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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 48

Senator KEMP —I, too, wish to associate myself with the remarks that have made about Senator Archer. His departure from this chamber came as a complete surprise to me. I hope that there will be an occasion when I can personally pass on to him my good wishes and my thanks for the friendship and wise counsel that he has given to me. He was a true gentleman; a man who was not, except when very severely provoked, a very fiery debater. He always spoke with substance and with good sense. He will be missed from this side of the chamber for those qualities, and certainly for the friendship that he showed to so many of us.

  Mr President, I would also like to make a comment on your role in the office that you have assumed. I join with my colleagues in extending to you my congratulations. I am one of those who believe that the offices of Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate are two of the great offices in this country. It is important to those of us who treasure the parliamentary system that the Presiding Officers set a standard. We all take responsibility for what occurs in this parliament, nonetheless my relatively short experience here has shown that the Presiding Officers do a great deal to set the tone for the conduct of this chamber. The authority that the Presiding Officers are able to wield is important in ensuring that parliament performs as it should perform. Television has given a particular eminence to your office. The TV cameras frequently focus on Presiding Officers each day that parliament sits, and in the to and fro of parliamentary debates their voices are often heard. In a fairly short period of time the Presiding Officers become public figures, and I think that is important.

  I have a concern about the culture which surrounds this parliament. I believe that it is a culture which needs to be changed so that the Presiding Officers of this parliament are not only seen to be acting in an independent manner but are independent. That is a message with which not all my colleagues would agree. However, it is my belief that to the extent we increase the authority and standing of the office of President of the Senate we will also increase the authority and standing of this parliament.

  I have no great complaint about the performance of the former President. I thought he was a little tough on me with a few of his rulings, but given the culture that surrounds this parliament and past practices, Kerry Sibraa was a good President, and I think each and every one of my colleagues would agree with me.

  I certainly hope that you, Mr President, will further elevate the high office to which you have been elected. A few years ago—I would urge you, Mr President, to do the same if you have not done so already—I read a transcript of the conference that the Presiding Officers and clerks have every year. The transcripts are particularly interesting. I first started to read them when Mr Leo Mcleay was the Speaker in the other place—although his was an example which I do not think will be followed in the future. When reading of the experience of Presiding Officers from around Australia, it occurred to me what the potential of your office was.

  Presiding Officers from the New South Wales Parliament have been prepared to make rulings on length of answers, and quite comfortably prepared to make rulings on relevance without any particular guidance. Time and time again we have heard from the other place how difficult it is for a Speaker to rule on matters of relevance. Indeed, the current Speaker seems to find it difficult. However, Presiding Officers around the country are ruling on relevance each and every parliamentary sitting day. Speaker Rozzoli in the New South Wales Parliament, as I understand it, is very comfortable about ruling on relevance. A former Labor Speaker from Tasmania, whose paper was given at one of these conferences, said that he was also very comfortable about ruling on such matters.

  When Presiding Officers see themselves in an independent role, when they are able to rule fearlessly on such matters as relevance, they have passed two of the tests they need to pass in order to lift the standard of debate in this parliament, particular at question time. I realise, Mr President, that today was your first day in office but I was a little worried when you said that you found it difficult to rule on the relevance of an issue. I would urge you to look at what other Presiding Officers in this country are doing in that respect. I learned from a former clerk in the other place, a Mr Browning, that where standing orders are silent, the powers of a Presiding Officer are virtually unlimited. In that sense, standing orders are a restriction rather than guidance.

  I hope that during your time in office you will help lift the standards of this parliament by the fearlessness with which you make your rulings, and by your willingness to stand up for the Senate when it is attacked. When the Senate was attacked by the present Prime Minister (Mr Keating) I feel that the former President did not stand up for this chamber. I believe that that is another of the duties of a President of the Senate.

  Mr President, I wish you well. I will certainly do my best to work with you. I hope that you will help establish something which I think is important: not only the independence of your office but also that your office is seen to be independent. A former Speaker from our party, Mr Snedden, decided that in order to buttress the independence of his office he would not attend party meetings, nor would he take part in tactical party discussions. I think that is a good precedent for a Presiding Officer to follow, and one which you may give thought to following.

  I hope that the office of President of the Senate is one that will always be sought after. In the past it has been sought after for both good and bad reasons, but in the future I hope it will be sought after because it is one of the pre-eminent offices in this country and that it will be seen in that light. I believe that the office of the President of the Senate should be the highest office to which an individual in this parliament should seek to aspire. Once attained I have difficulty with the concept of an incumbent negotiating with the government for another job, particularly when it occurs over a period of time. Once that happens it places further pressure on the perception of the independence of the office. Mr President, I wish you well and I hope that in the months and years to come you will be seen to have added to the grandeur of what is already a very important office.