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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2857

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Shipping and Aviation Support) (8.31 p.m.) —I am obviously in the wrong party philosophically. I always thought that the conservatives in this country were the ones that wanted small government. I confess—I have said this in this place before, and I make no apologies for it—that in all the time that I have been in Parliament I have consistently tried, in so far as I have ever been able to influence it, to have fewer laws, fewer restrictions and less regulation on organisations, and to give organisations the opportunity to exercise the discretion they are presumably given when they are set up in the first place.

  I point out what an absurdity the Opposition's proposal is, frankly, in proceeding, and the painstaking provisions that have been included in this Bill to provide for public scrutiny. First of all, I wish to correct a small technical problem. The Opposition has not simply shifted these provisions in clause 77 to an earlier part of the Bill; it has moved them from clause 77 to earlier in the Bill and made them permanent. Senator Coulter is correct except with that one addition. They have been deliberately put in clause 77 so that they can be in the transitional arrangements and be only a temporary measure instead of cluttering up these organisations with committees they may not need.

  I have already referred to about five provisions of this Bill where the community consultation processes have been emphasised by the Government. I will point to another one—and there are any number of them—in terms of how public this process is. I refer honourable senators to clause 72, which requires the board to include certain matters in its annual report which, of course, is debated in this chamber. Clause 72(h) says that the board must include in its annual report:

particulars of the measures taken by the Board during the year—

that is, each and every year—

to ensure that the Board is aware of, and responsive to, community needs and opinions on matters relevant to the SBS's charter.

The board is required on that specific issue to report annually to Parliament and to have the sufficiency of the provisions it makes debated in this chamber—which they will be—and, as a consequence, also to debate the Minister's response to those measures that the board has taken and whether it is sufficient.

  I also point out the difference between the very deliberate provisions of the interim board in clause 77 and the directed community committee in clause 49, which says:

If the Minister directs the Board to vary the community consultative measures, the Minister may also direct the Board to establish a Community Advisory Council—

that is not the interim one; that is a specific advisory council to advise the board on its deficiencies—

in accordance with such arrangements as are specified in the direction.

I thought that would have been fairly obvious. In other words, the Minister has the power to direct the board to establish a community advisory council which would obviously be given a specific reference to correct whatever perceived deficiency the Minister found in its community consultation. That is the difference between clauses 77 and 49.

  It would be an extraordinary SBS board, knowing that those directive powers exist in the Bill, not to have the sense—and I am sure it will—to have preconsultation with the Minister, which it would definitely undertake, of course, prior to the publication of the directions, to ensure it will not be given a direction. With the provisions contained in clauses 49, 47 and 10 requiring public disclosure in the annual report of the particulars of these measures subjecting this on an annual basis to debate in this Parliament, why one needs to set up a permanent committee to perhaps unnecessarily advise the board on a standing basis of community consultation when there may be no need to set it up—and experience will only show that—frankly, I do not know.