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Tuesday, 18 November 1986
Page: 2410

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(5.47) —I want to mention a couple of matters concerning the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations mainly relating to the refusal of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) to co-operate with the Opposition in providing information about the community employment program. He may well feel justified in doing so because he does not like the activities of the Waste Watch Committee, but it is most disheartening that the Opposition is being deprived of public information on the community employment program to which, I believe, it has every right to have access.

The Committee is well aware that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives has been having a running battle with the Department over the provision of a simple computer printout of programs that have been approved under this scheme, how they have proceeded, and so on. The information is available. We received printouts until November 1984. Since then we have received nothing. There has been a battle with the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) about whether the Opposition should pay $400 for the latest printout request. I understand that that matter is going to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I say this in the context of departmental officers advising me on the telephone that they have been instructed not to answer questions from me as chairman of the Waste Watch Committee, as a senator from New South Wales, or under whatever hat I am asking the questions, and that all requests for information of this kind should go to the Minister's office. These are requests for public information-information available in most instances in Press releases, I understand.

Whether the information is public, it is of a public interest nature and should be provided readily and speedily to the Opposition. If we are forced to ask specific questions-as I did, and I have a response to a specific question here today-this would no doubt involve the expense of digging out material from the large computer printouts. I assure the Minister that if he wants to avoid that expense all he needs to do is run through the total computer printout of all the grants made and we will happily do all the work-provided it is made available to us. As an example of the problem, because we are not able to do this work and are being denied this information by a government that allegedly believes in open government-we are being refused the opportunity to see what happens to the money granted under the CEP-we have to ask individual and specific questions.

For example, I asked Senator Peter Walsh representing Ralph Willis, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, in the Senate back on 27 May the total funding for the arts through the community employment program over the past two years. That question of 27 May was answered on 3 October by Mr Willis in these terms:

As at 29 May 1986, 697 projects were recorded on CEP Management Information System as being arts-related. These projects have been approved for CEP funding of $34.43m towards total project costs of $43.35m to create 3,227 jobs.

That is not an insignificant amount. The second point is that that is totally inadequate information. We do not know for how long those jobs have been created. We do not know what the cost per week per job is. We do not know about the other elements. For example, how many capital assets have been bought to assist those projects-capital assets that remain the property of the sponsoring body? We are not told that. We are not entitled to know that. We are only members of parliament-senators or members of the House of Representatives. How dare we seek to get information relating to how $34m is being spent. The interesting final point in the reply from Mr Willis was that he said:

The details sought on each these projects would require a substantial commitment of time and resources to compile, and I am not prepared to authorise the substantial expenditure which would be required to provide such a detailed answer.

Great, we should not do it, he should just give us the basic material and we will do the work for him, if the Government is not prepared to do it, if it is so determined to keep this material secret, to put every obstacle it can in our way. It is absolutely disgraceful that it behaves in this way on this matter. I would be very grateful to hear what the Minister for Community Services thinks about it.