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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4000

Senator BOB COLLINS —My question is to Minister Herron. Minister, I am sure you would agree that the Bringing them home report is the most significant and, in many quarters, the most eagerly anticipated report on indigenous affairs that you have received during your tenure as Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Can you therefore explain why you aggressively told Kerry O'Brien on the ABC's 7.30 Report last night that you, as the most relevant minister, had only received a copy of the report last week, when, in fact, it was presented to your government on 5 April, more than seven weeks ago, through the Attorney-General's office, and it was certainly in the possession of the Office of Indigenous Affairs in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet? Can you explain to the Senate why, firstly, as the most relevant minister, you did not bother to obtain a copy of this report from your colleague the Attorney-General or, secondly, you did seek a copy and you were refused it in the six weeks he had it?

Senator HERRON —I am pleased that Senator Collins asked that question because it does clear up a matter that has been a bit unclear. Yes, Senator Collins, I do agree that, in my tenure of the office, it is the most significant report and I think it should be addressed very seriously, as I have said previously. What I said was clear, and the Attorney-General said it also—that a printed copy of the report was not available until budget week.

Senator Bob Collins —That's right.

Senator HERRON —There was a photocopied copy of the report, which I had, which was not annotated, which I had seen.

Senator Robert Ray —So you did have it for weeks.

Senator HERRON —No, Senator Ray, a photocopy of a not complete printed copy of the report, which I only got, which was referenced—

Senator Bob Collins —Oh, my God!

Senator HERRON —No, that's true. You want the truth, you get the truth.

Senator Bob Collins —I know it's true; I thought you would say that.

Senator HERRON —I thank Senator Collins. It is the truth and it was in that context. Senator Collins referred to the O'Brien interview last night and I have a transcript here, which I will read from, which is referable to the question.

Senator Jacinta Collins —That isn't the point he made.

Senator HERRON —Give me a chance. Madam President, Senator Jacinta Collins interjected before I even started to read. That is the standard that we are getting from the other side. Senator Murphy, in a previous comment on the interview last night, selec tively quoted also. I would like to read the full quote. In relation to the question of Senator Lightfoot, I said:

. . . I wondered in what context and what did he mean by that. I mean, they're abhorrent—no question. When I was questioned about it I didn't know the context they were given in nor when they were said nor had I seen it on television or heard him say those things.

Senator Bob Collins —On a point of order: with respect, Madam President, that is not the correct page of the transcript that the question refers to. I am happy to provide the minister with the correct page of the transcript. If you just turn one page over, you will find the bit about the report. You are reading from the wrong page, Minister.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator HERRON —Madam President, here we go again.

Senator Faulkner —It is after you get to the bit about elastic—the truth being a bit elastic.

Senator HERRON —They are a bit unhappy because I said they were elastic with the truth on the other side, Madam President, and they are reinforcing that this afternoon. Also relevant to that report is what former Senator Evans said on the Howard Sattler program this morning. In relation to Aboriginal people, Mr Sattler said:

. . . they suffer health worse than any in the nation, they've got the worst education, they've got the highest unemployment rate. I mean, all of those things are fact.

And Mr Evans said—

It hasn't been for want of throwing—

Senator Bob Collins —On a point of order, Madam President: the question was very specific and, indeed, the minister's undertaking was very specific. The question asked by Kerry O'Brien on the 7.30 Report last night was in the context of why the minister had said he was not ready to respond to the report. Mr O'Brien said, `Well, you have had it for seven weeks'. That was the context. And the minister then replied aggressively, `Get your facts right, Kerry. I haven't had it for seven weeks; I've only had it for one week.'

Senator Alston —What's your point of order?

Senator Bob Collins —The point of order is this: the minister said he was going to refer to the relevant part of the transcript that addressed that question. He is not doing so, Madam President, and I ask you to ask him to refer to the relevant part of the transcript that refers to the Kerry O'Brien question.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator HERRON —There is no point of order. What does disturb me about this is that there needs—

Senator Bob Collins —You told us a big fib on that program last night and you thought you were real clever in doing it.

Senator HERRON —No, I did not tell a big fib on that program. I draw your attention to the statement that was made that the printed copies were not available. You acknowledge that. They were not cross-referenced. I return to the point that I was making about former Senator Evans on the Howard Sattler program. He said:

It hasn't been for want of throwing money at the issue, as you well know.

Well, we do not intend throwing money at the issue in regard to this report. We do not intend that. And Mr Sattler said:

I know, I know it hasn't been for want of throwing money but throwing money is exactly correct.

And Mr Evans said:

I know, and it hasn't been for want of good intentions.

The point of relevance is that the former government spent $400 million implementing 338 of the 339 recommendations of the deaths in custody inquiry and the result of the expenditure of all those funds was that the death rate increased. That is the record of the former government. They should be ashamed of that action. Now they are trying to score minor political points over a report that is of great significance. (Time expired)

Senator BOB COLLINS —I have a supplementary question, a very specific one. Of course, Minister, we on the front bench on this side know that you would have got a copy of it from the Attorney-General. Can you advise the Senate when, Minister, you got the photocopy you referred to and are you seriously suggesting that you were not able to form a view on this report until you had got the version that had pictures in it?

Senator HERRON —I will have to find out, Senator Collins, what date the photocopied—

Senator Sherry —The most substantive report you have ever got and you can't remember when you got it.

Senator HERRON —I got a photocopied partial report and I will find out the date that that was received and report back to Senator Collins and get an answer to that.

Senator Bob Collins —Talk about tricky Dicky!

Senator HERRON —If you are referring to Senator Alston, Senator Collins, I regard that as a great tribute. I am a great admirer of Senator Alston's repartee in this chamber.