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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1772

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) -I take up, firstly, the item which has been discussed by Senator Wright more particularly and to which reference has been made by Senator Turnbull. Evidently in this matter the appropriate Estimates Committee has asked for certain information in regard to the purchase of this work of art and the Estimates Committee so far is not satisfied that adequate information has been supplied. The Estimates Committees were established for the very purpose of penetrating in depth the parliamentary apropriations. In that sense an Estimates Committee is not merely a hand or a limb of the Senate; it is the Senate itself virtually, sitting in another way. Therefore the Senate has asked for this information to be supplied in respect of a very major sum. I think we must rely upon the judgment of the Estimates Committee that that information is material to what it considers to be the exercise of a fair judgment on the amount of the appropriation.

As this matter is now raised in this way in the Senate due to the presence of this Bill, I think it is appropriate that the Senate should stand behind the Estimates Committee and should ask that that information be supplied. The approval of the appropriation on this item should be deferred until the Senate itself is satisfied that the procedures followed were adequate, in view of the amount of money involved and the purpose to which it was to be devoted. I think until that position is resolved to the satisfaction of the Senate, the Senate should not be a party to the passage of this item in the Supply Bill. It is important, of course, that the Supply Bill go through. Nevertheless, the Senate also must insist upon observing its duties and responsibilities to investigate these matters in depth. If the Senate makes a request that the item in this Bill be deferred until the information is supplied, that is a matter which then would be considered by the House of Representatives and by the Government. I think the Senate is entitled to the information. There will be adequate opportunity for the information to be collated, if it is not already being collated, and to be supplied. Then the Senate will be able finally to pass its judgement on the adequacy of the arrangements that were made, their defensibility, the amount of the appropriation and whether the expenditure in these circumstances was justified.

That is the very purpose of the new procedures which have been adopted in the Senate, namely, to question an item such as this. If the request of the Committee which has not been formulated is disregarded, this is a challenge to the very nature, purpose and existence of the Estimates Committees. If we were to stand by and see such a request lightly disregarded then I think the Committees might as well go out of existence. Since their inception the Estimates Committees have been in a major degree not irritating but penetrating in their examinations. They have never attempted to harass. They have tried to discharge their duties objectively and quietly and, I think, efficiently. This is an occasion when they have followed the same line and have found, apparently, a wall, if not of resistance at least of non-co-operation. In those circumstances we feel that the suggestion made by Senator Wright is one that might well be accepted by the Government. Perhaps it would defer the consideration of this Bill with a view to awaiting the supply of the information rather than, our, by request, seeking the deferment of this item and the parliamentary procedures that follow. I commend that attitude to the Government.

I address myself to another matter namely, the extraordinary burden of work that is being imposed on the Senate due to the legislative program of the Government. Perhaps in the history of Australia we have never seen such a plethora of legislation and proposed legislation as has been presented to the Senate and is in contemplation in the future. I see on the Senate notice paper that there are 37 Bills at present. At the moment I do not have a copy of the House of Representatives notice paper before me, but there are numerous Bills on it. Of course, they do not represent the end of the Government's legislative program for this session. The numerical weight of the Bills in itself would be disconcerting, but when we look at the nature of the legislation, when we see the fundamental character of the matters which are contemplated in the legislation and the vast and almost unimaginable consequences that can flow from it, we realise the tremendous responsibility that is now reposed in this place. I mention only a few of the Bills to indicate the deep concern that must be felt by this chamber and by all honourable senators at the position which now faces them.

I take a number of Bills just at large out of the business sheets of the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are Bills such as the Seas and Submerged Lands Bill, which is a Bill of very great consequence because it purports to determine a very vexed constitutional position. It has as wide an implication as to the sovereignty of the States, and the geographical area of that sovereignty, as it does of the Commonwealth. As a House whose function and the purpose of whose genesis was to protect the States, this Senate has a particular responsibility in relation to this Bill. It is only one of a series of Bills which have similar far reaching consequences. The Senate must be given adequate time to discuss that Bill.

We have also the Trade Practices Bill which, in its commercial implications, is very wide and far reaching. It is a Bill which again must demand, if we have any sense of responsibility, the attention of the Senate with time for recollection and study. The Bill has already been put aside and is to come up for debate on the first sitting day next year. I understand that the Government has reintroduced the Bill and it will come again to this chamber and again the Senate will be faced with trying to analyse its contents and assessing its implications in a very short space of time. We have the projected National Health Bill which again will radically change the whole structure of the national health scheme operating in Australia at the present time. The Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was an enormous Bill, and again it has wide repercussions in the whole field of trade unionism and in the relations between the trade unions, industry and commerce. We have the Schools Commission Bill which contemplates the establishment of a Schools Commission and which fundamentally alters the structure of the whole education system in Australia.

Finally we have Bills of the character, the weight and the importance of the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the National Investment Fund Bill, which go to the very heart and core of the whole commercial and economic structure of Australia and in which there are not only vast and wide philosophical differences but also very vast differences in the interpretation, both economic and financial, which honourable senators in all parties may place upon those Bills. I have taken only four or five illustrations to demonstrate not only the sheer numbers of the Bills but also the mass, importance and wide implications of them. It is not proper in these circumstances that a government, however enthusiastic and whatever its program may be, should attempt to persuade this legislation through the Parliament in this manner.

Speaking now for my own Party, we have at this time a determinant vote in this chamber because of the numerical disposition of honourable senators on the Government and nonGovernment side. The Australian Democratic Labor Party sits as a cross-bench party. Because we have that position we carry all the responsibilities that go with it. We do not have a substantial staff structure, and for us to attempt to pass definitive and final judgment on legislation of this character without a proper and adequate study on our part and, more importantly, without the presentation to us of those arguments and considerations that would come and should come from outside this place from those who more properly, more adequately and more relevantly than we can interpret what are the overtones, the shades and the implications of the legislation, would be totally irresponsible.

I know that any action by this chamber which in any way results in the impeding of a Bill, whether it is by the rejection of a Bill, the adjournment of a Bill, the deferment of a Bill, or the reference of a Bill to one of the committees which we in this place have particularly established to look at legislation- particularly legislation of a major character- is interpreted, as it were, as harassment by the Senate and merely putting a road block across the progress of the legislative and political program of the Government. That is not the position. So far as we are concerned, we attempt and have always attemptedI think our record will show this- to analyse legislation on its merits. Sometimes we have sought to amend it. We have supported amendments. We have rejected legislation in the hands of the previous Government. We have rejected legislation in the hands of this Government. We have amended or attempted to amend legislation in the hands of either Party in government. For that matter, we have supported amendments as they have come from one side or the other of the House.

That has been our program. That has been our policy. It has been our attitude and performance in this place. We do not intend to depart from it. I can say on behalf of the Democratic Labor Party that we do not propose to allow ourselves as a party to be dragooned into taking this tremendous responsibility and making these tremendous, far reaching and sometimes historic decisions unless we have adequate opportunity, a proper opportunity, to seek such advice of a technical nature as we have to get from outside from those who can advise us on the legislation on which we are asked to pass a final judgment. Therefore I say to the Government on behalf of the Party that it is asking too much of this chamber, too much of this Parliament, and certainly too much of the five of us who sit here.

We would be recreant to our responsibilities if for any personal purpose or from sheer exhaustion we were prepared to stand by and allow this mass of legislation to go through without challenge where challenge should be mounted, without examinations where examination is necessary and without assessment where assessment is called for. I mention those things to the Government because if the Government is to continue with this mass production of legislation, whatever its excitement or enthusiasm may be, it cannot possibly be equated by the administrative and physical resources of this chamber or of honourable senators. Therefore, Australia will be presented with legislation which fundamentally changes the whole structure of many areas of our society. Those whose reponsibility it is to see that if such things are to take place they take place not merely with the concurrence of the Parliament but also with the full awareness of Parliament, and every member in it, of what is being done. That can happen only if proper time is given to study the legislation and to make a proper assessment of it.

I have here the statistical summary of the Bills which were presented in the Senate for the period of sitting from 27 February 1973 to 8 June 1 973. Some 1 10 bills were either introduced in this chamber or received from the House of Representatives and considered here. The great bulk of them was passed, some were deferred and some were amended not to the satisfaction of the other place. All the activitities of this chamber in the past few years has been one of intense examination of the propositions that have been put before it. That was the case when the chamber was in the hands of the previous Government. Once the committee system was introduced in this place, we got a program of examination which the Senate had not witnessed before. Nobody was more enthusiastic about it than were the present members of the Government when they were in Opposition. Nobody saw the need for this type of thing more than did the members of the Australian Labor Party when they were the official Opposition. The legislative program then was not as heavy. As a matter of fact, Senator Murphy was one of those who, with others, proposed the committee system and who gave it his personal and Party support. As a result of this, the committee system was introduced.

Therefore, the attitude of the Senate over the last few years when the Australian Labor Party was in Opposition, the Liberal and Country parties were in Government and members of the Australian Democratic Labor Party were sitting where they are now, has been to undertake intense examination of the legislative and administrative processes of government. For our part, we are not going to depart from that now. We do not care how the Government attempts to crowd upon us or upon the community this great mass of legislation. We cannot possibly, with any sense of responsibility, stand by and allow this to happen without some action on our part. Therefore, we merely alert the Government to this: Its legislation will have to come through with some restraint and with proper time for consideration. If it is necessary for us at any time to take action either to impede the Bill, to refer a Bill or to adjourn consideration of a Bill we do not accept that that is some sort of subtle attempt to frustrate the intentions of the Government. It is an open and clear prerogative of this chamber to examine those things and it is a clear responsibility of every senator to ensure that these examinations take place. Therefore, I commend to the Government the thoughts that I have expressed. I hope that some restraint will be exercised by the Government and some opinion will be brought to bear within its numbers that particularly the more fundamental Bills, those which change so many of the fundamental structures of our society, shall be given adequate time for debate and deliberation in this chamber. I hope that the Government will take notice of the considerations that I have put forward.

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