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Tuesday, 17 September 1974
Page: 1139

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Government in the Senate) - I will speak to the amendment moved by Senator Withers to indicate our attitude. The Government has made a decision on the matter, as honourable senators would understand. The motion gives effect to my Party's decision. In substance, the first part of the amendment really seeks to add to the list the other 2 committeesthe Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and the Standing Committee on Industry and Trade. Senator Carrick said that we were deliberately misrepresenting the position. I will be more charitable to him than he was to me and say that in relation to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee he has a very short memory. I do not say that he deliberately misrepresented the position to the Senate, but it appears from the Journals that on 23 July 1974 a message was received from the House of Representatives in which it was proposed that a joint committee be appointed to consider and report upon foreign affairs and defence generally and such matters as may be referred to the committee by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, by the Minister for Defence or by resolution of either House of the Parliament. It therefore appears that there is a committee of both Houses- to which this Senate has agreed- which should inquire into matters of foreign affairs and defence and that this Senate can refer any matter to be inquired into by that committee. It seems to us that there is a very strong case in relation to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. As this Senate has concurred in a proposition that there should be established a body which can deal with matters of defence following upon a decision of either House, there are very strong reasons why there ought to be a joint House approach in matters relating to foreign affairs and defence. For instance in regard to witnesses, very often there may be an important foreign affairs witness or defence specialist. It does not seem right that such witnesses should be expected to go before 2 committees. I think it may very well be said that this stands in a special category. The Senate having accepted the proposition to establish a joint committee, I think it is reasonable to say that the Senate should abide by that decision.

Senator Sim - Why did you not argue that when you were in Opposition?

Senator MURPHY - Because the proposal that we put forward was for a span of committees. I moved that motion. We did not take the same attitude in relation to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. I think it did not include defence at that stage. Did that Joint Committee include defence at that stage?

Senator Wheeldon - Yes, all along.

Senator MURPHY -A11 along. In any event, there were severe restrictions- including the one to which Senator Carrick referred- which have been corrected by this Government.

Senator Sim - They have not been corrected.

Senator MURPHY -They have been corrected. Whatever else is done, we say that it would not assist the committee system if the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee were included in the motion. Part 2 of the amendment says that matters may be referred to committees. There is no doubt that the intention was that further matters should not be referred to committees, beyond those already before them. It would, of course, still be open to the Senate at any time it desired to send matters to a committee. Part 2 of the amendment does not really do any more than indicate an intent. Leaving it out includes the opposite intent- that is, that matters would not be sent to a committee. It would still be open for the Senate to send any matters to committees once they are established. I think that is clear. It is also fair to say that the intent is expressed in one way by the motion that I have moved and it is expressed in the opposite direction by the amendment moved by Senator Withers. But in either case it is open to the Senate to make its decision at the time as to what it should do. In relation to part 3 of the amendment, I have suggested to Senator Withers- I understood him to accept the proposition- that instead of including the words 'the Clerk attending the Committee' we should substitute the words 'the Chairman or Deputy Chairman attending the Committee'. I think that is more consistent with the dignity of the Senate, especially if there is some difficulty facing the Committee. Senator Withers may care to give an indication that we are in agreement.

Once we determined the matter of intent in part 2 of the amendment we could move on to the other matters. In any event, I see no great objection to what is contained in part 4 of the amendment. The proposal in the suggested new paragraph (10b) is not very wise because we determine at the time whether a matter will be sent to a committee. It is not much use expressing a pious view that matters should be dealt with expeditiously because we decide at the time whether it is proper for a matter to go before a committee. In respect of suggested new paragraph ( 10c), I seem to recall having drafted that myself some time ago.

Senator Baume - What about Trade and Industry?

Senator MURPHY -The Government's reason there is consistent with its reason in respect of the intent which is expressed in my motion and the opposite intent contained in Senator Withers' amendment, that is, that other matters should not be referred to a committee. Unless somebody else wishes to speak, perhaps we can conclude this matter before the dinner break. Senator Hall has indicated a view on Foreign Affairs and Defence. It may be convenient to separate that question. Any honourable senator is entitled to have a vote on a matter. If there are separate questions they should be voted on separately. We can do this simply by deciding whether there should be a Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. If we decide that I think we could probably decide the other matters in globo.

Senator Young - Does the Minister not consider trade important?

Senator MURPHY -Of course I consider trade important. But the Government's answer in general to what has been put by Senator Withers is that we are proposing the consideration of the whole question of committees and the establishment of a system of joint committees. That proposal was made previously in the last Parliament and it will be made again. That is the motivation behind the proposal which has been put now by the Government to the Senate. Mr Chairman, may I ask your indulgence? Is it possible for us to finish this matter before we suspend for dinner so that we can have it determined?

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