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Thursday, 5 April 1973
Page: 1185

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - I want to give my blessing to the formation of the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory. I think that the formation of such a Committee is a sensible arrangement and I am glad to say that it is receiving the support of both sides of the House. I had a particular interest in the Northern Territory, as the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) was kind enough to remark, as a member of the Forster Committee in 1959. I had the responsibility with Professor Forster and Dr Williams of trying to draw up an agricultural blueprint for the development of agriculture in the Northern Territory. This gave me an intimate and continuing interest in the area. As a member of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Advisory Council I have had again many opportunities of going to the area and seeing the problems in the raw and at first hand. As a member of the Public Works Committee I have been in the Northern Territory continually over the years. For these 3 reasons I have a very intimate and urgent interest in the development of the Northern Territory. As I understand that the proposed Committee will be engaged in furthering that development, I am very glad to give my blessing to the establishment of the Committee. 1 am sorry that there has been far too much party political discussion on the appointment of this Committee. 1 refer particularly to the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Kerin) who has come to this place with a considerable reputation. I was sorry to see the honourable member engage in this kind of discussion so soon after his entry to this House. One piece of fatherly advice that I would give the honourable member is that he diminish his reputation by engaging in this kind of party political debate on a subject that should be non-party political. This brings me to the real nub of the question. As a member of the Public Works Committee for some years I have been privileged to serve with the honourable member for Hunter (Mr James), who I understand is to follow me in this debate. The example set by the honourable member for Hunter of looking at technical things from a non-political point of view would be an object lesson to many people in this House. I pay a tribute to the honourable member for Hunter for the dedication he has shown in his work on the Public Works Committee. 1 am sorry to see the standard that he and others have set diminished by some of the speeches that we have heard tonight. 1 would couple with that criticism the speech that I heard from the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford). I am sorry that evidently the standard of behaviour of members of the Public Works Committee and members of the Public Accounts Committee seems to be different in this regard. Members of the Public Works Committee seem always to have regarded that Committee as a non-political organisation. In my time on the Public Works Committee there never has been a party political division and it is a matter of great grief to me to see this attitude introduced into the debate on the appointment of the Joint Committee on the Northern Territory - a committee that can work effectively only if it works on non-party political lines. I am sorry that the standard that has been set by honourable members such as the honourable member for Hunter on other committees will be departed from on this occasion.

Having delivered that little homily, I should like to refer to the particular problem that I wish to raise with the Minister for the Northern Territory (Mr Enderby). I do this in the hope that he will take this criticism by me as criticism by a person who has a very real interest in the way the committee system works. I think that it is a grave mistake for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to have the responsibility of appointing the chairman of the Committee. I say that because only the committee members - only the members who have worked together - know the value of the man who is elected as chairman. I was proud to be able to second the nomination of the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) for the chairmanship of the Public Works Committee. I seconded his nomination because I have worked with him for a long time. The Prime Minister may have laid his hand on some other member, but the members of the Public Works Committee who have worked with the honourable member for Leichhardt are the only ones who know the quality of the work that he does. I think that it is a grave departure from the high principles that we always have held to allow the Prime Minister to select the chairman of a committee.

The members of the committee should be the ones who know what person will serve them best as chairman. I am sorry to see this proposal come into the House in this form. I think honourable members will agree that it smacks of a laying on of hands - of an edict from on high. How can the Prime Minister, however clever and able, know the workings of a committee and who has served the committee best? Perhaps it is not very important in this case, but it is an important principle that if the committee system is to work well it will do so because the committee members examine matters from a non-party political point of view. I do not think that anybody in the House will disagree with that.

If the selection of the chairman of the committee is to be made by the Prime Minister, it inevitably will smack of party political preferment or something like that. The objectivity of a committee and its ability to make non-party political judgments will be destroyed. I believe that this is vital to the committee system. I hope that the Minister for the Northern Territory will take what I am saying as a sincere expression not of anything party political but merely as expressing one thing - that if this system is to work well, and we all hope and indeed know that it can, it should be divorced from any political influence. I beg the Minister to have another look at this proposal when the matter goes to the Senate. My suggestion may be put forward in the Senate. The proposal contained in the matter we are discussing is a departure which I regret. Those of us who have worked on committees and who have a standard to maintain, and indeed, are maintaining it, regret this departure.

As the honourable member for Leichhardt is in the chamber, I say again how much we appreciate his ability, courtesy, kindness and efficiency on the Public Works Committee. The honourable member may not have been the one upon whom the hands were laid. If that had been the case, it would have done the Public Works Committee great damage. So, I ask the Minister to ensure that when this matter is considered in the Senate the Government has a careful look at the departure from the previously adopted method of selecting the chairman of a committee, which departure I regret. The proposal before the House is to establish for the first time a Joint Committee on the Northern Territory. It would be quite easy for the Prime Minister, if he wanted to have a direct voice, to pass the word along that a certain honourable member was his selection for the position of chairman. Then, after the committee had worked for some years, it should be the responsibility of the members of the committee to select their chairman because they and they alone know the efficiency and effectiveness of the chairman.

Mr Cohen - I think we know what you are trying to say.

Mr KELLY - 1 am glad that I have thumped it into the honourable member's head. One other point that I should like to raise is that the chairman of the committee should be responsible to the committee and not to the Prime Minister. I believe that this is vital to the health of the committee system. I beg the Minister to examine this criticism, as it comes from a person who has had an active interest not only in the Northern Territory but also in the health and welfare of the committee system.

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