Interview with Gary Nehl, National Party backbencher, Thursday 25 May, 1989.
Greg McIntosh recorded this interview with Gary Nehl, National Party backbencher, on Thursday 25 May, 1989
G McIntosh: Interview with Gary Nehl, National Party backbencher. Thursday May the 25th, 1989.
I just want to briefly cover three areas with you that were in the survey and just flesh them out briefly — the first one is just your general view on the parliament-executive relationship as it is — how you see it, what you think it should be.
G Nehl: Well I think there’s got to be more communication, got to be more contact. The prime minister comes into Question Time, that’s the only time virtually that he’s in the House unless there’s a division or a censure or something like that. He comes in for the vote — that’ s just using him as an example — and I understand that the pressures and the demands on his time are more than everybody else’s, but it seems to that the change from the old House — well and I’ll stay on the prime minister — in the old House, I was always seeing him, in the corridors, walking here, going — whatever. It just doesn’t happen anymore, and you could always, in that circumstance, in terms of communication, in terms of doing your job of representing your constituents, you could seize the opportunity of just a fifteen second, ‘something I need to talk to you about’, and he’d say ‘okay, ring Joe or Floe or Boe’ or whatever — that never happens anymore.
And to try and make contact through the barrage of the minders is very difficult. And to a lesser degree it is the same with other ministers, with the other members of the executive. In the old place, because of the cramped conditions, there was no difficulty to go and knock on somebody’s door and go in and — with exceptions of course, you’d be able to have a personal interview. In the time that I’ve been in this place since last August, I’ve seen Clyde Holding in his office.
G McIntosh: Are you saying that it’s just harder to get to them now because of the sheer size of the place?
G Nehl: Yeah and the time and the remoteness as well. The environment has an inhibiting — because you’re not going passed, and you can’t — you don’t duck your head in the door and say ‘any chance of seeing Ben Humphreys?’ And you could do that in the old place.
G McIntosh: Yes. Do you think that’ll mean that the executive will become more remote and more dominant than they are now?
G Nehl: I think so, yes I do.
G McIntosh: And just in general terms, including the old House, how dominant — I mean most people would agree that the executive has got to govern, but…
G Nehl: Of course, certainly…
G McIntosh: But has the parliament as such got enough weapons in its armoury to be able to scrutinise the executive adequately in 1989? Can the parliament do it, is it asking the parliament too much?
G Nehl: It brings in a whole range of things — I’m parliamentary secretary to Charles Blunt and of the things that I’m doing right at the moment, is to sort out all of the various committees that members of the National Party are involved in. And that is the Joint committees, the House of Reps Standing, the Senate Select Estimates, Coalition committees, policy communities and other activities, and then National Party activities as such — and it’s absolutely incredible, and I think that there are just too many — I even take the view that what the government is doing in establishing so many committees is because they have more people to spread among them, is that this is particularly relevant to…
G McIntosh: Yes it is, a committee system is important.
G Nehl: But I think that in reality what is happening is that the government is seeking to tie up backbenchers in particular in so many ruddy committees that their effectiveness is reduced.
G McIntosh: A lot of people have said that one way in which the parliament can fight back, if you like, to get the executive more on its toes, is by the committee system — now you were saying that the committee system is overstretched now?
G Nehl: Yes, I’m in favour of the committee system.
G McIntosh: Certainly a lot of Senators have said that about the Senate…
G Nehl: But in my own case I’m on the Joint Publications committee — I never get it. They meet at 8 o’clock in the morning and I take the view that I’m going to leave home no earlier than 8 o’clock. And when you’re getting up at twelve and two and whatever — I’m probably wrong, but I’ve been to one or two meetings since this parliament was established, was elected, and in a fit or responsibility I came down for two days of public hearings to try and make a contribution. But I don’t get to that weekly meeting 8 o’clock on a Thursday morning. I’m also on the Public Accounts committee, I’ve been there ever since I was elected, that’s fairly demanding — I’ve been heavily involved in a number of the public enquiries into defence project management.
G McIntosh: How effective is that as a scrutiny of executive activity?
G Nehl: I think Public Accounts is one of the most important committees in terms of the relationship with the parliament and the executive, the government.
G McIntosh: I noticed in that last report that they wanted the auditor-general to be part of the parliament, to make it more answerable.
G Nehl: Yeah, indeed. And if look at that report — you look at quite a number of things that the Public Accounts committee has done — I’m a member of it and I preface what I’m going to say by saying that — but I’m a fan of Public Accounts, and in some ways I’d like to get off because I’ve just got too much, but I am a great admirer of what Public Accounts has done. I look at things like defence project management, which has made major changes in the way the Defence Department is running — and as well that report on the auditor-general is — I think is very important and I think every member of this parliament should read it and read it again, there are a lot of very significant things in there.
So yes — and I’m on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I’ve been part of the south-pacific sub-committee, we’ve just finished up a report on that. I’m on the Papua New Guinea sub-committee, the Defence sub-committee, and of course Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has such a flow through of people, there’s hardly a sitting day that goes by, that you don’t have one or two, or even three meetings because you’ve got outgoing, ingoing ambassadors, high commissioners of our own — and it’s wonderful, it really is — who report and brief and then you have meeting with the ambassadors who are resident here from other countries, and it’s quite enormous.
I’ve also just been put on the Joint committee of the tenure of the appointees to government tribunal, which I didn’t want to do, but somebody has got to do it. And so let me be quite clear, I believe that the committee system is excellent, but there are too many of them, far too many — and you’ve got duplication.
G McIntosh: Perhaps it should be streamlined…
G Nehl: I think it should be streamline. [rustles paper] um, ‘Parliamentary Committees’, so you’ve got Public Accounts, but you’ve also got I think a House of Reps one: Finance and Public Administration.
G McIntosh: Well there’s eight in the Senate and eight in the Reps that mirror each other exactly…
G Nehl: Yes I think it’s total duplication, if you had the most — a joint committee — and I think there’s duplication as a set of that one I just picked up — Finance and Public Administration — I know there’s a Finance Department, but I think that perhaps could be.
G McIntosh: I think you find that the Senate particularly are worried about their status and whatever — they’re worried that joint committees would water down and dilute their power, I think that would be a big problem.
G Nehl: Yes well I think you’re probably right. And I’m going to have to go very quickly — Karen! Karen!
Karen: Yes Gary.
G Nehl: Could you please find out for me where David Connoley’s office is? In other words, not just the address or the RG or whatever the number is — but where it is, do I go upstairs, that way or that way — thanks.
G McIntosh: If I could just raise one last quick thing with you, what sorts of things do you think are needed for the parliament to better scrutinise the executive — what sorts of things do you think would make this place work, just very quickly. Make it work better?
G Nehl: It’s very difficult just on the spur of the moment…
G McIntosh: Do you think members have got enough staff for instance to be able to spend time on the legislation and to scrutinise.
G Nehl: No — well I can recall — I was elected in December ’84, we passed 91 bills in the first session, the 34th parliament — I never read them. I spoke on some, but yeah the whole point that…
G McIntosh: And can we expect the ordinary backbenchers to scrutinise when that sort of amount of legislation is going through and you’ve got your constituency role and your party role?
G Nehl: It’s totally impossible, totally impossible. And I’ve had some constituents here in the last few days and I’ve made the comment to them that at a time when we should be reading more than — and I’m reading less and less, because there’s just no time. And if you look at my board out there, I’ll pull out my diary — that’s this week…
G McIntosh: Not much free time there.
G Nehl: You’re just running from one meeting to another, all the time. There’s no time — I haven’t even looked at today’s papers, mind you I didn’t get in here until about quarter to nine, but then as deputy National Party whip, and acting whip at that time, I’ve [INAUDIBLE] to make sure it’s right for that, that went through at 10, into the House for prayers, back here to see you, a meeting at 10:15 — because I’m chairman for taskforce on the age for coalition. I’ve also got at 10 o’clock I should be at a Public Accounts committee meeting, and so it goes.
G McIntosh: Well that makes it very difficult then if we talk of ‘parliamentarians’ and if we look at a classic textbook or pamphlet on parliament, you’re here to legislate, you’re here to scrutinise the executive — very difficult to do isn’t it, given all that?
G Nehl: It just can’t happen — and the other thing is the — in terms of staff, I once a few years ago I looked at it — in terms of a — on a population pro rata basis, compared to the United States, I think we would have six staff members each, just on a pure, per capita basis. And you’ve got three, mine are all based in Coffs Harbour, got one here of course who is media and research, who is flat out — one who is receptionist, telephonist, typist, computer operator and my electoral secretary is my right hand man, there’ my delegate who runs the check books — you know, she never gets out of my offices in Coffs Harbour until half past six or seven o’clock every night, never — well ‘never’ is wrong but — and we never, ever catch up, and the role of being an ombudsmen, the role of being a social worker, the role of being an immigration advisor…
G McIntosh: Well we’re asking too much probably of our elected politicians aren’t we — they’re trying to do too much, from ombudsmen to party and parliamentarian…
G Nehl: I have no doubt about it, and the thing is that your relationships with the electorate — I’ve got to go, but I’d like to continue talking if you’d like to continue talking.
G McIntosh: Yeah, yeah, well what say we — I’ll just turn…
Greg McIntosh recorded this second interview with Gary Nehl, National Party, at Parliament House, Canberra on Wednesday, 31 May, 1989.
G McIntosh: Second interview with Gary Nehl, National Party. Parliament House, Canberra. Wednesday, May the 31st, 1989.
I think we were talking about the sheer size of the job, and whether there are in fact — we were talking about constituent concerns, party concerns, all those sort of things — whether in fact parliament, are we expecting too much of parliament to be able to hold the executive to account? I think you were basically saying yes…
G Nehl: The short answer is yes. Very definitely, because — well here’s my diary for this week, it’s crazy.
G McIntosh: Well who — ultimately then, who does keep an eye on the executive? The textbooks say it’s parliament, but if parliament can’t do it, who in our system is — I mean there’s nearly half a million Commonwealth public servants…
G Nehl: Well nobody does, apart from a little bit, the parliament does. And I’m — as I probably told you, my problem is all the committees and — I’ve got Public Accounts, and I’ve possible spoken about this is an earlier talk but the report put in by the Public Accounts committee as a result of the auditor-general’s — I thought was excellent. And so I wasn’t part of that particular enquiry, or that particular sectional group, but I’ve just been — is it today, I’ve been to the first meeting — yes — to another parliamentary committee this morning which is the Industry, Science, and Technology — no I haven’t, the meeting’s tomorrow, I had a briefing from the secretary, I must have been…
G McIntosh: Is this one of the new, general purpose committees they set up in ’87?
G Nehl: Yes, it’s a House of Reps Standing committee, and…
G McIntosh: Is that — are you engage in those committees in scrutiny — obviously legislation doesn’t got to them — or are you engage in a long, long term issue…
G Nehl: Well here’s a couple — it’s Mine Countermeasure, here’s Personal Wasteage — this is from the Defence sub-committees of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade — the IST, which is the one I just had a briefing on this morning, is looking at investment — I forget the exact title of it, I’ve only seen it once and haven’t committed it to memory — but it’s to do with the investment in the North-West Shelf project, so you’re looking at a whole range of things…
G McIntosh: You’re basically looking at things down the track, you’re not looking at what the executive is doing now?
G Nehl: No, no.
G McIntosh: It’s not scrutiny.
G Nehl: Not at all.
G McIntosh: Its issues…
G Nehl: And who knows, you might pick something up — some people, in all parties — and I think that there’s a pretty fair spread across all party lines that members think that the executive — and this is even from Labor Party people — that the executive should be scrutinised.
G McIntosh: Oh Labor people have said that just as strongly as Opposition people.
G Nehl: And you see it coming through, and I think this is one of the good things about our committee system, is that by and large you do get a very bipartisan approach, and people are there — with some exceptions — they’re not there to score points.
G McIntosh: Do you think though that — talking about the scrutiny and how big it is — do you think that some of the committees, rather than this long term stuff, they should be looking at what’s happening now in legislation — legislative committees?
G Nehl: No, well the parties do that — in terms of current legislation, I know the Senate’s got a review, or scrutiny of bills committee or did have at the time I was still in that House…
G McIntosh: Yes, still there.
G Nehl: Still there, which obviously does that in greater detail. But theoretically the parties, in this place, in the House of Reps have the obligation, and they do — the shadow ministers go through — you’ve got backbench policy committees — I’m chairman of our Business, Industry and Science one, and we look at legislation coming through.
G McIntosh: I just wonder how effective that is, I mean I’ve had shadow ministers who say that if they’re lucky they get one extra staff member…
G Nehl: That’s right.
G McIntosh: They sometimes get five or six hours’ notice from the minister, of massive legislation.
G Nehl: That’s right.
G McIntosh: Neil Brown for instance saying ‘Barwon drops’ — or John Moore — 280 amendments that he needs to be up on top of by first thing in the morning, and this sort of thing. And that’s the shadow minister that should be on top of it, what hope does a backbencher got with stacks of legislation coming in all the time…
G Nehl: None whatsoever.
G McIntosh: So through the parties then, we can’t really rely on that either from a legislative perspective.
G Nehl: No, we can’t. But that’s where it should be taking place, but of course the time restraints that are imposed sometimes — and of course the number of extra staff — I don’t have enough staff, just as a backbencher, I really don’t. Not to service that electorate as I would want to service it in terms of the demands that we have. And I’m sure that I said that in the earlier talk, that you’re an ombudsmen, consultant on immigration, and social security and all the rest of it.
G McIntosh: You mentioned before about the Public Accounts one, which got some publicity recently and the one that Rob Tickner’s chair of, and I saw in the paper there that two-thirds of the departments had failed to comply with the annual report guidelines — now that to me two-thirds is an astounding number, does that indicate a disregard for parliament by the bureaucracy?
G Nehl: I don’t know whether particular or specific thing indicates that, but I would accept the general premise — I think the bureaucracy disregards parliament. Apart from that I just can’t produce evidence. I think that parliament is regarded as a bit of a nuisance.
G McIntosh: Well I just wonder what sorts of things could be done to make it work better?
G Nehl: I don’t know, I haven’t got time to thing. And I say that quite seriously and quite sincerely, and again I just looked at my diary and I’ve got — if you just look over the next few days, I’ve got John Stone coming for three functions over the weekend, he arrives Saturday morning, do some media. We’ve got a dinner in Nambucca Heads, a breakfast at my home on the Sunday morning, a garden party down south of Kempsey on the Sunday afternoon, I go back to Coffs Harbour a 21st birthday. In the office, then Kempsey Monday night, Port Macquarie in the morning of the Tuesday to deliver a speech on defence to the Air Force Association, show slides on China to Stuart’s Point senior citizens on Wednesday. Get to Canberra that night, go on a Tasman Link fire demonstration in [INAUDIBLE], get back to Coffs at night, speak to Probus Friday. Of course even for instance when there’s just one entry for that day so far, you’ve got four hours driving for a start.
G McIntosh: Well I wonder if that’s case then, if we should be looking outside parliament for the scrutiny. Like freedom of information, ombudsmen, administrative review tribunals, the auditor-general which I think your committee is trying to get in to the parliament — are we relying more and more on extra-parliamentary scrutiny?
G Nehl: Well we’re not reliant, because it’s not there. Perhaps we should have those things as you say, I don’t know. One of my things that really eats me is that it’s very difficult to be a parliamentarian, time and time again you go into that chamber when the division bell rings, and people on all sides of all parties are saying ‘what are we voting on?’, ‘I don’t have a bloody clue’. And while I don’t suggest that we should all have to follow what’s going on, every second, every word, every speech — I prefer to be more aware, and in fact I’ve found that I find out what’s happened in the House of Reps today by looking at the Australian or the Herald tomorrow.
G McIntosh: So constituency concerns, your party concerns and all the other stuff that goes with it really detracts…
G Nehl: Party is the least of it, in my terms anyway.
G McIntosh: But with all that, your parliamentary role as a parliamentarian and the things that theoretically parliaments should do, it’s just so difficult to do.
G Nehl: It’s well-nigh impossible to do, it really is.
G McIntosh: Well just if we can move onto another area, I don’t think we got up to it last time — your views on the new building, whether you think it will make any difference.
G Nehl: I think — we may have spoken about it — I think it makes it harder — I’m sure we spoke about it because I said, I made that the point that in the old place you were far more often to see the prime minister or anybody in the corridors, so ‘can I see you about such and such?’ And get that personal contact, or you just knock on — going passed, put your head in the door, there’s Peter Morris there, his front desk lady is Sheila, ‘Sheila, any chance for a word with Peter’, Sheila replies such and such — that doesn’t happen, you’ve got to make an expedition.
G McIntosh: And that will make the executive more powerful I guess?
G Nehl: Yeah, of course.
G McIntosh: Well another area I’m not sure if I rose or not — party discipline. Did we talk about that?
G Nehl: No I don’t think you did.
G McIntosh: That’s one of the reasons held up as to why the executive is so powerful, particularly in the House of Representatives, where the executive knows that they can always get it through because they can crack the whip — the numbers come through. A lot of people I’ve spoken to have different views on it, but most people agree that we’ve got probably the tightest discipline in comparable countries. Do you think there is a need, or an argument for lessening the discipline?
G Nehl: Well I think it varies, depending on which side of the House you sit on, and whether you’re in government or opposition. Certainly it’s much easier to relax in opposition than in government. If you’re in government you’ve got to maintain the numbers all the time and you can’t allow — and certainly, Labor — although Labor’s relaxed, Graeme Campbell.
G McIntosh: Yeah his punishment seemed a lot less than I thought it would be.
G Nehl: Yeah, you’d expect him to get what George Georges got in the out. Or if you go back ten years ago, there wouldn’t be any debate or discussion, you would have been expelled straight away. On our side there’s certainly more freedom, and we’ve seen the Ruddocks and the Puplicks cross the floor just this year, and not vote strictly according to the party line. Whether that would happen in government, I don’t know.
I would hope that the possibility would be there, but I don’t know just how it works in the Labor Party here, but I know for instance in New Zealand — and I’m not quoting the exact figures, but it’s sort of — they’ve got about 48 or 52, something like that, and they’ve got just 3 less than a majority in the Cabinet, so all they’ve got to do is get three of the backbench, and they’ve got the numbers for whatever Cabinet — so you’ve got 25 in Cabinet, so all you need in the Cabinet is 13, that gives you the numbers and then you need Cabinet solidarity then imposes that decision, and you need 3 backbenchers — so in the New Zealand case 16 people run and control the whole camp — I think that’s a pretty fair analogy. How it applies here I haven’t worked out, but certainly in the New Zealand Labour Party that they’ve got now, it’s true.
G McIntosh: Would you ever — if you felt strongly about an issue, would you hesitate to cross the floor if it went against your party?
G Nehl: No, given the right issue I would cross the floor, yes. Knowing that I have the opportunity of doing that. Go back to old Davey Drummond, you probably don’t…
G McIntosh: No I don’t.
G Nehl: Who was member for New England before Ian Sinclair and a former Minister for Education in the state government, incidental in establishing the Armidale Teachers’ College and a university college. And Davey Drummond came here, and I recall him crossing the floor. I guess with my mob, if you did it too often, people would say ‘hey, are you sure you still want to be part of the National Party?’
But it can happen, and it happened with the wheat thing, Evan Adam and Clarrie Millar, Peter Fisher. And nobody holds it against them, we accept that it was important to them — I think that if we were in government and it meant that the government was defeated, I think you’d have an issue.
G McIntosh: Would it make any difference in government if they weren’t defeated? Would that matter — and even if they were — would that really matter? If — assuming it’s not a financial bill, would it matter if a government got rolled occasionally?
G Nehl: Well the next division it would be alright again wouldn’t it? But I don’t know, has that ever happened?
G McIntosh: I don’t think the government has — although Kathy Sullivan did tell me this morning that she thought that in ’61, ’63 when Menzies only had a majority of one, a couple of times they got rolled on the floor — I’m not sure what issues or whatever.
G Nehl: So they were defeated on that issue, rather than being defeated as a government?
G McIntosh: Oh yes, defeated on an issue, and obviously you wouldn’t vote to defeat your government. If the government fell — but would it matter if you crossed the floor and the government lost a few here and there?
G Nehl: Well my straight forward answer is no, it wouldn’t matter. I’m sure that the party organisation and the Party Room and the executive would think — whichever party was in at the time — that it would be extremely important. But to me personally, no I wouldn’t. I would see that as a benefit and an extension of our democracy.
G McIntosh: Do you think that discipline will ever be lessened in Australia?
G Nehl: No I don’t.
G McIntosh: Seems to be the same answer. Seems very strong and here to stay. Well another area I’m not sure if we covered or not, is the role of the Senate. Have you got a view on the importance of the Senate in the parliamentary system?
G Nehl: Yes I think the Senate is absolutely vital, and talking about it in my electorate I’ll give three examples, even since I’ve been here. And I point to the Veterans’ Affairs bill, which in ’86 the government slashed to pieces and presented a completely new ball game while Gietzelt the minister was out of the country even. And it was the Senate that put the Sunset clause in, which allowed veterans facilities and services to be reinstated.
That was ’86 and ’87, sorry that was ’85. And — what was it, I’m getting tired — but anyway, one year. The next year we had the Bill of Rights where the action of the Senate stopped it, and then we had the identity card, and again the Senate — and if the Senate did nothing else from federation until now, but stopped the identity and the Bill of Rights and the Veterans’ Affairs, it’s worth all its pay in 90 years.
G McIntosh: Where do you actually draw the line between — so a government that gets elected in the lower House, it’s got the numbers there, it’s where governments are made — what is the appropriate role for the Senate, I mean how far can it go?
G Nehl: I think only budget bills should go through, should not be stopped.
G McIntosh: But apart from that, it’s reasonable to…
G Nehl: I think it’s fair game. It is the House of review, and I know that when we get back into government, we are probably not going to have control of the Senate.
G McIntosh: I don’t think anyone will.
G Nehl: But as far as I’m concerned, tough titty. We will have to wear it in government as well as benefitting of it in opposition, because it’s in the interest of the people of Australia. I’m sounding as if I’m pontificating on my soap box, but I really do believe that.
G McIntosh: No, no that’s alright. Well I’ve raised that issue with some of the ministers I’ve spoken to too, and — what you or I might see as scrutiny, someone else would see it as obstruction.
G Nehl: Bloody minded obstruction.
G McIntosh: It’s difficult to always do that, but the minister I spoke to last night said — I said ‘do you see any legitimate scrutiny going on in the Senate?’, and he said ‘no, it’s 100 per cent political, the scrutiny is not necessarily for the good of the people or for legitimate scrutiny, it’s seen to score points off the government in the hope that we can win the next election.’ Now what would you comment of that?
G Nehl: Well I suppose it could be true…
G McIntosh: Given that parties are so important in this building…
G Nehl: I guess it certainly could be true, I’d like to hope that it wasn’t.
G McIntosh: I mean obviously there’d be times when the governments don’t have the numbers there, and there’s a party — the opposition that is determined in getting into government, if they continue to embarrass, embarrass, embarrass, they’re not doing it for the good of the veterans or for the good of pensioners or whatever, they’re doing it just to be obstructionist.
G Nehl: I suppose the reality is that it’s got to be a bit of a mix, and certainly there is some point scoring, just as there is over here. But I think that without having the opportunity or the time to make any sort of analysis of it — just the gut reaction of it — the amendments put forward by the Senate by and large, are…
G McIntosh: Well I must say quite a few Labor people have agreed with that view too.
G Nehl:…well I think too that, while I haven’t actually been — I would like to go and sit in on some Senate Estimates committee hearings, I’ve never once done it, but I believe from what I’ve heard that the work done on the Estimates committees can be very, very useful. I think for instance that if you just look at the Aboriginal one last year — while I’m sure Charles Perkins doesn’t think so, and Gerry Hand doesn’t think so — a lot of the searching and probing there, while not very pleasant for some people — but you’ve got to have thick hides, I don’t know if you saw what some bloke wrote about me in the Australian this morning.
G McIntosh: I did actually, about Question Time yesterday.
G Nehl: Which I think was totally unfair.
G McIntosh: It was Bill Gough I think. I know Bill, he used to work for Dawkins, and before that AAP. He’s a reasonable sort of a fellow actually.
G Nehl: But I think it was a bit unfair and unkind — but that’s beside the point, it proves the point that you’ve got to have a thick hide. And for instance Hand I think has performed very well, under a great deal of attack.
G McIntosh: He certainly genuinely has got the interests of the Aboriginals at heart, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s a difficult job.
G Nehl: Bugger of a job. But I still think that, leaving all that aside, the work that was done there for political point scoring if you like, did do some good and it did expose things that needed to be exposed.
G McIntosh: Certainly a lot of shortcomings in our bureaucracy there wasn’t it. But again a lot of people I’ve spoken to, that one’s come up again and they say ‘it’s political grandstanding by the Chaplain — no…
G Nehl: Tambling.
G McIntosh: Tambling and those sort of people, other people have said ‘no, it’s legitimate scrutiny’ and probably the answer is that it’s a mixture of the two. Just on Question Time then, that’s one I’ve asked a lot of people, and that’s the one that gets a lot of media coverage — do you think that Question Time could be improved?
G Nehl: Yes I think that there should be a limited time for ministers answering questions. You probably get a unified or united opposition…
[to assistant] oh thanks.
A unified opposition comment, but I honestly believe that it’s treated — even today, a few statements were made, not just answer to questions, and I think there should be a time limit on questions, and if there’ s not sufficient time for the minister to say what he wants, he should make a supplementary statement after Question Time.
G McIntosh: One of the minsters I’ve spoken to has said that it’s a waste of time Question Time. As a scrutiny function, it’s just a joke, and he would like to see the British system where they’re rostered on — prime minister’s on every second Friday, whatever — and you actually can get really stuck into supplementaries. Would you agree with that?
G Nehl: I don’t know about the rostering on, I think that’s one way for — no I think the ministers should be there, but the supplementaries? Yes, I think there should be the opportunity for supplementary questions.
G McIntosh: Where’s the fault line at the moment? Is it…
G Nehl: Well what prompted me with that interjection yesterday was that the Prime Minister’s answer — and I’ve looked at it since was a load of nonsense in reference to the question, and we have a track record in recent years of ministers technical, deliberately not answering questions. I personally would far prefer to have the answer that you can occasionally go ‘I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that, I’ll contact my department, I’ll get it for you and let you know later today’ — whereas to stand up and just bumble and carry on with a load of bull, with political point scoring — I think there’s a great scope for change in Question Time.
G McIntosh: What about the role and power of the Speaker? It’s obviously an office creature of the executive, should they be more independent?
G Nehl: I think they should be much more independent. I think in the British system the Speaker doesn’t go to party meetings. I think they should do that here, should be divorced from the party organisation.
G McIntosh: A lot of people agree with that too.
G Nehl: I think the role of the Speaker is a very, very difficult one and I certainly have a lot of admirations — I won’t be more critical than that but there are a lot of admirations and I can understand why there would be. But I — yeah as a specific thing I definitely believe that the Speaker shouldn’t — once elected Speaker should be independent of the party.
G McIntosh: Okay we might finish there because I know you’ve got to…