Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (28 April) . . Page.. 52 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
Obviously, you could have concerns that the same three people who are going through the debate on the policy and merit of move-on powers then have to switch over, put on a different hat, and look at the whole issue of civil liberties for the citizens. The reading that I did on this matter was very strong on the importance of having that committee quite separate. It has been reported in a number of newspapers that I read as being one of parliament's oldest and most respected watchdogs of personal rights and freedoms.
If we merge these committees, the priority that their work will be given is definitely going to be of concern. The work of the Public Accounts Committee and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, when mixed up with the hurly-burly of the more interesting policy debates, may become quite low down in terms of the priorities given by those committees. While the current proposal of Mr Osborne's is not to break up the work of these committees totally but to move the committees in their completeness to the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety and the Standing Committee for the Chief Minister's Portfolio, there are still serious concerns about the implications of this move. It is interesting to note that, as Mr Berry pointed out, these committees were formed in Queensland after the Fitzgerald inquiry. It is also interesting to note that right now the Northern Territory Government is resisting a move to introduce a Scrutiny of Bills Committee. They have only scrutiny of subordinate legislation at the moment. Why would government resist such a move? Could it be that they do not want extra scrutiny? What are we doing in the ACT? It is quite reasonable to suggest that we are trying to downgrade the role of these committees. Also, I am very concerned about the lack of consistency in how the Pettit report has been taken up. One minute we are told that something is, somehow, absolutely okay because Pettit recommended it, that that is the stamp of credibility that we need, although we have been told consistently that the report is advisory only and that we would have a select committee look at the recommendations of Philip Pettit.
Incidentally, Philip Pettit suggested that the functions of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Public Accounts Committee could be assumed, with benefit, by the agency-tracking committees. Obviously, some members have decided that they do not like that proposal, probably because there are real issues with it, such as having to have a committee that is called the Public Accounts Committee because the Audit Act refers to such a committee. There have been changes made already to some of Pettit's recommendations and this inconsistency is extremely concerning. Mr Pettit's report was supposed to be only advisory. I believe that we as a parliament are entitled to have an opportunity to discuss the recommendations and to question the assumptions in the report.
I am very concerned that the new member for Ginninderra, Mr Rugendyke, has not taken a more cautionary approach to this issue. I have not been a member of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee or the PAC, as I said; but what I have read about it has given me enough concern to want this parliament to have the opportunity, through a committee, to look at the implications. Pettit's report did not present any argument in depth for his recommendation devolving responsibility for these committees to the departmentally-aligned committees. He proposed the establishment of certain committees. He did not, by the way, provide any helpful analysis of the Executive committees proposal put up by the Chief Minister.