Senate debates

Thursday, 14 February 2008


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

11:52 am

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

With this new government, it is very important that we get back to a respect of the Senate and that the Senate move to where it should be, which is a position based more on the American system than that of the House of Lords. The first thing that we should do—because people should know this—is understand what a Senate select committee is about. Odgers states:

Select committees are an extremely versatile inquiry vehicle. Because they examine single issues, select committees permit a concentration of focus and effort on those issues.

What could be more concentrated than an inquiry into the pricing and supply of diammonium phosphate? That would have to be a very focused and ad hoc issue. And so such a committee would be appropriate in dealing with this issue, which Senator Heffernan has rightly brought up. This is a disease through a number of sectors in the economy. There is evidence of cartels being manipulative and extracting unreasonable premiums from the Australian consumer and, at this point, unreasonable premiums from the farmer. When diammonium phosphate was $120 a tonne, I remember thinking that that was dear. Last year, we were purchasing it for about $750 a tonne. This year, it is $1,350 a tonne and heading north. There is one reason for that: there is a monopoly. This monopoly is extracting an unreasonable premium from the Australian citizen and the Australian farmer. This issue definitely warrants a Senate select committee to look into it. I believe the information that will come from such an inquiry can overlay into so many other areas of trade practices issues and trade practices laws and how this nation is run.

The belief that the government have put today that such an inquiry is not appropriate and that they are not happy with it seems to be in stark contrast to their rhetoric about the extremism of the government when they were in opposition. If that were the case then and if they truly believe it, then we should revert this place to what it should be—that is, an independent chamber that does its business on behalf of the Australian people, that does not work solely on the direction of the executive that exists in the other place. We should be doing that.

Further, I propose that the chairs of the standing committees be elected by the will of the Senate. If the will of the Senate is that a certain chair should be a member of the opposition then it should be a member of the opposition, or if it is a member of the government then it should be a member of the government. It should be based on talent and not so much by appointment. That is something I think we should move towards. I have heard some people say, ‘That’s not what happens in the House of Lords in England.’ It may not be what happens in the House of Lords in England but it is certainly more a reflection of what should be happening in the Senate in Australia, which is based primarily on the Senate in the United States.

The reintroduction of the primacy of the Senate brings about what we really need in our Commonwealth, which is the capacity to protect states rights, and this house has the ability to do that. This Senate should have the ability to appoint select committees to deal with those so-called ad hoc issues that arise from time to time. If the Senate requires three committees, then it is three; if it is four, then it is four. If it is five or more, then that should be the will of the majority of the Senate. If it is the will of the majority of the Senate that innumerable select committees are wanted, then that is its right. Once you say, ‘We don’t want that because of tradition and because of what is coming as an instruction from the other place,’ then you straightaway step away from the belief in the independence and primacy of the Senate. That is a dangerous proposition because it means that we then become a house that works under instruction. A house that works under instruction is pointless.

Unfortunately, I live with the situation of a unicameral parliament in Queensland, where we do not have the protection of an upper house. We do not have the protection that comes from someone having the capacity to raise an issue and pursue it. I heard that one of the select committees was established to hear the Lindeberg grievances. There should be the capacity for a committee to pursue certain ad hoc issues and to bring some sense of solace, some sense of inquiry and some sense that you do not have to go to the other place and get the majority of the numbers in the executive down there to pursue a case here in the Senate.

This is not brought about by the opposition. If these select committees get up, they will be brought about by the will of the majority of the Senate. That is the key issue here. So if it is the will of the majority of the Senate today that the vote should go forward, there will be select committees that will have the capacity to deal with ad hoc issues, including housing affordability, state government financial matters and rural issues, especially the cartel arrangement in diammonium phosphate which is financially stripping down those who are coming off the back of one of the worst droughts in the history of our nation. I believe that is a just and proper position for us to pursue.


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