Tuesday 24 June 2008

Estimates Committee B (Bartlett)

Legislative Council Support Services

Parliamentary Numbers

Mr FINCH - I have a question to the Premier. There have been suggestions recently about the membership of both Houses of State Parliament: that they should be enlarged to provide better governance. We heard some response to the idea recently, but could you elaborate and tell us if you feel that the present numbers are adequate?

Mr BARTLETT - The Tasmanian Greens, I understand, have written to me asking for the three leaders in the lower House and the President of the Legislative Council to have a meeting to discuss this. I indicated to them yesterday that I do not have a problem with having a meeting with those people. They have obviously been calling for a larger lower House. I am not sure that I have heard them specifically call for more upper House numbers but they have certainly been calling for the restoration of a 35-seat House of Assembly. I have said publicly, and I continue to say, that I think it is a very hard sell for a politician to run on a platform of 'Vote Bartlett: I'm bringing you more politicians.' If that were my platform, that would be a pretty tough sell in the Tasmanian community. But I am a democratist as well and, therefore, I think it is a worthwhile debate to have. I would not close myself off to listening to a debate around the right numbers in the lower House Chamber, and I can see both sides of the argument.

My personal view is that we have it about right. That is my personal view. It is not the Government's view, it is not the Cabinet's view; it is my personal view that we have it about right. But I am open to debate and discussion as long as the debate and discussion is a balanced one that fleshes out all the aspects both for and against increasing the size of the lower House Chamber. There is this argument run by the Tasmanian Greens that there has been a proliferation of ministerial advisers because we have a smaller Chamber, and I do not accept that argument. There are ministerial advisers - no doubt about it - but I think that is much more deeply related to the flows of information that we have to deal with these days than we had to deal with 10 to 20 years ago. I have had 850 invitations arrive since becoming Premier; 700 emails a day to my various email boxes. These are flows of information that one person cannot possibly humanly deal with, whereas 10 to 15 years ago ministers were dealing with the red boxes. The red boxes arrived and that was essentially their only flow of communication with their department and in many ways, apart from face to face and on the phone, the outside world.

It is a very different scenario and I do not think you can attribute simply the numbers in the House of Assembly to more ministerial advisers. I do not accept that argument. What I do accept, though, is it is a worthwhile debate but as long as the debate is not just being run by the Tasmanian Greens, who have a vested interest in having a 35-seat Chamber - and they clearly do, and I could not get them to admit that yesterday in the House of Assembly but they clearly do.

Mr FINCH - It is just that we see here at budget Estimates time the ministerial responsibilities are, to my understanding, onerous and some of those workloads are enormous. Trying to cover a lot of those areas - these are my observations - I feel that the ministries are quite small in this smaller Parliament that we have.

Mr BARTLETT - And that is a useful part of the debate to have. I am all ears to this debate. I would like to hear both sides of the debate, and I would like Tasmanian people to be engaged in the debate, not just political parties for their own purposes.

Mrs JAMIESON - The fact is that we have Education, for example, and here we are at a quarter past four we have over a billion-dollar budget and we have not even started on it. The same has been happening with Health over the last few years as well. We have had multiple ministries by the one Minister and you just cannot get through the workload in the allotted time.

[4.15 p.m.]
Mr BARTLETT - I think that is a reasonable argument on the 'for' side to a larger Parliament. As I said, I do not accept the argument that you have too many ministerial advisers these days, because I suspect if we had 10 Ministers we would have more ministerial advisers, not fewer.

Mr FINCH - It is probably more the cost, though, Mr Premier. Your elected members do not cost anywhere near as much in respect of the remuneration they receive that we hear about some of the ministerial advisers and the payment that they receive.

Mr BARTLETT - It is my intention that any ministerial officers that I have - that people do not earn more than ministers, because I do not think that is a good symbol.

CHAIR - It sounds like a fair policy. Premier, I just want to bring to your attention - and this will probably follow on to the Clerk - that the Legislative Council, in particular, has been conducting and will conduct quite a number of select committee processes -

Mr BARTLETT - I have noticed.

CHAIR - And that in itself has become a challenge for the staff of the Legislative Council. I know that there is huge value in those select committee processes, and the reports are very detailed and we obviously read them and have looked at some of the recommendations. I just take the opportunity to ask through you to the Clerk about his opinion on the fact that that workload seems to be increasing and it is taking a toll on staff and resources.

Mr PEARCE - The staff do a fantastic job, Madam Chair, as you know, and we do not have too many of them and inquiries have been increasing. It is difficult for the members as well, with fewer members spread across a range of select committee duties. So it is impacting not only on the staff but also on the member's ability to have input into aspects of the report, both to research and to assist with any writing. But we are looking to address that. We have research support in place. As some committees report, we have others that are sitting on the Notice Paper that possibly may or may not have support. But it is certainly something that we are going to have to address probably sooner rather than later.

I think to this point our staff have done a fantastic job, but I think there is also pressure on members. Even logistically in just getting members together to meet is not always an easy task. So there are some issues to work through, but I think we can address them in the not-too-distant future.

Mr FINCH - The Premier would not realise that one of our members is on I think 11 committees and we have the carpenter building a pedestal for him in the carpenter's shop as we speak.

Mrs JAMIESON - The funding has gone to Devonport, sorry.

Mr WING - On the question of parliamentary numbers, Mr Premier, with the Ogilvie report, I imagine that is out of print. I do not know whether it might be possible for consideration to be given to -

Mr BARTLETT - The Ogilvie report is?

Mr WING - About parliamentary numbers.

Mr BARTLETT - Is this the Albert Ogilvie report?

Mr WING - It is the Albert Ogilvie report that Sir Geoffrey Foot and Sir George Cartland -

Mr BARTLETT - I would be very keen to have a look at that.

Mr WING - If it is out of print I wonder if consideration could be given to having copies made for members of Parliament who would like to consider it.

Mr BARTLETT - I would be very happy to do that because I would be keen to consider its contents.

Mr WING - Thank you. So that may be possible to have that done?

Mr BARTLETT - Yes. I will get Mat to make a note of it, otherwise I will forget.

Mr WING - Thanks very much.