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Wednesday, 24 August 1994
Page: 166


Senator ROBERT RAY (Acting Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (9.44 a.m.) —I move:

  STANDING COMMITTEES

1.  Standing order 25

Leave out paragraphs (1) to (11) inclusive, substitute the following paragraphs:

(1)  At the commencement of each Parliament, Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees shall be appointed, as follows:

  Community Affairs

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Economics

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Employment, Education and Training

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Finance and Public Administration

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Legal and Constitutional

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee

  Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport

  References Committee

  Legislation Committee.

(2)(a)The References Committees shall inquire into and report upon matters referred to them by the Senate, other than the matters to be referred to the Legislation Committees.

(b)The Legislation Committees shall inquire into and report upon estimates of expenditure referred to them in accordance with standing order 26, any bills or draft bills referred to them, annual reports in accordance with a reference of such reports to them, and the performance of departments and agencies allocated to them.

(3)  References concerning departments and agencies shall be allocated to the committees in accordance with a resolution of the Senate allocating departments and agencies to the committees.

(4)  The committees shall inquire into and report upon matters referred to their predecessor committees appointed under this standing order and not disposed of by those committees, in accordance with the allocation of matters in paragraph (2), and in considering those matters may consider the evidence and records of those committees relating to those matters.

(5)(a)The References Committees shall consist of 8 senators, 3 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 4 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and one nominated by minority groups and independent senators.

(b)The Legislation Committees shall consist of 6 senators, 3 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, 2 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and one nominated by minority groups and independent senators.

(6)(a)The committees to which minority groups and independent senators make nominations shall be determined by agreement between the minority groups and independent senators, and, in the absence of agreement duly notified to the President, any question of the representation on a committee shall be determined by the Senate.

(b)The allocation of places on the committees amongst minority groups and independent senators shall be as nearly as practicable proportional to the numbers of those minority groups and independent senators in the Senate.

(7)(a)Senators may be appointed to the committees as substitutes for members of the committees in respect of particular matters before the committees.

(b)On the nominations of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and minority groups and independent senators, participating members may be appointed to the committees.

(c)Participating members may participate in hearings of evidence and deliberations of the committees, and have all the rights of members of committees, but may not vote on any questions before the committees.

(8)  A committee may appoint subcommittees consisting of three or more of its members, and refer to any such subcommittee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to consider.

(9)  The References Committee and the Legislation Committee for each subject area may meet together by decision of each committee to confer on any matter referred to either committee and to coordinate their work where necessary.

(10)(a)Each of 6 References Committees shall elect as its chair a member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, and each of 2 References Committees shall elect as its chair a member of the largest minority group in the Senate.

(b)The chairs to which members nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and members of the largest minority group are elected shall be determined by agreement between the Opposition and the largest minority group, and, in the absence of agreement duly notified to the President, any question of the allocation of chairs shall be determined by the Senate.

(c)Each Legislation Committee shall elect as its chair a member nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

(d)Each committee shall elect one of its members as its deputy chair, and the member so elected shall act as the chair of the committee when the member elected as chair is absent from a meeting of the committee or the position of chair is temporarily vacant.

(e)Where the chair of a committee is a member nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the deputy chair shall be a member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate or minority groups and independent senators, and where the chair is a member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate or minority groups and independent senators, the deputy chair shall be a member nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

(f)When votes on a question before a committee are equally divided, the chair, or the deputy chair when acting as chair, shall have a casting vote.

(11)  The chairs of the committees, together with the chairs of any select committees appointed by the Senate, shall constitute the Chairs' Committee, which may meet with the Deputy President in the chair, and may consider and report to the Senate on any matter relating to the operations of the committees.

I say at the outset that these are proposals of the Procedure Committee. There is no government ownership in any of this, but just for the procedural convenience of the chamber it is usually the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Faulkner) who presides. But, as he is watching Australia win gold medals, it has fallen to me to move these matters.

  I suppose these reforms arose out of the view of the opposition—I think shared by the minority parties in the Senate—that it would like to see a change in the Senate committee system, especially that the chairs of committees would more accurately represent the numbers in the chamber. I am not sure of the reason for this—whether it is philosophically based or otherwise. If it is philosophically based, it is purely quarantined to the national parliament. Where the Liberal Party has a majority anywhere else in Australia this sort of bonhomie has not emerged. Nevertheless, it has to be said that often the federal parliament leads and the states follow.

  Perhaps I might make some general comments. Even if I may be somewhat dubious about all the motives involved here, one of the good things about bringing in some reforms in the Senate is that more often than not a lot of good things emerge out of it. I hope that the combination of reference and legislation committees, and the concentration of resources there, will very much enhance the Senate committee system. Even if we carry this today, we have some remaining problems to resolve, but certainly we would be seeking that the remuneration tribunal establish a regime that is fair. One would hope that this parliament's select committees would be somewhat restricted. The difficulty of government numbers bottling up a reference in a standing committee is one of the reasons why select committees have emerged. That need no longer occur.

  I want to say one other thing. This probably is not the perfect system because it involves compromise; it involves some sort of compact between the opposition and the government where we say, `Is there enough turkey on each other's plate to make this place work?' Hence, some of the changes are really based on that compromise. I have no doubt that some amendments will emerge today. I am hopeful that those amendments will not amount to a substantive or dramatic change from what was thrashed out and agreed at the Procedure Committee.

  The first of the proposals in standing order 25 lists the eight committees. It basically says that there will be a government chair and majority on the legislation side to deal with legislation, estimates and annual reports. On the reference committees there will be a non-government majority and a non-government chair, with the sharing of chairs between the opposition and the Democrats. There are procedures in place basically saying that the opposition will take six and the Democrats or minor parties will take two. If it cannot be sorted out, it will come back to this chamber to be sorted out. In one instance I guess the government is fairly empowered with its numbers to make a decision. I do not think I need say much more; the matter has been fairly well canvassed. I think we will see some very interesting changes come out of this particular proposal.