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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1959


Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - At this time when the House is considering the estimates for the Parliament I think it is appropriate that we should take a look at the manner in which the Parliament is and has been working over a number of years. After 70 years of operation it is time for reflection upon the present structure of the Parliament of the Commonwealth. The strength and influence of the mass media, the top heavy structure of the Liberal Party especially during the second Menzies period and the relative electoral weakness of the Australian Labor Party in the 1950s have led to a denigration of the standing of the Parliament in the nation's affairs. The major decisions are made elsewhere. Members of the Government parties are forced to accept decisions to which they are opposed because of their loyalty to their leader or party. The fact that the Prime Minister has the sole right to choose who will exercise the effective power of government divorces the Parliament from any area of control over the day to day decisions of the government. Men of ability are excluded because they will not crawl or because their policies or personalities clash with those of the Prime Minister of the day. Once Cabinet decides to proceed with legislation, no matter how controversial or complicated, it will be rammed through the Parliament with little regard for the ideas or wishes of honourable members. Important amendments to major Bills have been avoided by the use of the guillotine to prevent voting and adequate debate.

Under the present Prime Minister the position of Parliament has deteriorated even further. Obviously unable to find confidence in his own leadership capacity he has decided to by-pass Parliament wherever possible. There is need for some real thought about the future operation of the parliamentary system of government if we are to restore its pre-eminence as a legislative and deliberative body accepting the fact that abolition of the Senate is at least not likely to occur in the near future. I would like to put forward some ideas for improving the effectiveness of the Parliament and increasing its control over the Executive. I would suggest that all Ministers should be members of the House of Representatives. The present situation where major ministerial responsibilities are exercised in another place is unsatisfactory for this House, and is used as a device to stifle questioning and debate on important areas of policy. Provision should be made for Ministers to be able to handle the passage of legislation under their control through both Houses. Ministers should also be rostered for question time in the Senate, as happens in the Indian Parliament. By this means the responsibility of the Executive is open to direct question in either House. The House of Representatives should have standing legislative committees to which all legislation would be referred after the first reading. These committees could be required to report on a Bill within a fixed period. The committees would have power to call public servants or members of the public during consideration of legislation. In order to facilitate this process the Minister would make his interpretative speech during the first reading of the Bill. He could if desired reply to the committee report on the second reading, which would retain its general debate function.

In order that the Ministry should reflect the will of the Parliament it should be provided that if one-third of the members petition the Speaker for a secret ballot such a ballot should be taken of the members of the House of Representatives, the question being whether the House accepts or rejects the Prime Minister's nominees each being voted for separately.


Mr Jess - I can see why your Party would accept that.


Mr SCHOLES - I do not care whether it does or not. In order that the Senate could play a full role in the Parliament and perform adequately its function as a House of review, a series of Senate committees should be established covering the major areas of Government activity. The chairman of these committees should be elected directly from the Senate. Such committees would have the power to conduct public inquiries into matters covered by their terms of reference. Bills may be referred to such committees, but must be returned to the Senate within a fixed period unless otherwise determined by the Senate. The committees should also have power to examine matters not directly before the Parliament.

The changes I have proposed would place a greater work load on members and add to their responsibility. They would minimise the possibility of persons becoming Ministers who are unacceptable to the majority and make sure that ill conceived, hastily prepared legislation does not pass into law. This is, I would hope, a proper function of the Parliament. The House of Representatives would be, as it is historically intended, the House of Government; the Senate would adopt the role of a House of review and examination. The existing wasteful duplication of functions would be minimised. In the normal course of events the flow of legislation would soon be regularised, and the Government's timetable would be geared to the timetable of the Parliament. There would need to be special provision for urgent legislation, and possibly the Budget. I would envisage that statements and reports could be treated in the same way as Bills. There is one further point. I think it would be desirable if the Speaker had the power to direct Ministers to provide information to the Parliament where it is obvious that such information is required. Matters directly concerning the Parliament and members should come directly under the control of the Parliament itself. The functions relating to the Parliament that are at present administered by the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt) should, I believe, come under the direct jurisdiction of the Speaker and President of the Senate.

The propositions which I have put forward, despite the interjection of one honourable member, are propositions to which I have given considerable consideration. Because I believe that any such propositions should be put forward in a proper manner, 1 took the trouble to write them out. I do not believe that these propositions are original ideas. I believe that other people have most likely put most of them forward before this time. This is the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia and it should reflect the views of the people. It should reflect the majority views of its members. I do not believe that at present this is so and I do not believe that the Parliament itself at this point of time has within its Standing Orders the means by which members can influence the government of the day.


Mr Jess - Do you have a free vote on your side?


Mr SCHOLES - You do not have a free vote on your side, so do not cloud the issue with irrelevancies. The situation is that this House is not acting as a House of Government. In fact it is probably true to say that neither House of this Parliament is acting as a House of Government I believe that the necessary provision ought to be made so that the Ministry was directly answerable to the Parliament and so that the Speaker could direct a Minister to make a statement on a matter when he believed that such information should be given to the Parliament. This is what happens in India which has a younger Parliament than ours. The Speaker of the lower House in the Indian Parliament can direct the Minister to make a statement in those circumstances. The Prime Minister of India and all the other Ministers in the Indian Parliament handle their legislation in both Houses of that Parliament.

In the event of these propositions being adopted obviously there would be a need for changes to be made in relation to such matters as parliamentary privilege. It may even be necessary to have constitutional alterations but these changes should not be a total bar to the adoption of any proposition for the streamlining of this Parliament. It is a totally unsatisfactory situation when matters concerning the AttorneyGeneral's Department, which is a primary department, or the Department of Health cannot adequately be dealt with in this House because the responsible Minister is not in this place but is represented here by another Minister. A similar situation exists in the Senate when the Minister concerned is a member of the House of Representatives. If the Indian Parliament - which is the only one that I know with this arrangement, but I understand that there are others, - can provide for Ministers to appear in both Houses to accept the primary function of steering and answering for legislation in both Houses then I can see no reason why this could not be done in this Parliament. I think it would be a very strong step forward. I have outlined these proposals because I believe that some serious consideration should be given to them. I do not profess to be an oracle on these viewpoints but some serious consideration should be given by members of this Parliament to proposals that would make it a more effective body and with a view to placing its members in roles in which they will be far more effective in influencing the decisions of government from day to day. I am sure that when legislation is being considered-

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN





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