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Thursday, 6 May 1993
Page: 311

Senator KEMP (9.33 p.m.) —I support the amendment moved by my colleague Senator Hill. This is part of a package of reforms which the coalition has proposed to improve the procedures of this Parliament and to make sure that the Senate makes the Government more accountable for its actions. I, too, hope that the Democrats will join with us in supporting our motion. I believe that the motion before the chamber and the amendment to it do not go far enough. Senator Hill has shown an eminent sense of compromise and tried to reach a position which would meet the needs of the Democrats.

  Some very interesting figures have been pulled out to see just what happened when we had one minute for a question and four minutes for the answer, followed by one minute for the supplementary question and one minute for the answer. Those figures showed that we might as well have no limits, because that arrangement brought us right back to the average experienced in this chamber when there were no limits on questions and no limits on answers. Over the period of the Hawke and Keating Governments, on average, there were 22 questions and answers each Question Time.

  I asked the Clerk to provide me with some figures to show what happened previously when we had time limits, as is now proposed by the Government. Interestingly, the figures that the Clerk's office pulled out for the period from 6 October to 15 October—when we had one minute for the question and four minutes for the answer—show that there were 22 questions and answers a day, which is precisely the same situation, almost to the decimal point, that we had when we had no limits.

Senator Bourne —Oh! That's not correct.

Senator KEMP —It is correct. That was our experience, and I will show Senator Bourne these figures as I am not making them up. If we go down a step and move to three minutes for answers, as is proposed in this motion, basically we will get an extra one or two questions in the hour. It is a very moderate proposal. We tested that from 3 November to 17 November.

  I think Senator Hill made a very effective point. I said that the best approach is to have a minimum number of questions to be answered. If the Government chooses to answer those questions in less than an hour, it is entitled to bring to an end Question Time; if it chooses to make long answers, it will have to go over the hour. The Australian Democrats have a problem with this and I will tell honourable senators what the problem is. If the Democrats had joined with us in proposing major reforms to Question Time, which would have enabled them to get an extra question—

Senator Bourne —Like time limits? Time limits is a major reform.

Senator KEMP —It is incomprehensible to me, it is incomprehensible to my colleagues and it is probably incomprehensible to the Democrats' supporters why the Democrats would not want an extra question in Question Time. They get two questions in Question Time. Why would they not want an extra question in Question Time? I do not know why and I hope Senator Bourne tells us when she stands up.

  Senator Hill has proposed four or five major proposals to processes by which this Senate operates which will make the Government more accountable. If the Democrats had any particular function, I would have thought that that was one function on which they would have joined with us. I think it is a great pity that we may not have been able to persuade Senator Bourne and her colleagues to join with us on this occasion.

  This experiment has been going on for well over half a year. All the statistics are available from the Clerk's office. All Senator Bourne had to do—as I did—was go to the Clerk's office and say, `Could you please provide me with the tables you have done showing how the various time limits operate?'. I do not know how Senator Bourne's party operates but I would have thought that in relation to Question Time—

Senator Faulkner —More effectively than yours, obviously.

Senator KEMP —There is no sign of any improvement in Senator Faulkner. Before the election I said to Mr Hand, `It's going to be quite good to get Kim Carr in this chamber because, basically, the Left are pretty hopeless in this chamber'. He said, `Why do you say that?'. I said, `Well, Mr Hand, you don't have to sit in this chamber and watch Senator Faulkner perform all the time. If you did, you would see the merit of what I say'.

  I dare say that Senator Carr and I differ on just about every conceivable issue, but there is no doubt that the Left needed a bit of pecker in this chamber. I suspect that Senator Carr will be waiting for half a year until the Left moves on Senator Faulkner, unless his form improves. I did not think I would ever say this in the chamber, but we miss Senator McMullan as Manager of Government Business in the Senate. I say that sincerely, because we used to get through all these matters quite efficiently without all the sort of nonsense that is occurring at the moment.

Senator Hill —Grimes was the best.

Senator KEMP —Senator Grimes was better.

Senator Faulkner —He's welcome to the job. If he wants it, he can come down here and do it.

Senator KEMP —I just hope that that comment is recorded in Hansard so that when the big challenge comes, Senator Carr will be able to quote Senator Faulkner's words back to him. I thank Senator Faulkner for that comment; it is much appreciated.

  This is a very serious matter. How the Government conducts Question Time and the rules which govern Question Time are very serious matters. As I think everybody now concedes, there has been a serious slippage in behaviour and performance of the Government in Question Time. Therefore, it is appropriate that the Senate, where the Government does not have the majority, should start to take the lead and respond to the public wishes to try to improve the performance of Ministers at Question Time. This is indeed a very modest step in that direction.

  I hope Senator Bourne will table in this Parliament the reasons why she and her party refuse—and Senator Bourne may be prepared to reconsider her position—to vote with the coalition in this matter. If Senator Bourne is not prepared to accept this proposal, I hope she will say why she is not prepared to accept it so that her reasons can be carefully analysed.

  I thought there was a commitment by Senator Bourne and her colleagues to have a fresh look at how we could improve the operations of this chamber and the accountability and performance of the Government, as demanded by the public. Senator Bourne will be aware that last year a record number of Bills were passed—rammed through, in some cases—through this chamber last year.

  The Australian Democrats and the coalition do not agree on too much, but at least we can agree that this Senate chamber should operate more efficiently and that the Government should be made more accountable. It is a serious matter to which I am committed. I had hoped Senator Bourne's party was also committed to that view.

Senator Bourne —No.

Senator KEMP —They are not committed to it.

Senator Bourne —You are a sad case.

Senator KEMP —Senator Bourne says that I am a sad case simply because I believe that the Government should be prepared to answer more questions in Question Time, that there is too little accountability by this chamber of the Government's performance, and that the Government needs to have more scrutiny. If the Democrats cannot join with us on many policy issues, I would have thought that at least they could join with us in trying to reform the procedures of this Parliament.