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Thursday, 31 October 1996
Page: 4886

Senator COLSTON(1.31 p.m.) —The Senate is considering the appropriation bills for 1996-97. In the course of the examination of the provisions of the appropriation bills, three legislation committees made recommendations to the Senate arising from their examination of the proposed appropriations. Most legislation committees also commented on the lack of adequate information in the portfolio budget statements and the Employment, Education and Training Legislation Committee re-affirmed its view of the role of ministers appearing before committees.

To facilitate the moving and consideration of the committee's recommendations and findings, the chairs of the relevant committees have agreed that, as Chairman of Committees, I should move a motion on behalf of the chairs, for the adoption of the recommendations and the noting of the major findings. Accordingly, I now move:

At the end of the motion, add:

", and the Senate, having considered the reports of the legislation committees on the proposed expenditure in respect of the year ending on 30 June 1997:

(1)   Adopts the following recommendations contained in those reports—

(a)   That the Procedure Committee further consider the recommendation made by the Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee in its December 1994 report for improving the efficient conduct of estimates hearings, and that it consider options such as:

   (i)   allocating an extra day for hearings;

   (ii)   scheduling the Senate to rise earlier (or not sit at all) on estimates hearings days; and/or

   (iii)   setting firm appointment times during the hearing days for the different parts of the portfolios.

   (Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee, report paragraph 2.12) .

(b)   That the Procedure Committee consider amending the three-day rule to a five-day rule or clarify the rule to mean three working days.

   (Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee, supplementary report, paragraph 2.5) .

(c)   That the following matter be referred to the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee—

      The Portfolio Budget Statements, including consideration of a new, improved format.

   (Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee, report paragraph 2.16) .

(d)   That the Department of Finance revise the structure of the Portfolio Budget Statements to include information about estimates expenditure for items within sub-programs.

   (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, report paragraph 9) .

(e)   That the President issue a procedural rule under Remuneration Tribunal Determination no. 21 of 1995 to provide that committee chairs travelling on committee business not related to a meeting of the committee be required to advise the committee secretary in writing of their travel and the reason for it, to facilitate checking of travel claims.

   (Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, report page 3) .

(2)   Notes that most legislation committees commented adversely on the current content of the Portfolio Budget Statements, including a lack of adequate information.

(3)   Notes that the Employment, Education and Training Legislation Committee:

(a)   is of the opinion that future supplementary hearings dates should be set well in advance, as an order of the Senate, to enable the presence of ministers as required; and

(b)   reaffirms its view of the role of the relevant minister in the estimates process as essentially that of providing responses to questions about government policy, with departmental officers available to provide detailed responses to questions about the implementation of those policies.

   (Employment, Education and Training Legislation Committee, report paragraph 10) .".

As the arguments in support of the recommendations are set out in the reports of the relevant committees, I do not propose to canvass them at this time. I expect that senators who participated in the relevant committee procedures will address those arguments in the course of the debate on the motion for the second reading and on this amendment.