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Monday, 15 March 1971

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - J do not wish to speak at great length on this matter. My main purpose in rising is to move an amendment that was to some extent foreshadowed in the remarks of my colleague Senator Byrne when he stated the viewpoint of the Australian Democratic Labor Party on this matter. The amendment has been circulated; I do not know that this is the time for scathing criticism or for wildly enthusiastic support for the committees in general. We have always supported a policy of gradualism in relation to committees, considering it to be much more reasonable to expect that if we move a little more slowly, if we establish them gradually and if we learn by the inevitable mistakes that will be made as we go along we will ultimately have much more successful and better committees doing the work of the nation than otherwise would be the case. lt is because we have adopted that attitude throughout the discussion that we now feel that some of those who are prepared to say that the estimates committees failed because in some respects they were dissatisfied and others who say that the estimates committees were a marvellous success because more attention was given to various aspects than previously are making hasty judgments. With something as new to the Senate as the estimates committees are, we believe that just a little more time and a little more experience are necessary before we can assess fully whether they are a success or a failure and precisely what is necessary to make them function as everybody in the Senate wants them to function.

I have a certain amount of sympathy for Senator Cavanagh who ' obviously had specific questions that he wished to raise on aspects of the Estimates which were tremendously important to him. This matter gets down to party difficulties. In our Party we may have the good fortune that being few, we do not expect to be able to be duly represented on all committees; indeed, it is physically difficult for us to be represented on all committees. Because we have complete confidence in each other, if there is a specific matter that we want raised in an estimates committee that we are unable to attend we go to one another and ensure that in our own interests, in the interests of the country and in the interests of getting a good debate on it the question that is uppermost in our minds is raised by one of our trusted colleagues. Of course, in that sense I can speak only for our Party.

We may have the aci vantage of being small in parliamentary representation. ]f Senator Cavanagh were here I would suggest to him personally that it might be a simple solution to the problem that he found with the estimates committees on this occasion for him to request a trusted colleague to ask for him the question that he most wanted to be asked in the estimates committees which, because of the pressure of work on himself, he was unable to attend. The important thing is not who asks the question of either the Minister or department concerned or who draws attention to what may be a fault in the Estimates or the Budget, but the fact that the question is asked. We offer to other parties the methods and techniques that we adopt, namely, of trusting each other and seeing that whatever matter we wish to have raised is raised where it should be raised.

Senator Gair - If Senator Cavanagh has not a mate in his own Party, I do not mind doing it for him.

Senator LITTLE - I would not like to say that about any honourable senator. I am offering that advice. Perhaps we are fortunate in our circumstances. There are not yet enough of us here to indulge in the luxury of (he disputation that goes on in larger parties. We may come to that problem in the future.

The propositions now before the Senate do fit in with the ideas that we have on the gradual implementation of the committee system. But we believe that it is a matter of priorities, lt is noi that all the questions are not important, lt is not that our proposition is more important than the one that wc suggest should be deleted. We believe that it has such a degree of urgency that it should be given priority at this stage, lt is for that reason that I move the following amendment to the motion now before the Senate:

In paragraph 2 id), leave out proposed subparagraph lii). insert:

(ii)   The Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations this shall include finance for Slate*, statutory authorities and government):'.

The effect of that amendment would be to delete from the motion the section that refers to the Standing Committee on Social Environment and to replace it with our suggestion for the appointment of the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations.

We support the proposition for the appointment of only 2 committees in view of al! the physical difficulties in regard to accommodation, the allocation of duties and the position of honourable senators. We also understand the position of Ministers. We believe thai if 2 committees are to be established the committee that we propose would be a heller one to establish because of the degree of urgency involved. In regard to the proposal for the reduction in the number of members that is necessary to form a committee from 8 to 6 and a reduction in the quorum from 4 to 3, wc believe that that is a practical step in view of the number of people in the Senate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - ls the amendment seconded?

Senator McManus - I second the amendment.

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