WA Liberal party powerbroker Noel Crichton-Brown writes:

One can
only be dismayed by the Government’s decision to take control of the Senate
committee system.

It was
first developed in 1970 with a trial introduction of two Reference and Legislative
committees which dealt principally with Senate references and occasionally
legislation. This number was increased to seven in 1971 and later to eight. Six
Estimates Committees were also created in 1970.

In 1994 the
eight committees were split into sixteen separate committees with a Reference
Committee and a Legislative Committee allocated to each subject area. The
Estimates Committees were folded into the Legislative Committees. At that
time, Robert Ray, then a Keating Minister, and I as Deputy President and Chairman
of Committees, negotiated the suite of committees, their composition and the
allocation of Chairmen. Those committees have remained in that form until now.

It is true
that during the time the Coalition held a majority in the Senate for a period
of the Fraser government, all eight committees were chaired by Coalition
Senators. Equally, it
was during this period that the invaluable and indispensable Senate Scrutiny of
Bills Committee was created, driven principally by the late Victorian Liberal
Senator, Alan Missen. It was strongly opposed by the Fraser government.

I commend
the 1982 Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs inquiry
into “The Burden of Proof in Criminal Proceedings” as a modest example of the quality
of inquiries of the time.

Minchin’s announcement brings into question the future nature and merit of our
federal bi-cameral system. Unquestionably the Senate committee changes now
proposed are intended to reduce the independence and therefore the power of the

in 1967, 1974, 1977, 1984 and 1988, all designed to reduce the independence and
role of the Senate, were all defeated by the people. The 1977 Simultaneous Elections
referendum was put forward by the Fraser government and supported by Labor yet was defeated
with nine courageous Liberal Senators opposing it and running the NO case.

What good
purpose does the Senate have if it is not a House of second deliberation, a
House of review, a House of some independent mind and standing? If it is but a
poor and pale reflection of the House of Representatives, what argument is
there in favour of six year fixed rotating terms?

Just weeks
before Robert Hill fell to the inevitable I urged him that the government not
abuse the Senate with its majority. Curiously, he was in many respects a Senate
man in spite of a failed attempt to move to the House of Representatives. Nick
Minchin is a Ministerial apparatchik. The difference shows.

The irony
is that the one Liberal Senator who has crossed the floor
in the past ten years should have no place in the Senate.

The High Court decision in 1975 in Western Australia v The Commonwealth found by the
narrowest of margins that the parliament had the power under Sec 122 of the
Constitution to allow the representation of the Territories in the Senate. This
appalling decision was contested in 1977 in Queensland v The Commonwealth when the matter
again came before the court. In the meantime McTiernan J had resigned and
Aicken J had been appointed.

majority on the second occasion found for the
plaintiff, if one is to consider Gibbs J. However Gibbs, who had found
against the Commonwealth in the earlier case, held to his earlier
judgement because he did not accept that the judgement
should be overturned on the basis of the resignation of one Judge and the
appointment of another.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey