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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1544

Senator COULTER —Mr Acting Deputy President, I think this is the first time I have seen you in the chair, congratulations; it is good to see you up there. I present the second report of the Select Committee on the Functions, Powers and Operation of the Australian Loan Council.

  Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator COULTER —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the report.

The committee considering the powers, functions and operation of the Loan Council has to some extent been frustrated in that it has sought certain witnesses, some of whom are members of parliament and some are not, and some witnesses have chosen not to appear before the committee. In relation to those who are members of parliament, we have pursued an investigation as to how we may be able to get them before the committee. On the advice of the Clerk of the Senate, we are seeking in this report that the Senate pass a motion requesting the relevant houses in which these members of parliament sit to ask the relevant members of parliament to appear before our committee.

  The reason for choosing this course of action is that the powers of one of the houses of parliament in this country with respect to the powers of another house of parliament in this country are ill-defined when it comes to bringing witnesses before another house of parliament. Those powers are clearly defined with respect to the Senate calling members of the House of Representatives or vice versa, but not with respect to, say, the Senate calling a member of a state house. Therefore, it seemed appropriate that, in the first instance, the request for these people to appear before a Senate committee be made in that form—as a request from the Senate to the relevant house that those members appear.

  It may be argued that we are seeking witnesses who will give evidence that may not greatly extend the evidence that has already been received. But I would point out that the Loan Council administers the borrowings of money in this country to the extent of tens of billions of dollars. We know that a number of the states have gone outside agreed limits—most recently in the case of Victoria, but not only in the case of Victoria. We know also from the evidence we have received so far that the way in which that Loan Council has been administered, the way in which determinations of amounts are made and the way in which decisions in relation to those amounts are made is secretive and certainly not open to the scrutiny that it should be.

  We have already had members of state parliaments come before us. We have had the former Premier of New South Wales and we have had the current Treasurer of Victoria. The evidence they have given indicates that we do need evidence from other members of state parliaments, treasurers and premiers to give a rounded picture of the operation of the Loan Council, because the recommendations which our committee will be able to make with respect to the better operation of the Loan Council will be very much in the broader interests of this country.

  I think every member of the committee would agree that the operation of the Loan Council in the past has been totally unsatisfactory and very much in need of reform. Some reforms have occurred. I think the committee would take the view that further reforms are desirable and, in framing those further reforms, the evidence of other members of state parliaments would be desirable.

  I commend the report to the Senate. I understand that at least one, possibly two, other members of the committee will want to make a few remarks; they have submitted a dissenting report. After they have spoken I

will be seeking leave to move a motion which will lie on the table until next week in relation to that matter of the request from this Senate to the relevant state houses of parliament for those witnesses to appear before our committee.