Since 1901, there have been five parliamentary departments: thetwo Chamber departments and three service departments - the Departmentof the Parliamentary Library, the Department of the ParliamentaryReporting Staff (until 1990, purely Hansard) and the Joint HouseDepartment.

There have been numerous reviews of the administration of theParliament and numerous attempts to amalgamate two or more ofthe joint departments. The aims of amalgamation proposals havevaried but, in recent years, they have focussed on achieving greaterefficiency and economy.

As early as 1910, the rationale for having five departments waschallenged by the then Prime Minister, the Hon A Fisher. Afterdebate over a period of years a proposal of the Attorney-Generalto amalgamate the parliamentary departments was not accepted bythe House and the Senate.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Government of theday established an inquiry under the control of J T Pinner, anInspector of the Public Service Board, seeking to introduce economiesinto the Parliament which had already been introduced in the widerpublic service. Pinner was critical of the number and size ofthe parliamentary departments and included in his report a proposalto merge the five departments into a single unit under a singlepermanent head. The proposal was not well received by the Parliamentand no change resulted.

It was not until the 1970s that the issue of reorganising theparliamentary departments was raised again, when the Manager ofOpposition Business in the House and former Speaker, the Hon GG Scholes wrote to Speaker Snedden suggesting the creation ofa Department of the Parliament to absorb the three service departments.While there was support from the Department of the House of Representativesfor the three service departments to merge into a department ofParliamentary Services, support was lacking elsewhere and theproposal failed to come to fruition.

The next significant debate about the administration of the parliamentarydepartments took place in 1980. At the request of the PresidingOfficers, confidential reports on the operations of the threeservice departments were prepared by the management consultancyfirm, Urwick International. The reports included a proposal thatthe three service departments be merged into a single Departmentof Parliamentary Services. This was followed by a study undertakenby the Joint House Department in 1981 on the coordination of personnelservices which failed to gain the cooperation of some of the otherparliamentary departments. The upshot was a Senate House Committeeinquiry into the organisation, operation, functions and financialmanagement of the Joint House Department. The resulting report(tabled on 26 August 1982) recommended other matters be dealtwith before examining amalgamations of the parliamentary departmentsand no change resulted.

In May 1987, the Presiding Officers (Speaker Child and PresidentMcClelland) outlined proposals to restructure the administrationof the Parliament. This followed reviews of information systems,parliamentary relations, public relations and certain staffingand accounting services which resulted in some administrativechanges. One of these changes was the establishment of the ParliamentaryInformation Systems Office.

In 1988, Speaker Child introduced the Public Service (ParliamentaryDepartments) Bill 1988 which sought to reduce the number of parliamentarydepartments from five to three. As with previous attempts to changethe structure of the parliamentary departments, the Bill failedto bring about change. The Bill was passed in the House of Representativesbut not considered in the Senate.

In 1993, Speaker Martin introduced the Public Service (ParliamentaryDepartments) Amendment Bill 1993 which sought to create a combinedDepartment of the Parliamentary Library and Reporting Services.The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives but the orderof the day relating to its consideration was discharged from theNotice Paper in the Senate. If successful, the proposal wouldhave created one department responsible for the provision of informationservices which, it was argued, would have resulted in improvementsin information services and savings achieved through the joiningof corporate support areas.

In June 1996 the National Commission of Audit suggested to theGovernment that there was a case for amalgamation of the fivedepartments into one.

A proposal was introduced by Mr Martin (by then a shadow minister)in 1996, the effect of which would have been to amalgamate thethree service departments. The order of the day relating to resumptionof the debate on the second reading was not accorded priorityby the House Selection Committee, and the order was removed fromthe Notice Paper.

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