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Wednesday, 20 March 1957

Mr CASEY (La Trobe) (Minister for External Affairs) .- I move -

(1)   That a joint committee be appointed to consider foreign affairs generally and, in particular, to inquire into matters referred to it by the Minister for External Affairs.

(2)   That thirteen members of the House of Representatives be appointed to serve on such committee.

(3)   That the Minister for External Affairs shall make available to the committee information within such categories or on such conditions as he may consider desirable.

(4)   That, notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders -

(a)   the persons appointed for the time being to serve on the committee shall constitute the committee notwithstanding any failure by the Senate or the House of Representatives to appoint the full number of senators or members referred to in these resolutions;

(b)   the committee shall have power to appoint sub-committees consisting of four or more of its members; and to refer to any such sub-committees any of the matters which the committee is empowered to examine;

(c)   the committee or any sub-committee have power to sit during any adjournment of the Parliament and during the sittings of either House of the Parliament;

(d)   the committee and its sub-committees will sit in camera and their proceedings shall be secret unless the Minister at the request of the committee otherwise directs;

(e)   (i) one-third of the number of members appointed to the committee for the time being constitute a quorum of the committee, save that where the number of members is not divisible by three without remainder the quorum shall be the number next higher than one-third of the number of members for the time being;

(ii)   three members of a sub-committee constitute a quorum of that subcommittee;

(f)   the committee shall, for considerations of national security, in all cases forward its reports to the Minister for External Affairs, but on every occasion when the committee forwards a report to the Minister it shall inform the Parliament that it has so reported; except that in the case of matters not referred to it by the Minister for External Affairs, the committee shall not submit a report to the Minister nor inform the Parliament accordingly without the Minister's consent. Provided the Opposition is represented on the committee, copies of the committee's reports to the Minister for External Affairs shall be forwarded to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives for his confidential information;

(g)   subject to the Minister for External Affairs being informed, the committee shall have power to invite persons to give evidence before it;

(h)   subject to the consent of the Minister for External Affairs, the committee shall have power to call for official papers or records;

(i)   subject to paragraph 4 (d), all evidence submitted to the committee, both written and oral, shall be regarded as confidential to the committee;

(j)   the Senate be asked to appoint seven of its members to serve on such committee.

(5)   That the committee have power to consider the minutes of evidence and records of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs appointed in the previous session relating to any matter on which that committee had not completed its inquiry.

(6)   That a message be sent to the Senate requesting its concurrence.

This motion, except for paragraph (5), is the same as the one that I had the privilege of introducing just over twelve months ago. The purpose of that paragraph is selfevident. I do not think that it is necessary to say very much more about the Foreign Affairs Committee than I have already said on a number of occasions. I think this is the sixth year of its existence. It has been most successful, and has enabled a relatively large number of members to become much more intimately acquainted with particular aspects of international affairs on which they have sought further information. I do not think that it is necessary to give the number of meetings that have been held, but it is considerable. Nor need I give the even greater number of documents that have been circulated to the committee by my department - very largely at the committee's request. It has had complete freedom to choose the subjects to be discussed. As the relevant Minister, I have placed no restriction at all upon this. I have attended a large proportion of the meetings and the senior officers in my department have always been at the call of the committee.

As honorable members know, the motion provides for the appointment of members from each side, both here and in another place. Unfortunately, and to our distress, the Opposition has not thought fit to be represented. I need not repeat the arguments and appeals that I have voiced in seeking the co-operation of members of the Opposition in this matter - so that they, not we, might benefit. They are denying themselves the opportunity of acquiring knowledge on this highly important aspect of public affairs. However, I have no more to say on that matter. I have said it on so many occasions in the past that I can only hope that the Opposition will now agree to take advantage of the very many valuable opportunities that membership of this committee provides. It is easy enough for me to speak of that, but members of the Opposition could more readily convince themselves of the value of this committee by speaking to members of the committee and not to me. I am sure they would be told that there is no limitation on the scope of the matters into which the committee wishes to inquire. There is no limitation on the degree of frankness with which I, personally, find myself able to speak to members of this committee.

I believe that this has been a successful committee. It is now more than an innovation; it is a well-established committee. In my view, it is equal in its achievements to the Foreign Affairs Committee of any parliament of which I am aware. The limitations on it are fewer than those on the Foreign Affairs Committee of any country of which I know.

I need not say any more than that. Anything that it is necessary to say has been said by me many times in the past. I limit myself to commending this project to honorable members on both sides of the House.

Question put -

That the motion (vide page 39) be agreed to.

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