Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 1 Hansard (28 April) . . Page.. 91 ..
MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):
so that it can examine both the content and the form at the one time. Again I emphasise that that is not what Mr Osborne is proposing at this stage. He simply proposes that that function be taken on by the Justice and Community Safety Committee, and I support that proposal.
MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.19): Mr Speaker, I find it fairly ironic that the first debate that we are holding in this Fourth Assembly is a debate on a motion that will have the effect of decreasing the scrutiny and accountability of the Executive and of the Government by the Assembly. One of the great concerns I have about this motion is the fact that it follows so closely on the heels of the failed Executive committees proposal, the Chief Minister's idea to completely undermine the basis on which parliaments in the Western world, under the Westminster and the Washington systems, actually operate; the way that we, as democracies in the Western world, the very successful governments around the world, have operated for hundreds of years in a very tried and true way.
It is not that we are stuck, or that we are traditionalists, or that we are not prepared to look at other ways of operating. It is just that we do not think we should throw out, without some very serious consideration, those checks and balances that have operated in parliaments everywhere under our system for a long time. The Executive committees would have done that. I think they have been trashed now. We do not need to go over the reasons why the Executive committees were trashed, but they were trashed for reasons which relate to the concerns that we have about the proposal to do away with the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and to do away with the Public Accounts Committee.
Those two committees really do carry with them a significant scrutiny of the Executive role. That is what they are designed to do. That is why they are separated out from other committees, from policy committees or straight legislation committees. That is why they exist. That is why parliaments that are jealous to guard the tenets of democracy, the tenets of responsible government that we should so jealously guard, maintain committees of that sort.
It is also very pre-emptive of Pettit for us to adopt this motion. The Pettit discussion on the Scrutiny of Bills Committee and the Public Accounts Committee is about three or four sentences long. I think it is incredibly disappointing that there was not some discussion on what the implications of abolishing these committees would be. In effect, the discussion about what we might do with public accounts and the scrutiny of Bills is reduced to a sentence saying this:
And in looking at legislation in its area, each Committee would take responsibility, not just for considering policy-related matters, but also for ensuring, on the basis of professional advice, that the legislation is satisfactory in more formal respects as well.
It seems to me that that is an incredibly simplistic description of what it is that a Scrutiny of Bills Committee does. Whilst we might rely on the technical advice of experts to ensure that the legislation does meet the criteria that we would wish it to, it seems to me to be a very simplistic and dangerous response to a decision to do away with a Scrutiny of Bills Committee that looks at ensuring that legislation does not trespass on personal rights