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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3466

Senator PUPLICK(9.22) —For Senator Colston to tell us that one of the principal reasons that we should not refer a Bill to a committee is that it will cost $14,500 comes as an extraordinary statement, until he is prepared to tell us how much it cost to have the inquiry into whether his mate was to be allowed to broadcast Queensland racing details. That was the last stunt that was pulled by Senator Colston.

Senator Colston —I raise a point of order, Mr President. I submit that it was a direct reflection on my integrity to say that I proposed an inquiry to see whether my mate could broadcast racing in Queensland. It is an utter untruth that I did anything for anybody who was supposed to be my mate. I ask that that reflection be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask Senator Puplick to withdraw any imputation against Senator Colston contained in his statement under standing order 418.

Senator PUPLICK —I withdraw any imputation that Senator Colston would do anything for his mates.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask Senator Puplick to withdraw unreservedly.

Senator PUPLICK —Mr President, I withdraw. The question that I was raising, however, was whether Senator Colston is prepared to tell the Senate what was the cost of the last inquiry that his Committee, the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, undertook and to say whether in purely financial terms such an inquiry was justifiable on the basis on which he has said that the inquiry proposed by Senator Hamer's motion is not justifiable.

Senator Colston says that there was no consultation by Senator Hamer with him about this reference. Nevertheless, Senator Colston was informed, I understand by Senator Newman, that this matter was to be proceeded with. Apart from that, one clearly knows that the Australian Labor Party has adopted a principle in this chamber of seeking to ensure that no pieces of legislation are referred to committees if it can possibly avoid it because it does not want to have the Senate committee system operate as effectively as it should. As a result we know precisely what Senator Colston's attitude has been on this piece of legislation, and indeed on all other references.

It is absolutely appalling for Senator Colston to say that he cannot possibly call a meeting together. He said: `I cannot convene a quorum of members. I cannot manage my research assistants. I cannot manage the secretariat. I cannot call meetings. I cannot place advertisements in the Press'. It breaks one's heart to hear this endless litany of Senator Colston's incompetence as Chairman of one of the Senate standing committees. He said: `We cannot possibly do this. We might take until early February'. If one looks at the Notice Paper, one sees that the reporting date is not until 15 March. So even if his concern was that he did not want to interrupt his Christmas holidays to attend to his Senate duties, he at least would be able to do it after the Parliament had resumed in February.

He tells us that one cannot possibly have things camera-ready, that it takes forever to get them printed. The Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, which is chaired with great skill and great ability by his colleague Senator Tate, who undoubtedly could give him some lessons in this matter, managed yesterday to produce two reports-one on the annual report of the High Court of Australia and one on the special reports of the Commonwealth Ombudsman into the Cotton case and the Industrial Sugar Mills case. It took less than 24 hours to produce them, by the time they were typed up. They were tabled in this Parliament without any difficulty. I suggest that what we ought to be looking at is getting somebody to chair the Standing Committee on Education and the Arts who is actually competent enough to do the job.

As far as the actual matter is concerned, Senator Colston says that there is no controversy. I presume that he has not bothered to look at any of the discussions which went on during Estimates Committee D hearings over a number of months on this matter. The director of the proposed maritime museum appeared before that Committee. There were a number of points of controversy about the museum regarding its planning, its legislation, its integration with the Pigott Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections, about how it fits within the Government's overall scheme for the Stockman's Hall of Fame, the proposed aviation museum, the Museum of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive. There are questions about its acquisition powers and the structure of the board. Some of us who are actually interested in these matters have discussed them with Mr Dix and Mr Sergi, the Interim Director of the proposed maritime museum, have had a look at what is happening on the site and have taken a real interest in this matter. Questions have arisen, but Senator Colston says: `This is not a matter of controversy. Of course, at the same time, I must tell the Senate that it has never been debated. Therefore, I know that it is not a matter of controversy on the basis that it has never been debated or discussed. But I think I can make that assumption despite the fact that evidence heard by Estimates Committee D is quite to the contrary'.

Full notice of the motion moved by Senator Hamer was given yesterday. If Senator Colston was genuinely concerned as to whether or not there was controversy about the Australian National Maritime Museum Bill, he could have taken the time, if he was seriously interested in the matter, to look at what occurred during Estimates Committee D hearings, the debate which took place in the House of Representatives, and a number of other matters. He would have seen that there are certainly points within this inquiry which it would be worthwhile for the Senate Committee to look at, particularly within the overall framework of the Pigott inquiry and the fact that the date of 15 March gives him a full month to conduct what one would suspect would be a fairly brief committee hearing, and it could take place at any time after the Parliament resumes in February. The limited number of Bills which Senator Hamer has moved to have referred to committees indicates the extent to which Senator Hamer in his motion was simply prepared to analyse the significant pieces of legislation which might be looked at, so that the so-called `unintended consequences' could be examined by the Senate committees with fairly short reporting dates, as a method of making effective use of the Standing committees' need to examine legislation, which is one of the purposes for which they have been established.

There is absolutely no basis for putting a case in this chamber for Senator Colston or anyone else to say `Please don't refer these Bills to the Committee. I admit to all of my colleagues in the Senate that I, as Chairman of the Committee, am too incompetent to handle the reference. Don't put me under any pressure. Don't expose me any further on this matter, because for heaven's sake, one of the groups of people who might end up learning something about this will be my own preselection committee. The more they know about my capacities in this place, the less likely they are to re-endorse me', and how right he is.