I take the opportunity to make some comments in this debate. Concerning the process of the size and make-up of the NHMRC, in the committee process there were questions back and forth to try to understand exactly the science behind the reduction of numbers . I take it that the effect of this legislation will mean that there is going to be a reduction from 29 to 25. I was told, after a number of questions, that there was in fact no particular science in the numbers; that there was general agreement that there needed to be a reduction because there were feelings that too large a committee made it more difficult for people to come to any kind of decision.
Then we got into a debate about the skills that were inherent in the process. We were told by representatives from the department that it was expected that the range of skills that we were questioning would be picked up, in the various people that came forth, and these skills were inherent in the selection of the people who were going to come forth. That is not particularly comforting in terms of the process. I think it is important that there is an understanding and a transparency. It was my understanding that one of the major reasons for the blow-out in the numbers of the committee-and maybe the minister can confirm this-was the process whereby every chair of a committee was added to the core committee numbers, which meant that the numbers got larger and larger as it went through.
For the record-and also to have some discussion from the minister about the background to the process-just removing the limitation around various areas in itself does not make a strong committee. I think the need for expertise would be a greater argument in favour of an increase. But, again for the record, I reject totally this concentration, which was generated by the Uhrig report, on size being so important. This concentration on reducing size meaning that this will somehow be more effective is not to me the best argument for any kind of make-up of a committee.
Could we have some comment from the minister on the amendments that Senator Allison moved? Is there any science in the number of 25, which is now the make-up of the committee? Does that have any particular focus? What are the guarantees that the kinds of skills that were actually legislated for previously will be picked up? Senator McLucas has picked up the point that we could not even get on record in the committee process any argument about the role of trade unions.
10 May, 2006