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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1862

Senator COATES(9.51) —I oppose the amendments because they propose references to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, which I chair. Senator Chaney did not have the courtesy to raise with me or the Committee his proposal to move a motion for this reference. I understood that it was our usual courtesy in this place to check with the committee chairman whether the program of a committee was likely to be able to fit in an additional load. There was no attempt at all to discuss this proposed reference with the Committee to see how our program was going. There was not even any advice in advance or after the event. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect such consultation.

The Finance and Government Operations Committee is already well loaded up with references and it would be impossible for it to take on this reference at this stage. As Senator Chaney would be well aware, the Committee is having a major look at the Superannuation Fund Investment Trust. We are working very hard at the moment to finalise a report on that before the end of this period of sittings. On top of that is a related matter, the Superannuation Legislation Amendment Bill 1985, with which we have been dealing over the last week. Earlier today we accepted another reference on a related matter of superannuation for the Northern Territory. Statutory authorities superannuation is another matter with which we are also trying to deal. The Australian Dairy Corporation is still on our plate and we have another report to prepare on the form of the Estimates, plus the whole general question of non-statutory bodies. Without wishing to labour the point, if the reference were to be forced upon us it would be some months before we could even begin work on it.

I think we need to look at the terms of the reference. It is not just a minor matter of checking a few clauses in a short Bill. It requires reporting on the necessity for the creation of an independent Australian Customs Service and without limiting the generality of the reference, a report on the practical impact of the changes of the Service, the Minister, Customs agents and the general public. It requires reporting on what advantages would flow from the proposed changes, the extent to which the changes add to, or reduce, the accountability of the Australian Customs Service, how the changes affect the role and responsibility of the Minister and the cost of the changes.

Senator Chaney would be well aware that such a reference would require advertising for public submissions, time for those submissions to be prepared by interested parties, time for public hearings and so forth. One could not do justice to that sort of inquiry in a short hearing. One could be forgiven for thinking that the Opposition is wanting deliberately to overload the Finance and Government Operations Committee and to further hijack Government Business in this way. As I have said, I do not think that the Committee could do justice to such a major reference in less than a year, in view of the other matters before it. I oppose the amendments and support the motion for the second reading of the Customs Administration Bill 1985.