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Question on who can attend Senate committee meetings; Senate may have to return in July; concern that Radio Australia may cease weekend football broadcasts; warning to Leader of the National Party; tabling of several significant reports.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Senate committee meetings: who can attend? Just those officially members of that committee, or also other interested Senators? This subject was raised in a Senate adjournment debate on Tuesday evening by Liberal, Rod Kemp.

ROD KEMP: I rise tonight to bring to the attention of the Senate an apparently unprecedented decision made by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure. The Committee, today, held a meeting with the managing director of the ABC, Mr David Hill. Through my colleague, Senator Macdonald, a distinguished member of that distinguished committee, I asked whether I could attend the meeting as I have a particular interest in aspects of the ABC's operations. And I have spoken in this Chamber on a number occasions on the need for an external independent complaints procedure at the ABC. Interestingly, I understand, this is also the policy of the Hawke Labor Government. As it turned out, Mr Deputy President, this apparently was one of the major issues canvassed at that meeting today. My request to attend the meeting....

UNIDENTIFIED: How do you know that? How do you know that?

ROD KEMP: My request to attend the meeting....

UNIDENTIFIED: How do you know that?

ROD KEMP: ....was put to the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Foreman, at the commencement of the meeting. A decision was made that I would not be able to attend the hearing. I would like to hear from the Chairman of the Committee as to the reasons why I happen to have been excluded. In the meantime, Mr Deputy President, I have sought advice on whether Senators, who are not members of the committees, can attend committee hearings.

Mr Deputy President, the advice that I have received, is that a Senator who is not a member of a standing committee, may participate in its public sessions and question witnesses, unless the committee orders otherwise. In other words, a Senator has a right to attend public hearings of a committee and question any witnesses before the committee, unless the committee makes a deliberate decision to exclude the Senator.

In relation to hearings of evidence in private session or in briefings, a committee may decide to allow a Senator who is not a member of the committee, to attend and participate in the proceedings. On the request for such an attendance being made, the committee should make a decision on the request. In both circumstances, I understand, Mr Deputy President, the decision must be a decision of the committee and it cannot be a decision of the chairman alone. I would be interested to hear from the Chairman, whether this was his decision or made on the votes of Senators of the Committee.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Liberal Senator from Victoria, Rod Kemp. The Chairman of that Committee, South Australian Labor Senator, Dominic Foreman, responded.

DOMINIC FOREMAN: It was a decision of the Committee....

UNIDENTIFIED: Private meeting. None of your business.

DOMINIC FOREMAN: So whether it was a casting vote or not, it was agreed by the

Committee....

UNIDENTIFIED: None of your business.

DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order!

DOMINIC FOREMAN: It was a decision of the Committee that no other Senator was to attend the meeting.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Labor Committee Chairman, Dominic Foreman. Whilst the discussion ran for 40 minutes with various other Committee members having their say, the real point at issue was barely referred to, except in those interjections. That's the increasing tendency of committees to hold private meetings. By not allowing others to attend, it's easier for the Government to preserve its majority representation and so carry the day. Australian Democrat Senator, Cheryl Kernot, made one of the more constructive contributions to this debate.

CHERYL KERNOT: I don't think it is appropriate that we use a private meeting of a committee as a format for every Rod, Mick and Ian to hijack. I think it is perfectly legitimate to have private briefings on matters within the portfolio area of that committee, and certainly communications is within the portfolio. I can only suggest to Senator Kemp, that he lobby within his party to get himself to be the representative from the Liberal Party on that Committee, if he has such a passion for the area.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Well, Members of the House of Representatives have been given the predictable, but never popular warning, that they might be back in Canberra in July. Here's the Leader of the House, on Wednesday.

KIM BEAZLEY: I'm not sure how many Bills there are that are remaining, but they are substantial and more on average than we are dealing with in a week - there's no doubt about that at all - and, therefore, the likelihood of a guillotine is substantial.

The likelihood of us being called back to deal with subsequent consideration of that material from the Senate when it comes back to us, is very high, and I would anticipate that as coming somewhere in June or perhaps even, though I'd try to avoid this and a lot will depend on the Senate, perhaps even in July.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Whilst Mr Beazley was careful not to apportion blame, except to the Senate, Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey was not so backward.

WILSON TUCKEY: I'd just like to quickly make the point on this debate because it's an issue that concerns me, that every year, irrespective of the party in political power, we run into this log jam of legislation at the end of a session. I happen to hold the view that it's a bureaucratic conspiracy that, in fact, neither Government nor the Opposition is simply given the time by the departments to properly consider the legislation, and for the last two or three weeks that we've been sitting, we've dealt with very little legislation because it's not been in the House. And I really put it to the Minister and, in fact, to my side of politics, that it's time that we changed that rule and told the bureaucracy to get its legislation in place for the beginning of the session so that it is possible for the Government, the Opposition, and the people of Australia to have a good look at it, and then allocate what is appropriate time to speak .... We've recently had 20 and 30 speakers for quite small legislation, and at the end we'll get one or two for quite serious legislation.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Wilson Tuckey on legislative backlogs. On Thursday evening, the Senate agreed to a motion from Liberal Amanda Vanstone, which means that the adjournment debate from that Chamber can now be televised; meanwhile, here are three contributions from the Lower House this week. The first from Labor MP Arch Bevis inspired by the State of Origin game.

SPEAKER: Honourable Member for Brisbane.

ARCH BEVIS: Thank you, Mr Speaker, it's a great pleasure to enter the adjournment debate this evening. You might recall that last night I informed the House of the very important event in the sporting calendar of the nation which was to occur this evening, being the first State of Origin match in the 1991 Rugby League season.

UNIDENTIFIED: And who won? Who won?

SPEAKER: Order! I think those Members to my right who interject might not be here if they ...

ARCH BEVIS: Having had the match decided only recently, I'm very pleased to be able to inform the House, that it was indeed the great sporting spectacle that I suggested last night that it would be, and, in fact, the Queensland State of Origin side have triumphed six- four over the New South Wales team and have once again asserted their authority in national Rugby League, and demonstrated yet again their superior ability in this great sport.

Of course, that's the first match in the series, Mr Speaker, and I'm sure you and a number of other Members of the House would be keenly looking forward now to the second match, which will be in Sydney. I've got no doubt whatsoever that the Sydney crowd will provide encouragement for the Blues. I equally in .. I have no doubt that the Queensland side....

SPEAKER: Your time is up. Your time is up!

ARCH BEVIS: ....in maroon jerseys will again be victorious.

JENNY HUTCHISON: It's easy to tell the Speaker supported the losing side.

Meanwhile, the Labor Member for Stirling and Deputy Speaker, Ron Edwards, voiced his concern about plans by Radio Australia to cease weekend football broadcasting - at the moment, Aussie rules goes to air on Saturdays, Rugby League on Sundays.

RON EDWARDS: I am alarmed, and I've had correspondence with Radio Australia, because they're proposing to remove those services because they believe that they ought not to be providing a service for Australian expatriates. Now, I think that's very shortsighted, because Australian expatriates, in fact, do need a link with the Australian mainland, and sometimes it's not been of their choosing they've gone overseas; that's the first thing to recognise. The second thing to recognise is that Australia is known for its sport and, in particular, our proficiency in both Australian Rules and Rugby League is known worldwide. And I believe that by projecting those sports into these various regions of the world and by having it as a topic of conversation, that we, in fact, advance Australia's interest.

I'm very concerned often, that there's this tendency to simply try and pocket Australia's interest into something specifically about information programs or cultural programs.

Now, they are very important and I understand that, but I think it is a very narrow definition of culture that says that I can remove the role of sport from the definition of culture, because sport is a very, as I've said earlier, is a very significant phenomenon in Australia, and those two sporting codes are known on a worldwide basis. I also acknowledge that Rugby Union has a worldwide appeal, but we ought to make sure that this coverage not only is provided for Australian expatriates. I would also add, incidentally, many people on the Australian mainland who can't get very effective radio or television transmissions at all, rely upon Radio Australia for their coverage, and so we do happen to have as a by- product of that service, people within Australia being serviced in remote localities. So, the net effect is that Radio Australia currently provides a very good service. I am alarmed that they would think that they might cut back that service. I believe we should press them to continue that service, and we should also assist them by improving their transmitter facilities.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Finally, some amusing comments by Labor backbencher, Brian Courtice, warning National Party Leader, Tim Fischer, to watch his back.

BRIAN COURTICE: There has been much discussion lately about leadership challenge in Federal Parliament, and I do confess I believe there is a leadership challenge in the wings. And I've done some research lately, and I'd like to say this, and I'm pleased that the Member from Maranoa is interested in this, because it would concern him greatly, because in the Budget session, the Member for New England spoke on average only once a week. Parliamentary figures show that in the Budget session of eight weeks and two days, the Member for New England made eight speeches and no points of order, but in most recent times, in this recent session, he's spoken twice as many times and has risen to his feet on three occasions in a packed House on points of order. In the six weeks and two days of these Autumn sessions, the Member for New England has made 13 speeches and risen on three points of order. And it's of interest to note that the three points of order have actually occurred within the last three sitting days; that is, two on 18 April, and one on 7 May, and that is, of course, when it was obvious that the Opposition had lost the initiative in the debate in the House. And I believe it could well be the beginning of the end for the Member for Farrer.

JENNY HUTCHISON: Brian Courtice, the Labor Member for Hinkler, referring to former National Party Leader, Ian Sinclair. Several significant reports were tabled this week, such as the final report from the long- running Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody; the Resource Assessment Commission's final report on the Kakadu region. Another document tabled in the Senate this week will be of a special use to scholars; it's a register of all 400 Senate committee reports presented between 1970 and 1990.

Production assistance on this week's Ring the Bells came from Michelle Drenkovski and Daniel Connel. Until next week, this is Jenny Hutchison.