salary must be paid. The counter-view is that they "should not be in it for the money" but rather for the "good of the country" and that even if their pay were cut, there would still be plenty of people willing to come forward and stand for Parliament. Independent assessments such as those undertaken by the Remuneration Tribunal have favoured the former view. At present federal MPs receive a base salary of $55,000 per annum and an electorate allowance ranging from $21,005 to $30,458 de-pending on the size of the electorate. With respect to the electorate allowance Senators are paid the lower figure. As well they are entitled to a range of travel entitlements and other allowances that are related to their official duties. Office-holders such as the Prime

Minister, Ministers, Leader of the Opposition, Chairman of Committees, Whips and so on receive extra entitlements depending on the importance of the position. It is difficult to judge what is an appropriate salary for MPs but there is no doubt that over recent years the pay and entitlements of MPs have fallen relative to other "comparable" occu-pations. An analysis of the work and worth of MPs undertaken for the Remuneration

Tribunal by a consultancy group argued that "the community average level of pay for a comparable position is in the order of $65,000 per annum." (10). This level of salary is roughly equivalent to a Level 3 position in the second Division of the Commonwealth

Public Service.

81 -

Results Statement 31 maintained that "There should be a higher level of remuneration for MPs." Not surprisingly 82% of respondents were in favour of a higher level of remuneration and only 10% were against the proposal - see Table 25. By party response the highest general agreement rates came from Liberal and National MPs (92% each) whilst 78% of ALP respondents were in favour. 57% of Democrat/ Independent respondents also

indicated that they favoured better remuneration for MPs. Like the last statement there were very similar response rates from Members and Senators, and again as might be expected it was the backbenchers who were most in favour and Ministers who were most likely to be against the proposition - 91% of Opposition backbenchers were in favour as

were 87% of Government backbenchers and 86% of Shadow Ministers. However, only 24% of Ministers were in favour. There were only minimal differences of perception in terms of years' service to the Parliament. According to one Labor Senator "My council clerk and headmaster in my small local town earn what I earn. Backbenchers in marginal seats are, in effect, disadvantaging their families for no compensatory benefit."

Table 25: Higher Level of Remuneration for MPs

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 35 47 7 8 2

Party ALP 30 48 10 10 2

LIB 43 49 3 5 0

NP 42 50 8 0 0

AD/IND 14 43 0 28 14

House Senate 36 50 0 8 5

Reps 34 48 10 8 0

Position Held Ministers 12 12 25 38 12

Shadows 43 43 7 7 0

Gov't Backbencher 30 57 7 5 0

Opp'n Backbencher 44 47 5 3 0

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 21 50 7 21 0

4- 6 years 38 52 3 3 3

7- 9 years 37 50 8 0 4

10 + years 37 43 6 14 0

Parliamentary Officials 12 37 31 17 2

Press Gallery 17 50 5 28 0

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Perhaps the greatest difference of view between the MPs and the parliamentary officials occurred in responses to the issue of a higher level of remuneration for MPs. Forty-nine per cent of the officials were in favour of this idea and 19% were opposed. The unde-cided rate for officials was high - 31% whereas only 10% of MPs were in this category.

Many of the comments added to the survey returns were by those opposed to higher remuneration. For example, "I think they are doing alright having regard to the benefits and allowances they receive and the generous superannuation scheme" and "money is the worst motivation for entry into politics. The best and most genuine Members are

often motivated by better things." On this issue the Press Gallery did not record the highest affirmative response although the proportion that advocated a higher level of remuneration for MPs was higher than that expressed by the parliamentary officials. Sixty-seven per cent were in favour and

28% generally disagreed with the statement. One journalist who believed that current remuneration levels were adequate argued that "The level of remuneration, once it is `comfortable', is irrelevant. Parliament will still get a mixture of highly motivated and intelligent people. middle rankers and party hacks. MPs are not forced to stand for election or re-election."

10. Additional Staff/Research Support for MPs?

Backbenchers are entitled to three full time staff (one electorate secretary and two re-searchers/electorate officers) and are provided with an electorate office and an office in Parliament House. Apart from the resources of their respective party organisations the main research backup for MPs comes from the Parliamentary Library and the of-ficials/resources in the other Parliamentary Departments - the Senate, the House of

Representatives, the Hansard and the Joint House Department. The Library, apart from providing a comprehensive media monitoring service, also provides oral and written ma-terial on any topic of interest to the parliamentarians and their staff. This may range, for example, from simple facts and figures on electoral results to a detailed research

paper evaluating recent events in China. The Departments of the Senate and the House of Representatives have officials available to provide procedural advice as well as com-mittee secretariats that service the various parliamentary committees. Also, it is not

uncommon for Members and Senators to have contacts in academia, business, trade union and other organisations, and these contacts provide another useful resource base from which they can draw information and knowledge. The survey found that whilst a majority of MPs were in favour of more research support. the number in favour was not as great as the number advocating higher pay.

Statement 32 was concerned with whether "There should be additional staff`/research support for backbenchers. " Approximately two-thirds (65%) of respondents generally agreed with the statement whilst approximately one-quarter (23%) generally disagreed - see Table 26. In terms of party support 83% of National respondents thought that addi-tional support should be provided for backbenchers as did 71% of Democrat/Independents, 68% of ALP respondents and 58% of Liberal respondents. In general Members were more in favour of the proposition than were Senators - the latter group being 59% in favour compared to 69% of Members. Perhaps the additional constituency work under-taken by Members may account for their stronger desire for additional staff and research

support. In relation to position held it was found that the "executive" MPs (Ministers and Shadow Ministers) had more in common than did MPs by party - whilst only 33% of Ministers and 46% of Shadow Ministers supported the thrust of the statement 76% of Government backbenchers were in support as were 70% of Opposition backbenchers. Obviously the additional support given to Ministers and to a much lesser extent Shadow Ministers helps explain the differences here. By years' experience in the Parliament there were very similar results for the 1 to 3, 4 to 6 and 7 to 9 groups but the 10+ was much less in favour than the others. Whilst 51% of the 10+ group were in favour the comparable figures for the other groups were 72%. 80% and 71% respectively. A common view amongst many MPs contacted was that there was a need for Members and Senators to have an additional staff member permanently based in Canberra. It was argued that this would help in the task of reviewing legislation and enable them to be more up to date with the initiatives and activities of the Executive.

— 83 —

Table 26: Additional Staff/Research Support for MPs

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 31 34 12 20 3

Party ALP 30 38 10 18 4

LIB 29 29 13 26 3

NP 33 50 17 0 0

AD/IND 57 14 14 14 0

House Senate 31 28 17 20 3

Reps 31 38 10 18 3

Position Held Ministers 0 33 22 44 0

Shadows 23 23 15 38 0

Gov't Backbencher 38 38 5 13 5

Opp'n Backbencher 30 40 13 13 3

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 36 36 7 21 0

4 - 6 years 53 27 0 13 7

7 - 9 years 21 50 29 0 0

10 + years 17 34 11 34 3

Parliamentary Officials 17 40 15 25 2

Press Gallery 21 37 26 16 0

In terms of the parliamentary officials perceptions on this issue it was found that they were in broad agreement with the MPs. Fifty-seven per cent of the officials were in favour of extra staff/research support for backbenchers, which is slightly less than the degree of support for this proposition from the MPs. Comments on this issue included:

"the effective use of existing staff is more important": "quality rather than addition is the key": "it would not do any harm. In an indirect way it probably contributes more to strenghtening Parliament in its contest with the Executive than a lot of the suggestions aimed directly at the Parliament": "some backbenchers would use extra staff well while others would continue to under-utilise them" and "backbench staff should be paid a

more realistic wage." Several respondents strongly made the point that an additional staff member should be provided for MPs as long as that staff member was based full-time in Canberra and was engaged in legislative scrutiny work rather than electorate work.

Fifty-eight per cent of Press Gallery repondents were in general agreement with the idea of additional staff and resources for MPs which is an almost identical level of support to that expressed by the parliamentary officials.

11. More Private Members' Time?

A General Comment As has already been noted it is the Executive that determines (in the House of Repre-sentatives at least) what business is dealt with in the Parliament. The time available

— 84 —

for private members' business as opposed to Government business is very limited and the small number of Private Members' Bills that are debated in either chamber attests to this fact. This situation is not a new one and has been lamented for a long time:

With the increase in party discipline and organisation the initiative of the private mem-ber has gone. All Bills of any importance now emanate from the Cabinet, and the pressure on the time of the House is so great that debate must be controlled... This means... that the House has been largely transformed into an organ of registration of

the will of Cabinet. " (11).

A small concession by the Executive with respect to private members' business was made in mid-1988 when it was decided that on Thursday mornings in the House of Representatives, time would be allocated for issues of concern to private members. In essence it allows backbenchers to debate and raise issues in a somewhat similar way to the traditional adjournment debate. Normally it means that between 10am and 2pm on Thursdays notices of motion listed by backbenchers are debated and Members are

allowed to make 90-second statements on any issue of their choice. It was clear from the interviews conducted that the majority of Members and Senators thought the new initiative on Thursday was a step in the right direction and the survey indicated that there was a slight majority in favour of a further extension of private members' time.

The final Statement (33) on the survey advocated that "More private members' time should be available in the chamber. " Fifty-three per cent of respondents were in favour of this whilst 32% indicated they were opposed - see Table 27. It may well be that many MPs in the opposed and undecided categories were waiting to see just what impact the

new Thursday morning arrangements in the House might have. By party it was found that there were 71% of Democrat/Independents in favour of more private members' time as were 54% of ALP respondents and 55% of Liberals. Only 27% of National Party respondents were in favour, but the most significant figure for that group was the

27% undecided response. This was significantly higher than the undecided rates for the other parties. As with the last issue it was found that Members were more in favour of additional private members' time than were Senators (58% compared to 41%) and this

is no doubt is a result of the fact that there is much more scope for private members in the Senate and indeed much more time available for all Senators to contribute in the chamber. In terms of position held, whilst only 33% of Ministers" favoured the state-ment, 59% of Government backbenchers did so. The interesting result was that only 46% of Opposition backbenchers favoured the reform as did 50% of Shadow Ministers. One would have thought that Opposition backbenchers would have the group giving strongest support for more private members' time. When analysed by years' service to the Parliament it was found that the least support came form the least experienced -only 43% of the 1 to 3 years' experience group were in favour compared to 57% for the 4 to 6 group, 52% for the 7 to 9 group and 50% for the 10+ group.

— 85 —

Table 27: Should Be More Private Members Time

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly

Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 15 38 15 28 4

Party ALP 14 40 12 28 6

LIB 16 39 16 29 0

NP 18 9 27 36 9

AD/IND 14 57 14 14 0

House Senate 9 32 18 38 3

Reps 18 40 14 24 4

Position Held Ministers 0 33 22 44 0

Shadows 8 42 33 17 0

Gov't Backbencher 17 42 13 22 5

Opp'n Backbencher 19 27 13 38 3

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 7 36 36 21 0

4 - 6 years 20 37 6 27 10

7 - 9 years 17 35 9 39 0

10 + years 14 36 25 25 0

Parliamentary Officials 10 49 24 17 0

Press Gallery 16 53 21 10 0

The parliamentary officials group also favoured additional private members' time and recorded a slightly higher rate in favour compared to that expressed by the MPs. Fifty-nine per cent of officials were in favour of the idea and 17% were opposed. Again there was a high undecided component in the responses of the officials - 24% compared to 15% for MPs. Comments on this issue included : "time for private members' bills is a scandal in the current pecking order", "I would agree if less time time was wasted with repetitive MPIs and points of order that slow up the passage of legislation. It is already hard enough to get necessary government business dealt with": (the recent extension of private members' time) "should be evaluated before considering a further extension",;

"this would enhance the role of backbenchers": "f think there is about the right amount of time available now. If anything there is a shortage of notices to fill the time set aside" and "some excellent initiatives and private members' bills never see the light of day under the current system."

S

As with many of the other reforms advocated a higher proportion of the Press Gallery

sample were in favour of more private members' time than were the MPs or the par-liamentary officials. Sixty-nine per cent of respondents were in general agreement with the statement but, as was the case with the other two groups. there was also a high undecided component on this issue - 21%. Again this may be a function of the fact

that private members' time has recently been expanded in the Lower House and some journalists may be waiting to evaluate the effectiveness of this change before making a definitive judgement on this issue.

NOTES 1. See Senate Select Committee On Legislation Procedures Report - Department of the Senate. December 1, 1988, Appendix 2.

2. Kirby. Mr Justice. 'Parliamentary Reform in Australia : Of Summits, Whips, Bells, and Other Things' in The Parliamentarian (65), January 1984. pp. 35, 36.

3. Grattan. M, 'Looking foolish on TV is a matter for Parliament' in The Age. July 22. 1989.

4. Farmer. R, 'Let's be candid about cameras in Canberra', in The Australian, July 19, 1989.

5. Kirby, op. cit., p. 36.

6. Snedden. Sir Billy, 'Parliament - Its Structure, Weaknesses and Problems, and Possible Reforms'in Core Resource Journal for Students of HSC Politics 1976-81. Victorian Association of Social Studies Teachers, Melbourne 1982. p. 54.

7. Tickner. R, The Australian, May 30, 1989.

8. Jaensch. D, 'Getting Our Houses In Order' - Penguin 1988, p. 160.

9. Senate Debates. 15 August, 1989. p. 4404.

10. Appendix J, Remuneration Tribunal, 1988 Review - Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1988, p. 11.

11. Green. F.C, op. cit.. p. 70.

El

- 87 -

8. CONCLUSIONS

1, A General Comment

The study has highlighted the need for a change in terminology as commonly applied to our national system of government. The realities of that system and how it operates call for a more accurate description to be devised. In particular, the term parliamentary government should be changed to partymentary government because at the heart of our

political system is the political party. Parliament provides the forum and the geographic focus, but it is the political parties that drive the system and give it impetus. In the words of Reid and Forrest: "any attempt to describe government, or Parliament. without emphasising their [political parties] significance attracts a critique of inadequacy. or of being unrealistic." (1). Because party discipline is so strong within the main party groupings the Executive can, in the lower house at least, rely on a disciplined group

of supporters to pass its legislation and other associated business with a minimum of fuss and scrutiny. There are occasional cases where the Executive is brought to heel by the Parliament (either in the party room of the governing party or by an effective Opposition most notably in the Senate), but by and large once the Executive is installed

after an election it has a largely unfettered parliamentary environment in which to work. Indeed, it could be argued that the media, interest groups and overseas events have more impact and influence on the Executive than does any scrutiny activity carried out within the confines of Parliament House. The Executive cannot ignore the Parliament and there are numerous examples where the Executive has been influenced by parliamentary

action and work, but it is more accurate to talk of the Executive being in some way responsive to the Parliament as opposed to being responsible to the Parliament. Strong party discipline means that governments do not originate or terminate in Parliament. General elections decide who will govern and the often listed function of Parliament determining governments is very much a theoretical or latent role and flies in the face of

reality. Thus, it is the contention here that if we want to be more accurate in how we generally describe our national governmental system then we should jettison the term "parliamentary system of responsible government" and replace it with "partymentary

system of responsive government".

2. Parliament -Executive Relations

It is obvious that the major participants in the parliamentary process have a strong perception that the Parliament should be better equipped to scrutinise and oversee the Executive, or at least better use the currently available mechanisms that exist to allow the scrutiny process to occur. There was a strong majority feeling that the Executive is currently too dominant vis-a-vis the Parliament and that steps should be taken to even

up the equation. The remarks of one commentator were clearly borne out by the results of the study "it is certainly true that there is a great deal of frustration among many parliamentarians (not ministers) that parliament exercises less power than it might, less control over the executive than it should, and is less significant in the whole process than it ought to be" (2).

As well as the above point the majority view of all three groups who participated in the study was that :-1. The increasing complexity of governmental business was making it more difficult for the Parliament to scrutinise the Executive.

2, The Senate has become a more effective check on the Executive in recent years.

3. For the main the House of Representatives is a rubber stamp for decisions of the Executive.

4. The Parliament does not have adequate time and resources to enable it to scrutinise the Executive effectively.

89 -

Both the parliamentary officials and the Press Gallery were much more negative with respect to their perceptions of the effects of strong party discipline than were the MPs. Whilst the MPs tended to see party discipline as a "necessary evil" a majority in the other two groups disagreed that strong discipline was necessary if we are to have a smooth and efficiently running Parliament.

3. Parliament-Executive Relations and the New Parliament House There was a great variety of views and perceptions expressed with relation to the impact and effects of the new building on how the Parliament operates in general, and with respect to its impact on Parliament-Executive relations in particular. It would appear

though that a majority of those contacted for this study had positive feelings, albeit with some reservations, about the new Parliament House in the physical sense (notably the office space and the new technology) but that in some areas either a substantial minority or a majority had misgivings about the new building. For some it was too early to say anything definitive about the new environment.

More specifically, a majority of respondents agreed that :-1. Physical working conditions had improved considerably in the new building. In particular, all the journalists contacted supported this view.

2. Working relations and contact between MPs had not improved in the new building although contact between MPs and outsiders had.

3. Face to face communication has become more difficult, formal contact has become more important and informal contact less important.

4. There is now less contact between Members and Senators and between members of parties other than their own.

5. There is now less contact between the backbench and the Ministry as a consequence of the provision of a separate Executive wing.

Apart from the question of physical working conditions it was the Press Gallery that had the most negative perceptions of the new Parliament House. For example, whilst approximately 40% of MPs and parliamentary officials thought that the new building would enhance the power of the Executive, the comparable figure for the Press Gallery was 63%. and whilst 47% of MPs and 38% of officials agreed that the layout of the new building was conducive to an efficiently running Parliament, the Press Gallery figure was only 28%. Moreover, the journalists, as a group, were also much more concerned about the difficulties and hardships of making and maintaining contact in the new environment than were the other two groups.

One can only speculate on the possible effects that such changes could have on the operation of the Parliament and on relations between the Parliament and the Executive. The 'club like' atmosphere that characterised the old Parliament House has gone forever and the parliamentary environment is now much more formal and structured; casual contact and what might ensue as a result of that casual contact has become much less

significant and technology (for example, faxes and sophisicated computer and phone systems) has overtaken much of the human element that previously was so important. For some the colder, less personal environment has been more than compensated for by the improvements in space and technology but for others the new circumstance has

been difficult to adjust to and has not been greeted with enthusiasm. Only time will tell whether or not the obvious changes that have taken place will be beneficial or detrimental to how the Parliament functions and even then what is seen to be beneficial by some will be viewed as detrimental by others.

4. Parliamentary Reform There was a mood for reform evident from the participants in the study but there was an equally pessimistic view (particularly expressed in the interviews) as to the likelihood

of any meaningful reform occurring. All 11 reforms mooted in the survey were supported by at least a substantial number of participants in all three groups - MPs, parliamentary

- 90 -

officials and the media. There was a majority of MPs favouring all the 11 reforms sug-gested, ranging from 82% advocating higher remuneration for parliamentarians to 51% in favour of an expanded committee system. Fifty-one per cent also opted for longer sitting periods. The officials' sample had a majority in favour of 8 of the 11 reforms listed (ranging from 86% who were in favour of a more independent Speaker to 54% in favour of televising parliamentary proceeedings) whilst there was less than majority support for electronic voting (46% in favour), an expansion of the committee system

(47%) and higher remuneration for MPs (49%). A majority of the Press Gallery sample favoured 10 of the 11 reforms listed and the degree of support ranged from 95% in favour of televising Parliament to 58% in favour of an expansion of the committee system and 58% in favour of additional staff and resources being provided to MPs. On the remaining issue (whether Parliament should sit longer or not) there was a 47% affirmative response

rate. It is not hard to find reasons for the level of pessimism that was found to exist with respect to the chances of any meaningful reforms occurring. The sheer pace of life that characterises Parliament House when the chambers are in session means that MPs, officials and the media are all likely to be extremely busy and the group that alone has the power to insist on parliamentary reform (the parliamentarians themselves) have no

available forum or mechanism that would enable an analysis of the wide range of issues that would be necessary if changes on any scale are to occur: "The Parliament as a whole lacks the machinery for parliamentary introspection - the means for standing back to ask questions about purpose, manner, form and interrelationships among its com-

ponent parts." (3). It is true that mechanisms exist that enable areas of parliamentary activity and practice to be examined (for example, the Senate Committees on Procedure, Appropriations and Staffing, and Legislation Procedures, and the House Committee on Procedure) but there is no forum available that allows for an analysis of the function-

ing of the Parliament in its totality. Perhaps it is time, given the obvious support for reforms such as those listed in the course of this study, for such a parliamentary forum to be established. The establishment of a Joint Standing Committee on Parliamentary Operations would enable the obvious interest that exists concerning reform to be chan-

nelled into one forum. This would enable a 'global' approach to be taken, as opposed to the piecemeal and fragmented situation that exists at present. There is no reason why the current Procedures Committees, for example. could not continue to operate in their

present fashion and indeed their work would complement that of the new committee, but other areas of possible change. that are not procedural in nature and which would have an impact on both Houses, need a new forum in which to be discussed. It should again be stressed that this paper has concentrated on Parliament-Executive relations and par-

ticularly the ability of the Parliament to scrutinise the Executive and overwhelmingly the view was expressed that the power balance between these two arms of "government" should be more even - ie. the Parliament should be given "more teeth" or at least the existing teeth should be "sharpened" somewhat. It was evident that there were many other ideas apart from the ones listed in the survey as to how that could be achieved.

A new permanent forum, capable of accommodating all areas of parliamentary activity and operations, would enable detailed discussions and analyses to occur.

It was also apparent from the study that there is a need to look at the specialisation issue. If the study referred to in Section 5 is right and there is little subject specialisation occurring in the Federal Parliament, perhaps steps ought to be taken to encourage more specialisation amongst MPs. Additional specialisation would be one way of evening

up the power balance between the Parliament and the Executive. A more informed backbench must improve the scrutiny process. Perhaps it is time for the specialisation pattern of MPs to be studied again and if there is a need for action in this regard, either the political parties and/or the Parliament itself may be able to take steps to remedy the situation.

Related to the above point is the case in favour of an additional staff member for back-benchers. This staff member should be permanently based in Canberra and ideally would be utilised primarily as a legislative analyst and researcher as opposed to being involved with electorate matters. If it is considered that that the provision of an extra staffer is

- 91 -

unnecessary and/or, too costly then a cheaper alternative might be the provision of a `pool' of legislative research assistants that could be shared by backbenchers. For ex-ample, each party could be allocated on a pro-rata basis a group of researchers who would be available for legislative and parliamentary work. They would be permanently based in Canberra and would not have travel entitlements. This latter provision may help overcome the possibility of such researchers being used for electorate work. The aim of providing extra staff resources to backbenchers would be to help redress the information imbalance that currently exists between the Executive and the Parliament.

It is to be hoped that at least some discussion and debate is generated by the foregoing and even if that is the only result achieved then the exercise will have been worthwhile.

NOTES

1. Reid. G.S and Forrest. M. 'Australia's Commonwealth Parliament' - Melbourne University Press, 1989, pp. 465-6.

2. Solomon. D. 'Australia's Government and Parliament' - 5th edition - Thomas Nelson and Sons, Australia 1983, p. 63.

3. Reid and Forrest, op. cit.. p. 482.

-

92 -

0

APPENDICES

APPENDIX 1: SURVEY FORM

APPENDIX 2: ADDITIONAL STATISTICAL TABLES

- 93 -

I

PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA

Speaker of the House of Representatives President of the Senate

4 April 1989

Dear Senator/Member

SURVEY OF THE EFFECTS OF THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE ON PARLIAMENT/EXECUTIVE RELATIONS

We are writing to urge you to spend 10 or so minutes of your time to participate in this important survey. Now that we have occupied the long awaited new building, it i's an opportune time to assess at this stage what effects the building is perceived to have on Parliament/Executive relations and also on calls for possible parliamentary reform.

The survey is a crucial part of the research project being undertaken by Mr Greg McIntosh, the current Parliamentary Political Science Fellow. It has our personal support and that of your Library Committee.

Your response will be a most important contribution towards our collective knowledge of the functioning of the Commonwealth Parliament. The survey asks for your opinion on a range of Parliament/Executive issues and will be totally confidential.

You may wish to take part also in a follow up interview and to receive a copy of the final report when it is published early in 1990. If so, please indicate on the survey.

We commend this important survey to you.

JOAN CHILD

Yours sincerely

KERRY i( SIBRAA

0

PARLIAMENT HOUSE • CANBERRA 2600 • TEL(O2)777111

- 95 -

- 96 -

11

s, ^ AIIST L^

SURVEY ON NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE

AND PARLIAMENT / EXECUTIVE RELATIONS

• Ten minutes or so of your time is required to complete the attached historic survey. Additional space for your comment is provided at the end of each question.

• The survey is important in assessing what effects the new Parliament House is perceived to have on Parliament/Executive relations and on parliamentary reform.

• Your response is absolutely confidential, the results being aggregated. You may wish to pa rt icipate in a follow up interview.

• You may also like to receive a copy of the final repo rt which will be published early in 1989. If so please fill in the appropriate section on the survey form. This page will be detached upon receipt and filed separately.

YOUR RETURN OF THE COMPLETED SURVEY IS APPRECIATED.

BY: 11 APRIL, 1989 TO: GREG McINTOSH POLITICAL SCIENCE FELLOW PARLIAMENTARY LIBRARY

With thanks,

Greg McIntosh

- 97 -

Definition of terms : In this questionnaire the PARLIAMENT refers to the House of Representatives and the Senate. It includes the activities of both Houses within the chambers themselves and also extra chamber activities such

as the operation of committees. The EXECUTIVE refers to the Ministry (the Government) AND the operation of the bureaucracy (the Public Service).

SECTION A: VIEWS I OPINIONS ON THE PARLIAMENT / EXECUTIVE RELATIONSHIP

• Please circle the number which most closely matches your opinion.

• This opinion can be expanded in the `comments' space below each question.

1. In general terms, I believe the Parliament is an effective check and monitor on the Executive.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

2. 1 believe the balance of power/strength between the Parliament and the Executive is :

Weighted in favour of the Executive 1

Evenly balanced 2

Weighted in favour of the Parliament 3

Comments :

—1—

- 98 -

n

3. I believe the balance of powerlstrength between the Parliament and the Executive SHOULD BE:

Weighted in favour of the Executive 1

Evenly balanced 2

Weighted in favour of the Parliament 3

Comments :

4. 1 believe that party discipline effectively curtails the Parliament's ability to be an effective check on the Executive.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

5. I believe that the current degree of party discipline is necessary if we are to have a smooth and efficiently running Parliament.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

99 -

6. 1 believe that the increasing complexity of legislation and other business of the Parliament has made it harder for the Parliament to check the Executive effectively.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

7. 1 believe that in recent years the Senate, notably through its committee system, has become a more effective check on the Executive.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

8. 1 believe that the House of Representatives is largely a rubber stamp for decisions of the Executive.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

—3-

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

- 100 --

6

9. I believe that both Houses of Parliament have adequate resources (for example,

personal staff, other staff, information support etc) and time to monitor the activities of the Executive effectively.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

• Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

SECTION B: EFFECTS OF THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE ON THE PARLIAMENT I EXECUTIVE RELATIONSHIP

10. I believe that overall, the new Parliament House has strengthened the power of the Executive over the Parliament.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

-4-

- 101 -

11. The new Parliament House has improved my physical working conditions.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

12. The new Parliament House has improved working relations/contact between myself and other MPs.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

13. The new Parliament House has improved relations/contact between me and constituents/outsiders.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

-5-

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

-- 102 -

14. The new Parliament House has made face to face communication more difficult for me.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments

15. I believe that the new Parliament House has meant that formal communication has become more important and informal contact and communication less important.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

16. I have had less contact with members of the other House since moving into the new building.

Strongly Agree 1

e

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

-6-

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

-- 103 -

17. I have more contact with members of parties other than my own since moving into the new building.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

18. 1 believe that the provision of a separate Executive wing in the new Parliament House has led to less contact between the backbench and the Ministry.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

19. Because of the size of the new Parliament House I am now making less use of backup resources such as the Parliamentary Library and House and Senate officials/officers.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

—7-

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

- 104 -

20. 1 believe that the layout and configuration of the new building is conducive to the efficient functioning of Parliament.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

21. The new Parliament House has made it more difficult for me to liaise and work with the Press Gallery.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

22, 1 use the recreational facilities (for example, the tennis and squash courts) more now than I did when Parliament was located in the provisional building.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

-8-

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

- 105 -

SECTION C: PARLIAMENTARY REFORM AND THE NEW PARLIAMENT HOUSE.

Various reforms have been suggested to improve the functioning of the Parliament.

Please indicate the extent to which you agreeldisagree or are undecided with respect to the following reform proposals.

23. Parliament should now sit longer each year.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

24. There should now be more `free' votes, particularly with respect to non - controversial legislation/motions.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

-9-

Comments :

Strongly Disagree 5

— 106 --

25. The Speaker should have a more independent role.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

26. Question Time should be extended and provision made for supplementary questions in the House.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

27. Electronic voting should be introduced into the chamber so that I spend less time on divisions.

G

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

-10-

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

--

107 —

28. Parliament should be televised.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments

29. The parliamentary committee system should be expanded, particularly in the Lower House.

Strongly Agree . 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

30. Parliamentary procedures should be reformed to strengthen the hand of the Parliament in relation to the Executive.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments

P

—11—

- 108 -

31. There should be a higher level of remuneration for MPs.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

32. There should be additional staff/research support for backbenchers.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

Undecided 3

Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

33. More private member's time should be available in the chamber.

Strongly Agree 1

Agree 2

e

Undecided 3

0 Disagree 4

Strongly Disagree 5

Comments :

—12-

-.

109 -

34. Other comments?

—13-

- 110 --

C

FOLLOW UP INTERVIEW

I will be available for a follow up interview.

M Yes 1

No 2

m

NAME .......................................

COPY OF STUDY

I wish to receive a copy of the final report.

Yes 1

No 2

NAME .......................................

0

-14-

— 111 —

SECTION D : BACKGROUND DATA

The following data are needed to build up a profile of responses. All analysis will be done in the aggregate ie. individual names will not be used unless this is specifically authorised by the respondent.

Please circle the appropriate number.

35. PARTY AFFILIATION. LABOR 1

LIBERAL 2

NATIONAL 3

DEMOCRAT 4

OTHER 5

36. HOUSE. I AM A MEMBER OF: THE SENATE 1

THE HOUSE OF REPS 2

37. POSITION. I AM A MEMBER OF: THE MINISTRY 1

THE SHADOW MINISTRY 2

THE BACKBENCH 3

38. STATE/TERRITORY. NEW SOUTH WALES 1

VICTORIA 2

QUEENSLAND 3

SOUTH AUSTRALIA 4

WESTERN AUSTRALIA 5

TASMANIA 6

A.C.T. 7

N.T. 8

e

—15—

- 112 -

39. GENDER. MALE -I

FEMALE 2

40. YEARS SERVICE TO PARLIAMENT. LESS THAN ONE 1

ONE TO THREE 2

FOUR TO SIX 3

SEVEN TO NINE 4

TEN OR MORE 5

41. AGE AS AT APRIL 1989. TWENTY TO THIRTY

THIRTY-ONE TO FORTY

FORTY-ONE TO FIFTY

FIFTY-ONE TO SIXTY

OVER SIXTY

1

2

3

4

5

42. EDUCATION LEVEL ATTAINED. PRIMARY/SECONDARY

TERTIARY

HIGHER DEGREE

TRADE/PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATION

1

2

3

4

-16-

Appendix 2 - Table 1:

- 113 -

The New Parliament House Has Improved Physical Working Conditions

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 64 30 2 3 1

Party ALP 63 31 4 2 0

LIB 64 31 0 5 0

NP 58 25 0 17 0

AD/IND 57 43 0 0 0

House Senate 59 38 0 3 0

Reps 65 27 3 4 1

Position Held Ministers 11 66 11 11 0

Shadows 66 25 0 8 0

Gov't Backbencher 72 25 3 0 0

Opp'n Backbencher 67 25 0 5 3

Years of Service I- 3 years 93 7 0 0 0

4- 6 years 70 30 0 0 0

7- 9 years 72 28 0 0 0

10 + years 44 39 3 11 3

Parliamentary Officials 41 36 7 10 5

Press Gallery 72 28 0 0 0

0

Appendix 2 - Table 2: - . 114 -

a

-. The New Parliament House Has Improved Contact Between MPs, Staff and ,Officials

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Parliamentary Officials 5 19 24 32 19

Press Gallery 10 0 5 68 16

0

Appendix 2 - Table 3:

-- 115 -

Formal Communication Has Become More Important and Informal Contact Lessi Important

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 13 52 10 22 2

Party ALP 8 55 10 25 2

LIB 19 42 17 22 0

NP 17 50 0 25 8

AD/IND 17 83 0 0 0

House Senate 12 51 6 30 0

Reps 13 51 13 20 3

Position Held Ministers 12 50 12 25 0

Shadows 15 46 8 31 0

Gov't Backbencher 8 51 10 28 2

Opp'n Backbencher 22 43 13 19 3

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 0 46 15 38 0

4 - 6 years 13 50 7 27 3

7 - 9 years 22 56 9 13 0

10 + years 14 46 14 23 3

Parliamentary Officials 7 46 15 29 2

Press Gallery 28 55 5 11 0

Appendix 2 - Table 4:

- 116 -

+ Less Contact With Members of the Other House

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 36 45 1 17 1

Party ALP 30 49 0 21 0

LIB 40 46 3 11 0

NP 42 42 0 8 8

AD/IND 50 33 0 17 0

House Senate 35 47 0 18 0

Reps 36 46 1 15 1

Position Held Ministers 22 67 0 11 0

Shadows 42 42 0 16 0

Gov't Backbencher 30 46 0 24 0

Opp'n Backbencher 41 41 2 13 2

Years of Service 1-3years 8 61 0 31 0

4 - 6 years 45 34 0 21 0

7- 9 years 48 48 0 4 0

10 + years 30 44 3 19 3

V

0

g

Appendix 2 - Table

5: - 117 -

More Contact With Members of Parties Other Than My Own

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 1 7 11 66 15

Party ALP 2 6 14 71 6

LIB 0 8 13 60 18

NP 0 9 0 64 27

AD/IND 0 0 0 50 50

House Senate 0 6 3 73 18

Reps 1 7 16 61 14

Position Held Ministers 11 0 11 67 11

Shadows 0 17 17 58 8

Gov't Backbencher 0 8 16 70 5

Opp'n Backbencher 0 5 8 64 23

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 0 17 17 58 8

4 - 6 years 0 10 7 70 13

7- 9 years 0 0 4 74 22

10 + years 3 5 17 61 14

5

- 118 -

Appendix 2 - Table 6:

C

Now More Difficult To Work And Liase With MPs

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Parliamentary Officials 7 32 13 42 5

Press Gallery 26 47 10 16 0

- 119 -

Appendix 2 - Table 7:

Now Use the Recreational. Facilities More

(Per cent)

Strongly Agree Undecided Disagree Strongly Agree Disagree

Members of Parliament Aggregate 8 24 8 51 8

Party ALP 10 23 8 50 8

LIB 5 24 8 54 8

NP 17 33 8 33 8

AD/IND 0 28 28 43 0

House Senate 3 26 12 44 15

Reps 12 25 7 51 4

Position Held Ministers 0 11 22 67 0

Shadows 8 50 0 42 0

Gov't Backbencher 13 26 7 46 8

Opp'n Backbencher 8 19 8 53 11

Years of Service 1 - 3 years 23 31 7 31 8

4 . 6 years 7 31 14 41 7

7 - 9 years 13 30 0 48 9

10 + years 3 17 11 64 5

Parliamentary Officials 5 26 18 37 13

Press Gallery 12 18 17 47 6

.i

- 120 -

It

- 121 -

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