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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15041

Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services) (3:28 PM) —Mr Speaker, as you have extended considerable indulgence to the member for Grayndler, with your blessing I just want to make a couple of—

The SPEAKER —Is the member for Parramatta seeking indulgence?

Mr ROSS CAMERON —I am seeking indulgence, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —As I have extended indulgence to the member for Grayndler, the member for Parramatta may proceed.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —Just briefly, I have two points. Firstly, it has been put to you, Mr Speaker, that allowing a committee chair to refer a question to the minister somehow blurs the relationship between the executive and the legislature. I merely point out that Australian parliamentary committee chairs, unlike, for example, US congressional committee chairs, do not have executive responsibility for the budgets pertaining to their committee responsibilities—

The SPEAKER —I noticed that the member for Grayndler was heard in silence. I would have thought it not beyond the wit of the member for Lingiari to extend the same courtesy to the member for Parramatta.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —nor do they have a policy-making power. They merely have a power to make recommendations. Two things flow from that. Firstly, there is a forum. If members wish to put concerns or questions to a committee chair, they have the opportunity and the forum of the committee itself to put those questions. Secondly, there is a great risk that a committee chair on the floor of the House of Representatives will be used as a stalking horse to attack the executive.

In conclusion, I refer to the third part of the question just cited by the member for Grayndler, which referred to purported cuts from the budget of the executive and asked whether those purported cuts should be withheld until after the committee has reported. Clearly, this is an example of the risk posed by the proposition being advanced. The committee chair is not responsible for a decision made by the executive, and there should be no attempt to hold him responsible for those decisions through the mechanism of question time.