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Wednesday, 5 May 1993
Page: 181

Senator IAN MACDONALD (6.10 p.m.) —I suspect we are wasting our time on this debate. I suspect the debate was lost during Senator Hill's speech when Senator Faulkner went over and had a chat with Senator Coulter. I suspect from that time onwards the deal had been done.

  That is not going to prevent me from trying once more to convince the chamber of the correctness of Senator Crichton-Browne's amendment to the motion. The Opposition gave Senator Faulkner leave to explain to us why there should not be 10 or eight estimates committees. We got a very long discourse on the fact that, because some people are longwinded, Senator Faulkner thought that by having six estimates committees this problem would be stopped. I cannot understand how having six estimates committees, as we had last time, is going to stop people being longwinded. I could not follow any of Senator Faulkner's arguments and nor could anyone else on this side of the chamber.

  I am grateful to Senator Coates for at least raising a couple of arguments that we could follow and which did have a smidgin of validity about them. He raised problems that we can think about and which I am sure can be overcome.

  The Australian Democrats is the party that used to be—and I emphasise used to be—in Don Chipp's day the party that was very big on scrutiny and on keeping the government honest. The Democrats have completely fallen away from this objective of their party and that is why they got such a poor vote in the last election. The people of Australia understand that they are now no more than toadies to the Labor Party. They are people who are more left wing than the Labor Party. Whenever I say they should go and join the Labor Party, the Labor Party members say, `Even our left faction is not as bad as the Democrats'.

  They have certainly got away from their original reason for being—that was to keep the government honest and to make sure that legislation was scrutinised. I suppose from the Democrats' point of view—and it is important that their few remaining voters understand this—it does not matter to them whether there are six or eight estimates committees that they do not attend. They are not terribly big on scrutiny when it comes to estimates committees.

Senator Panizza —They are never there.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —That is what I am saying, Senator Panizza. They may as well not be there on six as not be there on eight—it is the same thing. They are not terribly good, but they do roll over and agree with the Government whenever we try to put up sensible reforms to assist in the scrutiny process.

  The reason for these sensible reforms is that there is limited time. If the system is spread a bit wider and extra Ministers are allowed in, as Senator Crichton-Browne wisely proposed, then we can get through those particular areas of government work much quicker. Therefore, we would not have those long sessions because the number of departments considered by each committee could well be shortened.

  I can suggest to Senator Faulkner and the Labor Party, without trying in any way to insert names in Senator Crichton-Browne's motion, certain things that could be done. In Estimates Committee A the Government could give Senator Evans responsibility for Prime Minister and Cabinet and Foreign Affairs and Trade and leave Primary Industries and Energy to be considered by a separate estimates committee. Primary Industries and Energy is a very important department to be considered by the estimates committees but one which in recent times has not been scrutinised properly because we have simply run out of time and we have not been able to properly question the Government on those sorts of things.

  The Government could split the work of Estimates Committee B. Senator Ray could have responsibility for Defence and Senator Faulkner could be left with the others. Senator Faulkner is going to be hard-pressed answering questions relating to Veterans' Affairs and Employment, Education and Training. It would be great to have Senator Ray for Defence because he knows what he is doing and he could get it over and done with quickly.

  Estimates Committee E is apparently only going to have one Minister appearing before it. I assume that will be Senator Schacht because Senator Collins will be trying to fix up the fiasco into which he has got himself in the communications area. Senator Schacht should probably—

Senator Faulkner —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Let us not start the parliamentary term with that sort of mispronunciation and deliberate abuse. I ask you to ask Senator Macdonald to use the correct pronunciation of Senator Schacht's name. He knows what it is.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is a rather unusual point of order.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I do not even understand it.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Schacht does pronounce his name as `Shot', not `Shat'.

Senator Faulkner —You knew it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I have spoken about Senator Schacht a number of times today and this matter has never been raised before. Senator Faulkner is obviously having a bad first day in his new position. Hopefully, for all of us, it will improve.

  Senator Schacht is handling, for estimates committee purposes, the portfolios of Industry, Technology and Regional Development; Tourism; and Environment, Sport and Territories. He may be able to handle those. I know he coveted, throughout the last Parliament, the portfolio of Transport and Communications. He made major speeches and tried to get under Senator Collins's skin. I imagine that would be fairly easy. Maybe that portfolio should be left to Senator Collins so that he can try to extricate himself from the difficulties he has got into.

  That estimates committee has a very big workload. Mr Deputy President, you may remember that last time the estimates committee investigated the Thomson radar question it sat until 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning. It was a very good committee because it elucidated the information that was needed to get a proper conclusion on the Thomson radar fiasco—another fiasco of Senator Collins's. The work of that committee could possibly be split as well.

  I am not saying definitively that that is how they should be split but there is good scope to divide the work of those committees, as Senator Crichton-Browne has suggested, and have eight committees. This would allow Ministers to deal with their portfolios and get on with their business, and it would allow committee members time to scrutinise the departments properly and then get on with their work. That would spread the workload and the scrutiny.

  If the Democrats appoint some senators to those estimates committees, the scrutiny would be quickened. The concern of the Parliament for the work of the Executive Government could be more closely, but more quickly, looked at, and Australia would get a lot better government from the whole procedure.