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Tuesday, 9 May 1972
Page: 1463

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - I endorse the remarks of my colleague Senator Cavanagh. On previous occasions a number of senators on both sides of the chamber have expressed in forceful terms their opinion that the Estimates Committees would probably have some value if they met singly but invariably more than one committee sits at the one time so that a senator who is interested in a particular subject that is being debated by Committee A cannot hear what is being discussed by Committee B, though he is interested in that subject also. One cannot be in 2 places at once; even the Leader of the Government has said that. This becomes an intolerable burden if a senator is trying to keep up with all subjects under discussion at any particular time. The motion moved by the Leader of the Government is even worse than :he motion that he moved a couple of weeks ago.

It is proposed that tomorrow the Senate will suspend at 4 p.m. I am not aware of any occasion in this session when question time ha,s finished by 4 p.m. on a broadcasting day. Almost invariably it does not finish by 4 p.m., whether the proceedings are being broadcast or not. Now it is proposed that further time should be given away when this chamber ought to be in session. I object strenuously to the whittling away of the debating time of members for the sake of convening sittings of the Estimates Committees. We do not let standing committees and select committees sit during ordinary parliamentary debating periods unless as a matter of urgency and by clear decision of the Senate. Why should an exception be made on every occasion for the Estimates Committees? If the Estimates Committees have to sit, they should sit on Monday and Friday and on Tuesday morning so that the debating time of the chamber is not interfered with.

Senator Little - What about Sunday?

Senator KEEFFE - That is reserved for the honourable senator to read "The Little Red Schoolbook'. The days I have mentioned are the days on which the Senate Estimates Committee ought to be sitting - not on the days that are normally reserved for parliamentary business. We have to come to the crunch somewhere. We must examine whether the Government is whittling away the powers of Parliament by reducing debating time in open public forum. It is all very well to say that the public are entitled to sit in on Estimates

Committees debates. First of all, people are likely to be turfed out because there is no room for them in the rooms where the committees meet. One would need a map or a compass to find some of the committee rooms. Tonight there was a committee meeting in room LI 16. Two attendants of whom I inquired did not know where it was. I do not blame them. It is a place at the back now known as the old Hansard section. If one took a reel of wool and unrolled on the way to the committee room, one might be able to find his way back from the room. If the committee system is to work, it must be re-examined from the point at which it was started a couple of years ago. I make no apology for thinking that the Estimates Committees are - I almost used a word that might have been unparliamentary-

Senator Little - You have been reading The Little Red Schoolbook'.

Senator KEEFFE - But not the sex part. The Estimates Committees system is in a large measure unsatisfactory. 1 have no option but to oppose the motion. I am pleased to be associated with the remarks of Senator Cavanagh in this regard.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSON (New South Wales - Minister for Health) (10.8) - in reply - This is a difficult area; I do not gainsay that. By way of explanation, I feel bound to remind honourable senators that on 26th April the Senate sat in Estimates Committee almost all day.

Senator Keeffe - I objected to it.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSONYes. I am pointing out what was done. The Estimates Committees sat last Wednesday week from about 4.30 p.m. until 10.15 p.m., after which the Senate resumed. Let us face the facts of life. If we are to deal with Appropriation Bills, we must get through the work of the Estimates Committees first. My idea is to try to facilitate the business of the Senate. Senators are masters of their own destiny in this.

Senator Cavanagh - We will vote against it.

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - You have your right to vote against it. The point I make is that if we dispose of the business of the 2 Committees, we shall clear the decks for our own management and for continuation of the sittings of the Senate. One committee has only one item to deal with, and Committee E because of the work of the Department with which it has dealings, is usually very quick in its deliberations. My job is to try to keep the work flowing. I believe it is desirable to get rid of the work of the 2 Estimates Committees so that we can bring on the Appropriation Bills. When we do that we will have a better programme for the continuing period of sittings, for the next 3 weeks or whatever it may be. lt is true that we will not be in a session of the Senate when these 2 Estimates Committees are sitting. As one of the Committees will be sitting in this chamber, Senator Keeffe will not have any trouble in finding it. I gather that the other one will be sitting in a very prominent committee room and that Senator Keeffe and all other honourable senators will be informed of where it is sitting.

The fact of the matter is we cannot have it both ways. We have to dispose of the business of the Senate before we rise. It should be borne in mind that the Senate has resolved to bring on matters pertaining to committees on Thursdays and that General Business is usually debated after 8 p.m. on Thursdays. We have spent 3 hours today debating an urgency motion, I believe h is desirable that we should try to dispose of the business before the 2 Estimates Committees to which I have referred in order that the Appropriation Bills can be brought on for debate in the normal way.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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