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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1746

Senator MISSEN —My question is directed to the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind the Minister that, on the night that the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, won government, he undertook to reform the committee system of the Parliament and to create a House of Representatives committee system that would enable Opposition members to play an active role in government decisions. I ask the Minister, firstly: Is it a fact that during 1983 the present Government considered creating a new committee system but then deferred the matter until 1984? Secondly, has the Government since publicly indicated any intention or any proposal for proceeding with this matter in 1984? Thirdly, in respect of the Senate committee system, is the Minister also aware that the number of reports tabled in the Senate by the legislative and general purpose committees-the major inquiry committees of the Senate-has declined from 20 in 1978; to 16 in 1979; to eight in 1983, with only three so far in 1984? Fourthly, does he accept that the failure of Labor senators to attend Senate committee meetings or to meet during recess weeks has been a major cause of this decline in performance? Fifthly, what action will the Government take to carry out the Prime Minister's undertakings and to persuade Labor senators to moderate their factional interests in the interests of Senate committee productivity?

Senator GRIMES —I am aware that proposals have been made to reform the committee system of the Parliament, in particular the committee system of the House of Representatives, and that this matter was deferred until 1984. It is my understanding that this matter is still under the consideration of the relevant Government committee. I will seek details on how far down the track that has gone and give them to Senator Missen.

I accept Senator Missen's statement regarding the number of committee reports that have been brought down in recent years. I notice that they also declined in the time of the previous Government. I am unable to give the exact reason for that. It may be that the inquiries now being conducted are longer and more complicated than they were in the past. I do not accept that this has occurred because honourable senators on this side of the House will not sit at times which might be more convenient to Senator Missen. I well remember that when I was a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare and other committees the boot was on the other foot. In fact, it was Liberal and National Party senators who would not turn up. I understand from interjections that that is still the case.

Senator Missen's final question was more in the realms of a political question. He asked what I or the Prime Minister or anyone else intended to do about the situation. I will investigate the facts as Senator Missen has put them and see whether there is any basis for the concern he has expressed.