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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 1

Senator LUDWIG (12:32 PM) —Perhaps it is worth while going through a little of the history of this matter. This proposal has been seized upon by Senator Chapman for no other reason than to resolve some issues he might have with the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. In my view, what has preceded this motion requires more examination—not our putting a new structure in place or sending the matter off to the relevant procedure committees at this juncture. To effect the change that is being sought by this motion firstly requires legislative change; the legislation has to be amended. Secondly, this has to be done subsequent to the procedure committees of the House and the Senate agreeing to that change.

The amendment proposed by Senator Chapman represents a significant change to the way joint committees are currently structured. The way the joint committees are currently structured, how their membership is split up, is steeped in a long history. The system provides for a number of joint committee members to be drawn from the House of Representatives and a number to be drawn from the Senate. To my mind, that is sensible for a joint committee. One would have X number of members from the House and X number from the Senate, and they would then form the joint committee. What is being sought is a change to this longstanding practice, which is reflected across a number of other committees. One wonders whether this change would have an impact upon other joint committees—whether they would seek a similar change. But that should be dealt with in front of any proposed change.

It would be far more sensible to have this matter dealt with in the procedure committees of both houses. Perhaps they could come to a conclusion as to whether there should be any change. One should not suggest change without all parties in here being consulted and without having the benefit of the Clerk's view and the view of the Procedure Committee on whether the change should occur. To seek such consultation would be a far more sensible process than simply promoting a change and hoping the legislation will catch it up in the next year. With this matter, we seem to be putting the cart before the horse.

I am not taking issue with Senator Chapman. I think his intent in all this is good. As far as has been explained to me—and I am happy to be corrected—there might be some problems with the way this committee operates. Those things, too, might need to be taken to the procedures committees, which could then examine what the underlying difficulty is. We have not heard an outline—the senator might like to provide it—of the issue in question. Is it the case that some people do not turn up to committee meetings, and perhaps need to be chastised? That would be an issue, but I do not think changing the structure of the committee will assist that in any real way. We might make it only a Senate committee, rather than a joint committee, in truth. If there is a problem with how the structure operates—that is, with five members nominated from the House and five nominated from the Senate—Senator Chapman should be able to outline what that problem is and articulate it clearly so that the chamber can make up its mind as to whether any change should be proposed.

What is proposed here, however, is not so much what I would call a joint committee, where you have five members nominated from the House and five nominated from the Senate, but a joint committee based on a mix of government and non-government members; government and opposition. Without receiving further explanation I, for one, would be unable to support it.

If you look at the wording for the structure—if I can use this as a summary of what the amendment seems to be—you will see that it is proposed that members of the committee be drawn from one party, the government; then from another, the opposition; and then some from the minor parties. That does not seem to promote what I would call a joint committee between the House and the Senate. It seems to promote a committee that is in part a joint committee, in that there are members drawn from the House and the Senate, and in part a committee where membership reflects whether or not you are in government.

We could examine that and argue backwards and forwards about those words, but my position is not to argue about the detail. Two threshold issues need to be addressed. Firstly, is there a need for the amendment today? I do not see any need. If it cannot actually be put in place today, I wonder why we are putting it in train now. If there is a requirement for legislative change, let us see the colour of that first. But, even before that, I would have thought the logical thing would have been to follow the usual process of sending a letter to the Procedure Committee of both houses or the Procedure Committee of one house, which would deal with it on behalf of the other or seek advice from the other. I would have thought that that was a sensible option for dealing with longstanding procedural issues of this nature, especially given that this is of significant import to how joint committees may operate. Secondly, the wording itself should be examined to see whether or not it meets requirements. We need to hear a cogent argument as to why we need to do it today. For all those reasons, notwithstanding the merit of it, Labor is not minded to support this amendment. One wonders why we are putting it to a test today.