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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1567


Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - I would like to speak for a few moments about the committee system which operates in this Parliament and which has operated here for a long while. For a number of years I have felt the committee system to be quite inadequate and inappropriate. I have felt even that it was moving in the wrong direction. The Parliament has tended to appoint ad hoc committees to look at particular matters that have concerned it from time to time. I have no quarrel with that, but there are important areas of Government administration which ought to come under the scrutiny of this Parliament but which can only come under the scrutiny of Parliament if the appropriate committee system is established, and it has not been established. It was not established when we were in government and I have not the slightest doubt that it will not be established under the present Government. There are people who have examined this matter and made comparisons between our committee system and the United Kingdom and United States experience.

Basically the United States experience is not appropriate to our situation because of the divisions of power between the President, the Executive and the Congress, and because the President's Cabinet is not part of the United States Parliament. His senior appointees have different responsibilities which are carried cut in a different manner. As a result of the separation of functions in the United States there is a system in which powerful congressional committees have been established with the right to summon and question the presidential appointees to particular positions, whether they be the Secretary of State, foreign affairs, defence or whatever the home affairs in that country are called, and the multifarious Cabinet positions in the United States. But the situation of the division of power between the United States Executive and Congress makes the committee experience in that country really inappropriate to our system.

It is much better, therefore, to look to what has happened in the United Kingdom because that country has the same kind of parliamentary system as we have. It has developed its committee system to a much greater extent and much more effectively. As a result it can get through more work in less parliamentary time. If we had the same system in Australia it might even remove from the present Leader of the House (Mr Daly) the necessity to move the gag from time to time. I suppose that is one reason why we are unlikely to have a committee system similar to the United Kingdom system. I suspect that the Leader of the House enjoys moving the gag from time to time.


Mr Daly - I was enjoying your speech until you said that.


Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Fred, I thought you might still have enjoyed it in spite of that? You know that it was said in a non-partisan sense. You were in Opposition for so long that the look of glee that comes over your face-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage) - I invite the honourable member to address the Committee.


Mr MALCOLM FRASER - When the honourable member for Grayndler is going to shut vo somebody from the Opposition side by moving the gag the look of undoubted pleasure that comes over his face is hard to conceal. But there is one particular area that this Parliament has not examined as it ought to be examined. We have the Public Accounts Committee. It started off its operations by ensuring that the expenditure authorised by this Parliament was spent as the Parliament authorised. I know that the Committee has extended its operations to some extent beyond that. But in the United Kingdom, not only is there a public accounts committee but also there is an expenditure committee. That committee has a function entirely different from that of the public accounts committee. The expenditure committee is designed to make sure that, within the ambit of Government policies, departments pursue and develop those policies in the most efficient manner possible. It does not question policy itself. It looks at the formation of the estimates for government departments. The expenditure committee is a large one composed of about 40 members. I think it is broken up into about 4 subcommittees. Each sub-committee takes a number of UK Government departments and they really put the departmental officers through the hoops in relation to the very formation of the estimates themselves.

Having been a Minister in charge of 3 different portfolios I doubt whether there is a Department of State that does not somewhere or other pad expenditure votes in this country. Ministers find that this is convenient and therefore do not argue against it. But it is bad parliamentary practice, it is bad for departments, it is bad for the Public Service and it ought not to be possible to pad votes in this area. The expenditure vote that can most easily be padded is the vote for travelling. I can remember one of the Defence departments on one occasion running out of travelling funds. We could not even afford to send a senior officer on a special mission to South East Asia. So we approached one of the other Service departments and said: 'Oh, all right, you can have one of our positions on a troop carrying aircraft and we will buy a first class ticket on Qantas.' That is just showing in a slightly ludicrous fashion how particular votes can be padded. Of course, this can add up to a very considerable amount of money.

We need an expenditure committee to operate under the same kind of terms of reference as does the United Kingdom expenditure committee. For the first time this would give to this Parliament some degree of control over the formation of estimates and over the formation of expenditure items. An expenditure committee would not cut out the work of our Public Accounts Committee. The Public Accounts Committee would still continue under very much the same terms of reference. But at the same time there would need to be close liaison between the 2 committees. I do not believe that the committee system established by our Senate obviates in any way the need for an expenditure committee sitting right through the year to examine estimates for departments. At present we must look at the Estimates between the time of their presentation and the time when they are passed through the Budget debate. In that short time we really cannot get into the depth of how departments go about this business of expenditure.

It is notable that 30 years ago the United Kingdom started off in the same way as our Senate Estimates committees have started off. The United Kingdom soon moved to a system where it had specialist committees sitting all the year round, not looking at estimates in relation to the presentation of the budget but looking into the totality of the way in which departments go about this function which is very important in terms of financial responsibility. In addition, I strongly believe that there ought to be 2 general purpose standing committees of this Parliament to enable the business of the Parliament to be decentralised. Again I suppose that proposition is against the philosophy of my honourable friend and colleague, the Leader of the House.

If we had 2 general purpose standing committees, non-controversial matters, the committee stages of non-controversial Bills and the second reading stage of non-controversial Bills could be referred to the standing committees. If on examination those standing committees felt that those matters should come before the whole of the House, that could be done. This is the practice in the United Kindgom. This is not a step into the dark. It is not a step into the unknown. These procedures have been tried and proved over many years in the United Kingdom. So if somebody says that we cannot do this until we get a new parliament house - and that might be 10 to 20 years away, I do not know - that is not true. We could build an underground pathway leading to the car park or the gardens on this side of the building and put up an appropriate committee building or two. I regret to say it may be on the bowling green. Whilst that may disturb those who use the bowling green for its present function, the purpose of this Parliament comes before bowls. We could even have an underground walkway going beyond the bowling green and not disturb the bowlers. But to say that we do not have adequate facilities at present is no answer to this important and urgent necessity facing this Parliament. The 2 general purpose committees would do a very great deal to achieve a more efficient use of parliamentary time. Nobody would be kept off a particular committee if he was interested in a particular item. In the United Kingdom there is a permanent membership, together with a floating membership, so that members who are interested in a particular matter can speak to that matter and take a part in the debates that might be involved with it.

The only other specialist committee that I think it might be worth while to consider establishing would be one on tariffs. Then, those particularly interested in these problems could in committee examine the Tariff Board reports in very great detail and in a way that may not otherwise be possible because of the pressures of time on the business of this Parliament. I think it would be much better to have 2 general purpose standing committees, rather than committees covering the totality of departments, one for each department. Again, this follows United Kingdom practice. There is not time in this debate to relate the reasons for this. I do not think we can go beyond that at present because of the numbers in this House. That is a limiting factor on the committees that can be established. I ask the permission of the Committee to have incorporated in Hansard a report that I made for a former Prime Minister - about 3 Prime Ministers ago - in .1965 concerning a comparison between the United Kingdom committee system and the Australian committee system. It is an entirely non-political document. I would not agree with every part of what I then wrote because times have changed and moved, but I have given some indication in this speech of the . changes that I think need incorporating in this document.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Dr Jenkins)Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows) -

PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES A COMPARISON BETWEEN THE UNITED KINGDOM AND AUSTRALIAN PRACTICE

Introduction:

The purpose of this paper is to make a comparison between the United Kingdom and Australian use of Parliamentary committees, to see if there are some lessons inherent in United Kingdom practice which will enable us to expand the effective use of Parliamentary committees of one kind or another. The paper is not concerned with what may be called the 'domestic' committees of the respective Parliaments, in our case the Committee of Privileges, the Standing Orders Committee, the Printing Committee, the Library Committee or the House Committee. It is not concerned with these or with their equivalents in the United Kingdom. It is, however, concerned with those Committees which assist the Parliament in carrying out its own functions and duties in an effective and efficient manner. Therefore, it is probably necessary, in brief terms, to set down some of the main objectives of parliamentary activities in our system of Government.

What Kind of Committee and the Function of Parliament:

The House of Commons has always strongly rejected the idea of departmental committees on the United States or French pattern. These are committees that have responsibilities for overseeing the work and function of one particular department or, in the French case I think, of more than one department. Under these circumstances a Minister in the respective countries would have a committee of this kind breathing down his back at every possible turn. It may be argued in French experience that such committees provided a useful stabilising factor during their period of grossly unstable Government. On the other hand, it could equally well be argued that the strength and power of these committees in the French Parliament through the days of the third and fourth Republics before De Gaulle, made it almost impossible for Ministers to gain proper control over their own departmental affairs. The United States' practice provides no realistic analogy of what may be expected under our system of Government. The separation of powers in the United States is reasonably complete and the strength of the Committees of Congress in relation to any department are fairly strictly limited by the exclusion of the Executive from Congress. On the other hand it is probably correct to say that United States Congress needs committees of this kind from the very fact that the Executive is not part of Congress. Based on their own experience and on the examples that have been provided in France and America the House of Commons has. I think, quite rightly, rigidly and repeatedly rejected the idea of departmental committees of this kind, and has rather supported the establishment of select committees to form a particular function which might have some relevance at one time or another to some aspect of the work of several departments, or of every department. The Select Committee on Public Accounts, the Select Committee on Estimates and the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments are three such committees. This point could probably be made in another way. Parliamentary control really means influence rather than direct power, advice not command, criticism rather than destruction, scrutiny as opposed to initiation and publicity as opposed to secrecy. If these functions can be carried out effectively the Parliament will have an influence whatever Government may be in power. Parliamentary committees, therefore, should be composed in such a way that these particular duties can be carried out in the best possible manner.

It will not be surprising to see that Australian practice has closely followed United Kingdom experience, in the Public Accounts Committee and in the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances - which is roughly equivalent to the Committee on Statutory Instruments. It may be useful to compare the terms of reference of the Committees in the respective Parliaments.

Committees and Delegated Authority:

The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments has had its terms of reference summarised in this way. Its purpose is to draw the attention of the House to provisions which -

(i)   impose a charge on the public revenues,

(ii)   are made under an enactment which excludes challenge in the Law Courts,

(iii)   appear to make some unusual or unexpected use of the powers conferred by the Statute,

(iv)   purport to have retrospective effect where the parent Statute does not so provide,

(v)   had been withheld from publication or from being laid before Parliament by unjustifiable delay,

(vi)   have not been notified at proper time to the Speaker in cases where they come into operation before being presented to Parliament or,

(vii)   called for elucidation in their form or purport.

The Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances is charged with the responsibility of seeing the clause of each Bill conferring a regulationmaking power does not confer a legislative power of a character which ought to be exercised by Parliament itself, and that it shall also scrutinise regulations to ascertain -

(i)   that they are in accordance with the Statute,

(ii)   that they do not trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties,

(iii)   that they do not unduly make the rights and liberties of citizens dependent upon administrative and not upon judicial decisions,

(iv)   that they are concerned with administrative detail and do not amount to substantive legislation which should be a matter of parliamentary enactment.

Although there is a considerable differencein the form of the terms of reference, the purpose of both committees is roughly the same, to impose some limits to the extent of delegated legislation and to see that rules made by some delegated authority are in accordance with the Statute itself.

Committee of Public Accounts:

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has had its terms of reference summarised in this form. Its stated duties are -

(a)   to report on cases where money granted by Parliament appeared to have been expended on purposes other than those for which they were appropriated, or to be in excess of the relevant

(b)   to report on any excess vote that may have been presented,

(c)   to report on the Treasury's exercise of its powers of virement, that is of provisionally authorising a surplus on a defence department's vote to be transferred to another vote of the same department In order to cover a deficiency in that vote.

(d)   to make recommendations, as the occasion may require, for improving the method of the presentation of the national accounts.

The duties of the Commonwealth Parliament's Joint Statutory Public Accounts Committee are -

(a)   to examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Commonwealth and each statement and report transmitted to the Houses of the Parliament by the Auditor-General in pursuance of sub-section (1) of section fiftythree of the Audit Act 1901-1950;

(b)   to report to both Houses of the Parliament with such comment as it thinks fit, any Items or matters in those accounts, statements and reports, or any circumstances connected with them, to which the Committee is of the opinion that the attention of the Parliament should be directed;

(c)   to report to both Houses of the Parliament any alteration which the Committee thinks desirable in the form of the public accounts or in the method of keeping them, or in the mode of receipt, control, issue or payment of public moneys; and

(d)   to inquire into any question in connection with the public accounts which is referred to it by either House of the Parliament, and to report to that House upon that question, and included such other duties as are assigned to the Committee by Joint Standing Orders approved by both Houses of the Parliament.

It can be seen again that the functions of both Public Accounts Committees follow similar lines. In each case their main purpose has been and is to see that moneys have been spent as they were ordered to be spent by Parliament.

The Australian Joint Statutory Committee on Public Works:

In the Federal Parliament you will find committees which have no counterpart in the United Kingdom - the Joint Statutory Committee on Public Works is one, its purpose being to report to Parliament on the advisability and practicability of various public works over £250,000 which are referred to the Committee in the appropriate manner.

In considering and reporting on any work the Committee shall have regard to -

(a)   the stated purpose thereof;

(b)   the necessity or advisability of carrying it out; and where the work purports to be of a reproductive or revenue-producing character, the amount of revenue which it may reasonably be expected to produce; and

(c)   the present and prospective public value of the work; and generally the Committee shall in all cases take such measures and procure such information as may enable them to inform or satisfy the Parliament as to the expedience of carrying out the work.

Committee on Foreign Affairs:

The Joint Foreign Affairs Committee also finds no counterpart in the United Kingdom Parliament probably because the House of Commons, as I have pointed out, has always sternly turned its back against committees which are established on a departmental basis. The problems that could arise as a result of this practice have been overcome in Australia by certain strict limitations on the powers of the Foreign Affairs Committee compared to the powers of equivalent committees in the United States Congress for example. The nature of our parliamentary system makes such limitations necessary.

House of Commons Standing Committees:

So far I have mentioned instances of parliamentary committees which the two Parliaments have in common, and pointed out also that in certain fields the Australian Parliament has proceeded further in this direction than the House of Commons. This doesn't mean, however, that there aren't some further lessons to be learned from United Kingdom experience.

The large Standing Committees to which legislation is referred in the committee stage have no relevance to our Parliament. This practice has been made necessary in the United Kingdom by the increasing pressure of work and of public business and by the size of the House of Commons. In this context we probably need to remember that the House of Commons is responsible not only for all the duties and obligations conferred upon out Federal Parliament but, in addition, it is responsible for all those matters that are decided by the States in Australia, and thus it has a much broader spectrum of work to cover. This alone would make the House of Commons" a busier Parliament than our Federal Parliament, but when this is coupled by the very large membership it is clear that tremendous pressures would develop on the time of the House of Commons. These problems have largely been overcome by the practice of referring committee stages of Bills to permanent Standing Committees, this removes the committee stage of the Bills from the floor of the House of Commons, except in unusual cases or in cases of exceptional importance. These Standing Committees are composed of a nucleus of about twenty permanent members, and up to thirty additional members are appointed to one of these committees for any particular Bill and for that Bill only. To the present point of time it is clear that no pressure and no need for such Committees has developed in the Australian House of Parliament.

Select Committee on the Estimates

Since the war the House of Commons has had experience with the Select Committee on Estimates which has served a useful purpose in a field which is not covered by parliamentary committee work in the Australian Parliament. Such a committee could be worth consideration in Australia. This Committee had a chequered experience until 1939, largely, because the Committee was groping for its proper function. In addition, its activities were interrupted by two world wars because estimates were not presented to the Parliament in the normal manner during the war. At such times a National Committee on Public Expenditure was established, which, in large measure combined the work of both the Public Accounts and the Estimates Committees. Despite the varying fortunes of the Committee its terms of reference have not been altered since 1921. The terms of reference are these -

(i)   to examine such of the estimates presented to this House, as may seem fit to the Committee,

(ii)   to suggest the form in which the estimates may be presented for examination,

(iii)   to report what if any economies consistent with the policy implied in those estimates may be effected therein.

The Committee is not meant to transgress on policy. It does not involve the time of Ministers, it deals with officials and through officials.

In the periods between the two world wars, there may have been people who thought that the Estimates Committee as such could not provide a particularly useful function, because the Committee was at that time largely trying to re-do the work that had already been done by the Treasury and by Treasury experts and officials. It was probably doubtful if a committee of politicians could perform this particular function any better, if as well, as the trained officials.

At this time the Committee was largely try.ing to draw the attention of the House of Commons to changes in the estimates between one year and the next. They thought it would supply information to the members which would be used in the Supply debates. It didn't work out this way, largely because most members were more interested in making political speeches at this time than in conducting a detailed consideration of the estimates. It might be said that we would find the same attitude in Australia but, in any case, the history of the Select Committee on Estimates has shown quite clearly that a detailed examination of the estimates figures is not the best way to go about its business. The Committee has been successful only since it departed from this practice and adopted that of the Committee on Public Expenditure which was established during the war.

Since the war however the fortunes of the Committee have changed. It is now widely recognised that it fills a most useful purpose. It now understands the limitations to its own authority and its own effectiveness, or perhaps it would be appropriate to say it has more clearly defined the proper field for its own activities.

The Estimates Committee now largely disregards estimates qua estimates, it uses the estimates as a starting point for investigations into administrative efficiency, which are designed to discover whether the taxpayer is getting proper value for his money. In order to do this more effectively and to cover a larger number of departments, the Estimates Committee has divided itself into several sub-committees, each of which has the assistance of House of Commons clerks. It should be noted that the Committee's reputation has increased during a period in which it has not had the assistance of specialised technical staff in the sense in which its staff were trained in estimates or in financial procedures.

In the years since the war the Select Committee on the Estimates has not suffered from the absence of specialised staff to do the kind of work for it that is done for the Public Accounts Committee by the staff of the Controller and Auditor-General. The Estimates Committee has overcome this particular problem by getting the information it needs through various official witnesses and particularly from the Treasury.

Quite often the House of Commons pays considerable attention to the Estimates Committee's reports, but even if no major debates follow the announcement of their reports the fact of the Committee's existence must have a considerable effect on morale and outlook of various departments, and on the attention they give to their own estimates.

It must be emphasised that although it is desirable for an Estimates Committee to get its reports published as early as possible, it is not necessary and I don't think it has been the practice in the United Kingdom, for the reports to be published by the time the estimates for that particular department are debated in the House of Commons. The fact that the reports are made, that criticisms or praise could be levelled at certain officials or certain departments in itself has a salutory effect on the way in which estimates are drawn up.

The work of the Estimates Committee is, of course, closely related to the Public Accounts Committee, and in the United Kingdom contact between them is maintained by appointing the Chairman of the former to be a member of the latter. There have at various times, been proposals that the two Committees should be amalgamated, but this has been resisted not only because they have two specific functions to perform but also I think because it was felt that one committee of public expenditure would be too powerful. It must be remembered that the main purpose of the Public Accounts Committee is to see that moneys have been spent as the Parliament previously ordered, while the main purpose of the Estimates Committee is to see that departments draw up their estimates in a most efficient and businesslike manner designed to get the best value for the money that is to be spent.

In 1960 the work of the Estimates Committee was further recognised by changes that were announced by Mr Butler. Membership of the Committee was increased from thirty-six to forty-three to enable it to establish an additional sub-committee, which Mr Butler hoped would enable it to expand the scope of its activities. An example of the Committee's work may be given in these terms. In 1954 one of the sub-committees decided to examine the estimates concerned with Civil Defence. The Committee's task was to examine how it was proposed to spend something over £40m during one year within the framework of Government policy. The Committee found that before it could examine the expenditure of the future year in an efficient manner it would have to have some understanding of how funds had been spent in previous years. The purpose here was to see if there had been consistency in policy, to see if matters once started had been properly carried through in accordance with policies announced by the Government. The function of the Committee was never to question the nature of the policy but to see if the policy itself was being carried out as efficiently as possible.

It should be noted that the Estimates Committee of the United Kingdom gives plenty of notice to departments of the nature and scope of any intended inquiry and usually asks for some preliminary material. The object of the exercise is not to trap departments but to acquire information and if necessary reveal difficulties and black spots that might be present. Surprise is not necessary and it is probably not even desirable. The corrective effect of the knowledge of an inquiry is said to be high in the United

Kingdom, and this is probably one of the main advantages of such a Committee. It is not possible to judge the worth of committees of this kind by the notice they achieve in the press by the number of parliamentary questions or the length of parliamentary debates that follow their reports but rather by their effect on the nature and actions of the Public Service itself.

It is possible to divide the work of the House of Commons Estimates Committee into four types. Hie Committee has reviewed activities represented by blocks of expenditure*. For example, reviews of the work of the Control Office, Colonial Development and of Expenditure on Research. Secondly, the Committee has reviewed the work and financial affairs of departments and other bodies spending public moneys, such as the BBC, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the British Council. Thirdly, they have investigated a series of current problems, some applying to one department and others concerning more than one. Investigations of this kind were those on the release of requisitioned property, the organisation of methods and its effects on the staffing of Government departments and the use of Royal Ordinance Factories and Royal Navy establishments. Finally, they have investigated suspected black spots, either as a result of public doubt or by unusual figures occurring in the estimates. The reports on the use of motor fuel and on the civil service commission have been cited as examples of this type of inquiry.

The Estimates Committee has at least one major point in common with other committees which we have discussed. It is not authorised to formulate or criticise policy, it is there to scrutinise the application of policy, and the way it is to be implemented. This represents the limits of the Committee's concern with policy. This general limitation is usually made clear in the terms of reference of the different committees.

If an Estimates Committee were to be established in Australia it is probable that the terms of reference of the Public Accounts Committee would need to be reviewed to minimise any difficulties between the two Committees. There would also need to be some overlapping membership as in the United Kingdom so that the work of the two committees could be properly co-ordinated. However, the main concept of both Committees should be kept clearly in mind. The purpose of the Public Accounts Committee is to see that moneys are spent as Parliament ordered; the purpose of the Estimates Committee is to see that the taxpayer is getting the best value for money within the framework of established Government policy.

A Committee on Tariffs:

There is one other field in the Australian Parliament in which committee work could possibly be extended. A parliamentary committee on tariffs would provide a useful function under our circumstances. At the present moment debates on the tariffs are desultory affairs involving the few interested people in the Parliament. Others sometimes begrudge the time made available for such debates, and even though this may be true the fact remains that too little parliamentary time is devoted to this function, that is to the debate of Tariff Board reports and of the Government's action as a result of those reports. These are decisions that can affect industries and livelihoods in every corner of Australia; they can affect economic policy and Australian development for many years, even decades ahead. It is important that Parliamentary scrutiny of such decisions and of the methods at which they are arrived should be as complete as possible. A House of Representatives or a Joint Committee on Tariffs which would report to the Houses of Parliament would provide a most useful function and, I believe, a necessary one. As the Estimates Committee in the United Kingdom has had to guard against doing the Treasury work over again so a parliamentary committee on tariffs would certainly have to guard against doing the work of the Tariff Board over again. Its purpose rather would be to make an examination of the standards and principles which motivate the Tariff Board, to see if there ls consistency in Tariff Board judgment between one industry and the next, and consistency also in Government reaction to the reports. This is just one field in which a parliamentary committee to scrutinise would be most valuable.

Matters In Common:

Any committee that exists or any committee that is likely to be established must be served by an adequate staff. That staff should not be a purely technical staff, technical in relation to the subject matter under discussion. In other words, if a parliamentary committee on Tariff Board reports were established it should not be serviced by somebody expert in tariff procedure. Expert technical knowledge in this field would come to such a committee by hearing officers of the Tariff Board and getting the evidence direct from them. The sort of person who should serve such a committee is one who would have some knowledge of research and of parliamentary procedure. He should be able to assist the Committee in these particular fields. The staff would need to have broader capabilities than might be attributed to a purely technical officer in one field or another. The Committee's staff must be independent, in other words it must be staff employed by the House of Representatives or by the Senate itself. An Estimates Committee or a Tariff Committee would function uselessly if they were served by officers of the Treasury or of the Tariff Board. Some may say that this is one of the real weaknesses of our present Foreign Affairs Committee. However, this again may not be quite true, because the Foreign Affairs Committee is one that from its nature does impinge on the realm of policy. This is the kind of committee which has been rigidly shunned in the United 'Kingdom, and from the nature of the system of Government with some cause.

The Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee, the Committee on Statutory Instruments, together with the Australian Public Accounts Committee, the Australian Public Works Committee and the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances all have one major point in common, they do not discuss the merits of a proposal, they do not discuss policy. The functions of the Committees are these -

(a)   to examine the implementation of policy,

(b)   to scrutinise the means of carrying out that policy,

(d)   to discover if policy is being carried out in the most efficient and economical manner,

(e)   to learn whether moneys have been spent as ordered by Parliament, and

(f)   whether public servants are making regulations in accordance with the Statute.

These are the sorts of things that such committees examine.

If these matters are well done parliamentary government will prosper and the politician will fill a more valuable role as a counter-weight to the Executive, but it must be noted that these functions are ones that belong to Parliament and which do not transgress or limit those particular prerogatives that lie with the Executive. They do not in British practice, or in our practice, with the possible exception of the Foreign Affairs Committee, examine policy and motives. If these limitations are placed upon the committees, limitations which are perfectly proper, it is appropriate that the committee be given a reasonable degree of independence, which means an independent staff. Perhaps it should be pointed out that these committees would not create additional demands on the times of Ministers, they would work largely with officials of one kind or another.

A More Effective Parliament and a step to the Future:

It should be emphasised that in parliamentary work most of us are laymen, whether we are lawyers, accountants or doctors in private life, in the field of parliamentary affairs we all have to learn the hard way. We need appropriate forums in which we can become informed so that our own debate, our own criticisms in the Parliament and outside can have more value. One of the best means of informing the politician is through committee work and particularly through parliamentary committee work. The members of both Parties - Government and Opposition - work in the same atmosphere on these committees in an arena that is largely divorced from Party politics.

At this point I would like to return to my introduction to this particular paper. Perhaps one of the most important functions of the Parliament is to scrutinise, to bring out into the public gaze. In this way the Parliament has its influence on the national forum and on the Government. Scrutiny and publicity in the proper form depends upon the well advised politician, sure in his own knowledge. A politician left to his own devices, working by himself, often finds it difficult to gain the information and the depth of knowledge that is made possible through committee work.

There are peculiarly Australian reasons why it may be appropriate to have the committee work of our House of Representatives expanded in the not too distant future. Our Parliament is to be enlarged. If there are to be a greater number of members in the Parliament, it is important that the avenues of parliamentary scrutiny and advice and knowledge be improved and made more effective than they have been in the past. This is especially so when the necessities of modern government place great power in the hands of the Cabinet and of the Prime Minister. But if, in the final resort, initiation of measures is to be almost entirely a prerogative of the Government, the capacity of Parliament and of the individual members of Parliament to examine, to advise or to criticise should be adjusted to meet that situation.

Experience of the Public Accounts Committee and of the Public Works Committee should give us some confidence that committees of this kind can work effectively and to good purpose without cutting across Government policy. They have shown that members from the Government and from the Opposition can work together within the limited but important pur poses of the Committee. We should borrow a little from the experience of the House of Commons and build on our own practice and expand this work in the appropriate fields. I suggest two parliamentary committees - one on estimates and the other on tariffs - may serve as an appropriate field for future moves in this direction.

MALCOLM FRASER,

September 3rd, 196S







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