Page 919 - Week 03 - Thursday, 28 February 2013

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As to the second part, it is an interesting trend. We talk about the independence of the committee system and, yet again, here is a move by the government to nobble the committee. Two-all means that virtually nothing will come out of this committee. Two-all means that is impossible, because the parties will divide on party lines. Members of the government will not want to criticise the government, as has been their tradition in the past. Therefore any reasonable scrutiny is watered down by this amendment.

The government suddenly says there are no Greens on the crossbench; therefore a Green cannot be on the committee. Over the years there have been many people sitting on the estimates committee, whether there was a Green on it or not. I think it is reasonable that the committee stays at five. There is a lot of work to get through. It is quite clearly now the government’s intention that important committees, indeed all committees now, are staked at two and two, which virtually means that you are taking an approach that says, “We do not want the committees to operate. We do not want critique or criticism of anything the government does to come out of the committee system.” And quite frankly, it is somewhat appalling. We will accept amendment 1. We will not be accepting amendment 2.

Mr Barr: What, a new spirit of bipartisanship, Brendan?

MR SMYTH: What we will do is ask, when the motion is put, that they be separated so that we can vote separately. The minister asks am I taking a partisan position. No, I am not taking a partisan position. I speak from the reality of the committee system where the committee I have been sitting on—and I cannot speak for the other committees—is locked because anything that will lead to any closer scrutiny of the government is blocked. And I think that is unfortunate.

The estimates committee is a big job. The tradition has been five members. It does not always have to be five but you actually need something that allows you to make a decision. I think we hide behind the words “you will have to collaborate”. “Collaborate” leads to the lowest common denominator. So if you want something to come out of a committee, in my opinion, it will lead to the lowest common denominator simply because government members on committees will do their job to protect the government. They always have. They always will.

Let us not hide behind “we will leave our political leanings at the door”. After a few years on committees in this place, I have never seen it happen. It is very rare. A member who is leaving might have a few things to say about his colleagues and his government.

But the reality is that if you want some meaningful analysis of the budget, which clearly the government is afraid of, you would have a five-member committee and you would make sure that it works properly. But this government is clearly afraid of scrutiny. It will be a stain on its record. It will not be a stain on ours.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (10.28): On this, I thank Mr Smyth for bringing forward the motion to get the estimates committee underway. It is always good to have it done early so that the secretariat can plan around it.

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