Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 24 May 1989
Page: 2615

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(6.34) —Prior to the interruption, I was speaking to the appropriations and supplementary appropriations for the parliamentary departments. I was making a fundamental point that this Government, by the determination of the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), has chosen to provide funding below the minimum level which allows the Senate to fulfil its obligations, notwithstanding the fact that the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing, of which Senator Button, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, is a member, unanimously carried resolutions, accepted by the Senate, re-establishing and restating the fundamental principle that the Senate is the most appropriate body to determine the level of funding that is required. That resolution was reaffirmed on 2 December 1985 by a committee of the Senate, of which Senator Graham Richardson was the Chairman. It restated the provisions of the resolution of the Senate dated 25 March 1982, relating to the responsibilities for the Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing with respect to the estimates for the Senate. It was determined that 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. The resolution then explained the fundamental steps that are necessary in the event that there is some conflict between the views of the Committee, of the Minister for Finance, and of the Government. It is not without significance to note that that resolution of Estimates Committee D, chaired, as I say, by Senator Richardson, was carried unanimously in this chamber.

The cynical attitude that this Government has towards the Parliament was perhaps best demonstrated by Senator Walsh when I raised that particular matter in a previous debate. I asked Senator Walsh why he had not spoken to or voted against the resolution, and he contemptuously interjected to say that the resolution was as meaningless in 1989 as it was in 1985. As far as he was concerned, it was irrelevant to him and inconsequential in terms of the determinations he was making. So Senator Walsh takes unto himself the exclusive right to make a judgment as to what funding is required to allow the Senate to fulfil its obligations. It was Senator Walsh who said, when the committee examination of a certain matter was raised, `If you insist on proceeding with this committee, I will ensure you have not got the funding to set the committee up'. In other words, as I said prior to lunch, Senator Walsh was acting as the seventeenth century Stuart kings acted and saying, `Your capacity as a parliament to fulfil your responsibilities and your obligations in respect of the scrutiny of government legislation on behalf of the citizens depends entirely upon my benevolence, goodwill and determination'. That is an attitude which he continues to reflect, and it is one which is reflected in his communications and his correspondence with the Appropriations and Staffing Committee. It is well documented, primarily as a result of the indignation and the objections of that Committee, and it is manifested in its correspondence to Senator Walsh. When the Committee last looked at the question of supplementary appropriations, the President wrote to Senator Walsh and noted:

The Committee determined additional appropriations amounting to $944,000, as settled in a preliminary way between officers, but noted that this is the absolute minimum amount that is required for the continued efficient functioning of the Department.

That set of words was settled upon so that we had a unanimous resolution. It was the view of a significant proportion of those present that the amount of funding made available was below the minimum level. The President went on to say:

The Committee considers, moreover, that the appropriation of $56,000 sought for additional equipment purchases, which was deleted at the suggestion of officers of the Department of Finance from the additional appropriations previously determined by the Committee, is needed in the near future and must be included in the forward estimates for 1989-90.

The correspondence concluded:

You have also raised the matter of establishing a continuing base level of outlays for the Parliamentary Departments. I shall write to you on this matter after I have had the opportunity to consult with Madam Speaker.

The golden thread that runs through this correspondence and all other correspondence with the Minister for Finance is that the level of funding which is provided by Senator Walsh is less than adequate. As I have said previously, there is a fundamental distinction to be drawn between funding considerations in respect of government departments and the Parliament. The truth is that, the larger the bureaucracy gets, the greater the amount of legislation and the greater the amount of activity generated in the Parliament by the Government, so that the funding levels required by the Parliament are bound to go up. On the one hand we have the Government increasing the workload and responsibility of the Parliament, at least its functional responsibility, but at the same time significantly reducing the capacity of the Parliament to fulfil its obligations.

The Government looks aghast at the fact that there has been a significant increase in the cost of the functioning of Parliament, having moved as we did after 60 years from the provisional Parliament House to the permanent Parliament House. Even blind Freddy or a drover's dog would understand that the difference between this building and the 1927 building was bound to have caused dramatic increases in expenditure. There are 6,000 pass holders alone in this building, but the Government is shocked to see that outlays for the purpose of the parliamentary departments has gone up. Yet, in its own narrow, parochial, perverted and sectional way, this Government is prepared to allow outlays for its own purposes, its own benefits and its own functioning as a government to go up while those of the Parliament as a whole go down. This is best demonstrated when one looks across the corridor to the Executive wing of this building. But an arm and a limb of the functioning of this Parliament, the ministerial wing is not satisfied simply to have security attendants to protect and service it and fulfil its obligations in the same way as do the attendants who look after the daily needs of other members of parliament. Those in the ministerial wing had to have the Australian Protective Service to look after them. It costs $5m a year to look after 30 Ministers. They must take a lot of caring for.

Senator Stone —They need to be in permanent care, basically.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It has been put to me by Senator Stone that they need to be in permanent care, not just day care. Perhaps that is the problem. But it is costing taxpayers $5m. The Ministers having established that they need that protection-probably from themselves more than from the public-the security officers are not prepared to carry messages, they are not prepared to shuffle paper, they are not prepared to fulfil the obligations of the ordinary attendants. That is a job for somebody else. Their job is to stroll up and down with their hands behind their backs, their noses in the air and their eyes in every direction protecting these people from the poor peasants they imagine are going to break down the door at any time to attack them. We find a clear distinction between the Government's priorities for itself and for the Parliament as a whole. I am glad to say that the Senate Standing Committee on Appropriations and Staffing to the best of my knowledge is still examining the responsibilities of these Protective Service officers to see why they cannot do the duties that are done by attendants in the other parts of the building.

If we look at the use of VIP aircraft and other services available to the Government, do we see any cutbacks? No, we see none. When we look at the number of trips overseas, the cost of hotel accommodation and the high life, do we see the Government saying to its Ministers that they have to cut back? No, of course we do not. It is only the democratic process that the Government slices with the knife; it is certainly not itself.

I conclude by touching upon one final matter-the question of the role of committees in this Parliament. As I understand it, it is the Government's intention-Senator Hamer may correct me if I am wrong-that there should be less sitting days so that the Government can get on with what it does outside the Parliament. The Government intends that, to achieve this, more legislation should be shunted off to committees and not debated in the Senate or by the Committee of the Whole. That is going to require a heavier workload for the various standing committees.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is not quite right. They are going to come back to the Committee of the Whole after they have been considered by committees.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. Legislation is going to come back to the Committee of the Whole after it has been through the filtering processes of the committees. Be that as it may, it is inevitably going to require a greater workload on the part of committees. Already we see Senator Walsh threatening funding because the Senate has dared to set up committees. At the time, the Senate was proposing a taxation measure which ultimately was amended anyway because good sense and proper scrutiny prevailed.

We are now going to find ourselves in the situation of having more committee work and less funding. Senator Walsh tells us that these committees are an absolute waste of time in his view and ought by and large to be abolished. The tragedy is that this summarises the Government's disdain, contempt and disregard for the democratic process which is articulated and reflected in the parliamentary process. The Government sees itself as having a proprietary interest in the Parliament. It does not see itself as just part of the Parliament, making its contribution in the Parliament in the process of government; it sees the Parliament as its own. I say with respect that, sadly, the Government takes the same attitude to some of the committees of which I am a member that have responsibility for the functioning of the Parliament. We find caucusing and the chairmen of the committees conducting themselves at the behest and the request of the Government and not acting in an impartial way.

I hope that in the future, with the support of the Australian Democrats and the independents, the Senate, if necessary, will reject the appropriations at the levels given to us by the Government and defer them until they provide the appropriate resources necessary for the proper, efficient and effective functioning of the Senate, allowing it to scrutinise government legislation in the way in which it was intended.