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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4053

Senator CALVERT(7.13 p.m.) —I briefly wish to comment on this Privileges Committee report because I was involved in the estimates committee hearings that led to this matter ending up before the Privileges Committee. The matter was referred by the Environment, Recreation, Communications and the Arts Legislation Committee because of complaints made by Mr Geoffrey Marr and Mr Paul Miles about evidence given by Mr David Krasnostein, Telstra general counsel, to that committee in estimates hearings on 27 June and 13 November 1995.

It is a pity that the former Senator Michael Baume is not here tonight because he and I, over a period of four years, queried Telstra about certain complaints that were raised against them. Plenty of complaints have been raised against Telstra at estimates committee hearings over a long period of time, and the CoTs cases spring to mind.

In this particular case that I was pursuing, it was alleged by these two people I was asking questions on behalf of, that the general counsel for Telstra had given false and misleading information. The committee concluded that no contempt of the Senate was involved in either matter.

But they did make some observations that do have implications for the Senate. There was one thing in particular that I was concerned about. I think this happens to all senators from time to time, but it was very frustrating to us with Telstra. They kept on bringing in different witnesses all the time at every estimates hearings and nobody knew what the questions were about. The Privileges Committee made the point that this pattern of behaviour of change in the witnesses all the time—or change in the actors—pleading ignorance to all the questions asked, may have been deliberate and it was very frustrating to the estimates process.

The key point in the observations that the committee made is in paragraphs 30 and 31. Paragraph 31 says:

Given this pattern of behaviour, it is not surprising to the Committee of Privileges that senators and others have had some difficulty in determining whether the organisation has deliberately misled the Senate and its committees. This Committee's tentative judgment, which is to some degree reflected in its conclusions above, is that, rather than setting out deliberately to mislead, the organisation is inappropriately equipped to deal with its accountability responsibilities to each House of the Parliament and its committees.

Of course they were referring to the continual trotting in and rotation of officers at estimates committee hearings, then pleading ignorance to questions that were being asked. I pursued this matter for four years for these two particular gentlemen. I am pleased to say that at the end they did get justice. Kenneth Marks had an independent inquiry. That was something that former Minister Lee helped me with. I am pleased to say that Mr Marr has been reinstated in his employment. He has matters before the court at the moment but, all in all, four years of hard work in the estimates committee was quite fruitful.

I make the point that the conduct of the witnesses who appeared before the estimates committee, particularly those from Telstra, certainly left a lot to be desired. I hope that senators who are involved in the estimates committees next week would look at parts of this report and take note of the frustrations that I and other senators had.