Recorded: 18 May 1989
Length: 41 minutes
Interviewed by: Greg McIntosh

Listen to the interview


Greg McIntosh recorded this interview with Alan Browning, Clerk of the House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra, 18 May 1989.  

G McIntosh: Interview with Alan Browning, Clerk of the House of Representatives, Parliament House, Thursday May 18th 1989. First area I’d just like to ask you about, your general view on the Parliament-Executive relationship, how you see it now and perhaps how it’s changed over time?

A Browning: I thought we were being taped earlier on …

G McIntosh: Sorry.

A Browning: But, that’s fine, as I was saying there has been this big change over the last twenty years, not only in our parliament but in the other parliaments who work under the Westminster system. This is mainly through the — what has happened in the committee system, where a private member is much more involved than he was in day to day activities. Well, as you know, through the committee system they’re helping governments, being in the reports. They are pushing governments in a particular direction and of course governments do take notice of the committee reports. I think we can be thankful to the Senate for the change. That was just an accident of numbers in the Senate, of course, and the fact that a bloke like Odgers who was prepared to push it and he had another person like Murphy who had the numbers, who was prepared to take it on and we had that change in the Senate. But there was no similar change in the House of Representatives, even though we’d put up proposals to government before the Senate took off, to have a comprehensive committee system, but governments weren’t prepared to buy it, as far as the House of Reps was concerned. It wasn’t until what, 1987 that we got what we have now.

G McIntosh: The committees?

A Browning: In the committees, yes.

G McIntosh: A lot of people have said that those, I think they are legislative general purpose committees, there is eight of them, they haven’t got their own power to determine their own references, do you think they should have that power? The Executive can actually stop them.

A Browning: Yes, I found that a strange decision by the government not to give them power to initiate their own inquiries. Because through that twenty year period when we didn’t have these general purpose committees, we did have other committees and these committees had the power, generally to generate their own inquiries. I don’t think that worried the government too much.

G McIntosh: Now over the years, you’ve had people from Harry Turner, from John Curtin right through, even today, people talking about the House of Representatives is basically just a rubber stamp for the Executive. The Whips crack the whip and it’s just a formality, to what extent do you think that is true? The party discipline is so strong.

A Browning: Yes, I think the party system has changed things but is not just something that has happened in Australia, it has happened all over the world. I think probably in the Australian system, both in the States and the Commonwealth, there is a tendency to crack the whip a bit harder.

G McIntosh: Its said by a lot of people that we’ve got the toughest discipline in the world, of similar type parliaments, would you agree with that?

A Browning: Yes, I think that’s possibly right.

G McIntosh: Now a lot of the text books talk about parliamentary government when they talk about Australian politics at this level, do you think a better description might be party government, given the actual, the critical role that parties play?

A Browning: Yes, I think parliamentary government still applies because, you’ve always, in the Commonwealth you’ve got the break that is placed on government by the Senate in particular. I think the Senate has been the saviour of our system.

G McIntosh: Some of the Ministers tell me the opposite.

A Browning: The Ministry wouldn’t agree no, but I think they have been. The excess of government which could have occurred had not occurred because of the Senate and I think that’s been a good thing.

G McIntosh: I think it was your predecessor, Pettifer, who wrote in the ‘70s, I saw an article in the Age, not that long ago. He was talking about how party government was crushing parliamentary government. He was talking about the committee system. Do you think there’s been enough changes since then to retract that?

A Browning: Yes, I think so. I think Gordon Reid also wrote on this through the ‘70s …

G McIntosh: His book is coming out.

A Browning: … he talked about a weak and weakening institution, I think they were his words, that’s not so any more. I think the Houses have been rehabilitated in a sense through the committee system and through the extra time given over to private members Bills.

G McIntosh: Actually Reid’s new book is coming out Monday week. It will be interesting to see whether in fact he has picked that up, whether he sees it that way too.

A Browning: Yes, although it may be purely historical. I don’t know whether he is going to make that sort of comment.

G McIntosh: He’s got a specific chapter on Parliament and the Executive which I will be very interested to read, but he has put that view pretty strongly, along with Crisp and a lot of other people who have written about it.

A Browning: Yes, of course, we’ve been brought up in this strange system in Australia where the Ministry has been in the parliament house. Obviously a lot of people will talk to you about this. It’s not so in the House of Commons, they don’t have the Ministry in the Parliament building, but it’s because of their numbers, their vast numbers, six hundred and fifty members, well okay the Ministry can work outside the House and it’s no problem to the way they operate. But well on top of that they are more properly, better organised in the day to day running of the House than we are. So having the Ministry in the building has provided problems in a sense, but also expectations as far as members are generally concerned, which they perhaps lost to some extent now that the Executive has been pushed away to the back of the building and they are not mixing with the members as much as they used to.

G McIntosh: One of the questions I’ve asked most of the politicians is that one on party discipline and there has been people in the Labor Party who have said, they would like to see party discipline lessened, they don’t think it would create a problem. Others have said, it would be the think edge of the wedge and you’d have shambles. Have you got a view on the extent of discipline we have, particularly in the House?

A Browning: It seems to be ingrained doesn’t it. You can look at votes in the House on such things as a new standing order, where they say it’s a free but you will find all members of the Labor Party all voting in a particular direction, that doesn’t indicate a free vote in any sense.

G McIntosh: Do you think they could loosen up discipline and not create problems for the running of the parliament?

A Browning: It’s not something that I can really comment on. It must create problems for a governing party if it hasn’t got the — it’s troops voting, but I think there could be — because you know so many things these days are done outside the House. It might appear that governments should allow that its own members to suggest in the House amendments to Bills but that’s all done outside the House and the House doesn’t see that, what’s happening in the background on those things. Obviously Bills are amended to suit the Backbenchers of the governing party, outside the House. I don’t think there is any need for that to happen. But, what advantage would it be to the Backbench on the government side to loosen the reigns? What is that Backbencher looking for?

G McIntosh: Well I suppose like Graeme Campbell and examples like that with a particular constituency concerned, if that was allowed to happen occasionally, it wouldn’t threaten governments, it would be on non-financial legislation, or whatever.

A Browning: It’s parochial stuff, isn’t it.

G McIntosh: Yes.

A Browning: I don’t see any harm in that. I think governments have to live with that type of thing and obviously they are in the case of Campbell.

G McIntosh: Yes, well his penalty seemed to be, and I think most people agreed that his penalty wasn’t very harsh compared to what it could have been, so maybe it is loosening anyway, to some extent.

A Browning: Yes, I think they should be able to bend to that extent, if they’re going to introduce a gold tax and a member in a constituency where there is a great producer of gold, he should be able to take a stance which is opposite to what they intend to do.

G McIntosh: Yes. Well the second area I would like to ask you is just your views on the new Parliament House in general, and in particular, whether you think it will have any effects on Parliament-Executive relations? There’s been speculation about it.

A Browning: Yes, well I think it is going to have some effect for individual members. We’re not talking about the overall relationship there but it’s going to be difficult for some members to make the contact that they probably desire with Ministers. But no doubt they are able to do that in the Chamber if the Ministers are in the Chamber that is. They may be able to see them there at such time as after Question Time, and after divisions where Ministers are present.

G McIntosh: A lot of people mentioned the old building, simply because it was so much smaller, there was a lot of informal contact. A lot of business was done in the toilets, or in the Bar, or in the corridor …

A Browning: Or in the corridors, yes.

G McIntosh: … now in this building, because it’s so big a lot of that is not happening.

A Browning: It’s not going to happen.

G McIntosh: How important do you think that informal relationship is, or business?

A Browning: I think it was important, but it’s not only important to the private member, it’s important to the Minister as well, so no doubt something will evolve which will overcome this problem. It’s certainly going to be a big problem in a building like this because you’re not going to get that type of relationship. Whether it’s seen as a major problem to the private member I don’t know, obviously it is because you’re asking the question. It must have been raised with you.

G McIntosh: Some people have said it’s a massive problem, that informal contact is very important and there will be all sorts of changes as a result. Other people have said, well no, it’s not that important and we will overcome it. There will be meetings called that weren’t called in the old building and so on. But the two different views on just how important informal business is in this place.

A Browning: Are you getting a different answer from the Opposition parties to the one you’re getting from the government?

G McIntosh: No, it’s pretty well right across the board.

A Browning: So the government private members are having the same difficulty.

G McIntosh: Well some are and some aren’t. Some are saying it’s no problem and, some have said, well if other members are having that problem they should get off their bum and go out and walk around a bit more. So there are just two different views and it’s across party, it’s right across.

A Browning: But surely the private member would just send a note to the Minister, say during Question Time and say, look could I have five minutes of your time after Question Time and solve these problems that way.

G McIntosh: Some have said, yes, that’s what would happen and there would be no problem, others have said, sometimes take a week to see the Minister and by that time the problem, it’s too late, and they are saying that’s happening a lot to them, whereas others are saying it’s not a problem.

A Browning: Do they always have to work through the Minister, can they work through the Minister’s staff?

G McIntosh: Well I think a lot of them do work through their staff too, it just depends on the nature of the problem.

A Browning: I don’t know what their problem is, aren’t they able to pick up their telephone and get through to the Minister’s office and speak to the Minister, are they able to do that?

G McIntosh: Well I assume they are, but I’m just getting different views, and they are totally at odds with each other.

A Browning: Well perhaps you have to ask the Ministers whether they allow that to happen. Can a private member, say from the Opposition pick up the telephone and talk to you.

G McIntosh: Well I’ve spoken to a couple of Ministers and I think they have different — different Ministers operate in different ways, some are very accessible and some are very difficult to see.

A Browning: But even if it’s a matter of the Minister returning the call, the same day though, depending on how urgent the matter is.

G McIntosh: It’s certainly interesting the different perceptions of it. You mentioned before about the Ministers being up in their own wing, do you think they should have been mingled around the building?

A Browning: No, I don’t, no I think — well I think the first time they’ve been put in a separate area, and I think it’s proper that they should be in a separate area. I didn’t like the fact that they were intermingled in the old House because they tended to take over the whole building or a major portion of the building and private members suffered as a result with very, very poor accommodation. Of course you wouldn’t remember, nor would many of the members here remember, we had up to five members in a smallish room and that was their accommodation in Parliament House. Freddy Daly would be able to tell you about that. He was one who was in what they called a five member room.

G McIntosh: Unbelievable, it is amazing how they could do any work at all in those conditions.

A Browning: I suppose they did it in the library, they had these carrels and they worked from there.

G McIntosh: Do you find within your department, have you had any less contact with members because it’s so much bigger. I suppose you’re in the Chamber …

A Browning: I have a lot less contact with members because I was right on the corridor near the Chamber and saw a lot of members in the corridors but I hardly …

G McIntosh: Do you think you and your staff, if you don’t see members as much, will that lead to a different, more formal atmosphere?

A Browning: No, members are still coming to our staff, so I don’t think things have changed in that regard. I’m just talking about the informal meetings in the corridor, they seem to have gone, which — as far as the day-to-day workings are concerned, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to us, whether we are meeting members in the corridor or not.

G McIntosh: The last area I’d just briefly like to ask you about is the area of reform, which is a huge area. Do you think there are things that should be done to make the parliament function better, particularly in relation to Parliament-Executive relations, or just parliament in general?

A Browning: Well I think we’ve been trying to make the changes. The House is very slow to move on these things. I think the procedure committee is doing a good job and coming up with good answers to a lot of the problems that we see on a day-to-day basis. At present we are working on a complete review of the Standing Orders, which we are trying to — I’m not saying that they need to be modernized in the sense that people seem to talk about. I don’t think there will be any radical changes because people don’t, members don’t like radical changes. Governments certainly don’t because always Standing Orders are tilted a little bit towards the government. I don’t think …

G McIntosh: Do you think they’re tilted too much towards the government?

A Browning: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s just about right. Perhaps one-hundred-and-fifty years ago you would have said no. The way the country, the parliament has to operate, I think it’s just about right now.

G McIntosh: Do you think the Opposition within the House of Representatives, has the Opposition got enough opportunity to scrutinize the Executive?

A Browning: I think it’s got every opportunity to scrutinize. Okay, we haven’t got estimate committees, but that job is being done by the Senate. I don’t think we ought to, necessarily duplicate what the Senate is doing. I think the Senators have got more time than the members to do that sort of thing. That is one way to bring the government to account. I think the Question Times are terrible at the moment but that can be improved, but that’s not the fault of the system, that’s the fault of the actors.

G McIntosh: Yes, that’s a fairly common view amongst the politicians.

A Browning: Yes, and it’s not only the Ministry. It’s the Speaker too. The Speaker has the power to make it work but the Speakers haven’t chosen to use that power because it’s not often — it hasn’t often been said, but where, if the Standing Orders are silent on a particular matter, or where they don’t prevent a speaker from going along a certain road the power of the Speaker is unlimited and only limited by the House suddenly saying, hey, you’re going too far there, we don’t want you to go along that road. So, on the question of relevance in the House …

G McIntosh: What about length the Ministers answer, I think the Speaker has …

A Browning: The Speaker’s got the power.

G McIntosh: I thought the Speaker had said she hadn’t got the power to do that.

A Browning: She may have said that but the power is there. She only has to exercise her power and if the House doesn’t like what she’s doing okay they can say, we don’t want you to do that and that precedent setting shouldn’t be the precedent for the future.

G McIntosh: Do you think the Speaker should be more independent, like in Britain? Is it possible here?

A Browning: Well I suppose ultimately that is the answer but it’s never going to be the case in Australia.

G McIntosh: Because of the tight party discipline?

A Browning: And because of the numbers, our House isn’t big enough. You’re trying to compare six-hundred-and-fifty members with one-hundred-and-fifty, and twenty, thirty votes don’t matter very much in Great Britain, but one vote is important here and that’s why we haven’t changed the system.

G McIntosh: A lot of the Opposition people I’ve spoken to, including Shadow Ministers, have said they just haven’t got the time and the resources and the energy to be able to effectively scrutinize the Executive, would you agree with that? The Executive covers such a huge area, they are saying, we just can’t possibly do it.

A Browning: Of course, but I don’t think it would matter what resources you gave them, they still couldn’t do it. You have to do the best that you can with what’s available. I don’t think you have to — want to get carried away, what do the Opposition want? Do you set up another public service. See this is what you’re trying to compete against, a vast public service and do all the things they decide there, Oppositions can’t compete against that, or private members.

G McIntosh: Is it asking too much of the parliament to be able to effectively scrutinize the Executive, it’s just too big a job?

A Browning: Yes, I think that’s right.

G McIntosh: They can only be fairly patchy on what they …

A Browning: Yes, that’s right. I think the Estimate Committees are pretty effective in bringing departments to account. Although, obviously the questioning there can’t be as good as you would want, because the knowledge isn’t there amongst the Senators. I bet the public servants go back to their offices and say, by God they were on a good line there weren’t they didn’t follow it through did they.

G McIntosh: Certainly they can’t predict what is going to be asked so it does keep them on their toes.

A Browning: Yes, well that’s right, but through the committees generally. The Public Accounts committee as it is now set up is once again doing a good job, but that’s a limited thing. Just how far can you go. There aren’t the resources.

G McIntosh: See again the traditionally the text books that write about Australia’s parliament they say, one of parliament’s mains functions is to oversee and scrutinize the Executive but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it written down quite strongly that’s an impossible task. They can only do it in a very patchy fashion.

A Browning: That’s right, yes you have to pick the eyes out of it and do the best you can, but surely that’s enough to keep the Executive on its toes. I think that is what it’s all about.

G McIntosh: Yes, well just the last area. You mentioned the Senate before, you said how it has probably improved with it committee system and so on, Hodges and Murphy what they did. What about the powers of the Senate, do you think — particularly since the ’75 crisis there has been discussion about whether it should have the power to block money Bills. Have you got a view on the powers the Senate have got to block anything they like?

A Browning: No, I think it was always the intention of those who wrote the Constitution the Senate should have this power, it’s always had … You can’t necessarily agree with this power of delay but you can’t get away from the fact that they’ve got the power to reject any legislation. They didn’t do that with the Appropriation Bills in 1974-75, they didn’t reject them, they just delayed their passage.

G McIntosh: But can see that there is a problem for instability …

A Browning: Oh maybe from time to time, but no. Most of the time you’re going to have this problem with the Senate, it’s a numbers game and the government majority in the Senate, but I don’t think it’s made a real problem. I think a big problem with the Senate is they just don’t seem to be able to get their priorities right, as far as their business is concerned. They will sit around doing nothing as far as government legislation is concerned for months at a time and then they are blaming us towards the end of the period, they do this every time, for then suddenly having one-hundred-and-fifty Bills to look at within a month or so. I don’t think that is necessarily the fault of the government or the House of Representatives.

G McIntosh: What they tend to say is they’ve got nothing to do, they’ve got no legislation to deal with and then it all comes in a rush.

A Browning: But if you go through their notice paper for this period of sittings I think you’ll find that they’ve had great numbers of Bills on their notice paper right through …

G McIntosh: And they just haven’t dealt with them.

A Browning: … and they haven’t dealt with them, no, because the Democrats are ruling the roost over there to some extent.

G McIntosh: How would you describe the relationship between the two Houses?

A Browning: Between the offices is very good. It wasn’t always so, particularly going back to 1960s, or a bit earlier, but from then it has gradually gone upwards. We’ve got a very good relationship between the Senate and ourselves. I think the Senate is always on the defensive, trying to prove itself.

G McIntosh: That seems to come out very strongly, people I’ve spoken to, even people that work in the Senate Department they say they are so hectic over there, they are always trying to justify, they seem under threat.

A Browning: To justify their existence, yes.

G McIntosh: Yes.

A Browning: Well it’s been suggested to me recently, why aren’t we selling ourselves and taking a higher profile like the Senate offices are …

G McIntosh: Certainly Harry Evans does, doesn’t he.

A Browning: Yes. I said ‘Look, we don’t need to sell ourselves, the House sells itself, no problem at all’. This is the problem that the Senate has, it feels that it has to sell itself. I think the thing that hurts it most is that our House will get up on the 1st June the Senate will sit for another fortnight and it will hardly get any publicity what so ever, but they believe that by carrying on for that extra two or three weeks they will get that publicity that they deserve but it doesn’t happen. It must be pretty bad for them.

G McIntosh: Yes, certainly the media concentrate on the House. Are there any other areas where you think that parliament could be improved in its performance, for example, some people have suggested it should sit longer.

A Browning: Yes well, historically we haven’t found the need for this. The country to operate properly. Just the figures I’ve been going through, we’ve been very busy on this second edition of the House of Reps Practice, at the moment, been going for three years. I’ve been going through some of the Appendices, it’s been interesting to me, looking through the lists yesterday to find out, in terms of hours, we’re probably sitting longer now than we’ve ever sat. You can’t get away from the fact, a large country like Australia, members have to get back to their electorates, that’s the way Australia operates. I think it would make it easier on all of us if we sat more days. I don’t say necessarily say too many more hours, but as long as you don’t sit on days like Fridays where it would be a complete write-off as far as the House is concerned. The Senate goes along with this because it’s an extra day of sitting as far as they are concerned but really there is no constructive work done on a Friday.

Yes, I think we could probably sit a little bit longer than we do, four days. I would like to see the House sit up to about ninety days a year. I think that would take a lot of the strain off the place but this place can only operate as quickly as departments and the Parliamentary Council let it operate. I think the departments are pretty slow in what they do. There is always, historically been a tendency for people to rush their legislation in towards the end of various sittings, this doesn’t work these days in the same way.

G McIntosh: A lot of people have talked about the power of the bureaucracy, which I’ve included in my definition of the Executive, how powerful do you think they are? The Bureaucracy?

A Browning: I think they’re extremely powerful. You can’t get away from the fact that they’re not running the country. Yes, very, very powerful. But if you’re comparing that power with the power of the Houses, I think there’s been a bit of a turn back towards the parliament.

G McIntosh: Some people a few years ago were talking about the revival of parliament.

A Browning: I wonder what that means?

G McIntosh: Saying that parliament was getting back a bit more power from the Executive, a bit more scrutiny of the Executive. They were pointing to things, a lot of it was outside the parliament though, like Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Freedom of Information, Ombudsman, all those arms. I think probably came from acts of parliament but they are there for people to use to actually get into the Executive including the bureaucracy.

A Browning: Yes.

G McIntosh: So they’d see that as a revival, that’s more outside.

A Browning: Yes, that’s right, it does have that effect doesn’t it. It’s a good thing. I think in fact the days of the real power, folks like Wheeler, and Tange and Yeend these blokes, were pretty strong characters, they wielded a hell of a lot of power, those days have gone.

G McIntosh: Some people would say —who’s the head of the PMs office now?

A Browning: Codd

G McIntosh: Codd, he’s got enormous power.

A Browning: Yes, I’m sure he has, but fortunately they’re not second guessing the departments are they, to the extent that they were under Yeend where they had these areas, right throughout. They still do as far as the parliament is concerned, got an area there and they’re trying to second guess the parliament. I don’t know what kind of things are referred to them but major changes to Standing Orders for instance, would probably end up on their desks.

G McIntosh: Really.

A Browning: No, what expertise they’ve got on these matters I don’t know, probably very little, from my workings on it. So, I think 1989 we’re a lot better off vis-a-vis the Executive than we were in 1969.

G McIntosh: A lot of people have said that, but others have said the opposite. It’s really interesting to get the different perceptions. Some people have said this building will be the death of democracy as we know it and other people say it’s fantastic, a big improvement. So it’s just an enormous difference.

A Browning: But if they can — the British system is not much different to ours and if it works over there with the Executive out of the building, why can’t it work here with the Executive in the building.

G McIntosh: I think they were — not just the Executive part of it, it’s the size of the building and that sort of stuff and the dominance of party in particular, which is not probably as strong in Britain as it is here.

A Browning: It’s not, no nowhere near it.

G McIntosh: Most of the people that do that their main concern, apart from the increase in size, the main thing is, they see the party system as the thing that’s destroying parliament as an institution. They see the party system is overwhelmingly, that’s where all the action is, parliament is just the place where formalities are carried out. It’s the party that really determines what goes on.

A Browning: I suppose the most disturbing thing Greg that, from the point of view of an outsider, looking at it, is this build-up of factions, and the fact that you — this is the way that Ministries are formed and you’re going to get a lot of no-hopers.

G McIntosh: They are actually, in the process of changing that.

A Browning: That’s good.

G McIntosh: One of the senior Ministers said to me, that was one of the first things he said, he said, the factions are killing us.

A Browning: Yes, because you’re going to get second-raters onto the front bench and you don’t need it. There are lots of good people in the parliament who could be good Ministers, who are far superior to some of the people who are there at the moment.

G McIntosh: The good sign is, I think, some of the faction leaders I’ve spoken to have said they agree with that. I think they are working towards changing the selection process for Ministers and lessening the faction input, but whether anything comes out of it or not, but they are certainly aware of the problem.

A Browning: I’m not saying that the old system didn’t produce people on the front bench who weren’t any good, because it did produce that kind of person. There were lots of them in that 1973-75 period who weren’t worth feeding.

G McIntosh: Do you think the calibre of politicians overall is improving?

A Browning: Oh yes.

G McIntosh: Better education.

A Browning: Well they are better educated yes. I think they have improved out of sight, but you’re still not producing politicians who know anything about the parliamentary process.

G McIntosh: That is one thing I’ve expressed to a few people who have just asked me what I’m doing. When I’ve asked similar sort of questions to a lot of politicians I’ve been very surprised that they haven’t thought of parliament and it’s place in the scheme in things and it’s relation to the Executive. A lot of them tend to just be strong party hacks, if you like, or have the very strong constituency view. They see themselves as constituency ombudsman and very beholden to their party, that’s the only reason they’ve got there, but their parliamentary role, the third arm of what they’re on about, they don’t seem to have thought about it.

A Browning: No.

G McIntosh: They say to me, ‘Well look, I can’t really tell you much about it because I haven’t really thought about it’.

A Browning: Yes, one of the things — when we have these seminars for new members, one of the things I always say to them, is how most effective politicians have been those who have taken the time to learn something about how the place operates, look up the Standing Orders. I quote names. But even so there’s a lack of people coming forward with any great knowledge. I must say Kim Beazley, in my knowledge of leaders of the House, is probably the best we’ve ever seen. They talk about the Mick Youngs and the Fred Dalys, but Mick Young didn’t know anything about Standing Orders. Fred Daly didn’t know much either but he had a fair bit of political nous, well both of them did. They really didn’t have a great understanding except for some of the earlier ones like Eric Harrison was the first. He certainly knew how the House operated, but Ministers generally knew in those days how the place operated.

G McIntosh: I wonder if that does indicate that perhaps parliament as an institution is on the wane to some extent in this area, if the politicians who come in here, basically party people, and they don’t see it as important enough to find out how it works. They just see the Chamber itself as a formality. I wonder if that is an indicator of attitudes to the parliament?

A Browning: Yes, it could be, because — I think you’d find it interesting, as we found in 1978 when we had some PA consulting services came in to look at the department, the House of Representatives. They asked a number of members about the role of the clerks and they didn’t have any understanding of what we did at all. It wouldn’t be any different now.

G McIntosh: I wouldn’t be surprised, just from the people I’ve spoken to, in fact some of the oldest members I’ve spoken to have been the ones who seemed to have thought the least about the sort of issues we’ve been speaking about now. I’m surprised. If they came into parliament I would have thought they would have thought about that role and perhaps read a bit about it, but I think a lot haven’t done that, which is surprising.

A Browning: Perhaps they’ve got a better understand now that they’ve got the case in the House of Representatives Practice, but probably given them a bit of an indication of what clerks are all about, why we’re here, trying to organise the place. A very difficult place to organise.

G McIntosh: Yes, I’m sure it is. Anyway, I’ve taken enough of your time Alan, thanks very much.