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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1979

Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - My near neighbour on the back bench, the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Hamer), threw out the challenge that nobody would speak to the Estimates after he had spoken in this debate. I must take up this challenge at least for a minute or two and perhaps lead on from there to other matters of a kind which have perhaps already been referred to. It is of interest in looking at the estimates for the Parliament for this year to see that the estimates of expenditure in relation to the Senate have increased from 69 per cent to 80 per cent of expenditure - estimated or otherwise, depending on whether it is for this year or for last year - for the House of Representatives. In the case of the Senate the actual figure has increased from $694,000 to $929,000, or an increase of 34 per cent. On the other hand the House of Representatives shows an increase of IS per cent, from $1,012,000 to $1,167,000. I do not imply that there is anything improper in that particular relationship but it would be of interest to know, if it could be measured, whether the reason for the relatively considerable expansion in Senate expenditure - I presume that reason is basically the expansion of the committee system - justifies the additional expenditure. Probably, a superficial assessment of publicity that comes therefrom would suggest that the money has been well spent.

Perhaps we need to look a little more closely than that and find the reaction of some of those honourable senators who, from my impression, appear to be very nearly prostrate in dividing their attentions among far too many committees. At the same time I think - I have expressed this view before - that it would be most unwise for the House not to consider the future implementation of proposals for two or three other standing committees of the kind already discussed by the Government Members House Procedures Committee which, in essence, were put forward by my colleague, the honourable member for Isaacs relating to expenditures and the assessment of the quality thereof. But I believe that we must strike a happy medium in these things. Without going overboard in turning the House into a series of committee meetings which manage to break up in sufficient time to report back to the House at large - conditions tend to approach that situation in the Senate - we have to move away from that extreme in which we do not have enough investigatory procedures, processes and machinery to the situation in which honourable members can contribute the sort of things on which I believe the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) touched. He gave us a quick run down on some of the- experience expertise and qualifications of honourable members and suggested that they were not being fully used.

At the same time I think it is unfortunate that some honourable members, even in this debate this evening, while attempting to be constructive on the whole, tended to denegrate and run down a little the role of the Parliament at large, although they tended to except the Executive from those remarks. This is an imperfect form of democracy. In saying that I have no wish to suggest that it should not be changed. I hope that in my relatively short time here I have made my share of suggestions and contributions to some of the ways in which it might be changed. If one attends a meeting such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Malaysia which I recently attended, and if one takes part in a debate for example on a topic such as government and democracy or democratic institutions, and listens to the views of people from Africa, Asia and elsewhere as well as of those from the long established democracies of the British Commonwealth, one will come to a viewpoint fairly readily that we have here, however imperfect, a form of democracy which many people in the world would be exceedingly happy to emulate if in fact they could manage to do so.

So while I make no brief whatsoever for our failing to attempt to eradicate the imperfections of this system in which there are many, I believe that we should be eternally cognisant of the fact that we have here one of the most representative democracies in the world today. While not quite approaching the capacity for selfexamination and self-criticism of the American democracy - which of course provides it with both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness in terms of day to day operation, the greatest strength being the long term likelihood of survival - our democracy is on the same staircase. We have our foot somewhere up the middle flight of stairs leading in the direction of knowing that we have a democratic institution, knowing that we are supposed to represent the people at large and, basically speaking, doing so from what would appear to be a reasonably equitable basis of representation. But there are so many matters which could reasonably be said to come under this head that I. am almost forced into the position of the honourable member for Wills in protesting about those terrible people who cut down the speaking times. Ultimately, I cannot agree with him about that because I believe it is better that we should have more frequent opportunities to contribute than to dilate at length on particular subjects. Surely somebody else will say it if we do not get time. Naturally, they will not say it as well. But that is one of the problems of this place. '

We have heard some very considerable contributions this evening. I mention the honourable member for Maribrynong (Dr Cass). I am choosing with a tremendous lack of bias from the opposite side of the chamber. The contributions from the honourable member for Isaacs, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Drury), the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) and others have touched on matters which are crucial to the improvement of this place. They mentioned White Papers, Green Papers and the proper estimate of where we stand in relation to both the people who elect us and those who share this chamber with us. We do not have an impossible working system, however hard we try to make it so. It is quite true that we fall pretty thoroughly between 2 stools, largely in relation to trying to meet the assumed demands of our electorates and the demands that seem to be upon us from this place. I will certainly place them in the inverse order of what I have just said.

At the same time, I think that in the future we must look to a situation whereby we inform ourselves with the aid of those very significant institutions, the Parliamentary Library and the Parliamentary Reporting Staff who are not overestimated for in these Estimates. We have to look towards a more constructive approach and the total use of whatever expertise we happen to bring to this chamber. I agree with the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) that this is the place for parliamentary authority as such and for ministerial authority for the implementation and production of policies. If the Senate were really to see itself totally as a house of review it would not be particularly interested in executive office but in totally reviewing the things which come before it from this House.

I feel that 1 must leave my contribution to this debate at that. But I believe that if we look at the speeches that have preceded mine and perhaps at those that follow we will find some useful contributions to be kept in mind when we look to the further appreciation of this parliamentary institution, as long as we are not too hidebound by tradition, although with some reasonable cognisance of it, as we proceed in the years to come.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of the Treasury

Proposed expenditure, $103,984,000.

Advance to the Treasurer

Proposed expenditure, $25,000,000.

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