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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2043

Senator COONEY(4.23 p.m.) —I agree with a lot of what Senator Ray says, but there is some of what he said that I do not agree with. One proposition is that the Department of the Senate should be treated the same as every other department. I do not think that is right.

Senator Robert Ray —I was always the democrat; you were always the elitist.

Senator COONEY —You say you are a democrat, Senator Ray.

Senator Robert Ray —A left-handed one.

Senator COONEY —The very essence of democracy is that parliament should have the overall say in how the country is governed. If we are going to have a federal parliament, surely the most central function it has is to act like a parliament. If you look at the constitution, of the first 80 sections 60 are devoted to the parliament, 10 to the executive and 10 to the judiciary. I see Kim Rubenstein up the gallery. She is a very eminent academic from the University of Melbourne—a most august body with a most august law school. I do not know what she would be thinking of the way we are dealing with the parliament here today.

Certainly, I am not saying that there should not be cuts to the Department of the Senate, but those cuts should be determined by the Senate itself. There is concern about the way democracy is going and that concern has been expressed by very eminent people. One, for example, is the present Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Gerard Brennan, who, in the Blackburn lecture in August 1990, had this to say:

Apart from legislative debates, Parliament's continuing contribution to democracy is its holding of the Executive to public accountability. Moreover, it scrutinises proposed appropriations and delegations of power and reviews subordinate legislation . . . But the capacity of parliament to place a check on executive action is limited by the press of business and the day-to-day exigencies of politics.

I think all of us in this chamber over the years have given speeches about the necessity of democracy and the necessity of parliament. Deep down, I think all of us are parliamentary people. There is the press of the fact that we are members of parties. In respect of two of those parties, they take it in turns, as it were, to form the government of this country. Once you form the government of the country, there is great pressure to fall in with the proper demands of the executive. But there are certain times when the demands made by the executive are not proper—they go beyond the reality as set out by the tests of a democracy and as set out by the constitution. This is one such case. There is a distinction to be drawn between the Department of the Senate and other departments, that is, that this department goes to serving us who, after all, are the only people directly elected by the constituents in Australia.