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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16187

Mr SPEAKER (3:26 PM) —On 13 April the honourable member for Denison raised with me the matter of the status of parliamentary secretaries following commencement of the Ministers of State and Other Legislation Amendment Act, particularly in relation to chapter XI of the standing orders concerning questions seeking information. The crux of the submission to me by the member for Denison was that the recent legislative change had provided for the appointment of parliamentary secretaries to administer a department of state. The House resolved on 5 May 1993 that, for the purposes of the procedures of the House, any references to ministers shall be taken to include parliamentary secretaries, with the exception of references to questions seeking information, chapter XI. The member for Denison suggested that this resolution, as a deeming provision, was inappropriate given the substantive nature of the appointment of parliamentary secretaries.

I can understand the reasoning that has led the member for Denison to raise this matter. However, I am also mindful of the comment made by the Prime Minister in the course of informing the House on 13 March this year of the appointment of the parliamentary secretaries on 10 March following commencement of the amending act. The Prime Minister indicated that the appointment of the parliamentary secretaries did not signal any intention to change the role or broad range of functions that have been performed by parliamentary secretaries under successive governments. The change does not, I believe, necessarily have significance in the way in which the House exercises the function of ministerial accountability. Questions on or without notice from members of this House to Senate ministers are directed to House ministers as the minister representing the Senate minister. There is not direct accountability.

The Standing Orders Committee recommended in 1974 that a trial be conducted of ministers of one house attending the other house to answer questions. In 1986 the Procedure Committee again considered and rejected the proposal. It is open to the House to determine the way in which it exercises its accountability functions. It has done this in relation to parliamentary secretaries by the resolution of 5 May 1993, which has effect unless and until amended or rescinded by the House. I think that the resolution should still be regarded as the House's decision as to the limits on the role of parliamentary secretaries in its proceedings. Nonetheless, I thank the member for Denison for raising the matter with the House.