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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3920

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (10:30): This report addresses the operation of the standing orders during the 44th Parliament. I again make it clear that the opposition members on this committee have responded well to the leadership of the member for Boothby and the secretariat. The report makes a number of recommendations regarding what I would describe as minor technical amendments to clarify the operation of certain standing orders and to make minor consequential changes, such as    clarifying the nature of the presentation of documents in standing orders 2 and 34, on page 23 of the report; clarifying the role of the Clerk in certifying matters in the Federation Chamber, on page 24 of the report; and amendments to standing order 192 to reflect current practice in the Federation Chamber.

The report also discusses matters for further consideration, on pages 25 to 27 of the report, to reduce disruption caused by unscheduled divisions during the period for deferred divisions and to reflect the now well-established practice of debate management motions, rather than use of the guillotine. We have seen ministers in the last few years seeking to have their matters debated immediately, with decisions being made immediately and longstanding meetings of backbench members and ministers being disrupted.

The most significant discussion and recommendations in the report go to matters which rightly belong in the control of the House but which the executive has appropriated for itself. As the member for Boothby outlined, this is a prerogative of this place that ought not be conceded to the executive. Most significantly the committee has recommended that the House elect chairs of committees, on pages 12 to 16 of the report, and the appointment of chairs and deputy chairs by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition raised serious concerns for the committee. The report suggests that this new practice seriously undermines the role that committees play in scrutinising the executive.

Of course this follows a progression of history in this parliament where members of both sides in question time follow the leadership of the Leader of the House or the Manager of Opposition Business. In the past, during question time, the first two or three questioners were at the suggestion of the executive and then it was a free-for-all and a lot of people got up and asked questions based on their own research. The ability of backbench members to do that kind of thing has passed, regrettably, and it does not seem like it is coming back. That has led to people in this House being a lot less involved in questioning the government of the day. It is a regrettable development which we do not want to see go further with the election of committee chairs nominated by prime ministers or other members of the executive, including the opposition executive.

The report recommends changes to the composition of the Selection Committee in order to enhance the status of private members' business and encourages members to be more actively involved in this process by suggesting a process by which members seek direct responsibility for justifying the merits of their items of business and seeking support for the debate from other members. That is on page 9 of the report. Finally, the report notes:

The House and its Members ought to be mindful to safeguard their rights and prerogatives against excessive encroachment by the Executive.

That is ultimately what this place is all about. There has been a continuing trend, since this place transferred from down the hill, towards an increase in executive powers. I am not sure this has been a good thing, but we ought to try and draw a line in the sand at least with the election of committee chairs. This committee operated very well after the untimely death of Don Randall, and I commend the secretariat and the member for Boothby for his four reports, I wish him well in his future happy trails.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Broadbent ): The time allotted for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Boothby wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?