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Tuesday, 23 February 1971

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - The one or two points I want to make have become more important because of the speech just made by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson). The opinion seems to be held around the chamber that we should first discuss whether we should establish the additional committees, and that we are not now deciding whether a committee should be requested to conduct an inquiry into housing. The real question to be decided now is whether the Senate should be permitted to make up its mind about an examination of housing now or at a later date. We are faced with the fact that whatever may arise out of consideration of your report on the Senate committees, Mr President, the Senate has to appoint an additional 5 committees duringt his session.

Some honourable senators seem to have the vague idea that we are deciding now whether to appoint committees, but the Senate resolved on 19th August 1970that the actual establishment of the total number of committees, including the appointment of senators to the various committees, should be done over a period of not less than 12 months. Therefore the Senate has until 19th August 1971 to appoint 7 committees. An arrangement for gradualism in the appointment of the committees was agreed to, in that 5 committees were not to operate before 2 of the committees selected by the Senate for first establishment had actually operated. Two of the committees have actually operated.

Senator RAE (TASMANIA) - And are hard at work.

Senator CAVANAGH - The arrangement is not based on the time at which the 2 selected committees submit a report to the Senate, but on a time at which those 2 committees have actually operated. I accept Senator Rae's assurance that they are hard at work and therefore are in operation. A report on the operation of the committees has been presented to the Sen ate by the President. Appendix D to the President's report provides:

(3)   A report shall be presentedto the Senate by the President not later than the commencement of the first session of 1971 as to the operation of the Standing Committees and their administration, accommodation and staff requirements.

Obviously the report of the President is concerned with an examination of staff requirements, accommodation and so on. But the Senate has decided that we have to appoint 7 committees before 19th August 1971, that is within 12 months of 19th August 1970. If we do not appoint the additional 5 committees during this session, when do we appoint them? It is obvious that the appointments must be made during this session. If as a result of the President's report we cannot continue to abide by the previous decision on the selection of committees it will be necessary for the Senate to carry a resolution of rescission of the previous decision, in order to supplant it by another decision. The President's report contains no questions about our capability as a Parliament to provide accommodation, Hansard staff and printing staff for the standing committees. It contains a reference to the difficulties of Senate estimates committees but nothing to justify deferring the appointment of the additional committees.

Therefore we must appoint 5 additional committees during this session. On 20th August last Senator Murphy gave notice of a motion to refer a matter to the only committee available at that time, the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. It is necessary now for the Senate to appoint another standing committee rather than have an inquiry into housing referred to a committee that is already overloaded and possibly would be an inappropriate committee to conduct such an inquiry. Senator Murphy therefore chooses to submit that the inquiry be conducted by a committee that we appoint on this occasion. Whether the inquiry should be referred to that committee is another question. What we mustresolve now is the right of the Senate to say whether the inquiry should be referred to a committee which we have to appoint on this occasion.

Nothing is to be gained by adjourning this matter until after we have considered the President's report on the standing committees. Whatever we decide about these standing committees, we cannot alter a previous decision of the Senate and therefore 5 additional committees must be appointed during this session. The President's report contains no advice to the effect that the facilities for those committees to operate are not available. Should we simply appoint them without something for consideration or should we examine the various questions that we may wish to refer to them? One such question is the state of housing throughout Australia and we want a decision on that point now. 1 do not want to be offensive in this matter. I think that an examination of the whole proposal shows that there is validity in Senator Murphy's claim that the suggested adjournment is simply another way of staving off a vote of the Senate on the point and another adjournment moved by the Australian Democratic Labor Party could be consistent with opposition to the committee system.

Senator Little - It could be sensible, too.

Senator CAVANAGH - The honourable senator may say that opposition to the committee system is sensible, but we say that the rest of the Senate agrees with the committee system. If the DLP wishes to carry on opposition to the committee system, it should simply carry it on. Senator Murphy has suggested that the DLP was opposed to it from its commencement. The Senate committee system has developed out of 2 decisions of the Senate, one originating with the Government's proposal to establish Estimates committees, and one originating with the Australian Labor Party which moved to establish standing committees. Each suggestion competed with the other. The Democratic Labor Party supported the Government's move for Estimates committees and it was successful.

The DLP opposed the motion of the Labor Party on standing committees and effected a compromise for the purpose of defeating the establishment of an effective committee system through the appointment of 7 standing committees, as proposed by the Labor Party. The compromise was that 2 standing committees be appointed for first establishment and that 5 more be appointed at a later date. In order to defeat the Labor Party's motion for the establish ment of 7 standing committees the DLP compromised on the appointment of 2 committees and an assurance of the Senate that 5 more would be appointed within 12 months of August 1970.

Now the Democratic Labor Party is seeking to starve the proposed standing committee of activities, using as its justification the plea that it is concerned about the Treasury. Surely to God if there is a need for an inquiry into housing the Democratic Labor Party is obliged to agree to that inquiry and should not seek to defer it on the ground that it is concerned about the amount that the Treasury may be obliged to vote for the operations of a committee selected to conduct that inquiry. Such an inquiry would examine poverty and housing in the States represented by DLP senators. I submit that this action truly indicates the opposition of the Democratic Labor Party to the committee system.

We are committed to the appointment of 5 additional committees and we must appoint them. The Labor Party desires to give them the opportunity to work, lt is suggested that one of them should inquire into housing. We do not have to decide on this occasion whether one of them should inquire into housing. The question we are deciding on this occasion is whether we should refer to the Standing Committee on Social Environment an inquiry into housing. The Democratic Labor Party if it so desires, may vote against this when the vote is taken. But let us have the opportunity to say whether we should refer something to these committees which the Senate has decided to establish and which will be established in this parliamentary session.

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