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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3918

Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (10:24): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled Maintenance of the standing orders, together with the minutes of proceedings.

I am pleased to present the Procedure Committee's report into the maintenance of standing orders. As members would be aware, it is the 'bread and butter' business of the Procedure Committee to review the operation of the standing orders each parliament.

This report examines amendments made to the standing orders at the commencement of the 44th Parliament and makes recommendations for change in those areas that have not operated as successfully as would have been intended. It recommends changes to certain standing orders to reflect current practice or to better reflect sound parliamentary practice. It also provides suggestions for possible amendments to standing orders to be considered by the House recognising the change in practices to debate management motions and urgent matters.

This examination led the committee to consider some of the other cultural and procedural challenges that the House has faced over recent years. It acknowledges that the turbulence the House has experienced—changes of speakers and prime ministers mid-term, a hung parliament and a return to majority government—has influenced the practices and procedures of the House.

The standing order changes made in the 44th Parliament have highlighted the inevitable tensions in a parliament from which members of the executive government are drawn and the careful balance that must be struck between the executive's desire to pursue its legislative agenda and the parliament's role as a scrutiny body.

This report considers the balance of this tension and recommends measures to ensure the relative standing of the House. It makes the point that procedural changes made by an executive to ease its relationship with the legislature risks blurring the important distinction between the legislature and the executive that is at the core of the Westminster tradition. This does not serve the long-term interest of the House, the government and ultimately, the Australian people.

Some of the recommendations in this report are far-reaching and seek to place control of matters which are not strictly government business firmly in the hands of private members. With Westminster principles and the primacy of the House in mind, the committee has recommended changes to the composition and operation of the Selection Committee to enhance the status of private members' business and that House support be given to this important committee by the adoption of general principles relating to the selection of private members' business by resolution with continuing effect.

Significantly, the committee has considered the changes made this parliament that provide for the appointment of chairs of committees by the Prime Minister and deputy chairs by the Leader of the Opposition. Committees have an important scrutiny role over the executive and this change in practice raises questions about the relationship between the House, its committees and the executive and, if chairs are appointed by the executive, to whom they are responsible. In effecting this change, the executive has appropriated for itself, and the opposition leadership, a function which properly belongs to the House and its members.

At the very least, this standing order should revert to the longstanding practice of committees electing their own chairs and deputy chairs. However, in considering the principle of the primacy of the House over its functions, the committee has taken the view that the House should have a more active role in the selection of committee chairs. It has therefore recommended that chairs of committees be elected by secret ballot by the House as a whole. It is the House to whom chairs are ultimately responsible and the House should have a decisive influence on the identity of the chair. This practice has recently been adopted in the mother of parliaments, in Westminster, and is working well.

It is important that the executive is able to fulfil it legislative program and the procedures of the House should support this function. It is equally important that this does not encroach on the House's capacity to fulfil its scrutiny role. All members of the House must understand, value and defend their rights as individual members. It is only through a strong House that we can achieve sound governance for the electorate we represent in this place.

In conclusion, I imagine that this will be the last report that I table from the Procedure Committee and that this is probably my last speech in this place. I have been Chair of the Procedure Committee for the last six months and, in that time, we have produced four reports, which I think are very far reaching—on nursing mothers in this place; on the consideration in detail process after a budget to allow for more genuine to and fro between the government and the opposition; on the issue of electronic voting; and also on the standing orders. So, it has been a productive six months. I would like to thank the secretariat, both James and Siobhan, who have done a tremendous job in preparing these reports and enabling us to fulfil our role. I commend the report to the House.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).