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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 962


Mr SLIPPER(10.44) —Tonight I wish to address a problem that concerns a great many honourable members on both sides of this House. In carrying out my duties I often have cause to forward my constituents' inquiries directly to the relevant Minister for a reply. Unfortunately, some Ministers totally disregard requests for information and fail to reply within a reasonable time. While I often do not agree with the content of their replies, some Ministers are extremely courteous and relatively prompt in their dealings with constituents' matters. On the other hand, principal culprits such as the Treasurer (Mr Keating)-and I have notified his office of my intention to raise the matter here-appear to be content to allow correspondence to be ignored. I fully realise that the Treasurer is a busy man. However, it is obvious that a reasonable period for a reply would be about four or perhaps even up to 10 weeks. It is, however, impossible to convince Fisher residents, or for that matter other thinking Australians, that the Treasurer is doing anything other than dodging the issues raised when a reply is not received for months on end. Surely a question directly related to the Treasurer's portfolio can be answered in under a year.

In November last year, as a last resort, I had to send a telegram to the Treasurer asking for urgent response in relation to a matter concerning taxation on staff concessional travel. As yet I have not received a reply on this issue. The constituent raising this matter originally contacted me in April 1986. Since that time I have written to the Treasurer on no fewer than four occasions. Following my original letter I have sent two follow-up inquiries, one in July and a further one in September, leading to my telegram in November asking for an urgent reply. Perhaps the Treasurer has not yet examined any of my correspondence. The sad fact is that I have not yet even received the courtesy of a reply indicating that the inquiry has been received and that the Department or Minister is looking into the matter. This is not an isolated case. The sad fact is that I have many outstanding inquiries with the Treasurer, most of which extend over periods greater than six months. On each instance I have not even received notification of receipt of correspondence.

In the debate last year on the Ministers of State Amendment Bill I voiced my concern about this problem in a general manner. I believe that the continuation of difficulties experienced, particularly in regard to the Treasurer's office, makes it necessary for me to emphasise again the inexcusable time delays being experienced, no doubt, by all honourable members. Quite clearly the public deserves greater consideration from Ministers and their respective departments. The Treasurer is not alone in his dilatory approach.

Members of parliament must be able to obtain replies from Ministers within a reasonable period. If those replies are not forthcoming, surely the efficiency of certain Ministers and their departments must be in question. The citizens of Australia deserve better treatment. Genuine inquiries asking for information or for clarification of certain matters should not be quietly ignored in the hope that they will disappear. I might add that constituents treated in this manner have expressed disgust at the contemptuous behaviour of some Ministers in the Government. I hasten to emphasise that not all Ministers are guilty, however some are guilty in the extreme. In simple terms the Government should ensure that ministerial inquiries are handled promptly. I repeat the comment I made to the House last year: In reality the situation is merely a matter of whether or not a Minister is competent to run an efficient office. On behalf of all members of this place-both Government and Opposition-I hope that the Government will look at this problem seriously and urgently.