Senate debates

Thursday, 14 February 2008


Agricultural and Related Industries Committee; State Government Financial Management Committee; Housing Affordability in Australia Committee; Establishment

11:39 am

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

It was not about implying anything; it was about the facts of the matter. If you are the chair of a select committee, you receive 11 per cent. Those are the facts of the matter. And we have the establishment of three select committees being proposed today—three.

Since July 2005, no select committees have been established. Why that date? Because from that date the Liberals had control of the Senate. They did not want scrutiny. They did not allow select committees to go forward. In the past the usual process was that, if you wanted inquiries into matters, individual senators would take them to the standing committees and say, ‘We want an inquiry into x, y or z,’ and it would go to one of the standing committees. That is what standing committees are there for: they are deliberately set up to inquire widely into matters. We had reference committees and legislation committees, but the Liberals combined them into one. So those committees are there. But the Liberals did not go through that process. There was no attempt to put these matters to one of the standing committees to be inquired into—no attempt. What we see is a straight-out, sit-down attempt to establish three select committees in one day. So I stand by what I said: if it looks like a duck then it can only be a duck.

Now we have Senator Ellison from the Liberals getting up and putting his hand on his heart and saying this is about scrutiny. If it was about scrutiny, why not use the standing committees? No argument. But have they suddenly turned over a new leaf? That is what I thought they had accepted, that they had in fact turned over a new leaf, that they had understood that they were arrogant and out of touch—that prior to the election they were in fact completely arrogant and completely out of touch. But what do we have now? The Liberals again being arrogant and out of touch by trying to set up three select committees in one day in this place, to ensure that they can continue to have their will imposed on this Senate rather than taking these matters to the standing committees that are designed to inquire into such matters; that is what they are for. Next I will hear Senator Ellison talk about throwing light into dark corners. I am sure I will hear that from him eventually in respect of these committees.

These matters—housing affordability, and agricultural and related industries—for which the opposition is trying today to establish select committees to inquire into, may be important matters. I am not here to judge how important they are. But those matters should be referred to standing committees, for those standing committees to do their work. There should at least be an attempt by the Liberals to do that. But we do not have that. We have them walking into the Senate today to try to establish select committees—three extra committees, with the resources that go with them.

As for the Liberals’ record, I can recall standing on the other side of the chamber proposing a reference to a standing committee and getting knocked back, and proposing references to select committees of matters that were considered to be important and getting knocked back. There have been no select committees since July 2005. That is their record that they want to stand on—arrogant and out of touch. And they are continuing it. They certainly have not learnt their lesson between when they were in government and now. I took Mr Brendan Nelson at his word when he said they had changed their approach. They had heard from the electorate and understood what the change in government was about. But, clearly, they did not hear one jot of what the electorate said to them.

If you look at the select committees that were established, they were mental health, in 2005; superannuation, in 2002; the Scrafton evidence, in 2004; ministerial discretion, in 2003; Medicare, in 2003; the Lindeberg grievance, in 2004; free trade, in 2004; and the administration of Indigenous affairs, in 2004. Eight select committees have been set up since 2002, but today we get three proposed in one day. That gives you an indication of their pursuit of these issues. Is it about the issues or is it about the resourcing? Is it about the money? I leave it to this chamber to determine that on the evidence that is being put here today.

When you look at the way that the Liberals ran this chamber where they had control of the Senate, they ensured that, even if we were able to inquire into legislation, it was confined to one day, a weekend in one instance and less than a week in others. They ensured that proper scrutiny was not undertaken in this place. We now have statements from the Liberals to say: ‘We are about scrutiny; we want to ensure that we can inquire into things. We are about ensuring that we can “throw light into dark corners”.’ But is that the truth? Is that the real argument that they are progressing today when only a very short while ago they demonstrated clearly by their actions that they did not subscribe to that view one bit? Their view was entirely different from that. Have they changed? I do not think so. That leaves me with the only conclusion I can draw from their actions today: that they are going to pursue setting up three select committees—with the resources and the chairs that go with that—for only one reason. And I leave that for the chamber to decide.


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