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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 171

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (5.16 p.m.) —Our concern with this matter really relates to a discussion held earlier today. As I understand it, we limited the number of estimates committees in the Senate to six principally because that approximately reflected the number of Ministers that the Government had in this place; it was therefore sensible that that be the number of committees that would consider the estimates.

  However, now we have the situation where the Government has increased its number of Ministers to 10; on the other hand, it has set only a very short period—in fact one day, as I understand it—for the estimates committees to meet to consider what is obviously going to be quite a considerable volume of work. It therefore seems to us to be sensible, in view of the fact that the Government now has many more Ministers, to further divide the departments so that they can be better dealt with in the very limited time that the Government is providing to us for that task.

  The issue that I therefore raise and the question I guess I am really putting to the Minister who is now the Manager of Government Business (Senator Faulkner) is: why is the Government simply limiting itself to six estimate committees when, if its Ministers were going to do their jobs in relation to the estimates, there is no reason why we cannot have eight or even 10 committees meeting and, therefore, more thoroughly do the job that we are to do if we are to responsibly carry out our function in this place? It is really as simple as that.

  We want to thoroughly meet our responsibility—that is, to review the appropriations through this estimates procedure; we want the system to work as effectively as is possible; and it seems now that, as the Government has provided 10 Ministers in the Senate, it could be done more appropriately by an increased number of committees. We are therefore puzzled as to why the Government is simply seeking to limit the number of committees to six again. If the reason the Government gives is that that was the practice in the past, what I have attempted to demonstrate is that it was based on a premise that no longer applies because there are now more Ministers.

   I invite somebody to respond. I do not want Senator Faulkner to close the debate. He might respond by leave as to why the Government is unwilling to provide more than six committees. If this is something that the Government has not thought about, could it now do so and perhaps recognise that such a reform would be beneficial to the effective functioning of this place. My colleague Senator Crichton-Browne might have some ideas as to how the departments could be further divided so that the estimates procedure in this place could function better. An expression of the Government's attitude to such a reform at this time might facilitate the debate.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner was on his feet. He paused and I called Senator Hill. I believe that Senator Faulkner wants to move an amendment. He can do so now.