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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1309

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) (4:12 PM) —The Labor government opposes the establishment of this committee. This is the fourth such select committee that has been established in recent months.

Senator Kemp —It is a bit like your superannuation committee. Remember the select committee on superannuation that you served on?

Senator SHERRY —I do remember it. Senator Kemp, you are not going to be here from 1 July. Go and have a cup of coffee. You are being totally disruptive. People want to get away for Easter. You will not be here after 1 July so, in the nicest possible terms, please stop disrupting the chamber so that we can get on with business.

The terms of reference for the proposed committee are clearly a grab bag of issues encompassed by the Northern Territory emergency response. In relation to the Northern Territory, it is too early to establish such a committee when the government has committed to establishing an independent and transparent review to operate from the 12-month mark. It is expected that the review will report by the end of September 2008.

The review of the Northern Territory emergency response will provide an independent assessment of the effectiveness of each of the measures that comprise the emergency response. In relation to the other terms of reference, the matters to be addressed are extraordinarily wide and it is inevitable that the committee will cover so much ground it will fail to come up with sensible advice and policy recommendations.

The suggestion that the Commonwealth parliament should assess the impact of state and territory government policies, whilst perhaps well intentioned, will inevitably get bogged down in claim and counterclaim. The Australian government, in contrast to the previous government, is committed to strong evidence based policy formulation in relation to Indigenous disadvantage. The government has committed to closing the gap in relation to key social indicators of Indigenous disadvantage: halving the gap in life expectancy within a generation, halving the gap in mortality rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children under five within a decade and halving the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievement within a decade.

We are committed to open and transparent policy formulation processes which assess progress objectively. Already the Productivity Commission’s Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage reports are making real progress in providing a robust and independent framework for assessing progress in addressing Indigenous disadvantage, including in remote Australia. It is not clear to us on this side of the Senate that the proposed committee will add value in terms of developing appropriate policy responses.

In relation to the Senate committee system, we already have an appropriate set of committees. There is no reason why the existing community affairs committee ought not be asked to inquire into any specific issues arising in remote Australia. All this proposal will do is establish yet another select committee, the fourth, which will trawl for media stories and opportunities to be negative. The real need is for the Senate and its committees to focus on developing policy solutions for the very real needs of remote Indigenous communities. To do that would require a much greater focus than is evident in the motion before us today. It will require the identification of particular issues and terms of reference to provide a road map of the sorts of issues that the committee will examine. This motion from the Liberal opposition has just been cobbled together at the last minute.

The proposal before the Senate is an abuse of the Senate processes. It is attempting to lock in for the next 2½ years a committee structure which is designed to frustrate the legitimate right of the next Senate coming in after 1 July to structure its own approach to addressing these issues. The Liberal opposition should be taking on board the Prime Minister’s visionary offer of bipartisanship in the Indigenous affairs area, and commit to working within the committee structure that they themselves established. The current opposition when in government established the existing committee structure of the Senate. Because it no longer suits them, because they now find themselves in opposition, they are creating select committee after select committee. That is what they are doing. It is an abuse of the Senate process.

Senator Bartlett’s foreshadowed amendment to the motion makes sense—but it is essentially a second-best outcome given the fundamental flaws in the motion from Senator Scullion. We call on senators opposite to reconsider this motion. It is setting a precedent for the future for the creation of select committees. Oh! The lights have gone out. Has the microphone gone out? That is probably more important. We have the thumbs up; the sound system is working. Fortunately, I can still read in the dark. We call on members opposite to reconsider this motion. It is poorly conceived, it will be poorly executed and will only serve to detract from the potential role of contributing positively to addressing Indigenous disadvantage and closing the gap. Therefore the Labor government will be opposing the creation of this committee.