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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1534

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - I have listened with interest to the debate which has taken place. The decision being taken by the Senate is an important one having regard to the history to which we have been referring. I have here copies of Hansard for the June 1970 period. On 4 June 1 970 Senator Murphy, then Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the present Leader of the Government in the Senate, moved a motion for the appointment of a certain number of standing committees. A week later, on 11 June 1970, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, then Leader of the Government in the Senate moved the appointment of a certain number of Senate standing committees and 5 Estimates Committees because at that time there were 5 Ministers of the Crown in the Senate.

Debate ensued and it was agreed by the Senate that the 2 questions should be put separately. Senator Murphy's proposition that Senate standing committees be established was carried by 1 vote, Senator Wood voting with the Opposition. The Senate standing committees were then established. Following debate on Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson's proposition for the establishment of Senate Estimates Committees the question was put and carried by a majority of one. The Estimates Committees were then established. If Senator Wood examines the record he will find that he and Senator Turnbull did not cast a vote on the motion to establish the Estimates Committees. The case that the Government now puts is exactly the same as the case that was put by Senator Murphy as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in the discussion on

Senator Sir KennethAnderson 's motion. Senator Murphy put that the standing committees that had been established by the Senate should be responsible also for scrutiny of the Estimates that are presented to the Senate. Senator Murphy asked: Why, after having established a certain number of standing committees- I think it was seven- should the Senate go on to establish another 5 committees to carry out work that the Senate standing committees were in a position to perform? I suggest that the situation that applied then is the situation that applies today, perhaps to an even greater extent.

I say in reply, particularly to Senator Marriott, that the attitude adopted now by the Government is not what he referred to as an 'evasion' of the Government's responsibility to subject itself to the scrutiny of the Estimates Committees. In adopting this attitude the Government feels that the system devised 4 years ago, and practised over a period of 4 years, is not the best method of public scrutiny of the Estimates. Five Estimates Committees were established in those days on the motion of Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson. Today it proposed that there should be 7 Estimates Committees, I suppose, that is proposed, not because of the added work of the Senate but because there are now 7 Ministers in this chamber, compared with 5 Ministers in those days.

The proposition in 1970 was that only 3 Estimates Committees would sit at the same time. The proposition today is that only 3 committees shall sit at the same time and there shall be 6 senators on each of the committees. Of the proposed 7 committees let us assume that three sat on a Thursday night. It would mean that 24 senators could not take part in the discussion of the Estimates with which they are immediately concerned. According to the terminology of the motion they can sit on a committee unless otherwise ordered. If they are members of a committee to which they wish to give expert attention and 3 other committees are sitting, 4 of the committees are precluded from sitting at the same time under the terms of the motion. All I am saying is that because of the number of committees proposed by Senator Withers it naturally would be very time-consuming and indeed timewasting because we have it laid down that there shall be only 3 committees sitting at the one time.

I am not going into the whys and wherefores of the committee system. In 1970 after the first trial run I was one of the senators who were laudatory of the experiment. Thereafter I was critical. I experienced difficulties in moving between the committees. It might happen that Estimates Committee A was dealing with the estimates of the Prime Minister's Department. One might be serving on Estimates Committee C when the estimates for the Department of Immigration were being considered. Having an interest in both departments it was a physical impossibility to be in 2 places at the one time. One therefore felt in subsequent years that the experiment had failed. Senator Sir Magnus Cormack referred to the old days of the Committee of the Whole when a senator would speak for 15 minutes on a particular point, a Minister would reply and then a senator would get up and speak for another 15 minutes. But that still applies in the Committee of the whole when the Estimates Committees report back to the Senate. As we all know, certain senators did not or could not attend, or failed to attend meetings of the Estimates Committees. They adopted the old practice in the Committee of the Whole when the Estimates Committees reported back.

Senator Wood - Certain senators did it because they objected to the Estimates Committee.

SenatorDOUGLAS McCLELLANDExactly. What I am saying is quite right. Those senators did not exercise their right to be members of an Estimates Committee but did exercise their rights as senators in the Committee of the Whole when the Estimates Committees reported back. We believe that the system as experimented with over a period of 4 years is not the best of systems that have been devised. Public servants were kept at length around this building. They were brought here on one day to assist in the consideration of certain estimates only to find that those estimates were not considered on that day and they had to return some other day. I suppose that that is one of the problems of parliamentary life. I think all honourable senators, come what may, will agree that the system that has been devised, whether they think it has succeeded in part or has failed, will agree that it has not succeeded completely- that the system that has been devised is certainly not the total answer. Therefore we in the Government believe that the proposition put forward by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate should be rejected.

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