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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2276

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(9.34) —Senator MacGibbon is entitled to make whatever points he wants to in this debate about defence personnel and their flying hours, training and so on, but he is not entitled to complain about the quality or quantity of information he was given. The reality of the matter is that every question asked by Senator MacGibbon on this subject was answered frankly and straightforwardly, before Estimates Committee E or it was taken on notice and answered in writing subsequently in the documentation which appears as a supplementary volume of the report of the Committee. There was no complaint in the report of the Committee about the character, quality or insufficiency of the answers that were given. Senator MacGibbon is, like Senator Kilgariff, pursuing some extravagant private vendetta of his own and I believe it is inappropriate for him to further occupy the time of the Senate in pursuing it.

As to the question of some of the information about flying hours for particular types of aircraft possibly being withheld from him, the reality of the matter is, as I am advised, that this is classified information in the degree of detail which Senator MacGibbon sought. It may well be that Senator MacGibbon can and should argue that information of this kind should not be classified. It may be that he can build a reasonable argument based on precedent and practice elsewhere, as he has sought to do tonight, but it is a big step from there to suggest that he was being actively misled by the defence personnel involved, either personally or in writing, when a suggestion of this kind was made to him. It is quite wrong of him to suggest, in effect, that he was being lied to on this matter, and I believe it is appropriate that he apologise to the chamber for the imputations he has just made about the character of the defence personnel involved.

I can add nothing more as to the particular details sought by Senator MacGibbon. I have endeavoured to be co-operative in my representative role, so far as the Minister for Defence is concerned. I will continue to be co-operative when honourable senators seek information that is reasonable and in the public interest, and certainly the Estimates committee proceedings are an appropriate avenue to seek such information to the extent that it can be granted. I do not believe that the kind of performance we have had here tonight is in any way justified by the facts of the proceedings before this particular Committee.

Senator MacGibbon —Did I understand the Minister to say that I implied that the Department had lied?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Yes. In saying that you were told by a departmental officer that it is classified information, and in putting to the chamber that that could not be the case, you were making clearly such an imputation and I believe it ought to be withdrawn and an apology ought to be tendered.