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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1529

Senator WOOD (Queensland) - I recall very clearly the attempt to set up these Estimates Committees. On that occasion, there was a difference of opinion between the then Opposition, which is now the Government, and the then Government. As I remember the position clearly, the Government of the day, supported by the members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, felt that it would like to introduce a certain number of Estimates Committees and, over a period of time, to extend the number of Committees to encompass the whole range of investigation of the Estimates. As I recall the position, the then Opposition wanted the total number of committees set up to cover the complete range of the Estimates immediately. I might say that I supported the motion moved by the then Opposition. The result was that the motion was carried because of my vote. So the Estimates Committees were set up.

It rather amazes me to know that the present Government, which was then the Opposition, says that it does not want these Estimates Committees. I look upon these Committees as giving the individual senator, if he so desires, the opportunity to pursue a proper investigation of the Estimates to whatever extent he or she wants. I well recall the debates on the Estimates in the Committee of the Whole. Because there were so few Ministers covering so many departments it was impossible for the Ministers of the day really to get a clear indication from the officers sitting across the passage from them as to what thenanswers should be. It was impossible to obtain the necessary answers in the way that honourable senators really required them. The establishment of these Estimates Committees gave honourable senators a first class opportunity, if they were desirous of it, of thoroughly investigating the various items of expenditure. It enabled them to have not only the Minister or the Minister representing a Minister in the Senate to answer questions but also the officers of the department were present to answer such questions. So honourable senators received a very comprehensive answer to whatever they wanted to know. I think that this gave honourable senators a terrific importance and power in the carrying out of their duties. It rather amazes me to know that the Government does not want that right which it established.

When the Senate Estimates committee system was established on 2 occasions that I can recall members of the other House rose and said that the Senate was the major House of Parliament, that it had this power, that is could do this and that because of the establishment of the Committee system. They were deriding their own chamber as not being of nearly as much importance because the Senate had then taken unto itself the establishment of these Committees. There is no question in anybody 's mind that with the establishment of these Committees the Senate became a much more important chamber. It amazes me why anybody should want to throw away this opportunity to investigate so thoroughly the spending of money in this country. I would have thought that the power that senators had achieved would be something they would never want to have taken away. It surprises me further to hear the members of the Government, who were then the Opposition and who fought so strongly for the establishment of these Committees, say that they now want to dispense with them. The fact that some member of a committee went beyond what the members of the committee felt -

Senator Sim - That is the fault of the Chairman.

Senator WOOD - Yes. It does not indicate that there is anything wrong with the Committee system. It actually indicates that the chairman or somebody in control might have taken a stronger stand on certain issues. I feel that it would be a backward step for the Senate to throw away the advancement it made on that occasion in the setting up of the Estimates Committees. Some honourable senators might feel that they do not want to attend these meetings. But there are other honourable senators who perhaps have a stronger investigating type of mind. I think that it is a backward step for senators to give back a power and a right that they have achieved. It should be the right and privilege of every honourable senator to be able to ask why a certain amount of money is being spent, for what purpose it is being spent and to receive a proper answer. But for any honourable senator to suggest that the system used for the examination of the Estimates in the Committee of the Whole, when Ministers had to ask somebody on the side for a very quick answer, was comprehensive and satisfactory really leaves me gasping. As far as I am concerned, the Committee system that we set up gave an opportunity to those honourable senators desirous of investigating in a proper manner. No senator could possibly compare the type of answers that were given by departmental officers through Ministers in such a quick manner as had to be the case in the Committee of the Whole system with the direct information given by the departmental officers under the Estimates Committee system.

As far as I am concerned, it would indicate that the Government of the day was taking a backward step for the Senate if it were to revert to the old system of Estimates examination. I speak in this way because, as I said, it was my vote that really enabled these Committees to be brought about. I supported the Labor Party Opposition at the time to bring this about. It amazes me to know that the Labor Opposition thennow the Labor Government- wants to take this backward step. My view now is the same as it was then when I supported the decision for the establishment of these Committees.

Senator Poyser - You are wrong; we opposed them.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - You are confusing this with the other committees.

Senator WOOD - Honourable senators opposite were in favour of the committee system.

Senator Poyser - We were not; we opposed them.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - You have your argument wrong.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - We supported the establishment of the standing committees but opposed the appointment of the Estimates Committees.

Senator WOOD - At that time I voted accordingly. My views then are my views now. I believe that the establishment of these Committees was the best thing that ever happened in the Senate. I certainly think it is a backward step to talk about abolishing them now.

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