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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 110

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Science and Small Business and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science) (10.59 a.m.) —I enter the debate because there were a couple of inaccuracies in what was said by honourable senators on the other side.

Senator Bishop —I see you are wearing a tie.

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, I am wearing a tie. It means that I am a Minister and you are not, Bronwyn. First of all, Senator Bishop mentioned that the Parliamentary Secretaries were given these positions as a way of paying people off. I want to point out that Parliamentary Secretaries do not get any increase in salary at all. In fact, a backbencher who is the chairman of a standing committee would be better off because he or she would get extra money.

Senator Ian Macdonald —How many additional staff?

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, there are extra staff, because that person is carrying out—

Senator Bishop —What about TA?

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Bishop raises TA. We know the frustration of those on the other side. Senator Bishop thinks she is deserving of TA for her business of travelling around Australia getting the numbers to knock off John Hewson. That is what Senator Bishop wants her TA for.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Minister, you will use the proper titles.

Senator SCHACHT —Mr President, I accept your correction of my remarks. The first matter was a misunderstanding by Senator Bishop about the nature of the pay of a Parliamentary Secretary.

  The next matter that was raised by the Opposition concerned estimates committees. There is only one Parliamentary Secretary here in the Senate, and that is my colleague Senator Sherry, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. I thought it would be to the advantage of senators opposite to have a chance at estimates committee meetings to question the Parliamentary Secretary who obviously has knowledge of the primary industries and energy portfolio. I am sure that Senator Bishop and others would love to be able to get decent information at the estimates committee on which Senator Sherry will be representing the Government.

  Senator Bishop would have to admit that, when Senator McMullan was Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, he was able to handle quite excellently at estimate committee meetings all the questions and queries which she and others raised about taxation and finance matters.

  The motion moved by Senator Faulkner maintains the status quo that was agreed to by the Senate when Senator McMullan became Parliamentary Secretary before he became Manager of Government Business in the Senate. Those opposite are rewriting history when they reverse that.

  I take note of Senator Coulter's remarks that the Democrats want to make sure that this is not a device which would mean that Ministers are not readily available in the chamber. That point is well taken by those on this side of the chamber. Every effort should always be made to have Ministers available in the Senate at the appropriate time to handle not only Question Time but also Bills passing through the Senate and relevant debate. That might not be achievable on every occasion, but Senator Coulter was being quite constructive in raising that point.

  Senator Hill is seeking to change the status quo; he wants to change what the Senate has already agreed to. The process already in place has worked well in the past three years, particularly at the estimates committee hearings. I did not see any great angst displayed by senators when Senator McMullan was representing the Treasurer at estimates committee hearings. I did not see people jumping up and down saying that they were not getting the right sort of information. I did not see that from Senator Bishop or from anybody else. Today we are seeing members of the defeated Liberal Party trying to get the angst out of their system due to the frustration that they will be sitting on the other side for the next three years.