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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2703


Senator RICHARDSON(6.05) —I wish to move a motion in relation to the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill 1985-86. It arises out of the report of Estimates Committee A. I move:

That the committee, having considered the report of Estimates Committee A, recommends:

(1) the provisions of the Resolution of the Senate dated 25 March 1982, relating to the responsibilities of the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing with respect to the Estimates for the Senate, are re-affirmed;

(2) the estimates of expenditure for the Senate to be included in the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill shall continue to be those determined by the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing;

(3) if before the introduction of the Bill the Minister for Finance should, for any reason, wish to vary the details of the estimates determined by the Committee he should consult with the President of the Senate with a view to obtaining the agreement of the Committee to any variation;

(4) in the event of agreement not being reached between the President and the Minister, then the Leader of the Government in the Senate, as a member of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, be consulted;

(5) the Senate acknowledges that in considering any request from the Minister for Finance the Committee and the Senate would take into consideration the relevant expenditure and staffing policies of the Government of the day;

(6) in turn the Senate expects the Government of the day to take into consideration the role and responsibilities of the Senate which are not of the Executive Government and which may at times involve conflict with the Executive Government.

In doing so, I would like to refer to some of the history of this matter which led Estimates Committee A along a long path of discussion. In fact, at its earlier meetings the Committee passed a resolution which largely is contained in paragraph (2) of the motion, and it was printed on page 9 of the report of Estimates Committee A. The President of the Senate, Senator McClelland, who I am sure will endorse the remarks that I make, did come before the Committee and present a fairly lengthy and detailed submission on why he felt some action was necessary on the estimates for the Parliament.

Essentially, I believe that the need for this came about and is best summed up by an article by Geoff Kitney which appeared in the National Times on 25 October 1985. Like many other articles in the National Times, it is not striking for its accuracy. It is, however, indicative of the misinformation which has been bandied around on this question for a long time. The article is headed `Walsh refires the rage in Senate finance debate'. It contains a couple of quotes that I would like to read:

In 1982-83 total funding for the Parliament rose by more than 13 per cent to nearly $29m, the next year by 15.2 per cent to $33.3m and last year by 24.1 per cent to $41.3m. These represented real increases of nearly 2 per cent in the first year, nearly 7 per cent in the second and 16.6 per cent last year.

It goes on to say that Cabinet agreed that there should be a curb put on this spending growth and that in future Parliament would be subjected to the same budgetary process as all government departments. As Senator McClelland pointed out to Estimates Committee A, the facts, as outlined in that article, while they are true on the surface, are made a mockery of in terms of the general claim when the underlying facts are examined. It is true that expenditure in 1983-84 was approximately $34m, which was an increase of 14 per cent, and it is true that expenditure for the parliamentary departments in 1984-85 was approximately $42m, which was an increase of 23 per cent. They are very big increases and people are entitled to ask why they have happened. However, the reality is that the great bulk of those increases-almost all of them-was taken up by decisions that this Parliament made. I, along with some senators and members of the House of Representatives, was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. That Committee recommended an expansion of the Parliament-a recommendation subsequently adopted by the Parliament and put into effect. That meant there were an additional 23 members in the House of Representatives and an additional 12 senators. That required, among other things, the building of an annex next to the House of Representatives. It required fittings and furniture to fill that annex and also to fill the other extra offices created within the Parliament for those new members and senators. Additional staff had to be employed throughout the Parliament, whether they were in the cafeteria, whether they were cleaners, whether they were employed in the Library or whether they were employed in Hansard, and they all had to be paid. It obviously necessitated a large increase in the votes for salaries in all of those places. It also resulted, naturally enough, in additional printing and the Government was kind enough at the time to see that there was an additional charge for the additional printing.

All in all, the Parliament and the Presiding Officers were faced with a pretty difficult situation. That does not even take into account the fact that the Government also agreed to increase by one the staff of every member and senator. The great bulk of those two increases, far from reflecting profligate spending by anyone in the Parliament, merely reflected the fact that the Presiding Officers-the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives-had to make sure that the decisions of the Parliament were properly implemented, and that, of course, they did. This financial year the increase is down to only 8 per cent, and in real terms that is a pretty small increase. Those increases, and the increases in the size of the Parliament as well as the arrangements that had to be made for them, were made during the last two financial years and are now over. That is the reason why parliamentary expenditure has gone up. To suggest, in articles of the kind that I have just referred to, that in any way it is as a result of parliamentary spending getting out of hand, is nonsense and ought to be rejected by honourable senators on both sides of this chamber.

In trying to grapple with this problem we were informed by the President of the Senate of yet another problem. The article to which I have just referred said that the Parliament had to be treated in the same way as all other executive departments. In many respects the President and the Speaker would wish that it had been, because when the anomalies case and the new award were handed down, unlike practically every other executive department, the Parliament was told that it would have to absorb the cost. That was an intolerable burden for the Parliament and one that made life ridiculously difficult for those involved. It was not the sort of decision that had been experienced before. As Senator Jessop has said, it was something new and something that we had to find a way around. When we get to the point of trying to balance the power of the Executive against the power of the Parliament it will always be difficult.

In 1982, as Senator Jessop has already suggested, a committee of the Senate came down with a recommendation which established that the estimates for the Senate should be set by the Senate and that, in effect, that was the end of the matter. Practical experience, at least over the last year, suggests that when the crunch comes it is not the end of the matter and that the Government, with a majority in another place, can in fact do something about it, and in this case it did. Therefore Estimates Committee A spent a great deal of time, hours in fact, searching for a way around that impasse, searching for some method by which the Parliament in future might be able to get around that problem. To do so it reaffirmed that earlier decision, the decision that Estimates Committee A had made in its original deliberations, that the estimates of expenditure for the Senate included in the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill continue to be those determined by the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing. That is referred to in paragraph (2) of my motion. I do not think that anyone seriously disputes that that is the way things ought to be done.

However, when problems arise, as they did on this occasion, we will need to try to find a way by which they might be settled. I know that the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) did send some correspondence to members of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee in which he talked about these matters being settled by the Minister for Finance and the Presiding Officers. In fact that is referred to in paragraph (3) of the motion before honourable senators, which states:

if before the introduction of the Bill the Minister for Finance should, for any reason, wish to vary the details of the Estimates determined by the Committee he should consult with the President of the Senate with a view to obtaining the agreement of the Committee . . .

I am sure that Senator Walsh and the Presiding Officers will follow that. In fact, they did so this year. There were numerous meetings-it was just that in the end they did not ever settle the matter, the matter remained unresolved and was resolved in the end only by Government action. So Estimates Committee A, as a result of not only discussions among its members but also discussions by many honourable senators from both sides of the House, went a little further. Paragraph (4) suggests that:

in the event of agreement not being reached between the President and the Minister, then the Leader of the Government in the Senate, as a member of the Appropriations and Staffing Committee, be consulted;

We hope that will be the crux of the matter. That is where we hope the sage image often portrayed by Senator Button will be brought into play and these matters will be resolved. But whoever is the Leader of the Government of the day would then have the right to sit in on the discussions and to make sure that when decisions were being made at Cabinet level yet another Minister had had some involvement in trying to resolve the conflict. The motion in paragraph (5) states:

the Senate acknowledges that in considering any request from the Minister for Finance the Committee and the Senate would take into consideration the relevant expenditure and staffing policies of the Government of the day;

I do not believe that on this occasion, or indeed on any other of which I am aware, that has been seriously in dispute. On this occasion, when the Estimates were set, the Committee did just that. It was expected that the Parliament would abide by the normal constraints placed upon it which were to be placed upon all the other executive departments, spread across the length and breadth of ever-expanding governments. So far as I am aware, it did so. There was considered to be a need to keep costs down and in fact, as a result of some discussions with the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives did go back and prune their costs as far as possible. So again there was no dispute. In paragraph (6) I think we come to the heart of the matter, to the real question that occupies the minds of all those who sit in parliaments-the parliament's power as balanced against the Executive. Paragraph (6) states:

in turn the Senate expects the Government of the day to take into consideration the role and responsibilities of the Senate which are not of the Executive Government and which may at times involve conflict with the Executive Government.

I think it will be a fact of life that for the foreseeable future none of the major parties will have a majority in this chamber, so it is quite likely that conflict between the Senate and the government of the day will remain. It is not always the case, however, that that conflict is a bad thing. After all, we are a democracy. We are elected and we are responsible to our electorates and if it is the case that the Senate is to take what it regards as important decisions, in the end the Government will have to take some consideration of that. It is disappointing to all of us that a motion of this kind needed to be moved at all. It would have been in the interests of the Parliament, the Government and the Opposition if it had never had to happen. Unfortunately though, when faced with a conflict we must look for a way to resolve it. I do not believe that futile resolutions passed in the Senate, which demand that whatever it says must be obeyed, will be taken much more notice of than Rumpole ever did of she who must be obeyed.

The reality is that we, when looking at government, must realise that the numbers in another place do matter. The numbers in another place determine whether we live or die, most of the time. I can think of one occasion in recent history when that may not have been the case. But the reality is that if they are to be decided, in the end we in the Senate must use our best endeavours by way of persuasion to make sure that we get what we consider to be the right decision, by involving the Leader of the Government in those discussions and in making sure that at Cabinet level not only the views of the Minister for Finance but also the Leader of the Government can be put. I am sure we will go a long way towards doing that. I hope this is the only time in my time in the Senate that we have to have this sort of debate.