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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 577

Mr HUMPHREYS —Can the Special Minister of State comment on what the Government sees as the role of the newly-established Standing Committee on Procedure?

Mr SPEAKER —There is a little doubt about this question as it asks the Minister to comment, but I call the Special Minister of State.

Mr Sinclair —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. It is not within the Minister's responsibility to determine the role of a committee of this Parliament. It is for the Parliament to determine and not for any individual Minister. I would suggest that the question is out of order.

Mr SPEAKER —I point out to the Leader of the National Party that the Minister, as the Leader of the House, was responsible for the introduction of the motion to set up the committee. I believe that this matter comes within his responsibility as Leader of the House.

Mr YOUNG —The Government sees an enormously important role for the Procedure Committee which has just been established. We hope that the infusion of new blood into the Parliament will see more opportunity for changes to some rather archaic traditions which have been enshrined in the procedures of the Parliament. Obviously, some back bench members will see the rights of individual parliamentarians being preserved and enhanced by the establishment of the Procedure Committee. Of course, that will be uppermost in the minds of the people who will serve on the Procedure Committee, all of whom will be back benchers. Obviously there will be some emphasis on the role of and the time available to private members in the Parliament in future.

Hopefully, in looking at the Standing Orders and the other procedures and functions of the Parliament, the Procedure Committee will also take into account the fact that the Executive of the Government has an enormously important task to perform in the conduct of government in this country and will understand the Executive's work load in carrying out the business of government.

The Committee may also take the opportunity to look again at the legislation committees which have been experimented with in this House previously and not continued. It may well be that we can facilitate the business of this chamber by the establishment of legislation committees running parallel with meetings of the Committee of the Whole. The Committee could also look at the handling of committee reports. It could look at the calling of quorums, which has caused both this Government and previous governments some serious embarrassment-not embarrassment in terms of having to turn up with the numbers but in terms of the business which is being carried out not only by members of the back bench but also by members of both front benches at the time a quorum is called. Most people who visit the Parliament and hold discussions with honourable members from either side of the House do not understand why, all of a sudden, they find themselves sitting alone in a committee room while we rush off to make up the numbers in the House at any given time when the Parliament is sitting.

Australia is also in a unique position in that the Parliament has institutionalised the working of Ministers from Parliament House. This is not a common practice in Western democracies. I do not know that it is altogether a good thing. However, we have done it in this House and obviously we are going to do it in the next one because that is the way in which we have designed the building. One would have thought that perhaps we should have given more consideration to Ministers working in their departments and then, perhaps, the procedures of the Parliament-

Mr Howard —You should not have been so keen on the new Parliament House.

Mr YOUNG —It was not us; it was big Mal. That was not a good government; we got that right from the horse's mouth. The honourable member for Menzies told us what a rotten Government the Fraser Government was. The procedures of this Parliament and the way in which Parliament is observed are of enormous importance and consequence not only to the Government, obviously, but to every member and to all political parties. It is to be hoped that whatever changes are made are not only for the benefit of the efficiency of this Parliament but also for the people who perhaps observe the Parliament so that they can say that we are doing things with a fair bit of common sense. Of course, there are occasions when the Parliament brings not only the parliamentarians but also the system into disrepute. We have seen that.

Hopefully, the Procedure Committee will have observed what has happened in Queensland in the last 24 hours. According to a Brisbane newspaper today, last night the Queensland Parliament was passing legislation quicker than the Minister could read it. Properly, that has been condemned by everybody in Queensland, as it ought to have been condemned. This morning an unprecedented standard was reached in the Queensland Parliament when the Government refused to allow a motion of no confidence in the Speaker to be debated. That has never occurred in this Parliament on a number of occasions when substantive no confidence motions have been moved on the Speaker. I can see that it will never happen with you, Mr Speaker. Such a motion has been moved in the past in this Parliament and the right to debate it has never been refused. But in Queensland this morning the Parliament was refused the right to debate the motion of no confidence in the Speaker.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Standing order 145 relates to relevance. The Minister is answering a question relating to the Federal parliamentary Procedure Committee. He quite obviously has an obligation to do that. If the Prime Minister wants to do it--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for O'Connor will resume his seat. There is no point of order. I ask the Minister to conclude his answer.

Mr YOUNG —It would be highly unusual for a committee of this Parliament looking at the procedures of this Parliament not to observe the procedures of other parliaments in both this country and other countries. Of course it is relevant. Let us hope that the Procedure Committee will not tell us that what is done in Queensland in a so-called parliamentary democracy ought to be adopted by this Parliament. If that is what Opposition members are talking about, they are not talking about enhancing the rights of the private member; they are talking about destroying them completely. It is to be hoped that the enormous importance that has been placed on the establishment of the Procedure Committee will be confirmed in a very short period when it brings down its first report. I sincerely hope that all members have an open mind as to the recommendations it makes about the way in which we should facilitate the business of this chamber.