Wednesday 24 November 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - I welcome this move to retain our standing committees for the present Parliament, Madam President, although I do hear what the member for Western Tiers says in respect of the increasing numbers that will occur in the future in respect of the Parliament of Tasmania. I think that will provide increasing opportunities to get quorums.

There was an aspect of the joint standing committee that I really appreciated, and that was that new members to Parliament, whether from the upper House or from the lower House, had the opportunity to come into a group of people that were supportive and encouraging; it was a way of starting to embrace the workings of Parliament. I thought that it was a wonderful opportunity for me because I was appointed to the Joint Standing Committee on Community Development on my first day here and it was interesting that the member for Launceston did recall that he was in Parliament for six years before he was appointed to a parliamentary committee. Remember that? That was you making that recollection.

Mr Wing - That is right.

Mr FINCH - Of course, here I was on day one in what is a much smaller parliament, being appointed straightaway. That was a wonderful opportunity, as I say, to embrace the workings of Parliament and my experience over the past eight years of being involved with the Community Development Committee has been absolutely positive - I have always found it that way.

I have been particularly impressed with the non-political nature of the workings of that committee. To me, in our committee, party politics have always been thrust aside and the committee has concentrated on the brief that was in front of us at the time and various aspects of community development. That has always been my experience. Of course, people have their philosophies and they come from parties and they want to project that into our committee meetings but it was never a stumbling block. It was always in the spirit of cooperation that they made their parties' thoughts known to the committee. It was good to hear the different perspectives that they brought to the table. I believe that there is a strong argument for standing committees; they help develop not only our expertise but the collectives' expertise on a range of subjects and I thought they operated quite efficiently.

Standing committees' parameters are defined, of course. They know what areas to specialise in and they build up their background of knowledge in those areas as a team, as I suggested, and that was my experience with community development.

We had some areas that we did not explore but we knew that they were on the radar. Health, welfare, education, justice and law, sport and recreation, racing and gaming, public sector operations, arts, cultural development and community quality of life.

It was quite far ranging but enabled us to go into quite a range of areas - fairly specialised areas which in some ways, it might be unfair to say, an ad hoc committee might not be able to pick up as quickly, but certainly there was expertise that had developed within the group. It was a changing group as well. We had people coming into the committee, then as their responsibilities in other areas increased or they became ministers, they moved on, and then another representative from their party or from their area took their place.

It was a good way to work with other members from the other House in particular. We had some terrific representatives who were very dedicated to the job at hand. I always found them really strong contributors and everybody wanted to be on the same page.

With a standing committee we were able to look to gain respect for our committee. When I first came in here there were quite negative vibes about the establishment of the committees - grumblings about whether they should be there anyway. I felt that there was quite a bit of negativity to break down in respect of the work that we were doing. Progressively, through the now Minster for Education as chair, we were able to start that ball rolling and slowly but surely we were able to make our way through the process to the stage where I would say, having heard comments recently, that we have the respect of the people in the Parliament.

Our Joint Standing Committee on Community Development has an enviable track record. I appreciated working with the member for Nelson in 2005 on the prevention of suicide. As the Leader mentioned, we looked at the Firearms Act, particularly as it related to teenagers. I think that our committee then was able to give good advice on a very tricky situation. David Llewellyn was the minister for about 10 portfolios but I forget which one firearms came under. We were able to send back good advice after our investigation.

Ms Thorp - Firearms is under Police.

Mr Wing - Was the advice adopted?

Mr FINCH - Yes, the recommendations were viewed very strongly and were adopted. In 2008 we had a close look, and I remember this came form Brett Whiteley, the Liberal member for Braddon at that time. He came to the committee, as was possible. This was really important to us; we were on that joint standing committee but not only did we take on recommendations from ministers that we were obliged to take on, but also somebody within the group is able to progress something that they are concerned about. Then democratically it is decided by that group as to whether we would take on that reference.

I remember that he came to us with his concern for assistive technology and equipment for people with disabilities and built a very strong case that he presented to our committee. We could see the sense in what he was saying and the need for what he was suggesting. We found deficiencies in the Tasmanian service that were clearly causing distress and inconvenience for people, in fact it was gobsmacking in the extreme to see how we do not help people who are in need of special equipment and people with disabilities who need support. There is an assumption; because they just go about their lives and make do with what they have, we do not get a real sense of the trials and tribulations of these people in our community. It was really enlightening to take on that investigation and to investigate it in our community and realise just how people were making do, and that is people in the system as well, not just the people who were the recipients of assistance but those people who had to eke it out with the little support they had. From memory, one part of our report was from a northern public servant, I think, but she might even be working in the private sector, who suggested that on her committee where they evaluated people in need they had $6 000 a month to distribute and they would have $100 000 worth of requests. They then had to pare all that back and decide who would be the recipients of $6 000.

Ms Thorp - Through you, Madam President - look how that's changed now.

Mr FINCH - I have not kept a close eye on how that has progressed since the time we made the report but I was assured that it would be supported. I have seen reports in the media where that situation has been supported and improved. That was a very good report and I can only commend the work of Brett Whiteley; he was very passionate about that issue and worked very hard to guide the committee and steer us in the right direction to make sure that we got the right evidence. He then worked very hard on the report to make sure that it reflected how we were feeling and what we had seen. I just wanted to highlight that as a really terrific process to go through. Even if we do not make progress at this time with these committees, I will look back fondly on that time and the work we did. I am hoping that I can be involved again in the Community Development Committee.

We had the Dying with Dignity Bill and I was very impressed with how, on a very vexatious issue or an issue of great concern with many a difficult decision, people brought their opinions and the opinions of their parties to the table to try to find a way through with debate, discussion and submissions and gave guidance to our parliamentary colleagues in respect of what the community and community groups want to have expressed through that committee. Here was the opportunity - it was the second opportunity for a lot of people - to bring their concerns, issues and observations through to Parliament. I think we realised the magnitude of the challenge and wanted to come up with a good result that would enlighten our colleagues as to what the community and groups were thinking about the Dying with Dignity Bill. I think we gave a good report that was able to help members.

I thought the other interesting one, around about the same time, was providing the primary school for the Port Sorell area. That was fraught with all sorts of dangers - and I do not know that they have been solved yet - but it was a great journey that people in the area have been on. I am sure the journey is not ended, it is still on, but I think we brought good guidance to an interesting area of Tasmania's education development where the Building the Education Revolution funding was available and how would other schools be impacted by a decision to put a school at Port Sorell. So it was an interesting challenge to give the community the chance to have its say. Similarly people were given the chance to make presentations about the Dying with Dignity Bill and to have them considered. Whether they were happy with the end result is for them to deal with, but hopefully they gained an understanding of the big picture we were trying to deal with.

So that was a good test for us as parliamentarians, to come up with a report that would help the Government make decisions and to guide the Government in what should be done in that area.

Mr Hall - There was some good evidence given on the report.

Mr FINCH - Do you mean the local member giving evidence, is that what you are referring to?

Mr Hall - No, not at all.

Mr FINCH - I think you are right and the person who has subsequently become a member of parliament gave evidence.

Mr Wing interjecting.

Mr FINCH - Yes, of course, there were a couple of members who gave evidence and Adam Brooks too, who has come in as a member of the lower House, was one who gave evidence as a Port Sorell resident.

Ms Thorp - Weighty arguments, no doubt.

Mr FINCH - No, good solid evidence, there was no doubt about that. So in all of those inquiries, like other committee inquiries, members of the public and interest groups become involved. They thought they were contributing to policies and decisions and they were, in a very positive way, and this is vital, otherwise members of our communities feel ignored and disenfranchised, without a vehicle through which their opinions can be heard.

I believe that our committee system is a vital part of our inclusive democracy and it works even better in a small community, a small State such as Tasmania, than it does on a bigger scale. I have witnessed the work of our Community Development Committee. I am not as familiar with the ERD committee because I have not been on that committee, but certainly our committee has really done some great work.

If we look at the present national political situation, it is obvious, Madam President, that at our level of politics we need to enhance our efforts to make people feel involved in the political process, otherwise they will become alienated and cynical about politics. I would argue that joint standing committees, such as the Community Development Committee, are vital in this aim. Joint committees demonstrate that we are able to work productively with the opposing parties from the House of Assembly. Politics are put aside, we get on with the job, there is a camaraderie that is breaking down the barriers between the different parties -

Mr Hall - There were no politics ever on the Community Development Committee.

Mr FINCH - No. Earlier, when you were not in the room, I did suggest that people came to the room and expressed on behalf of their parties how they felt about various things, but that was to enlighten us on where their party stood. We never did get into stoushes regarding committee work. We did debate, we did discuss, we did talk about issues and they were talked out, and there was never any confrontation, or bad blood, or any bad flavour over the contributions that members made.

Mr Hall - Let me say, on the ERD committee that was often the problem, often the issue, and sometimes it stymied debate, which held up decision making.

Mr FINCH - Yes, and I would not dare comment on the work of the ERD committee.

Mr Parkinson - Not while I was chair.

Mr FINCH - I am only presenting my observations of the committee work that I did. I know I am probably looking at our situation through rose-coloured glasses, but that was how I felt about the committee and the work we did. I am looking at what we want to achieve. You have all those little travails along the way, but none that was insurmountable.

Mr Hall - 'Travails', I like that.

Mr FINCH - I will have a look later and see what it means. I have only positive feelings about the work that we did.

Joint committees demonstrate that we are able to work productively with the people downstairs. If one thing is becoming obvious, Madam President, with the present Federal situation it's that people are tiring of the adversarial system, and I think that people want to see cooperation. They also want to feel they are being listened to, and I think they support the knowledge and specialisation of standing committees such as the Community Development Committee.

We need our standing committees to continue. I hear what the member for Western Tiers says, and I think that when we do get the extra 10 people downstairs they will want to build their corporate knowledge of what goes on in Parliament. By being part of a joint standing committee they will be able to link up with members from this House and work cooperatively. I think that will be terrific for their development and that is not -

Ms Forrest - Do you think at the moment, with the five select committees in another place as well as the other joint House committee arrangements with public works, public accounts and subordinate legislation, and the shortage of backbenchers, it would work in this current Parliament?

Mr FINCH - I hear what you are saying and the getting of a quorum and the numbers we have at our disposal has been an issue; that is why we are reviewing this. The scenario has changed, particularly with the scrutiny work that our members have been taking on in the select committees. It made us much busier than we were previously and it was enlightening to see that downstairs they had embraced committees to get work done, that some issues needed closer investigation, which we have been doing with our select committees and it is good that they are also doing it downstairs. But I still feel that there is going to be a place for joint standing committees where those 10 new members, if they join, will be able to enhance their development and their opportunities early in their time in Parliament, to get a sense of what Parliament is able to do for the community. At this time I am supporting the motion.