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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1530

Senator CAVANAGH (South AustraliaMinister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I want to say a few words on this matter, as a result of what has just been said by Senator Wood, to put the record straight. The honourable senator from Queensland is suffering from a lapse of memory. He cannot take the kudos for bringing about something which he thinks is of advantage to the Parliament. Nor do I think he should be the subject of condemnation on the part of those who think that by his vote he brought about something that, in their opinion, is not beneficial to the

Parliament. The fact of the matter is that at that time the Standing Orders Committee of the Senate, of which I was a member, discussed the committee system at a number of meetings. It did not seem to be able to come to finality on the matter. It was the view of Senator Murphy at that time- he applied pressure accordingly- that the committee system should be introduced in the Senate. The Government relented somewhat and said that it was prepared to go along and appoint some Estimates Committees. The Opposition, under the direction of Senator Murphy, stated that it wanted standing committees to be appointed. While the Government of the day introduced a motion for the establishment of Estimates Committees to have expenditure inquired into by such a committee system, the then Opposition that is, the present Government, moved by way of amendment for the appointment of a certain number of standing committees. I think it was for the appointment of the 6 standing committees that we have today. The Australian Democratic Labor Party, which I believe then had 3 members, moved for the appointment of another group of committees which were to be different from those proposed by both the Opposition and the Government. Three separate questions were put on the motions. When it came to the vote on the second motion moved by the DLP, its members voted for the motion and the Government and the Opposition combined to vote against it. So that motion was lost. Senator Murphy's amendment was then put that there should be standing committees. The members of the DLP, together with the Labor Party Opposition members, voted for the motion and had a majority in favour of the establishment of standing committees. Hansard will record that in relation to the division taken for the appointment of standing committees, Senator Wood did not vote in favour of the standing committees.

Senator Young - I do not think that what you are saying is really correct. We were not opposed to the introduction of standing committees. It was the number to be appointed which was the question at that time.

Senator CAVANAGH - I think that the honourable senator will find that when the vote was taken for the establishment of the standing committees, the Opposition and the DLP voted together, which gave us a majority in the Senate. We then put the question on the establishment of Estimates Committees and the Government and the Democratic Labor Party voted for them. So we got the 2 committee systems- the Government committee system and the Opposition committee system. Senator Wood on that occasion voted for the Estimates Committees in unity with the whole of the Government forces.

On that occasion I was one who opposed the committee system. I am a strong supporter of select committees. I am not in support of either standing committees or estimates committees and I think they have yet to show their value. They have not the great value of select committees which are special committees appointed to do a specific job. Immediately select committees inquire into a matter it is an important issue and attracts the publicity of the Press of Australia and concentrates people's thoughts on that question which is worrying the Senate sufficiently for it to establish a select committee. But just to have committees to which we refer everything we want to get away from is doing no good for the committee system and is not benefiting the Senate.

I come now to the Estimates Committees. I was prepared to go along with the arrangement though I never co-operated. But last year I was in the hot seat and I had to attend. We got through somehow and seemed to satisfy the committee. My Department got a good report only to find that the Committee did not know what it was talking about because the Auditor-General came out and condemned everything the Committee had endorsed. The Auditor-General found the weaknesses of the Department and reported them. So the committee system did no good on that occasion. While the Senate had a Committee of the Whole every question was asked and answered as best it could be answered. Press and radio publicity was given and everyone knew what was happening in the Senate. The Press has ceased to take an interest in the committee system unless there is a witch hunt, as happened in Estimates Committee A on the last occasion. Then there was Press publicity but the normal inquiring into expenditure is not of value to the Press and no one hears about it. We had men waiting around in corridors. Then for possibly two or three days there was an inquiry in the Senate. Everyone had a say. Senator Townley and Senator Steele Hall could only be on 3 committees and they would lose their right to have a thorough examination of the other 24 departments. They would be limited under this proposal whereas they are not limited in the Committee of the Whole.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - But they have a right to go along.

Senator CAVANAGH -They have a right to go along to all committees but it is impossible to attend committee hearings into 27 departments.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Unless the committee orders otherwise.

Senator CAVANAGH - Apparently, unless the committee orders otherwise. I do not think the committee would refuse any honourable senator permission to go along. However, it is impossible for one man to attend committee hearings into 27 departments. While it is true that someone might have missed out on an inquiry in the Committee of the Whole that would be the fault of the honourable senator concerned. We do not set up a system to cover the faults of an individual. We cannot blame the system for the fact that he was not here when a particular matter came up because something went through more expeditiously than he thought it would.

What happens is that we have the officers of the departments waiting to give evidence and waiting around the corridors until such time as a committee intends to sit. We might come to item 8 and have Senator Webster or someone else getting up and speaking for an hour on that item. Meanwhile there are 40 highly paid officers waiting around the corridors for the committee to ask them questions. It is true that they cannot afford the time but it is one of the requirements.It is one of the essential things. Last year my officers stood here for many days until finally they were called. 1 had to make some arrangements for a late sitting of the committee the following week so that 2 officers could go back to Darwin.

In connection with Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory we have to bring officers down from Darwin. If the estimates are not considered in one week these officers have to come back the next week. That shows the value of the committee system. The committee system has not brought out one thing that the other system, that is, the Committee of the Whole, did not bring out. It is incorrect to say that the Government when in Opposition supported the establishment of Estimates Committees. It never supported it. Among a section of the Opposition there was continual resistance to them. I have yet to see some value in the committee system before I will agree to the system being continued.

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSON (New South Wales) (5.20)- There has been some talk about the creation of Estimates Committees. I have always understood that I had the great honour and distinction of moving the motion that Estimates Committees A, B, C, D and E -

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - There were five of them.

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON -Five, or however many were created. I still believe that that was wise. That motion was carried. In other respects some of the history that Senator Cavanagh gave accords with my understanding of what actually took place in relation to other committees. But it is my clear understanding that I moved the motion for the establishment of Estimates Committees, that the motion was carried, and that the then Opposition voted against it. I do not want to dwell on this for very long because most honourable senators know which way they are going to vote.

It is a little unfortunate that some honourable senators did not have any experience of the previous method and 1 do not believe that the present Ministers have any idea of what they will be up against if this motion is defeated. In the Estimates Committees system a Minister can have his officers available to him and by leave of the chairman of the Estimates Committee he can call on an officer to give an explanation. He cannot do that when the inquiry is in plenary session of the Committee of the Whole. As Senator Withers said, there would be a couple of officers sitting in the box whispering an answer in the Minister's ear while Senator Keeffe or some other honourable senator was directing a powerful question to him. When the honourable senator sat down the Minister would be called upon to give an answer. It is a very difficult situation. I hope that we have this Estimates Committee system in proper function again. It is not true to suggest that in any event an honourable senator could go to only two or three Estimates Committees or to one at any given time and that that was the end of his ability to inquire about a particular item, because even though there is an Estimates Committee and a document is produced and is in Hansard and becomes a document of the Parliament for all time, we still have to come back into Committee of the Whole. That does not abrogate or deny the right of any honourable senator to come back to Estimates Committee report or to some item in Document A or Document B and ask a futher question about it.

The straight answer to the point that Senator Cavanagh was making is that it is not true to say that an Estimates Committee denies an opportunity for any honourable senator to get information because he happens to be absent from an Estimates Committee. The Estimates Committees had their weaknesses but to the extent that the Senate was able to get information in relation to every department, to the extent that every Estimates Committee was able to get valued advice put into Hansard for all time in relation to departments, this being something that was never possible under the old system, and to the extent that Ministers could give advice which they were never able to give under the old system, Estimates Committees were a valuable contribution to the system of government in Australia. In my view it would be a sad thing if we were to revert to the old system. There are honourable senators on both sides who have never seen the agony of the old system and how it operated. I will be very sad if we revert to that system. I am sure that Ministers who sit around the table and Ministers of the Whitlam Government who are in this place when confronted with the situation if this motion is lost, will regret having voted against the motion and will regret the decision which is taken this day. I believe that a degree of cooperation on all sides can be a very valuable thing. It is true that certain things may have happened last year at Estimates committees. It is equally true that things can happen in the Senate. They can happen for as many days as things happened then. I hope that the Senate will vote for the retention of these Estimates committees. As far as my memory is concerned- we can check this in Hansard afterwards- I am certain that the motion for the creation of the Senate Estimates committees was moved by me. The Opposition moved against this motion and it was carried by the then Government with the aid of the Australian Democratic Labor Party.

Senator Sir MAGNUSCORMACK (Victoria) (5.26)- I hope I will not delay the Senate for very long on these matters. I freely admit that Senator Cavanagh has opposed Estimates committees ever since they were introduced. As a member of the Opposition he expressed himself strongly and vehemently in the matter of Estimates committees. He attracted the attention of two or three of his colleagues. But the fact is that the Estimates committees were acknowledged by most members of the Opposition, at the time when the Committees were introduced, as a very valuable method of checking in its minutia the area into which Government expenditure was being directed. I think it is proper that Parliament should be able to perform this function. Money which is expended by the Government is not government money. The Constitution states that the revenues of the country should be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund and that no money can come out of that Fund except by a message from the Governor-General and by a motion introduced into the House of Representatives, which is the House of Government and which is the place from where the money is basically controlled.

At a subsequent stage the Senate has a supervisory or confirming role on the message which comes from the House of Representatives asking for confirmation that the money be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. That is the theory and, in actual fact, that is the practice. The system which we used to have of the Committee of the Whole examining the Estimates grew up about 60 years ago. I looked these figures up some time last year. In 1910 the total Estimates for this Parliament were something like film. Today the requirements of government in its engorgement of revenues, with its vast expenses, run into tens of thousands of millions of dollars. It is impossible for any Parliament organised on the old system- both this House and the other place- of a Committee of the Whole to given any sort of an examination to the vast number of items which are buried in the Estimates. For example, for something like $100m there is only one line in the Estimates. Surely Parliament has a right to probe where that money is going and for what specific purpose it is provided. But under the Committee of the Whole system we cannot do that.

So there grew up in the minds of some members of the Senate the idea that it was appropriate that we should try to break down this Committee of the Whole into various sectors which we called Estimates committees. To me Senator Cavanagh seems to have a roseate memory of what the Committee of the Whole was like in the Senate. A few minutes ago when Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson spoke he mentioned that a large number of honourable senators and Ministers do not know what the procedures were in the Committee of the Whole and what a farce they became. I remember when I first sat in this place in 195 1 . 1 can tell honourable senators how the Senate dealt with the Estimates in the Committee of the Whole on that day. I was sitting over there in the seat where, I think, Senator Coleman or Senate Everett sits. There were no boards over the windows in those days and honourable senators went through the gruesome experience of having to sit in their places from about 10 o'clock one morning and watching the sun starting to filter through those windows at about half past five the next morning. We were still sitting here trying to deal with the Estimates. Fnally the Government, as happens to all governments, got fed up. It then started to move around to get some support to put down the guillotine. Then we started trundling the stuff through at Sim a minute. Senator Cavanagh says that any honourable senator can find out in the Committee of the Whole what he wants to find out. I say that that is complete and utter nonsense. The second disturbing aspect which always occurred when the Senate used to sit as a Committee of the Whole in dealing with the Estimates was the temptation for many honourable senators to make second reading speeches. They would take 15 minutes or so to address themselves to one item in the Estimates.

Senator Young - They would come back to the next section for another 1 5 minutes.

Senator Sir MAGNUS CORMACK -That is right. Then there would be an appeal to the chairman of the Committee who sits at the Committee table. He would say: 'The honourable senator is now straying away from the Estimates. He must relate his remarks to the subject matter of the Estimates'. The honourable senator would say: 'Quite right, Mr Chairman, I was about to reach that point. I go on now to state'. But on the next line he would be up again. If anyone says that that is a form of analysis of the Estimates I suggest that he is talking out of the back of his head. Like Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson I appeal to honourable senators to take another look at these Estimates committees and try to make them work. It is the characteristic of all parliaments of all natures and hues, irrespective of who the government is, that they do not maintain an even pendulum swing. The pendulum tends to swing too far to one side and too far to the other side. Moderation is the essence of parliament. Perhaps there have been some immoderate instances in the Estimates committees. I remember one in particular because it occurred on Estimates Committee A. I was the Chairman. Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson was the Minister at the end of the table. I say no more at this stage. I merely indicate to Senator McLaren that immoderation is not always on this side and among my colleagues. It exists in other places.

It is the function of the Senate with its normally general good sense of behaviour and decorum and the capacity of the chairman to see that these Estimates committees do their work effectively. I say that at the present moment the Senate is doing the work which properly should be done in the House of Representatives. Of the Estimates, 95 per cent relate to the ordinary annual services of the Government which the Senate cannot amend. But since the House of

Representatives has chosen not to fulfil the function to which it has a constitutional responsibility, in the interests of the Australian taxpayer and of all members of Parliament, I think the pursuit of the compilation of the Estimates has to be maintained by the Senate. This can only be done effectively by Estimates committees. I conclude on this note: The last time I sat at the table of the chairman of committees I sat there without leaving the place for 8 1/2 hours while we put through the funnel about $6,000 or $7,000m. If anyone can describe that to me as an effective parliamentary system and as effective parliamentary supervision over the people's money, when they are crazy. It was 6 o'clock the next morning when I got up to leave that table. I never want to go back to those days again. Any honourable senator who wishes to go back to those days will find out very quickly- before we get to Christmas- what will happen if we do not have these Estimates committees.

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