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Thursday, 13 April 2000
Page: 15961

Mr KERR (3:32 PM) —Mr Speaker, before the House rises for this session I would appreciate you taking on notice a question regarding the way in which chapter 11 of the standing orders applies to the 12 new ministers sworn in on 10 March of this year and designated as parliamentary secretaries.

By way of background, plainly the constitutional status of what were formerly called parliamentary secretaries—and now I think correctly designated as ministers—was changed fundamentally as a consequence of the recent amendments to the Ministers of State Act. Before the changes, parliamentary secretaries were sworn as members of the Executive Council, but not as ministers of state. Therefore, they could not be given constitutional responsibility for administering a department. That was changed by their change of status under the act and, of course, the parliament under the present resolutions of the House dealt with this matter—as their status previously stood—by deeming them to be ministers for the purposes of all the standing orders, save for chapter 11, that is questions to the executive.

However, what occurred in relation to this matter is that the Ministers of State and Other Legislation Amendment Act altered the basis upon which parliamentary secretaries are appointed. The previous act, the Parliamentary Secretaries Act 1980, was repealed and a new section 4 was inserted into the Ministers of State Act 1952 creating a new category of ministers designated as parliamentary secretaries whose numbers may not exceed 12. That act received assent on 29 February and commenced on 10 March, and on that date all parliamentary secretaries were in fact then sworn as ministers and their annual salary of $21,375 was paid from that date, and they of course are paid as ministers.

The Constitution requires that each minister administer a department of state and the result is that each minister designated as a parliamentary secretary is now sworn in the same manner as are portfolio and other ministers to administer the departments of state for which they have responsibility. The Prime Minister's statement to the House on 13 March confirmed, and I quote:

... the current 12 parliamentary secretaries were appointed by the Governor-General, under section 64 of the Constitution, to administer their respective departments.

As ministers they are subject to the standing orders that apply generally. The question I ask you to consider and report back to the House on concerns the status and applicability of the resolution of the House adopted on 5 May 1993, which reads:

... for the purposes of the procedures of the House, any reference to Ministers shall be taken to include Parliamentary Secretaries, with the exception of references to questions seeking information (chapter XI of the Standing Orders).

In law—if I might put it this way—such provisions are normally regarded as what are called deeming provisions; they take someone who is not something and treat them as if they were something. In this case they treated parliamentary secretaries who were not ministers, and for the purposes of the standing orders, as ministers, except regarding one particular provision, that is, in relation to asking questions of them. Plainly they are ministers and are sworn as ministers. Each of them is one of 42 ministers, as the expansion of the number of ministers under the Ministers of State Act has increased the number of ministers from 30 to 42.

Mr Speaker, I would ask you to advise in relation to the resolution adopted by the House on 5 May 1993. On its face, it would appear that that resolution continues in force, but it applies only to parliamentary secretaries who are not appointed as ministers, because plainly the deeming of them to be ministers is no longer necessary. The provision in relation to the resolution is a spent resolution as far as ministers appointed as ministers as such, and of course that would then mean—in accordance with normal constitutional provisions and the responsibility of the executive to answer to the House—that they would be subject to the capacity of members of this House to ask questions of them as members of the executive, which is one of the fundamental provisions of parliamentary responsibility.

Mr SPEAKER —I will work through the statement made by the member for Denison and respond to the House in due course.