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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 175

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE (5.39 p.m.) —I do not claim to be the brightest soul in this chamber, but I did not understand a single word Senator Faulkner said.

Senator West —It was very clear.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I invite Senator West to be the next speaker and ask her whether she would be kind enough to enlighten us as to the compelling reasons for having six estimates committees rather than eight or 10. I do not believe that question was addressed. Senator Faulkner came into the chamber equipped with a prepared address—which no doubt he developed whilst walking around the park at lunch time—and we were going to get it regardless of what the question was, and get it we did.

  Let me observe two things to start with. The first is that the Labor Party's numbers have diminished in this chamber, and I suspect it is a long term pattern which we will see continuing into the future. Secondly, the number of Ministers in the Senate has increased from six to 10. There has been a very significant increase in ministerial representation in the Senate.

Senator Coates —A couple of years ago there were eight.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Yes, and it was sunny yesterday. What is Senator Coates trying to say to me? I do not oppose there being 10 Ministers in the Senate; in fact, I think it has a great deal of virtue. But at the same time that there has been an increase in membership, there has been an attempt by the Government to restrict the number of estimates committees to six and to reduce the number of standing committees from nine to seven. There seems to be no logical reason for that. As I struggle to come to grips with Senator Faulkner's explanation—

Senator Hill —The logical reason is they are reducing numbers. They worry that they cannot man them.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Senator Hill is right. It is beyond me to understand how maintaining the status quo of six estimates committees will reduce the amount of time spent on estimates committees. All Senator Faulkner has done is put the pea under a different thimble. The Government still has the same number of departments and the same number of estimates committees, but it has increased the number of Ministers who could now be servicing and appearing before extra estimates committees. In no way has the Government restricted the time that will be spent at estimates committee hearings.

  It is no great secret that because of the Government's diminishing numbers—and three-quarters of Senator Faulkner's colleagues have been given some higher promotion—it does not have the numbers to service the committees. That is why those opposite wanted to reduce the number of members serving on standing committees from eight to six. The only thing that stopped that was that the Democrats also wanted a spot on the committees and, when it became obvious to the Government that they could have that only at the expense of the Government, the number then went back to eight.

  This has nothing to do with scrutiny of government, scrutiny of the Parliament, or scrutiny of government expenditure. It is all about the Labor Party's fun sport and that is numbers. The Labor Party is not concerned about proper scrutiny of the Parliament, of expenditure or of legislation. It is concerned about extending the number of committees to that which it can reasonably accommodate. After that point, scrutiny is irrelevant. It is inconsequential. It is not to matter and it is certainly not to count.

  If there was one thing that the Western Australian royal commission investigating the conduct of the Labor Government of that State showed, it was an ever growing need for proper scrutiny of government conduct. There was a raft of recommendations from that royal commission which called for the Parliament to have greater capacity and greater powers to scrutinise the conduct of the Western Australian Government. This Government has learnt nothing from that royal commission. It is seeking to retard even further the capacity of the Parliament to scrutinise the legislation.

  Frankly, I find it obscene to have a Minister of the Crown, a servant of the people, telling the Parliament that proper scrutiny is a waste of time. I find it obscene for a Minister emotionally and subjectively to claim that one senator's diligence and dedication is a waste of time and irrelevant, and that the lack of attention to detail, lack of concern and lack of regard and lack of vigilance of another senator is the sort of conduct that ought to be followed by everybody else. I still do not understand how increasing the number of estimates committees will in any way increase the workload. It will simply do one thing, that is—

Senator Ferguson —Spread the load.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It will spread the load and provide for greater scrutiny. I still have not come to grips with what Ministers have what responsibility in this Government.

Senator Hill —I thought Senator Faulkner was a Parliamentary Secretary, so you are doing better than me.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —One has to come into the chamber and see who sits on the front bench to find out. If we look at Estimates Committee A, it seems that both Senator Evans and Senator Cook have responsibilities. If we look at Estimates Committee B, it appears that Senator Ray and Senator Faulkner both have responsibilities. If we look at Estimates Committee C, it seems that Senator Richardson and Senator Crowley both have responsibilities. Estimates Committee D, E and F are covered by Senator McMullan, Senator Collins and Senator Schacht, and Senator Bolkus has Estimates Committee F. In other words, we have two Ministers for three of the estimates committees. We were told this morning that we were going to have a Secretary, a new little boy is going to come along representing a Minister at one of the estimates committees and that the Minister will not be available at all.

  There is no reason why we cannot extend the number of estimates committees to eight. I say to Senator Faulkner that I do not know whether the reallocation of portfolios under the various committees makes a lot of sense. Frankly, that is the least of my concerns. My concern is to make sure we have a Minister before each committee and that we have before us the bureaucrats. We need the correct number of estimates committees so there can be proper, responsible and diligent scrutiny of the conduct of the Government and expenditure of taxpayers' funds.

  I foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment to Senator Faulkner's motion which will increase the number of estimates committees from six to eight. I have not argued for 10, although there is a very persuasive argument for that. The Democrats have always quite properly argued that the Senate is a proper forum for proper scrutiny. I commend the Democrats for the number of occasions on which they have called for pieces of legislation and matters of importance to be referred to select committees. I implore the Democrats to embrace the proposal I am putting forward by way of my amendment. I understand the estimates committees are sitting for only one day.

  There is no logical reason why we cannot have eight estimates committees. After all, we have 10 Ministers, so we can have one Minister present at each committee. We on this side of the chamber are certainly happy to provide our share of the required number of senators, who will properly discharge their responsibilities in scrutinising legislation and the Government program before the estimates committee. I find it vaguely obscene that the number of standing committees in this Parliament—

  Senator Faulkner interjecting—

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —I find it grossly obscene, Senator Faulkner, that the number of estimates committees, the number of standing committees and the number of select committees is limited by the capacity of the Labor Government to man them. That is the only criteria, the only argument, that is put up. I will be appalled if Senator Faulkner gets support for his nonsensical proposition from any other party or from the Independents simply because the Government does not have enough diligent senators, or because they all have other fancy jobs or they are all too damn lazy to service these committees.

Senator Bolkus —Who won the election, Noel?

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Without going on a side excursion, I am asked by Senator Bolkus, from somebody else's seat, who won the election. I have not spent much time visiting past the border but I know that the Labor Party was crushed in Western Australia. If that result had been repeated right across Australia, there would have been an overwhelming victory for the Liberal Party. In fact, if the performance of every other State had been repeated in New South Wales alone, it would have been a crushing victory for the Liberal Party. I remind Senator Bolkus that only one State saved its tail. It will not happen next time.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think we are a little off the topic.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Forgive me, Mr Deputy President, for diverting from the essence of the reason why I am standing.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am very reasonable.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I ask the responsible members of this chamber, other than the coalition, to support this proposal. It is obscene and grossly improper that the number of committees is dictated by the number of members of the Labor Party. It is wrong that the capacity of the Parliament of Australia to scrutinise, examine, consider and deliberate over legislation extends only to the capacity of the Government to provide its share of numbers to service these committees. I move:

  Leave out all words after "That", insert:

  (a)notwithstanding anything contained in standing order 26(1), the following estimates committees be appointed: Estimates Committees A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H; and

  (b)the estimates committees consider proposed expenditure in relation to departments in accordance with a resolution of the Senate.