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Wednesday, 29 May 1996
Page: 1270

Senator CHRIS EVANS(12.16 p.m.) —It seems that this debate may have gone a bit off the track and there may have been some misunderstandings. The important point and the reason why we support the Democrats' amendments is that, while there is general recognition of the expertise of the current chairman—and I personally do not have any wish to see that changed—the committee has worked well under his leadership. That has partly been because of the creative tension on the committee that has required us to seek to come to some sort of consensus.

In terms of the balance of forces on the committee, I think it was a very healthy thing that when we were the government we did not have the numbers; in that sense it forced government members to deal positively with suggestions from other members of the committee and allowed the superannuation committee to continue to do its broad policy work in advance of the day-to-day political debate. That is not possible for all committees, and I do not advocate it as a system for all committees.

The reason we are in difficulty today is that arrangements with regard to allocation of chairs and membership of committees have been held separately from the debate around the superannuation committee or not held at all. So superannuation has been somewhat left out on a limb. We support the Democrats' amendments. Effectively, they will allow the chairman to continue as chairman because the Democrats have indicated that they are inclined to support him and their amendments will actually make that automatic.

It does mean that the government will not have an automatic majority on the committee. I think that will be a healthy thing for the committee and enable it to continue the sort of role it has played in terms of being a committee that looks at broad policy issues two to five years in front of the current political debate. I can assure the Liberal Party members of the committee that not having a majority on the committee will be to their personal advantage in the sense of the pressures that can be applied to them, and it will allow them to apply their intellectual rigour to the issues that come before them. So it is a reasonable outcome.

In terms of the section that deals with how the chair should be elected, my personal view is that that ought to have been handled as part of the general arrangements between parties in this place, as part of the overall allocation of committee chairs and divisions of responsibility. It is a shame that that has not occurred—I am not quite sure that is the case. As I say, we are quite comfortable with the current chairman continuing, although my preference would have been for that to be considered as part of the broader picture. For the work that this particular committee does, the balance that we arrive at today will be in the committee's best interests, if not perhaps in the political best interests of any particular party. I support the amendments.