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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1700


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(2.03) —I move:

That the Senate censures the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Senator the Hon. Susan Ryan, for deliberately misleading Senate Estimates Committee D on 3 May 1984 by falsely claiming no knowledge of a survey on public attitudes to the funding of government and non-government schools.

This is a most serious charge to bring against a Minister. The Opposition brings it because it believes that it has established quite clearly that the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has deliberately misled the Senate through one of its Estimates committees. That is a charge which is evident from what has been said and what has been written by the Minister. We say that the Minister did this to cover up other involvement and the involvement of her Department in the use of taxpayers' funds to finance research into one of the most contentious political issues of the past year, namely, the funding of non-government schools. We believe that the Minister's deception is compounded by her failure to try to explain what she did, other than to write a letter when it was quite clear that other evidence which appeared in other Estimates committees put the record straight. There is a bald statement of facts by the Minister written within a day of her statements in the Estimates Committee which is in complete contradiction to the answer which she gave to the Committee. We regard this as an act of arrogance and as an act that is quite improper. We bring this motion of censure against her as a result.

This Minister has been criticised in her own Party room. She has been criticised within her own Department. I merely wish to say that it is now very evident to the Opposition why Senator Ryan has been subjected to that criticism. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has been forced to intervene in her portfolio and she has now sought to escape the reality of the actions that she has undertaken in her Department. We believe that this is a very serious matter which goes to the heart of what Parliament expects from its Ministers and from public servants . As the motion points out, the censure relates to evidence given by the Minister to the Senate Estimates Committee D meeting last week to consider estimates for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs.

It is clearly understood by all honourable senators, including those caterwauling on the other side, that the Estimates committees are an integral part of the Senate process and that the Senate must be able to depend upon the truth and the accuracy of the information which is given. It is quite clear that the Senate has not been able to depend upon the truth and the accuracy of what the Minister put before the Committee in this case. We believe that both the Minister and a senior officer of her Department have fallen short of the standards which are required. This motion does not deal with the officer, but that is an issue which perhaps needs to be considered separately as to whether there has been a possible breach of the privilege of the Senate.

I will put before the Senate the facts on which the Opposition bases its charge , the facts on which the Opposition bases this censure. Those facts relate to questions which were addressed to a Dr Taloni, the First Assistant Secretary of the Management Division of the Minister's Department and to the Minister regarding opinion surveys conducted for or on behalf of her Department. The questions, if I may describe the situation before going direct to the evidence, met with defensive if not outright misleading answers on the involvement of her Department and of the Minister herself in the broad study on youth attitudes. We were met, however, with outright deception and with a deliberate misleading of the Committee on the specifics of the education funding issue. The Minister's answers are simply not compatible with the notes which the Government itself issued in the additional estimates which were put out for the Department of the Special Minister of State.

I believe that the only reason we have got to the truth of this matter is that the Opposition was, through this document, able to get facts from the Department of the Special Minister of State which were denied us in the Estimates Committee examining the estimates for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. It was only when the Minister realised that she was caught out by the subsequent questioning in another Estimates committee that a further explanation emerged. The letter the next day, from which I will be quoting extensively, talks about clarification but is, in fact, a reversal of the evidence which was given earlier. There is no credible explanation possible for the huge divergence between what the Minister said during the Committee hearing and what she wrote within 24 hours to the Committee.

I want to look at the line of questioning which was developed in the Estimates Committee. It started when Senator Teague asked whether the Department-the Minister's Department-had commissioned any public opinion surveys since 5 March 1983. Dr Taloni answered: 'No'. He answered with a blank 'no' to that question. Senator Teague went on to ask:

Has the Department requested public opinion surveys through a statutory authority or one of the commissions?

Dr Taloni answered:

There is a survey on youth attitudes being conducted by the Department of the Special Minister of State which might have some relevance to our departmental function.

I stress that Dr Taloni used the words 'might have some relevance to our departmental function'. Senator Teague asked whether that survey was being handled by an interdepartmental committee. Dr Taloni confirmed that it was being handled by the Special Minister of State. Senator Teague asked:

Has the Department engaged in any market research since March 1983? A Mr Maher replied: 'No'. It was at this point that Senator Ryan intervened. She said: No, we have not done any. I think some was done under the previous Government, but not by us.

The questioning went on. The Chairman asked whether the officers wished to make some further response following the Minister's intervention, and Dr Taloni said: 'No'. Senator Peter Baume then came in and asked further questions. He referred to Dr Taloni and said:

There was a survey being conducted by SMOS in relation to youth attitudes. Could you tell us something about that survey?

Senator Ryan replied:

Before Dr Taloni gives what information he can to Senator Baume, I should point out that the conduct of that survey is within another department and it is not a survey for which this Department is responsible. So Dr Taloni does not have any detailed information about it, but he might like to make some comments.

That was a clear attempt by the Minister to misrepresent the position, and it is quite incompatible with what she says in her letter written the next day.


Senator Gareth Evans —Is that the case?


Senator CHANEY —Of course it is not the case, as the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) will hear if he waits. He will know what the case is. Senator Peter Baume went on to ask whether the Department requested questions to be included in the survey. Dr Taloni's answer was: 'No'. Senator Teague said:

The Department was not consulted as to the public opinion survey of youth attitudes?

Dr Taloni said:

That is right. I am not aware of any details that are being included or incorporated under that survey.

Senator Teague then asked:

That is, the Department of Education and Youth Affairs was not consulted in another department's survey of youth attitudes?

Dr Taloni said:

Not on detailed questions to be asked as part of that survey, no.

Senator Teague asked: To what extent was there any consultation?

Dr Taloni replied:

I have had one meeting with the people who are conducting the survey and very general issues were addressed. No specific questions were addressed at all.

I shall not quote all of the evidence, but there was this continual back- pedalling on the part of the Minister and her public servant. The key question was asked later by Senator Baume, who had referred to the document issued by the Government, the Additional Estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State. Let me quote that document. Senator Baume quoted it. Under Division 575.2.06, on page 14 of the explanatory notes, it states:

The Information Co-ordination Branch required an extra $95,000 to assist in funding the Youth Research Project (a survey of the attitudes of young people to Commonwealth Government policies and programs) and to research attitudes of Australians generally on the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools.

So that is the Government's own admission. That is the Government's own document -that there was a requirement for an additional $95,000 to research, inter alia, the attitudes of Australians generally on the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools.

Senator Baume specifically referred the Minister and specifically referred her Department to that statement in that Estimates document. Dr Taloni replied to Senator Baume. He said to the Committee:

I said to the Committee that I have had one meeting on a survey of youth attitudes, which is being tagged on to a survey being done by the Department of the Special Minister of State. I have not seen what the senator refers to.

That is, to the Additional Estimates. Senator Baume asked:

Has this Department given any advice to any other department on survey questions to be added on the attitudes of Australians to the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools?

Dr Taloni replied:

I am not aware of it.

Senator Baume said:

I ask the Minister: Did you have any input into that survey?

This is the critical response from Senator Ryan, the most critical of a series of responses. She said:

There has been no such survey, to my knowledge. The survey I am aware of is the survey to do with youth attitudes.

Senator Ryan there denied knowledge of a survey relating to the attitudes of Australians to the Government's policy on the funding of government and non- government schools.

We are not talking about some minor matter here. We are talking about one of the most contentious political issues facing this Government. It is an issue in which the Prime Minister has intervened and an issue in which the Prime Minister has made it clear to this Minister that he will be involved to avoid the difficulties she has created over the past year.


Senator Chipp —What evidence do you have for that?


Senator CHANEY —We have the evidence of statements by the Prime Minister on this issue, and we have the evidence of what is occurring in the community on the issue.

The fact is that it is a high profile political issue, and Senator Ryan knows that it is a high profile political issue. She specifically says in this answer:

There has been no such survey, to my knowledge. The survey I am aware of is the survey to do with youth attitudes.

Let me quote in full a long reply a little later from Senator Ryan which sets out her state of knowledge and what she was saying to this Committee. It was again in response to a question by Senator Baume. She said:

As I have told the Committee, there is a survey of youth attitudes being carried out, I think--


Senator Tate —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Senate is being asked to come to a conclusion on a censure motion which, I think the whole chamber would agree, is a most serious and important matter. We have to discharge our responsibility in relation to it, yet there is no Hansard available for honourable senators to check the accuracy of the claims and counterclaims that are going to be bandied around this chamber this afternoon. We are in an intolerable situation where, in relation to a motion of censure there is nothing by which ordinary back benchers can follow these proceedings. I would have thought some sort of arrangement should have been made by the Opposition to enable us to follow the course of these important charges.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. It is a point of view or a point in debate, but it does not invalidate the motion of censure that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition.


Senator CHANEY —Mr President, the document is before the Minister who will no doubt speak on this matter. I am sure that she will advise Government senators if I misquote her in any way. I go back to what Senator Ryan said to the Committee:

As I have told the Committee, there is a survey of youth attitudes being carried out, I think as a part of a more general survey within the Department of the Special Minister of State. I have had general discussions about youth attitudes and the youth attitudes we are most interested in investigating are those to do with secondary participation rates in unemployment. We are very interested to find out why it is that so many young people choose not to complete their secondary education. I have had general discussions along those lines with somebody from ANOP. I have not discussed specific questions relating to youth attitudes or anything else. The survey, I understand, has not yet been completed, so I certainly have not seen any results or been briefed on any results of it. I think that is about all I can tell the Committee at this stage.

The key point that I wish to make is that it had been specifically raised with Senator Ryan and with her officers, this Government having the politically sensitive question of the funding of government and non-government schools on its plate, whether any work was being done on the attitudes of Australians to the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools. Her answer to that was:

There has been no such survey, to my knowledge. The survey I am aware of is the survey to do with youth attitudes.

About an hour after that examination or questioning of Senator Ryan, questions were asked in the Estimates Committee considering the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State. I would have to say that the officials of that Department were rather more forthcoming than Dr Taloni or the Minister herself. I do not wish to quote at too great a length from the record of that Estimates Committee, but when that matter was raised by Senator Archer it is very instructive to see what Mr Malone of the Department of the Special Minister of State had to say. This is the research project about which Senator Ryan had a few vague thoughts when she was before the Estimates committee considering the estimates for her own Department. Mr Malone said:

Actually the whole youth research project partly grew out of an approach from the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs to the Special Minister of State that the ministerial committee on government advertising should give consideration to carrying out under its auspices a major research project into the attitudes of young people.

Senator Archer said a little later:

And the Minister made the request?

Mr Malone said:

The suggestion, I should say, that something should be done.

What is clear from the questions and answers in the Estimates Committee at that time is that Senator Ryan's Department was deeply involved in the work of getting this survey on the ground. Mr Malone told us that a steering group was responsible, chaired by the Department of the Special Minister of State, with the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs as basic members. The Department of Education and Youth Affairs made available a major literature review of current research that was in existence and that it had commissioned in any case. A little later Mr Malone stated:

The Department of Education and Youth Affairs participated at all levels in the steering group discussions.

. . . .

The results will be provided directly to the ministerial committee which is chaired by the Special Minister of State but which . . . will have involved with it the other responsible Ministers, particularly the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs.

Only after the very open evidence of Mr Malone do we find a new version of the facts being given to the Senate Estimates Committee by Senator Ryan. It is impossible for the account given by Senator Ryan in a letter which she sent to the Estimates Committee within one day of her questioning to be regarded as being in any way compatible with the answers that she gave the Estimates Committee. Let me deal with the central issue first.


Senator Gareth Evans —Would you care to stop for a second and give us the page numbers you are referring to?


Senator CHANEY —Does the honourable senator mean with respect to Mr Malone?


Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Malone and your knockout blow of a few minutes earlier.

Sentor CHANEY-Mr Malone is recorded on page 40/4 and following pages.


Senator Gareth Evans —And the previous reference?


Senator CHANEY —I will show the Attorney-General a little more courtesy than he normally shows anyone in this place, Mr President. If honourable senators want to know where Senator Ryan made the critical statement 'There has been no such survey', they will find her words recorded at page 10/11 of the transcript. We find that within a day of saying those words Senator Ryan wrote a letter, which I will shortly seek leave to incorporate in Hansard, in which she made it quite clear that it was at her request that the survey on youth attitudes was to be conducted on a number of fundamental issues; for example, housing, income support, education, training opportunities and so on. Then we find Senator Ryan being quite forthcoming about the origin of the survey about which she knew nothing. Senator Ryan, in her letter, stated:

While the survey-

that is the initial survey-

was progressing, the suggestion was put to me by my Department that funds be sought for an independent survey on public attitudes to the complex question of schools funding. I initially agreed to this and sought funds for such a survey to be commissioned by my Department at a cost of $50,000

This is the Minister, who denied any knowledge of a survey on these grounds, telling us within 24 hours of that denial that she in fact sought $50,000 from another Department to pay for such a survey. That is the sort of thing a Minister could forget. Ministers are very busy. I am sure Senator Ryan signs a lot of letters. But this is not just a single, one-off issue that floated past Senator Ryan. Senator Ryan was refused $50,000, so she then entered into discussions with other Ministers, including Mr Dawkins. According to her letter, after discussion with Mr Dawkins she concluded that a major independent survey was unnecessary. However, she went on to say:

It was also subsequently suggested by officers of the Department of the Special Minister of State that a possible alternative would be to add a number of questions to the major survey on youth attitudes.

I-

that is the Minister, Senator Ryan-

accepted this latter suggestion and on 13 February, 1984-

not a long time ago, not some dim, dark recess of the past, but on 13 February, she told us-

I asked the Special Minister of State to undertake the extra work at an additional cost of $35,000. This was agreed to;

the funds required are identified on Page 14 of the Additional Estimates explanations of the Department of the Special Minister of State . . .

That is precisely what Senator Baume referred the Minister to when she ducked the question in the reference which I have already given. How do we match those words-that suggestion that she spoke with Mr Dawkins, that she concluded a major independent survey was unnecessary, that she accepted the suggestion that words be added and that she got $35,000 to have the work done-with her saying: 'There has been no such survey, to my knowledge. The survey I am aware of is the survey to do with youth attitudes'?


Senator Grimes —This letter is from the Minister to Senator Baume.


Senator CHANEY —It is from the Minister--


Senator Grimes —To all members of the Committee, volunteered by her.


Senator CHANEY —I am very grateful for the interjection, Mr President. What the Acting Leader of the Government is saying is that this Minister volunteered the correct answer herself. In any normal circumstance one might have taken some note of that. The fact is that this Minister was referred to that specific part of the Estimates. She had an active working involvement in getting this ready. The fact of the matter is that the whole issue was exposed by Mr Malone in answers to questions at another Estimates committee meeting. The fact is that this Minister was caught out, was found out, and this Minister, without any hint of explanation of how she forgot so much, simply put the record straight in terms of what actually happened. That is the central issue which this Minister has to face.

The fact is that she refused to acknowledge the existence of such a survey and within 24 hours she admitted that she herself had not one little step to take with respect to this survey. She put up a proposition; it was knocked back. She had an alternative proposition. She accepted it and had discussions with colleagues about it. It is simply not credible that on such a major political issue this Minister could have been unaware for a second that this vital survey was going on.

This is an important matter because this is but one of the areas in which this Government, and this Minister is but one of the Ministers; is using public money to try to determine what its political actions should be. This Government is using public money to survey public attitudes so it can find out what it might do in respect of the private schools of this country. At the same Estimates Committee meeting we find it is surveying public attitudes about compensation to the Tasmanian Government. What is the purpose of spending taxpayers' money for purely political reasons? It is for the political advantage of this Government. Senator Ryan is central to that.

A series of things must be remembered about this matter. The only issue which could be raised is whether this Minister deliberately misled this Parliament. Did she deliberately mislead the Parliament or was it some accident? There is no possibility that what she told the Estimates Committee is true. It is patently false; it is patently untrue. The one question is whether this Minister knew it was untrue when she misled that Committee. She cannot plead the element of correction. It had already been corrected for her at another Estimates committee meeting by an official from another department. This was not a small passing matter. It was a matter which goes to a central political issue facing this Government. It was not a matter where the Minister was merely being reactive. This Minister was actively seeking to find out public attitudes so she could get herself out of the political hole into which she has got the Government.

This is not an unimportant matter. It is a point of political stress. It is a point which has required the Prime Minister's political intervention. There is no credible explanation in the Minister's letter or claim as to how she came to make this mistake. Indeed, no credible explanation is possible. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons for this Minister to mislead the Senate. She was seeking to use taxpayers' money to get political information, as the Government was doing in respect of Tasmania and indeed, we believe, in respect of the proposed referendums. This is a highly sensitive political issue. The Minister has wilfully misled the Senates Estimates Committee. We believe she is deserving of the strongest possible censure.


Senator Colston —Mr President, under Standing Order 364, I ask that the documents quoted from by the honourable senator be tabled.


Senator CHANEY —I table the documents.