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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1948

Senator COATES(3.52) —These regulations and this Ordinance have already been examined by the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances without any comment from the legal adviser or from any member of the Committee, including Senator Durack; that is, they were dealt with as in no way contravening the principles of the Committee and in no way needing the Committee to write to a Minister, to report to the Senate or to take any such action. So I do not see any point in referring back to the Committee matters which have already been dealt with. As has been mentioned already in this debate, the Committee's principles do not include examining policy questions involved in any regulations or ordinances. As was read out by Senator Harradine, the Committee determines whether matters are in accordance with the statute and deals with other such technical and legal matters, including principle (d) which sets out that the Committee shall examine delegated legislation to see whether it is more appropriate for parliamentary enactment.

What is being put to us here as a reference to the Committee is a policy question disguised as a request for regulation and ordinance-type consideration. Senator Harradine wants this matter to be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs. He wants it to be dealt with as a substantive matter, as obviously does Senator Walters. Neither of them really wants this narrow legal examination which, as I said, has already been done anyway. Of course, it is said that the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee, because of its other references, has not the time to deal with it and that, therefore, it is inappropriate to proceed with a reference to that Committee. So what do they do? They try to refer it instead to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee in a completely innovative way which is without precedent. Far be it from me to take the conservative position of defending the traditions of a Senate committee, but it is strange that we on this side of the Senate are put in this position and that it is those from the conservative parties opposite who want to tear up the traditions of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee which have worked so well.

Senator Tate —It was the same in 1975.

Senator COATES —As in 1975, as Senator Tate interjects. It is not so much that they are traditions, but the procedures of the Committee have worked well until now. I do not mind there being a review of the activities of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee to see whether it ought to change its role-I would be happy to look at that-but that change of role ought to be done in a proper way and not by way of a political matter in respect of which division and heat are being generated by those opposite. I suggest that this motion to refer, if carried, will set an inappropriate precedent and would distort the whole role of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. Paragraph (3) of the motion uses the words of one of the Committee's principles which, I might say, are not the principles of just the Committee. They have also been adopted by the Senate as the principles of its Committee. They are not something the Committee can suddenly change without referral back to the Senate. I point out that the suggestion in paragraph (3) as to whether or not the regulations or the Ordinance contain matter more appropriate for parliamentary enactment is really stretching principle (d) much further than anyone could really accept.

I cannot believe that the Opposition members of the Committee really support this change in the activities of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, especially Senator Durack who, as Attorney-General, himself advised the Committee of his opinion of its limited role in very much the same terms as Senator Gareth Evans, the present Attorney-General, has done. Senator Durack, because of pressure from the likes of Senator Walters in his party, is doing a complete turnaround in his attitude to the role of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee when he ought to be defending it.

I turn briefly to paragraph (2) of the motion which talks in clauses (a), (b) and (c) about restricting the existing powers of the Commonwealth to protect children. How can regulations or ordinances restrict power, for heaven's sake? Either the mover of the motion did not mean to use these words or it was done in too much of a hurry, but I am not at all certain how the Committee will be able to deal with it. I certainly do not think that Senator Mason when he spoke earlier indicated that he understood the role of the Committee or how it should operate. He talked about how people should be heard. As I understand the Committee's Standing Orders, we will not be able to hear anybody. It is suggested to us that we have a narrow legal look at the question. If that is so, why are we adding Senator Harradine to the Committee? If the Committee is to operate in this normal and traditional way, why are we adding to the Committee a new member who is at the centre of the storm over the content of these regulations and this Ordinance and not looking at the technical and legal question of whether or not they were correctly drawn or correctly introduced? I think the wording of the motion and particularly the proposed addition of Senator Harradine to the Committee really show up the intent of those who, as Senator Harradine said, are taking a last resort to try to get a committee, any committee of the Senate, to look at this matter.

Senator Walters has asked members of the Committee to read a report from the United Kingdom of a parliamentary inquiry into video violence and children. I will read that report, but I will not be reading it as a member of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee; I will be reading it as an interested member of the Senate, as far as the general question of video material is concerned. The timing of the matter is another worry I have. It is proposed in the motion that there will be two additional members, one to be nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) and the other to be nominated by the Independent senator. The member of the Committee to be nominated by the Independent senator is, I presume, very easy. He has to consult only himself and if he does not appoint himself I would be very surprised. However, the appointment of an additional member by the Government will require a meeting of the Government Party to determine who our nominee should be. The next meeting of Caucus will not be until 29 May. We will then be in a situation where we will have about one hour, between the Caucus meeting and the resumption of the Senate, when the Regulations and Ordinances Committee can meet. Of course , we cannot meet while the Senate is sitting. I know Senator Harradine would not agree to that, even if there were such a proposal.

Senator Harradine —Are you saying that you will thwart the Senate's decision?

Senator COATES —I am pointing to some of the anomalies and problems with the motion as it is drafted. It is calling for additional members, one to be nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate. That nomination has to be determined by the Caucus. I am appalled that the Opposition is proposing this reference to the Regulations and Ordinances Committee, to change its role in such a dramatic way over this issue. The principles and activity of the Committee have been very constant over the 52 years of its existence. They exclude any consideration of policy matters. That practice has been adopted for most of the years of the Committee's existence and has been accepted by everyone concerned as one of the chief reasons for the Committee's extraordinary success. Apparently the Australian Democrats will support this motion. I wish that some of their number could have been here to hear my comments calling on them not to support it. Apparently their minds are made up about the matter. I think it will be very disappointing if this reference goes ahead, and I urge the Senate to oppose it.