Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 10 April 2008) . . Page.. 1291 ..
We cannot support a motion where the chair of the committee will be a government member. It is contrary to the form and practice of this place, except over the past three years. The performance of government members as chairs of this committee and the general performance of government members on this committee over the past three years has been reprehensible, down to the point of members having to be dragged back from their overseas jollies because they left before the work was completed. There has been bad language and outbursts and lack of willingness to restrain and constrain ministers in their bad behaviour. They have all been a symptom and an emblem of everything that is wrong with the way the Stanhope government runs things. That has been badly manifested in the estimates process, and that is why we cannot support these amendments.
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (12.27): I will be supporting the motion as it stands and opposing the amendments. I do agree with the view that a desirable situation for this sort of committee is for it to be chaired by a non-government member—not necessarily a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition. I do believe that the departure of that practice by the former federal government was a retrograde step, and I think it is a retrograde step around Australia that majority parties are now increasingly parking one of their own into the role of the chair of key committees rather than trying to achieve some measure of balance.
Obviously the government has amendments that will change the composition of this committee and ensure they capture the chair without debate. I guess that removes the sort of horse-trading that went on in 2005, when Mr Seselja and I were members of the estimates committee. But I have expressed in the last 48 hours or so real concerns about the whole committee system here—it just simply is not working when you have majority government.
The idea of a committee system is to provide some check, especially when you do not have an upper house, as exists in some states of Australia. This is our first experiment with majority government, but, when I look at some of the responses to committee reports and I think of the hours that people have put in and the witnesses who have given evidence who are just dismissed with a cursory action of their evidence being noted or whatever, I do not know for the life of me what progress we are making in having these committees. There seems no point to them if they are simply going to be exercises of sitting around and having a talkfest and their reports then being ignored.
I will support the motion, notwithstanding what the outcome is inevitably likely to be on this one. I still think the government is hasty in wanting to amend this, because I do not think it necessarily reflects terribly well on governments when they want to control everything, as is going to be the case with this committee.
Enabling a bit of independent scrutiny and criticism can enhance the standing of one in the community, in my view, but that will not happen. The motion as it stands is fair; it reflects the balance of the Assembly, which is supposed to be the custom and practice, and I will vote for it. I do not think that it is a good move to try and dilute the structure of this committee.