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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 478

Senator TEAGUE (6.12 p.m.) —I have listened carefully to the arguments put forward by Senator Faulkner and Senator Ray for the Government's proposal, which I can interpret only as destroying the excellent record of the Senate committee system and, in particular, the committee I will address most, that is, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I will leave it to my colleague Senator Panizza to put his own experience and protest with regard to the Government's proposal to abolish the Senate Standing Committee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure.

  All of the coalition members disagree that there be any reduction in the standing committees of this Senate. I support fully all that my colleague Senator Hill has said on this matter and I put as a last plea to Senator Bell from the Australian Democrats, who is in the chamber, and any other senators from the Democrats who are listening that we retain the structure of Senate committees, which has served this nation and the Parliament well over the last 22 years. I put the particular plea that this not be a swan song for an excellent committee, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, but rather a convincing speech for evaluating its record, seeing it to be excellent, and making sure that we do not lose the momentum and the established credibility we have in that committee, along with the others.

  It has been mentioned already that standing order 25 outlines that at the beginning of each parliament there shall be nine standing committees of the Senate—legislative and general purpose committees—defined with much the same powers that have existed and have been to the greater effectiveness of the Senate over the last 22 years. The proposal before us is that standing order 25 be amended to remove four of the committees and to see an amalgamation such that there be two newly defined committees and that the total, instead of being nine, becomes seven.

  The proposal is that the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade be amalgamated with the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. In my 15 years in the Senate I have regarded these two committees as the most achieving of the Senate standing committees. I do not wish to denigrate the excellent record of the others, but I draw to the attention of the Senate the work that has been undertaken by these two standing committees in the last Parliament. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the references to these two committees, which appear on pages 73 to 76 of the Notice Paper for the last sitting day of the last Parliament.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows—

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade: Senator Maguire (Chairman), Senators Bishop, Burns, Durack, Loosley, Spindler, Teague and West.

Current inquiries:

The adequacy with which Australia's policy and guidelines for controlling military transfers safeguard Australia's defence, security and international relations (8 May 1991)

Japan's defence policy and current defence development and debates in Japan and the region (16 September 1992)

Reports presented:

Examination of annual reports (30 May 1990)

Australia-India Relations—Trade and Security (presented to the President on 24 July 1990, pursuant to resolution of the Senate of 31 May 1990; tabled 22 August 1990)

Examination of annual reports (21 December 1990)

Perestroika—Implications for Australia-USSR Relations (21 December 1990)

United Nations peacekeeping and Australia (29 May 1991)

Examination of annual reports—No. 1 of 1991 (21 June 1991)

Examination of annual reports—No. 2 of 1991 (11 December 1991)

Australia and Latin America (18 June 1992)

Examination of annual reports—No. 1 of 1992 (25 June 1992)

Implications of United States policies for Australia (16 December 1992)

Legal and Constitutional Affairs: Senator Cooney (Chairman), Senators Giles, Kemp, O'Chee, Schacht, Spindler, Vanstone and Walsh.

Current inquiries:

Continuing oversight of the Commonwealth Ombudsman Special Reports (22 August 1986; again referred 22 September 1987)

The `shield of the Crown' doctrine (3 May 1989)

Cost of legal services and litigation (10 May 1989)

Proposed amendment of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (19 August 1992)

The operation and effectiveness of the Cash Transaction Reports Act 1988 (12 November 1992)

Reports presented:

Annual reports referred to the Committee (31 May 1990)

Debt recovery under the Social Security Act and the Veterans' Entitlements Act (presented to the President on 28 June 1990, pursuant to resolution of the Senate of 31 May 1990; tabled 22 August 1990)

Privacy Amendment Bill 1989 [1990] (presented to the President on 22 October 1990, pursuant to resolution of the Senate of 23 August 1990; tabled 6 November 1990)

Excise Tariff Amendment Bill 1990 (10 December 1990)

Proposed tax file number provisions and data-matching program (11 December 1990)

Corporations Legislation Amendment Bill 1990 (13 December 1990)

Annual reports referred to the Committee for the period 1 January—30 June 1990 (21 December 1990)

Crimes (Investigation of Commonwealth Offences) Amendment Bill 1990 (9 April 1991)

Trusts (Hague Convention) Bill 1991 (9 April 1991)

Aboriginal Development Commission—Legal costs in relation to Senate privileges matter (14 May 1991)

Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill 1991 (29 May 1991)

Scrutiny of annual reports—No. 1 of 1991 (4 June 1991)

Unauthorised procurement and disclosure of information (5 June 1991)

Health Legislation (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Amendment Bill 1991 (Clause 11) (18 June 1991)

Copyright Amendment Bill 1991 (16 August 1991)

The twentieth anniversary of the Committee (2 December 1991)

Scrutiny of annual reports—No. 2 of 1991 (9 December 1991)

Mergers, monopolies and acquisitions: Adequacy of existing legislative controls (19 December 1991)

Scrutiny of annual reports—No. 1 of 1992 (18 June 1992)

Territories Law Reform Bill 1992 (23 June 1992)

Review of Determinations of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Privacy Commissioner (11 November 1992)

Veterans' Entitlements Amendment Bill 1992 (24 November 1992)

Industrial Relations Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1992 (15 December 1992)

Discussion papers presented:

Inquiry into the cost of legal services and litigation in Australia today—

No. 1—Cost of Legal Services and Litigation: Introduction to the Issues (17 April 1991)

No. 2—Lawyers' fees (17 April 1991)

No. 3—Contingency fees (16 May 1991)

No. 4—Methods of dispute resolution (9 September 1991)

No. 5—Legal ethics (26 February 1992)

No. 6—The courts and the conduct of litigation (5 March 1992)

No. 7—Legal aid—`For richer and for poorer' (2 April 1992)

No. 8—The legal profession—A case for microeconomic reform (presented to the Senate on 14 May 1992, pursuant to resolution of the Senate of 13 February 1991; tabled 27 May 1992)

Background papers presented:

Inquiry into the cost of legal services and litigation in Australia today—

Survey of reforms to the English legal profession (18 December 1991)

Access to legal services: The role of market forces (26 February 1992)

Senator TEAGUE —I thank the Senate. The incorporated material shows that, starting with the legal and constitutional affairs committee, which had a membership of eight senators, there were 16 inquiries on which reports have been presented, and there are five current inquiries on a wide range of subjects. When I turn to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I see also a long list of very substantial national inquiries that have been undertaken. I have with me a pile of reports from the last parliament, and I am proud to have been associated with the work of the Senate committee in the establishment of these reports.

  Let me note what is now an international authority on the visit to any nation by nuclear-powered or armed vessels and the safeguards required. At the time this was a hot political issue in this country and many in the public regarded it as a genuine danger to civilians in port cities, and, more widely than that, that there were visits to our ports by nuclear-powered or armed vessels. This measure has taken all of the fire out of those concerns. There were some 50 recommendations which made sure that all of the arrangements were in good order. There was a change whereby some ships would not come to the Victoria Docks adjacent to the city of Hobart. All of the politics has gone from that issue.

  Let me talk about the report Senator Hill has referred to, that is, the Senate committee's report on Australia-India relations. It addressed both strategic assessments of India in the subcontinent and trade prospects between Australia and India. When there was a major mistake made by the present Government in the sale of redundant aircraft to Pakistan—a mistake which is greatly regretted, I believe, even by the Ministers responsible—this report was at hand and was a fallback to repair and rebuild the damaged relations between Australia and India. The recommendation in this report that there should be an Australia-India council has been accepted. The essential text for the politics of the relationship between Australia and India—if one asks any of the academics and any of the business people involved in Australia-India matters—is this Senate report.

  I refer to another useful report from the last Parliament—an evaluation of perestroika, or the Gorbachev policies with regard to Russia. A great deal has happened since then. This is still a relevant report because it called for a refreshing look at Australia's opportunities with regard to the emerging new states that had formerly made up the Soviet Union.

  None of these reports of the Senate committee has been duplicated by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Another area of very real concern both to our foreign affairs interests in this country and to defence has been our increased involvement in United Nations peacekeeping. It was very appropriate that there be a careful study by politicians of United Nations peacekeeping in Australia. The more than 20 deployments of Australian service personnel and police to peacekeeping needs around the world and a whole body of recommendations to improve our decisions with regard to such deployments are carefully catalogued in this evaluation.

  This is directly relevant to the major peacekeeping force serving in Cambodia, to the peacekeeping force now in Somalia and to others that were in the western Sahara, Lebanon and Cyprus and so I could go on. This report is most relevant and the Government's response to it is that it is instructive and, largely, that it will implement it. It is not duplicative of anything that has been done by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade or any other committee.

  I turn to the major report brought down during the last Parliament, a report on Australia and Latin America, which I regard as one of the most significant, most constructive reports for Australia coming out of the 50 or so inquiries in which I have been involved in the past 15 years. I am very proud to have been associated with this report, as is Senator West who is in the chamber and, indeed, all eight of the senators who served in its determination. The President of the Senate has been glowing in his tribute to this report. He represented this Parliament last year on a visit to Colombia and found that everybody concerned with foreign affairs and trade matters he spoke to was aware of the Senate committee's report relating to all of the republics of Central and South America.

  Senator Hill has referred to the enormous interest shown in this issue by the eight ambassadors in this city who represent Latin American countries and who have appeared as witnesses before our inquiry. They have followed it most carefully. Last Wednesday night, they very admirably held a dinner in honour of the chairman of the committee, Senator Maguire, as he will be retiring from the Parliament next month. They said, through the spokesmen that evening—the Ambassador of Chile, the Ambassador Colombia and our good friends—that the dinner was held in honour of the whole committee, and Senator Maguire took it in that way.

  At a meeting of the Magellan Society at the Australian National University in three weeks' time there will be a complete follow-up of the implementation of this report. The Government has been so diligent in taking up the work of the committee that its response to this report has been published in booklet form. More than that, the committee has initiated a proposal—and the Parliament has agreed—whereby the seminal elements of our report on Latin America and the Government's response be bound together and published in Spanish and circulated in the countries of Latin America.

  Not only will it be circulated through our ambassadors in that country but also through the efforts of the national governments in each place. It will be circulated not only to business but also to academia, to anyone involved in trade or anything to do with the relations between our countries—transport, airways and so on. The findings in the report indicate the prospect of Australian trade in the region increasing from the current level of one per cent to three per cent or even more. We should not be neglecting any one part of the world.

  I repeat that I am thoroughly proud of this report. If, for the temporary convenience of some members of the Senate, we were to abandon the 22 years of achievement of such an important standing committee of this Parliament, we would be doing a great disservice to the Parliament and to Australia. I can only make the plea that Government and Democrat senators look beyond the convenience of their own arrangements in the next three years, actually concentrate upon the track record of excellence that has been achieved in this Parliament through such committees, and not abandon these achievements.

  I draw to the attention of the Senate some of the supplementary papers that were generated by the Senate with regard to the Latin America inquiry. I know that these are now essential texts, not only in Australia, but also in the foreign capitals of the countries of Latin America. Let me give one example.

  We had a full day's seminar at the department of Spanish studies at Flinders University which was opened by my good friend, John Lovering, the Vice Chancellor of the university. A State Minister spoke at the seminar in glowing terms about the initiative taken by the Senate in this report. Senator Maguire, Senator Crowley—who recently returned from leading a delegation representing the Parliament—and I also spoke at that seminar. We were seen to be senators making a relevant, practical and constructive contribution not only to the Parliament but also to the practical agenda of universities such as Flinders University. That is only one example.

  While I am concentrating on Latin America, let me say that the members of the diplomatic corps in this city, some 80 ambassadors—at least all those who have heard of this possible move in the Senate—are lamenting that this move will be a huge loss to Australia's ability to build links with the nations of the world, especially those nations with which we have a direct trading, defence or other substantial relationship. I think of the ASEAN representatives in this city, the Latin Americans, the Americans, the Europeans; I could go through the whole diplomatic corps in this city. They know the value of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

  I might be interpreted in these remarks as singing a swan song for a marvellous committee that we are now seeing disposed of to meet the temporary convenience of some senators. I will refer in my concluding remarks to those directly practical matters.

  The proposal to have only seven Senate standing committees happens to match the number of Democrat senators. There are only seven Democrats in this chamber. I note that it is difficult for Democrat senators to attend more than one committee. Senator Spindler is a member of two standing committees, the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

  Am I being too cynical in saying that the proposal before us amalgamates the two committees on which Senator Spindler happens to be a member? Am I being too cynical in saying that it is the view of some Democrat senators that it would be very much to their personal convenience if there were one secretary and one agenda, and they could organise their lives that little bit better, whatever the losses to the Senate as a whole? In the future, when others look at this debate, and at the downgrading of the Senate committee system, they will see it as meeting no argument on merit, only the convenience of some senators, and they will see this as a very sorry day in the Senate.

  I have been able to do the arithmetic—something to which Senator Ray referred. There will be only 30 Labor senators in the chamber. Ten are Ministers. I welcome the fact that one-third of the Ministry is drawn from this chamber. It should be so. One-third of the members of Parliament are in the Senate; one-third of the Ministers of the Government ought to be from the Senate. When we take those 10 into account, plus the President of the Senate—or if there should be other than a Government President, presumably a Government chairman of committees—this leaves only 19 senators to serve on the standing committees. If there are nine standing committees and three or four are required for each—even at the most, that is 36 places to be filled—each of those 19 senators would be required to serve on two standing committees. I understand that arithmetic but I do not believe that that is an argument that ought to sway this chamber to abandon standing committees of great worth.

  I note in particular the loss of the resources that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade would suffer in being only half a committee. At the moment we have considerable expertise in our own secretariat. It is clear that that secretariat would be halved through this amalgamation and we would see the dispersal of resources which have been of great value.

  More than six years ago I was, for five years, a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I valued that time. But I have always seen the Senate standing committee as complementary—doing additional work of value to what the joint committee is able to undertake. There is a convenience, a concentration and a focus which senators bring to an all-senators committee which mean that it is a very achieving committee in the way that I have outlined in the reports that I have referred to. That will be lost if we see the loss of this committee.

  As Senator Ray said, this proposal was put up three years ago and six years ago. Senator Ray was the Manager of Government Business in the Senate and was aware of pressures, even in those years, on Labor senators to service committees. It was at least informally put about that there might be some reduction. One of the committees discussed was the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. However, rightly, six years ago and three years ago that discussion led to the confirmation and retention of this very achieving Senate standing committee. Even at this eleventh hour, I still hope there will be the same outcome this time.

  I now refer to a transition. Despite the views of coalition senators, if the proposal before us is successful and we see a reduction from nine committees to seven, I would ask that consideration be given to ensuring that there is no lapse of the three-quarters completed current inquiry into Australia's assessment of Japan and Japan's security concerns.

  On 16 September last year the Senate referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for an inquiry and report on the matter of Japan's defence policy and current defence development and debates in Japan. A number of very valuable witnesses have appeared at our public hearings, including His Excellency the Ambassador of Japan. It would be of great discourtesy, not only to the senators who have three-quarters finished that task but also to our witnesses, including the Ambassador of Japan and through him the Government of Japan, if we were to not see the completion of that reference.

  We have completed our public hearings. We have already developed a draft and it would be the wish of the committee for that to be completed by the end of June this year. I put the plea that, if there is going to be a loss of a committee, there be a certainty of transition such that this current inquiry, the only major current inquiry to be completed, is completed and reported to the Senate. There are two or three ways to do this. One is through retaining the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade at least until the end of June with its current membership. Another is to have a select committee, again with the membership of the current standing committee, that would have the precise task of completing that report on the same terms of reference and building upon the transcript of evidence and material that has been available to the Committee. A third is to ensure that in any amalgamated committee it be a priority reference and that there be sufficient personnel from the former committee continuing into that amalgamated committee to ensure that it is completed by June this year.

  I see Senator Cooney in the chamber. I commend, as I did at the beginning of my speech, Senator Cooney's first-class record as chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Senator Hill has served in this area in the past, as has Senator Tate, former Senator Puplick, former Senator Missen and so on. There has been an enormously high regard for that committee. Yet the proposal that is before us is to take these two most eminent standing committees and amalgamate them so that there would be half the resources and half the ability to complete the good work of both committees. Even in this transition, I would see that the concerns of such persons as my good friend across the chamber Senator Cooney in legal and constitutional matters would have difficulty competing with the completion of a report such as that which I referred to with regard to Japan.

  I make the plea that there be a certain transition so that that report can be completed by the end of June. I have taken a great deal of the time of the Senate in speaking for 25 minutes. I do not make any apology. I only say with every amount of sincerity that I can muster that we should not, for the temporary convenience of some senators, abandon a 22-year record of excellence of achievement in the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I move:

1.Omit all words after "That", insert:

  "standing order 25 be amended as follows:

  `Paragraph (2), omit:

"(f) The Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology;" and

"(i) The StandingCommittee on Transport, Communications and Infrastructure.",


"(f) The Standing Committee on Industrial Development;".'".

That amendment would avoid the abolition of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I look for a signal from the Democrats that they are prepared to agree with the better solution, which is to have no change at all and continue with nine committees. That is my preferred position. I would also look for a signal with regard to Senator Panizza's amendment that would change the actual combination of responsibilities or portfolio areas with regard to the continuing Senate committees. I will defer to those alternative considerations if I can see that we will have the full number of Senate committees. The reason why I moved the amendment is for there to be only a reduction to eight committees, if that was the mind of Democrat and Independent senators—and, indeed, of Government senators. If we retained nine committees, I would happily withdraw my amendment for eight.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Richardson) adjourned.