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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 451

Mr DALY (Grayndler) (Leader of the House) - in reply - A few matters have been raised during the course of this debate to which I should reply briefly. I agree with those honourable members who have said that there are numerous parliamentary committees. It is true that whilst there are numerous committees in this Parliament none of them has functioned as effectively in our parliamentary system as do such committees in many other countries. With the growth of work, forgetting all about sitting hours, and the numerous problems that must be discussed in the national Parliament, some system must be devised whereby some issues can be deliberated in committees and more specialised and knowledgeable debate take place in the Parliament. I do not think we can keep abreast of developments in parliamentary systems if we continue our debates under a system devised many years ago and which lays down provisions for so many hours for a second reading debate.

Having listened to a number of honourable members opposite, particularly those I look at now, I believe that service on a committee would improve their knowledge tremendously. A proper investigation may result in ways of shortening effective debate whilst not curtailing the right of expression in the Parliament of those who have an intimate knowledge of a subject under discussion. Undoubtedly they would be able to give the benefit of their knowledge more informatively and in a shorter period to those honourable members who do not possess such knowledge.

Much is to be said for committees meeting when the Parliament is not sitting. Quite frankly it is impossible to have intelligent committee meetings when, in accordance with the proceedings of the Parliament, such meetings can be interrupted when quorums of the House are called and divisions taken. One matter into which the proposed committee might inquire is how to avoid such occurrences when committees are deliberating on important matters. Much has been said about the changed sitting hours of the Parliament. I understood that the Opposition did not oppose the extended sitting hours although it moved some minor amendment. Whilst clamouring for extra time in the Parliament the Opposition moved an amendment to reduce the sitting hours. Of course that kind of reasoning is worthy of investigation by a committee. Long before hours were extended in this Parliament there was trouble with committee sittings. This occurred during the last Parliament. There will always be such trouble unless some method is adopted whereby time is put aside for committee meetings. Honourable members have suggested that because of the extended sitting hours committee meetings cannot be held. I point out that there are many Fridays in a year when honourable members could linger in Canberra to serve on a committee. There are many Monday mornings when honourable members could be present for committee meetings. Of course Country Party members would have to leave their cows, trees and horses. Someone else would have to milk the cows on Sunday evenings.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - A member must spend some time in his electorate.

Mr DALY - I do not blame the honourable member for spending a lot of time in his electorate. However I give him the good oil that if he stayed away longer his electorate would appreciate him more. The situation is that we are not now determining the committee system. I hope that from this motion a joint committee will meet and make recommendations whereby parliamentary committees can function more effectively. It has been said that a joint committee is proposed. It is proposed that a joint committee investigate the committee system to see whether it can be made to function more effectively. The joint committee will have an investigatory role. It must be a joint committee. If the Parliament wants to continue as it is operating, Opposition members will not participate in the joint committee, but if they want the sensible functioning of the Parliament they will agree that something must be done.

It is idle to think that every honourable member in the Parliament can debate every Bill. It would not matter how knowledgeable an honourable member was, the House would have to sit 24 hours every day of the year to enable all members to speak to all matters. This would not work. If as a result of the operations of the proposed joint committee the procedures of the Parliament can be streamlined without interfering with the Parliament's deliberations a big forward step will have been taken. I am pleased that honourable members opposite are not opposing the motion although they have, in a strange way, damned it with faint praise. As I look about me I can see many honourable members who would benefit from serving long terms on committees. They could learn much. If, in future, committees function as the Government believes they might, honourable members may have the opportunity to serve on such committees. In the investigation that takes place every aspect of committee work can be examined including whether committee meetings should be interrupted, when they should be held, should the Parliament not meet until a certain hour, say 12 noon, in order to allow committees to function and whether committee meetings should continue during meal hours. These matters can all be considered by the joint committee to determine how committee meetings can be dovetailed into the parliamentary system and parliamentary machine.

I am pleased that the Opposition is not opposing the motion. I would, however, ask honourable members opposite to speak with the recalcitrant backwoodsman in the other place to see whether, for once, they might recognise the enlightenment that is flowing from this chamber and support this proposal. The knowledge they gain from mingling with members from this side of the House in a joint committee would be an inspiration to them in their efforts to get back into government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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