Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (28 April) . . Page.. 90 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
Mr Speaker, I have heard other arguments claiming that the environment has been neglected. As I recall it, until the Carnell Government was elected there was no committee on the environment in the ACT. There was a Planning, Development and Infrastructure Committee which I think might have considered environmental matters as a tangent on occasions, but there was no committee dealing with the environment. There was at one stage a Conservation, Heritage and Environment Committee; but those functions were rolled together in the last Assembly, and I think rolled together extremely successfully. I think we achieved a great deal of recognition through the meshing of those two important roles. Planning is about, among other things, planning for the environment. The environment is about having a well-planned city, and so on. Mr Berry also argued that we should not make these changes until the select committee has reported. I would say to Mr Berry that we have long experienced the committee structure of the kind that he is proposing here today. Why not have a chance to try the other structure proposed in Mr Osborne's motion to see how it might work?
Mr Speaker, Mr Wood also made a contribution. He spoke particularly about the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and about how it would be terrible to have five different scrutiny of Bills committees. I will not get into that argument. I simply say to you that that is not what Mr Osborne's motion is proposing today. It is that we have a single committee responsible for the scrutiny of Bills, and that is the Justice and Community Safety Committee. Ms Tucker argued that that would be a committee which would not be interested in the scrutiny function, that it would be interested in other things; but I think that does a disservice to those who would serve on the committee. Under this structure there is less overlap of membership between committees. There are fewer members running between different committees. The chance for those members to focus more heavily on the task before them is enhanced and this ought to be a vehicle to create better committee work. I do not believe that members of, say, the Justice and Community Safety Committee would be so overwhelmed by other things that they would not be able to focus on the scrutiny of Bills function.
I might finally say, as a former member of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, that the importance attached to the scrutiny of Bills and that committee's work has been greatly exaggerated in this place. Mr Wood and others who have served on the committee would know that it is a pretty mechanical committee. It never writes its own reports. They are prepared by the legal adviser who comes, generally, from the ANU. He presents the report. There is sometimes a fairly cursory amount of debate on the floor of the committee and the report is adopted almost always in its entirety as presented. (Extension of time granted) I thank members. His report is almost always adopted by the committee as it stands. Mr Speaker, I do not believe that a committee with other functions as well is going to be unable to adopt a report presented by the legal adviser any less competently than the Scrutiny of Bills Committee used to do so.
Mr Speaker, I think we have here a structure which is bold and which is appropriate for dealing with issues in a holistic way on the floor of this Assembly. If, for example, there is a scrutiny of Bills report which says that there are certain problems with a piece of health legislation, it would make sense for that Bill to be looked at by a health committee