House of Representatives Committees

Standing Committee on Procedure

Provision for Members to make short speeches in the Main Committee

Tabling statement

From Daily Hansard, 20 October 1997, page 9177

Mr REID (Bendigo) (12.32 p.m.)—On behalf of the Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled Provision for members to make short speeches in the Main Committee, together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Mr REID—The recommendations contained in this report represent another development of the Main Committee to meet the needs of members. In 1993 the Procedure Committee first recommended the establishment of a committee to consider a second stream of business and provide more time for members to contribute to debates on government legislation. Since then a number of changes have been made to make the Main Committee more flexible and to expand the opportunities for members to express their views on all the matters which come before the House. Debates on committee reports and government papers have proved successful innovations.

This report recommends a further extension of the type of business conducted in the Main Committee. It proposes that each Thursday in the Main Committee a 15-minute period of members' 90-second statements be held at the beginning of the meeting and a half hour adjournment debate take place at the end.

The recommendations are the result of an inquiry into whether members need more opportunity to make short speeches on unspecified matters of concern to them and, if so, whether the Main Committee could be used for this purpose. The inquiry was prompted by a letter from a member which noted the limited opportunities for members to speak in the adjournment debate in the House.

The committee gathered the views of members on the issue through a questionnaire. The responses to the questionnaire indicated support for an expansion of opportunities to raise matters in short speeches and showed a preference, among those responding, for an adjournment debate style procedure. The committee also saw virtue in using a well-tested and familiar procedure and in maintaining a degree of consistency between the procedures used in the House and the Main Committee.

Under the proposal, an adjournment debate would take place only on Thursday for a maximum of 30 minutes. The flexibility to commence the debate earlier or to negative the adjournment to complete an item of business would be retained, as in the House. Ministers would also have the same opportunity to extend the debate for up to 10 minutes to respond to matters raised. The committee recognised that the introduction of an adjournment debate would represent an extension of the type of debate which has been conducted in the Main Committee so far.

The guiding principle of the Main Committee is cooperation. Only business on which it is hoped agreement can be reached is referred to the Main Committee. However, this does not mean that debate in the Main Committee should not be lively or spirited or that members cannot introduce controversial matter into their speeches. The standing orders governing the operation of the Main Committee ensure that real disagreement on how its business should be conducted effectively stops its operation. This principle has been upheld by the proposal that any disagreement on the question of the adjournment would automatically close the committee down.

Despite the risk of introducing this different style of procedure into the Main Committee, the committee saw a number of possible benefits apart from increasing the opportunities for members to raise issues of concern to them and relieving the pressure on the adjournment debate in the House. This step would help to mitigate the perception that the Main Committee is of lower status than the House. It might also encourage livelier, more spontaneous debate, especially given the smaller, more intimate nature of the Main Committee seating arrangements. The more members who participate in the proceedings of the Main Committee and the more people who watch or listen to it, the greater its level of effectiveness and acceptance will be.

At this stage it is recommended that the adjournment debate be introduced into the Main Committee on a trial basis so that its effects can be assessed before instituting a more permanent arrangement. The recommendation for a period of 90-second statements in the Main Committee is also proposed on a trial basis. There was some disagreement among committee members as to whether members' statements would be as effective in the Main Committee but we agreed that the best way to assess the demand for this procedure was to give it a trial.

It is proposed to have the Main Committee meet 15 minutes earlier at 9.45 a.m. on Thursdays and allow 90-second statements until 10 o'clock. Both the proposals contained in this report were prompted by representations from members, both formally and informally. They are an opportunity to make better and different use of the Main Committee. I hope that, should they be implemented, members will support them in the right spirit. I commend the report to the House.

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