Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 10 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 2932 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
I quote from the standing orders of the Senate, in relation to committee meetings:
A committee is authorised to hold meetings by electronic communication without the members of the committee or witnesses being present in one place, provided that:
(a) when a committee deliberates, members of the committee constituting a quorum are able to speak to, and hear, each other contemporaneously ...
This is exactly the same as the motion that Ms Tucker is moving today. The motion seeks to adopt a recommendation of the Senate Procedure Committee's second report of 1995, which provided for electronic meetings. Notice was given in April 1996 and the motion was passed in the Australian Senate in 1997. This means that the use of electronic communication for committee meetings in the Australian Senate has worked well over the last five years, and I see no reason why we do not have something similar working here in the Assembly.
Phone hook-ups, and even meetings by internet chat rooms and email discussion groups, have long been used in both the government and non-government sectors. It ensures that the tyranny of distance can be overcome and does not hold up the committee process if a member of a committee is unavailable due to travel or electorate duties. We are not talking about every single committee meeting being done over the phone. As the motion reads, a "committee may resolve to conduct deliberative meetings by electronic communications". They do not have to; they will not be forced to.
As always, with the open committee process we have in this Assembly, it will be up to the committee to decide what it wants to do. We are just giving them another option. This motion has worked for five years in the Australian Senate and in the House of Representatives, and, if it proves to be a failure in this Assembly, I am happy to revisit it. Let us try it for a while and see how it works. But I do not see how it would be a failure unless committee members work to undermine the processes that we set in place.
MR CORBELL (Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services, Minister for Planning and Minister for Industrial Relations) (11.31): Mr Speaker, I rise to express my disquiet with the proposal-not so much because of the notion of the use of this technology for the purpose of conducting meetings but more for a couple of other reasons.
Ms Dundas has made reference to the practice in the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the Senate and House of Representatives have members who come from right around the country. Geographically, there is an imperative to try to get those members to meet because they are not always in Canberra. They are at home in their electorates and that could be in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and so on. We do not, as a matter of course, have that difficulty as a parliament. The furthest I think any member would have to drive to get here is half an hour. It is not, geographically, an insurmountable problem and so I do not believe that as a matter of course we should automatically adopt those provisions. The Australian parliament has responded to the circumstances its members face in being geographically isolated for significant periods of time outside of when the parliament is sitting.