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Wednesday, 31 May 1989
Page: 3157

Senator JENKINS(6.22) —I move:

Paragraph (9), leave out the paragraph, insert the following paragraph:

(9) That-

(a) when proposed regulations are received from the Minister before 31 October 1989, the committee make an interim report to each House of the Parliament, before the first sitting day in December 1989 of that House, on the proposed regulations; and

(b) when proposed regulations are received from the Minister after 31 October 1989, the committee make an interim report to each House of the Parliament before the first sitting day of that House that is 56 days after the proposed regulations are received by the committee; and

(c) when regulations under the Migration Act 1958, which relate to decision criteria for the grant of visas and entry permits are tabled in each House of the Parliament, the committee report to each House of the Parliament not later than 5 sitting days of that House after those regulations are tabled; and

(d) when the Minister urgently refers proposed regulations to the committee, make an interim report to each House of the Parliament, if each House is sitting on that day, not later than the day that is 28 days after receiving the proposed regulations, or otherwise as soon as possible.

The Australian Democrats believe that paragraph 9 of the motion as it stands creates an ominous precedent. The trouble is that Senator Ray's proposal is entirely in keeping with the provisions contained in the migration legislation which vest undue power and discretion in the Executive. The Government proposes that the Joint Select Committee on Migration Regulations report to the Minister. That has the effect of requiring the Committee to give the Minister its observations before communicating with the Parliament. Committees can give Ministers observations at any time. I hope that this Committee will certainly do so. I believe this Committee will have to work closely with the Minister on many occasions. But if the Minister wants to know how the Committee feels about his proposed regulations, the Democrats believe that it would be better for him to know formally at the same time as the Parliament is formally informed, because there will have been negotiations with the Minister beforehand. In fact, the danger is that Senator Ray's proposal may create a unique situation to the effect that a committee of the Parliament communicates its view formally to the Government before communicating it to the Parliament. As I said, this may create an ominous precedent. It will mean that at least those 10 parliamentarians on the Committee are liable to be inculcated with the notion that such a thing is normal parliamentary practice. I do not believe that it is normal.

In time, the terms of reference of other committees may well be altered to reflect this new, more efficient or expedient standard of reporting. The word `efficiency' was used frequently during last night's debate on the Migration Legislation Amendment Bill. If this happens, parliamentary committees can thereby become instruments of the Executive or mere working parties of the Executive, and their membership conscripted to serve the Minister's interests and not the Parliament's. All parliamentary committees, first and foremost, owe their loyalty and commitment to the Parliament. It is possibly not surprising that if the Executive wants total control of the migration process, it should also seek as much control as possible over the parliamentary committee. Paragraph 9 of the Minister's motion certainly helps to do that. It is appreciated that the committee is being set up as a parliamentary committee. Obviously it will be a very useful committee because there will be so many regulations in conjunction with the migration legislation. The Democrats believe that it is therefore all the more important that the Committee shall be seen to be responsible directly to the Parliament, not to the Minister.