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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2858

Senator ALSTON (8.35 p.m.) —At the risk of being tedious, perhaps I can traverse some of the ground already gone over. Our amendment, which would have been well known to the Government because it was moved in the House of Representatives, made it clear that we did not think merely an interim committee was sufficient and that we wanted a permanent arrangement. For reasons best known to itself, the Government has gone a lot further than that. Without really giving anyone adequate notice—unless these amendments were available some hours before I became aware of them—it has introduced at the last moment an amendment which very substantially broadens the functions of a community advisory committee which it itself would propose be established. Those functions include advising the board on community needs and opinions, including the needs and opinions of small or newly arrived ethnic groups. That, I would have thought, is a very broad mandate indeed.

Senator Collins —Deliberately.

Senator ALSTON —The Minister says, `Deliberately' and in the same breath also says, `God, this is the road to large government; it is the last thing you want'. In many respects, I think the Government is hoist with its own petard for raising it because it invites the Democrats to come in and support a very broad proposition when, really, it does not need to go that far at all. All the Government needed to do was to oppose our amendment, if that was its view of the matter, and then the choice would have been simple. It would have been either an interim or a permanent advisory committee but limited to consultative measures.

  Now the Government has put on the table a much broader, ongoing role for that advisory committee. It seems to me that if that is not what the Government prefers it is left with the choice of our supporting the broader approach or the Government supporting our narrower approach. If the Government does that, I would not have thought that any great harm would follow. Looking at clause 49, on which the Government lays great store, it says the Minister `may direct the Board to establish a community advisory council'. That is the very point that concerns us. There is no requirement for the Minister to do it and the Minister may end up, after the interim process has been completed, not taking advice from the communities in a way that they would regard as adequate.

  The way in which to achieve that is to have this permanent arrangement. It will be very sporadic—it will probably meet once every three or five years—but it will do the trick. It will give the communities the assurance that they will have a direct input—not the possibility that a Minister may direct the board, et cetera. It avoids what I think is a much wider and unnecessary provision which has been put forward by way of the Government amendment. In that sense, we would all be best served by the Opposition moving its amendment and it being supported.