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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 5

Senator BROWN (12:47 PM) —I have listened carefully to both senators who have spoken about the amendment, and the government has brought forward a coherent argument for changing the structure of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services so that there is no longer a requirement for a five-five balance between the two houses, having regard to the committee membership of 10. But the argument seems based on the failure—of the government at least and maybe the opposition—between them to get five interested members from the House of Representatives to attend this committee. That is a problem for the government and the opposition, and it ought not to be a problem for the parliament as a whole.

It is very important to remember that the Senate and the House of Representatives are equally important in our bicameral system. While the government is arguing that at the moment the problem lies in getting enough interested people from the House of Representatives onto the committee—there may be more interested people from the government benches in the Senate to go onto this committee—the move that is proposed here immediately opens up, again, another avenue for greater power for the executive, as against the Senate. After 1 July next year, we are going to see that sort of power on display in a way that it has not been for a couple of decades, and this amendment may foreshadow much more to come after 1 July next year, when the government will have the numbers. But we do not—

Senator Ferguson —How does this amendment give more power to the executive?

Senator BROWN —It simply means that in future the executive, through this system, will be able, if it wants, to have a greater membership from the house of the executive, which is the House of Representatives, at a time when the Senate may be dominated by the House. One of the important things we in this place know is that the executive—and, indeed, that includes the executive of the opposition—has quite enormous sway over what goes on in this place. The fact that reference has to be made, even by ministers in this place, to the executive before business can proceed, delays the Senate all the time.

What we are talking about here is at the margins, but there is a time-honoured five-five balance between the two houses in joint committees such as this, and we believe that ought to be kept. It may be expedient to the government to have the membership balance changed because there are more government senators who are enthusiastic about matters to do with corporations and financial services than there are government members from the House of Representatives. That is a government problem. That is something for the government to fix.

Senator Chapman —It's also a committee problem.

Senator BROWN —It becomes a committee problem if the government is uninterested. But, if the government is uninterested to the point where it cannot get members—out of its scores of members in the House of Representatives—either to attend this committee or to be interested in it proceeding, then it should withdraw from it. So we will not be supporting the amendment.