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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2110

Senator HARRADINE(10.11) —As I understand it, either the motion before the Chair is in two parts or there are two motions before the Chair.

Senator Tate —Mr President, I think I moved a single motion, but it is in two separate and distinct parts.

Senator HARRADINE —I wished to have that point clarified, because I understood Senator Tate to seek leave to move two motions. Irrespective of whether he moved two motions or one motion in two parts, I am opposed to the second part of it. I quite readily accept the request of the Senate Select Committee on the Conduct of a Judge, in view of the important subject matter that it is inquiring into, to extend the time by which it must report. As Senator Tate said, it may need to extend the time by which it must report to the Budget session. I am very much opposed in principle to a committee of the Senate meeting while the Senate is sitting. I think this is the third time that we have had a request of this nature from a committee of the Senate. I believe it is a matter upon which the Senate must sooner or later make a stand.

The Senate has certain functions to perform. It has an audit and control function in relation to executive government action. Each senator has an expressive or representative function and certain constitutional responsibilities. Of course, one of those constitutional responsibilities is the subject matter of the Committee's consideration. These are responsibilities of the Senate as a whole. I believe quite firmly that unless the Senate makes a stand on the issue of sub-committees meeting and therefore taking senators away from the chamber when the Senate is sitting, the question to be resolved will be whether this chamber as a whole is just a rubber stamp for decisions that are taken by the parties and in the caucus rooms.

Senator Chipp —Last night 10 senators were paired by the major parties.

Senator HARRADINE —Of course, this is another aspect. In a very vital debate last night on the censorship regulations, 10 senators in the major parties were paired. When matters come before the chamber, very often individual senators raise issues that had not been thought of by the Caucus or by the major parties. I cite as an example what happened last night on the question of hard drugs. The Government was pushing through amendments to regulations to permit the importation of publications that incited the use of hard drugs. When during a previous debate I stated that that is what was happening, the Government said that that was not right. Of course, ultimately it was proved to be right. Now the Government is proposing draft amendments to try to fix up that aspect.

That is just one of the examples of what could occur during a debate on a particular issue. If we continue to allow committees to meet while the Senate is in session that will be to the disadvantage of members of those committees who are not present in the chamber or are unable to hear in their rooms what the debate in the chamber is all about. They may miss some point of relevance to their constituencies. Secondly, such a practice limits to a certain extent the representative and expressive functions of individual senators who happen not to be members of such a committee.

Senator Gareth Evans —How do you think other parliaments operate? How do you think the United States operates? They are individual representatives.

Senator HARRADINE —We are talking about this Parliament and the way that the Senate in Australia has operated over a number of years, not how the United States Senate might or might not operate. We have certain constitutional responsibilities that are rather more important than those of the United States Senate. The committees of this Senate are subordinate to the Senate itself. A subordinate committee should not take away from the responsibilities that devolve upon the Senate as a whole. Consistent with that principle and the other principle I mentioned, we should not as a general practice allow committees of this Senate to meet while the Senate itself is in session.