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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 6

Senator MURRAY (12:51 PM) —I sit on three joint committees which have both Senate and House of Representatives members. Those three are: the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. On the first of those, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, members from both the Senate and the House of Representatives attend regularly and in numbers, and they fulfil their obligations to that committee in full. The same is true of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. In the last few years it has not been true of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, and three senators have carried an extremely heavy load on that committee—and in my view, with a lack of modesty, I guess, those three have acquitted themselves very well.

Caught up in here is a discussion about status, standing and equivalence clashing with the practical reality, the great difficulty the committee has in operating effectively at present. My view is that the chair has come up with a proposal which may resolve that problem. It may not, of course, and we have to recognise that. I think what the chair has essentially put before the Senate is a trial to see if this different arrangement makes for a more effective committee operation. I and my party colleagues very much and fully support a reference to the Senate Procedure Committee. If Senator Chapman or Senator Ludwig were to put up such a reference in these two weeks of sittings, we would support it. There is no reason why such a committee could not report around the time that the suggested legislative change is due to be made, but in the meantime we need to operate effectively, practically and realistically. It is all very well for senators in the debate who are not on that committee to raise issues about principle, standing and status—and I think those are very good points they make—but on the other side of the coin it has been difficult to work effectively in that committee under the existing structure.

I and my colleagues do not oppose a trial. We do not oppose this amendment. What the Senate changes it can change again later on, and we would certainly support the Senate Procedure Committee examining the practical operation of the committee under the new circumstances and coming to a view well before the Senate loses its numbers and its ability to form an independent view of the executive. I am aware of the circumstances and background to this. I do not see a hidden hand behind this. I do not see the hand of the house of the executive. People in this place who know me know that I have used that phrase endlessly for 8½ years. I fear the house of the executive's overmighty power. I do not see its hidden hand in this situation, and the Democrats are not afraid of operating a trial.

Question agreed to.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.