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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 3

Senator CHAPMAN (12:39 PM) —by leave—I am proposing a very simple amendment to the structure of the Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. It would mean a very simple change, and it would not require any change to the membership structure of the committee. It would simply allow either the government or the opposition parties, if they so desired, to change the balance of their membership between members from the House of Representatives and members from the Senate. Senator Ludwig said that the proposed change refers to members of the government and members of the opposition rather than to members of the House and members of the Senate. In fact, the existing motion—and Senator Ludwig will see this if he checks it—put forward by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate refers to exactly that. That is already the way in which this committee is structured; the amendment does not change that aspect. What it does is give greater flexibility to the government and opposition parties in the way in which, subject to the overall requirements of the committee structure, they determine how many members from the House and how many members from the Senate will be on this committee. It does, therefore, provide for there to be more members of the Senate on this committee, if that is the wish of either of the major parties, than is currently the provision.

Senator Ludwig asked the reason for this amendment. It was not so much that members of the House sought to be members of this committee and then decided that they would not be so actively involved. Rather, because of the existing requirements that there be a fixed number from the House, members of the House were appointed to the committee who would not have sought membership, whereas there were members of the Senate—certainly from the government side—who would have sought membership of this committee had the definition of the numbers allowed them to do so, had there been an opportunity for more senators to be appointed to this committee. In effect, members of the House were dragooned onto this committee and then did not take an active interest in it. This amendment seeks to address that problem and that issue in a sensible way.

If the Labor Party still wanted to appoint two members from the House and two members from the Senate to this committee, under my amendment they would be completely free to do that. Equally, if they wanted to vary that membership and have three and one or one and three, this amendment would allow them to do that. Similarly, the existing wording requires that there be three government appointed members from the House and two from the Senate. My amendment would allow two and three or one and four; either way, it would allow flexibility. It would not involve any change to the membership structure, as I said a few moments ago; it would simply allow that flexibility to occur.

To reinforce the reason for this, I recall that Senator Murray part way through the operation of the committee during the last parliament actually called for the committee secretariat to provide details of the attendance record of members of the committee throughout the last parliament, and those details reinforced the fact that both government and opposition members from the House of Representatives had been very tardy with regard to their involvement in the committee. This issue was discussed by the committee. This proposal was discussed informally during committee meetings and subsequently I have had discussions with the Democrats and the opposition about it.

Why should we do it today? The motion to re-establish a Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services is before the Senate today. If we pass the original motion, we will have to find some way and some time in the future to introduce this amendment. To give full effect to my intent, a minor amendment to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act is required. I have discussed that with the Treasurer and with the government, and it has been agreed that the first Treasury bill next year would have that amendment attached to it. Once that amendment goes through, we will be able to appoint the committee as might be desired by either of the major parties.

Senator Ludwig would say, `Why not deal with this proposal at that time?' The simple fact is that, with the pressure of business in both chambers, the difficulty of getting this proposal back onto the agenda might, I suspect, preclude that occurring. If this proposal passes today what will happen is that at least the two major parties will be able to proceed to select their committee members on the basis of the structure that will apply from February next year, when the ASIC Act amendment will also apply. Should that be different from what is required under the legislation, some interim members can be appointed to get the committee up and running now, so that it can at least operate and get its initial inquiry under way—with the normal process of advertising for submissions and receiving those submissions. By the time it actually gets to the work of the committee—conducting hearings and the like and making those sorts of decisions—the committee membership will comprise people who actually want to be on the committee and want to take an interest in the committee. The members will be people who have expertise and want to do the work, which is very important as far as this committee is concerned.

So the reason for this amendment today is to prevent the process of achieving this worthwhile change to the committee structure becoming unnecessarily long and drawn out. The amendment may well establish a precedent for other committees to follow, but they will only follow that precedent if, in their own circumstances, they believe it is beneficial for their particular committee to have similar flexibility and structure. This committee certainly needs it. It has demonstrated that not only through its operation in the immediate past parliament but also to some extent in parliaments prior to that.

My view is that we should get this part of the process finalised today, so that at least we know the direction in which we are heading with some certainty. I am also quite prepared to—and in fact I give notice that I will—move for a reference to be sent to the procedures committee to the effect that the procedures committee monitor this change, when it is implemented, over a period of time, and report back to the Senate on the effect of the change in operation. I do not believe it is necessary for this matter to go to the procedures committee before it is implemented. The issues are clear. The committee is very clear on the issues. As I say, they have been discussed in the committee. There is absolutely no need for that sort of delay. We should proceed today with this amendment so that we can, as I say, start the process, but I will be moving for a reference to be sent to the procedures committee to the effect that the committee monitor and investigate the operation of the new structure when it is in place.