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Wednesday, 24 November 1971
Page: 3564

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I second the motion. I think the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) has done a service to the Parliament in raising this matter at this time. There is an urgency about it that transcends any matters of party political advantage or disadvantage. The urgency is that we have reached a stage where the House of Representatives is now the second chamber of the Australian Parliament. It is very much a secondary chamber. This has come about because the Senate has taken the initiative to inaugurate a committee system which is getting down to the real work of administrative government and to giving the Parliament its proper role in the legislative and administrative sense of the nation. I draw attention to the fact that at the present time it is possible in the Senate to probe deeply and pertinently into every department of State. I venture to say that you, Mr Speaker, would agree - and I think all members of the Parliament who have thought about this would agree - that the debate on the Estimates in the House of Representatives is not a debate on the Estimates at all. In fact if there is any reference made to the Estimates it is almost by accident.

This state of affairs is bringing the Parliament of the nation into some contempt for this reason, that year after year we marshal here a phalanx of the most senior public servants and the permanent administrators of the nation: They sit here hour after hour while we in fact take the opportunities which are given to us in the debate on the Estimates to debate everything but the Estimates themselves. I plead guilty to doing this because I take these opportunities which are afforded under the forms of the House to bring before the Parliament matters which I feel are urgent on behalf of the people I represent and the nation as a whole. I make no apology for doing this. I do not castigate any honourable member for following the example set over the years.

It is not just a matter of an individual's performance in this regard. The individual follows his conscience in these matters. He follows the dictates of the needs as he sees them of the people whom he represents. But if we look at it as parliamentarians we find that the Estimates debate in the House of Representatives is not a debate on the Estimates at all, and it never can be. Honourable members may say, 'Well, this has been going on for some 70 years so why move now to suspend the Standing Orders to do it as a matter of urgency?'. There is this urgency, Mr Speaker, that the Senate has already taken the lead which is making for an imbalance in the duties and responsibilities of the Senate, lt is very likely that in a very short space of time there will be a committee of the Senate which will examine probably the most important matter in our country today, and that is the matter of foreign investment, its costs and benefits to the nation. The indications are that the Senate will have such a committee; it will either refer this matter to that committee or it will establish a committee and go ahead on the basis of the present committee system to examine this most important matter. What will be the position here? The position in this place is that we have not the machinery that is now established in the Senate. Do not think for one single moment that I am denigrating what the Senate is doing. I entirely applaud its initiative and I applaud the way in which it is getting down to legislative and administrative matters which are the province of the House of Representatives. These matters are also the province of the Senate. The members of the Senate are discharging their obligations as senators, both to the nation and to the people but we are not, with respect, doing this because the very nature of the apparatus that we have which makes it impossible for us to do it.

What has been suggested is that we should examine this matter. I do not think that the honourable member for Wills is being dictatorial about the ultimate structure that we will have. I do not think this -is his point at all. I believe that he is not -saying that we should in fact suspend everything for an indefinite period to do it all now but rather he is - and I support him wholeheartedly - serving notice on all -members of the Parliament and of the Government, who after all are parliamentarians as well as members of the Executive, of the fact that it is urgent for the House of Representatives to update itself so that it can make an effective contribution to the legislative and administrative processes of government in this nation at this time. There is an urgency because of the lopsidedness. The honourable member for Wills has said that this matter has been on the notice paper since 10th June 1970. This Parliament will shortly go into a long break - the long, hot summer break.

Mr Turnbull - It will not be very long; it will only be short.

Mr GRASSBY - It will be a long, hot summer break in many ways because of a hotting up' of many issues in the community.

Mr Armitage - But not the economy.

Mr GRASSBY - The economy might well be in cold storage but it will be a long, hot summer's break for many of us who are concerned about the nation's needs and our constituents' needs. In that time we will not go forward one step in this vital matter. We will not proceed because unless there is some commitment by the Executive in this place to the reform which is so essential we are going to be wagged, if I may put it in that way, bv the Senate almost as a tail. I do not think that this is the desire of the Senate or of senators but this is the situation which we are in at the present time. T am constantly getting letters from my colleagues in the Senate which give information which is important to all members of the House of Representatives and which has been derived as a result of questions particularly in Senate committee hearings.

What an extraordinary situation where - half of the Parliament is getting, a flow of information which is denied, except at second hand, to the other half. This is the position day after day. As the. custodian of the rights and privileges of this House you, Mr Speaker, must be deeply concerned. It is not a matter of whether this Party or that Party will derive any advantages. As a matter of fact if we were to put it very bluntly it would be desirable to have parliamentary reform now because this is the turning point in the tide of the affairs of Australia, whatever may happen in detail, and it is desirable for us to be ready to tackle the problems that confront us. The committee system is a proven system in the other major parliaments of the world. In the Congress of the United States certainly there are difficulties associated with the operation of the system but the principle remains. In the House of Commons in Britain, in the House of Commons in Canada and in the Lok Sabha in India there have been meaningful advances on the old, original and now obsolescent system which we still hold to in the House of Representatives in Canberra at this time. If we do not take some decision now as members of the House of Representatives, which is the major forum of this nation, then we will not be in a position to discharge our responsibilities and we will not be able to deal with the great issues even in the same way as they are dealt with by our brother members in the Senate.

This is the crux of the issue at the moment. This is the reason why I have seconded the motion to suspend the Standing Orders. I am most concerned that the Senate, for example, will - and I commend the Senate for its action and 1 support it, although 1 do not know whether a resolution has yet been adopted - embark on a most important inquiry into the whole scope and ramifications of foreign investment, its costs and benefits in this country.

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