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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 2077

Mr GROOM(9.44) —The purpose of the Australian Federal Police Amendment Bill which we are debating tonight is to give effect to the Government's decision that the protective service component of the Federal Police should be abolished and most of the functions formerly undertaken by that component should be transferred to a separate protective service organisation to be established in the Department of Administrative Services. Apparently the decision has been taken because it is felt that the quality of service which can be offered by a specialised organisation is better than that which can be offered by an organisation responsible for other separate functions.

The Special Minister of State (Mr Young), in his second reading speech, said that there was a clear distinction between the requirements and characteristics of an organisation intended to perform the range of duties required of a modern police force and those of an organisation dedicated to performing the more specialised functions of access control and the security of premises. The honourable member for Boothby (Mr Steele Hall) in his speech explained the Opposition's attitude to this Bill and our concerns about related matters and because of the time factor I do not intend to go over those details again.

As this is likely to be my final contribution in this House, I hope that the Chair will allow me to make one or two comments on matters not directly related to the Bill we are now discussing. I am sorry if my remarks sound a little serious, but they are points which I feel I should make on this occasion. I retire from the Parliament with an increased understanding of its importance to the democratic process, but quite frankly with some degree of concern about its long term future. Society does not stand still. There is a continuous process of evolution taking place and it would therefore be foolish for us to assume that the Parliament would automatically retain its power and influence or even that Australia would always remain a democracy. Indeed there is evidence suggesting that the power and influence of the Parliament are already to some extent in decline. This is due, I think at least in part, to the poor image of politicians and the Parliament in the eyes of the general community. It is not the member of Parliament working long and hard hours at his political tasks, as most do for perhaps 80 hours a week, or even more for some people, who typifies Parliament in the eyes of the people, but rather the members who become involved in some kind of controversy, who make allegations or who may be involved in some kind of prank who for some reason or another attract media attention and influence the image of the Parliament.

The image of Parliament is clearly very important because if Parliament is to survive as an institution in the long term it must have the trust and respect of the people. I therefore leave the thought that Parliament needs to work very hard to improve its public image before the trend is irreversible. Apart from the need to improve its overall image, I think Parliament needs also to reassert its influence and to give itself more teeth. I would like to see in time an improved committee system under which a Minister, maybe even the Prime Minister, and other leaders of the community could be called before a committee to be questioned by members-of course, this might also involve senators-the proceedings being directly televised. This would make government a little more difficult perhaps for the Ministers concerned, but it would give ordinary people a chance directly to influence the Executive Government through their representatives.

I think also that the relationship between the media and politicians could be improved. We must never forget that much of our communication with the public is through the media. The involvement of fairminded, well-trained and informed journalists is vital to the modern democratic process. I think that is something we overlook. We need a better dialogue with journalists and I think also we have a responsibility to provide them with proper working conditions. I hope that better working conditions will be available to everyone in the new Parliament House when the Parliament moves on to the hill. The conditions under which journalists in particular but also members work in this place I think are a national disgrace. My dog's kennel is bigger and better than some of the rat boxes that journalists have to work in.

They are the brief points I want to make on this occasion. But I conclude my remarks by thanking all who have served the Parliament in various capacities for their help over the last nine years. I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for their co-operation. I have developed many friendships here over the last nine years. I want to thank particularly my Tasmanian colleagues, those outstanding members from Tasmania who serve in this House, especially the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) who showed at Question Time today why he is called the little Aussie battler back home in Tasmania.