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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21551

Mr CAUSLEY (7:34 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on an issue which has a very serious effect on this institution, the democratically elected Parliament of Australia. We would all know, as members of parliament, that the Prime Minister recently put out a discussion paper on proposed amendments to the Senate. That discussion paper invited discussion across Australia, undoubtedly, but also from members of parliament.

I noted in an AAP report of 9 October some comments made by the Clerk of the Senate. Mr Evans said that Mr Howard already has more power than was intended under the Constitution and changes to the Senate would make him an imperial Prime Minister. On ABC Radio, Mr Evans said:

The Prime Minister has an enormous accretion of power now, far more than he was ever intended to have under the Constitution. He has one house of Parliament in his pocket, he has the Governor-General in his pocket, he can appoint whoever he likes to the High Court without independent scrutiny.

I find those comments very disturbing for the institution of a democratically elected parliament.

I note that the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 section 58 provides for the appointment of the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House. The appointment is for 10 years but the person cannot be reappointed. Section 75 has the effect of appointing the clerks who were in office when the act commenced for fresh terms of 10 years. Section 19 provides that a Clerk is not subject to direction by a Presiding Officer in relation to any advice sought from or given by the Clerk with respect to the Clerk's house or any of its committees or members.

In passing this law the parliament has clearly created special provisions for the positions of the clerks. Presumably, these provisions show that the members and senators who passed this law recognise the important institutional role of the two clerks. The provision provides special and unusual tenure and protection for those occupants.

It is reasonable for members and senators to think that these special legislative provisions imply some obligation on our clerks to conduct themselves at all times in a manner befitting their role as heads of two historic service support departments. Members and senators are entitled to expect that the officers who are the beneficiaries of these special provisions will be disciplined and restrained and not in fact engage in activities that are or can appear to be inconsistent with the assumption that they will be neutral, detached and dispassionate in all their duties.

One of the values in section 13(3) of the Parliamentary Service Act requires parliamentary service employees to treat everyone with respect and courtesy. One of the comments from the Clerk of the Senate was directed to the Governor-General. I would think that the comment itself, if it had been repeated by a member of this House, would probably fall under standing order 74. I see it as a direct attack on the position of the Governor-General. I am sure the Governor-General is a very independent person and would not consider himself to be in the pocket of the Prime Minister.

I find that the actions of a person who is not an elected member of parliament are an attack on the institution itself. I would think that members of this House would feel fairly disappointed if the Clerk of the lower house made such comments—which are clearly political comments.

Mr CAUSLEY —The member for Sydney said `Not me'. Obviously she does not support the institution of parliament being elected members of parliament—because that is exactly what it is. Even the Senate is not an elected house. But I would say that, as members of parliament, they certainly have an opportunity and a right to make comments. But I believe that the clerks who are there to advise the parliament certainly do not have a role to enter into the political debate on any issues such as this.

I understand that there have been other statements by the Clerk of the Senate which really draw into question whether he could be an independent arbiter in the advice that is given to that particular section of the parliament. I understand that the House of Representatives has no control over the Senate, but I think that the House itself should certainly be disturbed that there is a precedent being set on this issue. (Time expired)