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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 879

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - I shall be very brief. I hope that the proposed new Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence will be considerably better than the previous Committee. I am confident that it will be. I was a member of that Committee for 3 years and I found it to be an exercise in boredom. It could be described as nothing better than a study group of about the same quality as the workers education classes that are conducted throughout our community. In almost every case the people who came before the Committee were a succession of exambassadors, retiring ambassadors and high commissioners who, in a very boring way, presented their views as the government's views. As members of the Committee we were not able to select items of interest that were topical. If something was in the news internationally it would come before the Committee perhaps 6 months later when the issue had quietened down. A member of the Committee learnt very little that was not available in the newspapers in reports by foreign affairs commentators, such as Dennis Warner. In fact, Dennis Warner appeared before the Committee, but we could have read what he had to say in the newspaper that day. That is not the way in which I view the functions of such a committee.

I agree with one previous speaker that in a consideration by a committee it is possible to arrive at a more bipartisan view of the facts presented because of informal discussion when members are not grandstanding as they are when they are out amongst the community or in this House. Often it will be found among members from both sides of the chamber that some who take an extreme point of view publicly will privately concede that another person's view contains a great deal of merit. I hope that the status of the committee will be upgraded and that its proceedings will be open and televised. I hope also that the Committee will be able to visit places which are of interest and which in some way affect the matter under consideration by the Committee. Certainly I would not have wanted to belong to the Committee if it had been reconstituted as it was formerly. I threatened to resign from the Committee because of the unutterable boredom and I would have done so had it not been for the Minister for Science and Minister for External Territories (Mr Morrison), who is now at the table. He talked me out of it. I do not think I am speaking out of club when I say that he believed, as I do, in the long term future of the Committee. Nevertheless, it must do a great deal more than it has done in the past.

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