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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1707


Senator HARRADINE —I have been misrepresented by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes). I did not say that I obtained a copy from the Chairman of the Estimates Committee.


Senator Gareth Evans —We know where you got your copy.


Senator HARRADINE —Are you saying that I did so?


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Harradine will address the Chair.


Senator HARRADINE —I expect when Senator Grimes reads the Hansard tomorrow I will get an apology.


Senator Grimes —You said: 'Get it from the Chairman of the Committee'.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The Senate will come to order.


Senator Chipp —Mr President, I rise to speak on the point of order. At the same time I seek your indulgence to continue the remarks of Senator Tate. The Senate is being asked to make a judgment on an extraordinarily serious matter. I respect your ruling that the point Senator Tate raised was not strickly a point of order. But it has become clear since Senator Harradine entered the House that he has a copy of the Hansard. Apparently the debate will be decided on party lines. Therefore, the vote will be decided on the vote of the Democrats. It is an absolutely intolerable situation that the Democrats will be asked to adjudicate on whether a Minister should be censured when we had absolutely no notice of this debate before we came into the chamber and we have no evidence to look at. I am now in the situation of asking Senator Chaney and the Minister to repeat sentences.


Senator Harradine —Senator Macklin has a copy.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator Chipp —Mr President, will you please deal with Senator Harradine. I did not interrupt him. Senator Macklin has just received a copy by courtesy of Senator Archer who proudly has a copy. I do not know where he got it from. This is an intolerable way in which to conduct a censure debate. That is the point I am putting to you, Mr President, and through you perhaps the Opposition. Maybe the debate could be delayed until we have some evidence upon which we can make up our minds.


Senator Chaney —Mr President, I rise on the same point of order. The censure debate has been brought by the Opposition. I suppose Senator Ryan would rather debate points of order than debate the merits of the matter. But let me say that the censure debate is on the question of whether Senator Ryan has wilfully misled the Senate Estimates Committee. Senator Ryan was there. She knows what she said. She has, without difficulty, been referring to what she said. Indeed, the Hansard record was delivered to her office and she has it available to her. If people were prepared to listen to Senator Ryan-as you pointed out a moment ago, Mr President, her own supporters have not given much of an opportunity for her to be heard-that would enable the Senate to judge whether it can come to a judgment on the matter. As far as the Australian Democrats are concerned, as I understand it a member of their staff was given the material and was taken through it during lunch time.


Senator Chipp —We heard of it at five minutes to two.


Senator Chaney —Anyway, Senator Ryan was present and ought to be able to explain her position on this matter.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. I also point out to the Senate that I knew nothing of the debate that was about to take place, or the motion that was to be moved by the Leader of the Opposition. But nothing has been said during the point of order that invalidates the motion that has been moved by the Leader of the Opposition. There is nothing to stop anyone moving for the adjournment of the debate during the debate. But at this stage there is no point of order, and I call the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs.


Senator RYAN —Thank you, Mr President. Let me just briefly go over what has been alleged. It has been alleged that I deliberately and wilfully misled a Senate Estimates committee concerning the existence of certain survey exercises. From what I have been able to quote for the benefit of honourable senators it will be quite clear that Senator Baume and Senator Teague were trying to discover the existence within my Department of a survey concerning attitudes to schools funding. In response to this I was trying to clarify for the Committee that there was no such survey. Let me repeat-I am sure this will be very clear to all honourable senators now, even to Senator Baume, Senator Teague and Senator Chaney-my Department has not carried out such a survey and any discussion about a survey that Senator Baume and Senator Teague were engaging in had to do with a survey which, on my admission, by my public acknowledgment, is being carried out by the Department of the Special Minister of State. I can quote from other parts of my evidence when I described the youth attitudes survey in some detail, an attitude in which we are quite--


Senator Chipp —But what about--


Senator RYAN —Mr President, I am trying to clarify for the Senate what happened. It is really an extraordinary state of affairs. What a blowing up of discussions on a Senate Estimates committee. I see Senator Chaney is grinning rather inanely . Everybody knows the extent to which Senate Estimates committees these days travel far and wide. Everybody knows it is a very frequent occurrence that when officers cannot answer questions they are asked because the questions go beyond the matter of the business in hand, which is to examine expenditures of their department, they request the opportunity to come back at a later stage with clarification. Senator Baume had made it clear-I have quoted the passage-that he was interested in a survey in my Department and my officers were attempting to provide information concerning the estimates of my Department; they did not have detailed information about the estimates of another department. Because of that, when Senator Baume persisted with survey questions on the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools, in an attempt to clarify the position, I said:

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

Then Senator Baume pointed out--


Senator Withers —Hold it for her, Gareth. It will be easier for her to read. Read it for her.


Senator RYAN —I am reading from the Hansard transcript. Senator Withers, of course, has no interest in the contents of this document. Senator Baume had made it quite clear that he was interested in a survey being carried out in the Department. Later, when he asked about other matters, he said:

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 answered:

I am not aware of it.

That was a proper answer. Senator Baume then asked:

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

Of course this last reference was to the funding of government and non- government schools. I answered:

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

At that stage I can see, from reading the Hansard transcript, that there could have been some confusion.

Opposition senators interjecting--


Senator RYAN —How amazing that there should be confusion at an Estimates committee meeting! How unheard of! Are honourable senators opposite honestly trying to suggest by their shrieks of derision that it is unknown that there are moments at Senate Estimates committee meetings when there is some confusion between officers and Ministers about what is being referred to, especially when the whole thrust of the questions of Senator Baume and Senator Teague had been about a non-existent survey in my Department? I am prepared to admit that at that point there could have been confusion. My understanding at that point was that Senator Baume was still trying to establish the existence of a survey within my Department. In response to that, I said that there was no such survey but I added, very helpfully, that there was the youth attitudes survey.

I could see that Senator Baume and Senator Teague were very keen to find out more about the Special Minister of State survey. The Committee adjourned. It had not completed its business. I considered the matter and decided to provide the Committee with information which would clarify the question Senator Teague and Senator Baume had been pursuing. I have here the letter I wrote from which Senator Chaney has quoted. That letter sets out clearly how there came to be some involvement in the youth attitudes survey in the matter in which Senator Baume and Senator Teague were interested. I seek leave to incorporate the letter in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND YOUTH AFFAIRS

Parliament House Canberra, A.C.T. (062) 73 1343

The Chairman

Senate Estimates Committee D

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Chairman,

After reflecting on yesterday's hearing by Senate Estimates Committee 'D', it appears to me there needs to be some clarification on responses made by Departmental officers to questions about a survey or surveys commissioned by the Department of the Special Minister of State on youth attitudes.

I think it would be helpful to the Committee if I were to outline the way in which the original survey was set up and of developments which occurred subsequent to this.

At my request and in accordance with the Government's commitment to youth, I suggested to my colleague, the Special Minister of State, that a survey of youth attitudes be conducted on a number of fundamental issues, e.g. housing, income support, education and training opportunities, employment and education expectations. This was agreed to and it was decided that a survey would be commissioned through the Department of the Special Minister of State. A steering committee, with representation from SMOS, DEYA, DEIR and DIEA was set up to oversight the project. My Department has accordingly been closely involved in the project, including consultation on issues and possible approaches relevant to the survey. It did not, however, frame the questions to be included in the survey.

While the 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.

There were then subsequent developments. I was advised that my request for funds should only be considered in the Additional Estimates context along with all other bids and in any case Mr Dawkins and I concluded that a major independent survey was unnecessary. 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 accepted this latter suggestion and on 13 February, 1984, 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 which, of course, is the reason why I believed detailed questions should be referred to that Department.

I have today been advised that discussions took place between ANOP and officers of my Department on issues which might be addressed in the extended survey but neither Dr Taloni nor I were aware of the details. As indicated yesterday, I also had a general discussion with an ANOP employee, but reiterate that I did not play any part in framing the questions and to this time am unaware of the nature of the ANOP questionnaire.

I hope this information will be of assistance to the Committee.

Yours sincerely, SUSAN RYAN


Senator RYAN —Let me point out the stage that the Senate Committee had reached. We had not completed our consideration of the Estimates. That information was made available. I made it available to the Chairman of the Committee as soon as I had the letter typed up. At the next meeting of that Estimates Committee the Chairman came in and, with my concurrence, tabled the letter and made copies of it available to all members of the Committee so that they could have that information available to them. They could have, of course, pursued that matter during the rest of the Estimate Committee session. They did not choose to do so. What did they do? They got additional information which clarified what they were unable to clarify because they were pursuing the wrong line of questioning. They took the matter no further, as indeed there was nowhere further to take it. They now come sneaking in here with this trumped-up, over-blown charge in the form of a censure motion. How absurd!

Mr President, every honourable senator in this place has sat through many hours , weeks and, in some case, probably years of Estimates committee discussions. Every honourable senator is aware that information is often sought to be provided later or in clarification and that officers regularly come back with further information. The information I came back with was a frank and helpful gesture to assist the Committee to understand the matters that had been raised. It went beyond the scope of the Supplementary Estimates committees because it concerned expenditure in another department. I had constantly pointed out to the Chairman and the members of the Committee that the survey they were interested in was being funded by the Department of the Special Minister of State and that questions should be properly addressed to the Estimates committee dealing with that Department. In the face of my frequent guidance of members of the Committee as to where they could find out about the survey in which they were interested, how Senator Chaney has the hide to come in here with these trumped-up charges about misleading I really cannot understand.

I will conclude, Mr President, because there is not a great deal more to be said. Let me make it clear that the Government is funding, through the Special Minister of State, a very broad-based attitudinal survey into youth. It is now the case that the survey will cover to some extent, although I have not seen specific questions, matters concerning schools funding. That is information which I voluntarily gave to the Estimates Committee while it was still in session.

Opposition senators interjecting-


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the members of the Senate on my left to give the Minister a reasonable hearing.


Senator RYAN —The insistence in the line of questioning from Senator Peter Baume and Senator Teague that there was some other survey, some survey in my Department, was clearly shown to have been misdirected. No such survey exists within my Department. There is a survey being conducted by the Special Minister of State's Department and I not only acknowledged it but also directed the Committee to address its attention to that. So if there was a confusion arising from Senator Baume's insistence on a survey in my Department which subsequently turned in some questions about the Special Minister of State's survey, in answer to that confusion I volunteered information during the course of the Senate Committee.

I have sat in this place for nearly nine years. It seems to me that that is as helpful as a Minister can be in the circumstances. I have sat in Estimates committees at which Ministers have simply refused to comply at all with questions that were not relevant to their departments. It seems to me that I voluntarily and helpfully provided assistance to Senator Baume, who had a genuine interest in the survey but who did not know where to direct his questions.

There has been no misleading. There has been a full and frank answering of questions on the Committee by me. Additional information was volunteered by me to the Committee, which the Committee did not choose to pursue, even though it was still in session. There was a proper and clear direction by me to the appropriate committee which was dealing with the estimates of the Special Minister of State.

In conclusion, I say that it is a quite disgraceful action by Senator Chaney to come into this place trying to blow up a series of questions and answers, information volunteered, into some sort of charge of misleading. It is a disgraceful abuse of the procedures of this place.


Senator Robert Ray —I raise a point of order, Mr President. I return in part to Senator Tate's point. I draw your attention to standing order 36AB (19). It states:

A Hansard report of the Committee proceedings shall be circulated, in manner similar to the daily Senate Hansard, as soon as practicable after each day's proceedings.

We do not have that Hansard; so I refer to you, Mr President, to find out where these transcripts have come from. Are they covered by privilege? Have the people who have circulated them breached privilege? As at this stage, they are not a Hansard record.


Senator Chaney —On the same point of order, Mr President, in the same manner that Hansard is usually available in proof, the Estimates Hansards are available and can be sought and obtained. They were sought and obtained openly by the Opposition in accordance with the normal arrangements.


Mr PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I call Senator Baume.