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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3998

Senator CONROY —My question is directed to Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Has the minister's attention been drawn to a report on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald of 20 May which quoted a senior government source as saying that the report of the inquiry into the lost generation lacked credibility? Will you condemn both the pre-empting of the report in this manner and the pre-empting of the government's response to the report? Have you identified the senior government source quoted? If so, what action have you taken in this matter? If not, why not? Is this not just another sorry example of you, the responsible minister, being bypassed?

Senator HERRON —In relation to that question, yes I did see that report.

Senator Robert Ray —It is not you, because you are not senior.

Senator HERRON —I am pleased to see that Senator Ray is alive, so I acknowledge that interjection. He is there after all; he is not missing.

Senator Alston —A rostered year off.

Senator HERRON —Yes, a rostered year off. He is not doing too good a job because they are still as bad as they were previously. There have been many comments and reports. It is a bit of a shame that this report is being treated in the manner in which it is, because it is a very significant report. The printed copies, as you know, were unavailable until budget week. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission leaked the report beforehand. That is on the record, too. Is the senator aware of that? It was leaked beforehand and all sorts of things came out of that leak.

Unfortunately, they have broken parliamentary privilege—and Senator Faulkner would be aware of that—because it was commented on and released to the media. The normal consequence and sequence is that reports are needed to be tabled in the parliament. That report was not tabled in the parliament. It was released to the media and then all sorts of things occurred, which I certainly could not reply to and nor could anybody else. That was why we got it advanced so that it could be released, as Sir Ronald Wilson wished to comment at the reconciliation convention. It was done and released on Monday so that the opportunity would arise. Any comment that occurred before that was out of left field and not justified.

Senator Carr interjecting

Senator HERRON —Senator Carr believes everything he reads in the papers. No wonder he is in the position that he is in. I certainly do not believe everything I read in the press. I am sure it is often done with goodwill, but the media have to get a story. If Senator Carr has to take the voracity of anything from newspapers or television, then he is in a pretty sorry position. I would advise him and Senator Conroy to get the facts, come forward and, if you are making specific allegations, do so and name the people you are referring to.

I was certainly very unhappy with that report, because it did not emanate from me. Are you listening to the answer, Senator Conroy? That report did not come from me. I do not go in for witch-hunts to follow up every little line that I see in the press and every little thing that comes out. I do not go in for witch-hunts nor follow rats up drainholes, which you seem to want to do. I have better things to do with my time.

Senator CONROY —I ask a supplementary question, Madam President. Minister, the Sydney Morning Herald article also stated that the government was attempting to undermine the credibility of Mr Mick Dodson and Sir Ronald Wilson. Will you repudiate those attempts? Why have you not referred the breach of privilege that you have just alleged to the Privileges Committee?

Senator HERRON —The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is that I do not think it warrants referral. I have not checked to see whether it has occurred before.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Why did you raise it?

Senator HERRON —I raised it because that point was raised by the Attorney-General when he released the report. Fair go! I think we need to be listened to with a little bit of quiet from the other side. They seem to ask questions and then not listen to the answers. It seems to be immaterial whether they get an answer or not.