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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1714

Senator GRIMES (Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate)(3.18) — Whenever a motion of censure of a Minister is moved in this place it must be treated with seriousness and we, of course, took on this motion straight away; we treated it with seriousness. After listening to the two leading speakers on the Opposition side, I must say we now treat it with contempt. I remind honourable senators that Senator Chaney's motion reads:

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 funding of government and non-government schools.

I must say that Senator Baume has gone a fairly large step further than that. He accuses not only Senator Ryan; he accuses the First Assistant Secretary and one or more of the 30 officers who were present at that Estimates Committee meeting of deliberately misleading the Estimates Committee and, I assume, of deliberately withholding information. That, I suggest, is a very serious charge. That is a charge which deserved much better evidence and much better debate than we have had in this chamber this afternoon.

Let me take the Senate through the sequence of events. I am informed Estimates Committee D met on Thursday, 3 May, at 2 p.m. and heard the estimates of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs from 2.30 to 5.30 p.m. The Estimates Committee adjourned at 10.35 p.m. Estimates Committee E heard the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State from 10 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. on Thursday, 3 May. Those who were present cannot remember any very specific discussions, but I will come to the discussions about this matter which were raised at that Estimates Committee meeting that night. Senator Ryan's Department , or Senator Ryan, delivered a letter to the Chairman of Estimates Committee D at 12.30 p.m. on Friday, 4 May. The Committee met at 2 p.m. The letter was circulated to Committee members at the commencement of the meeting and, as Senator Teague says, they did not even read it.

Senator Teague —It was not read while the Committee was present.

Senator GRIMES —The letter was circulated to members. The Estimates Committee then sat that afternoon and had every opportunity to clarify what had happened, to seek further information to see just what had happened. Did it do so? Did either Senator Teague or Senator Baume make any attempt to do so?

Senator Chaney —What estimates were they on then?

Senator GRIMES —No, they did not. They could have come back to it. They made no attempt to come back to it. They could have. The honourable senator and I have done it in the past. What has happened since then? There has been no attempt in this place during Question Time yesterday, or anywhere else, to clarify the questions and answers or what it was all about. There has been no attempt to seek any explanation from the Minister in the usual way. Senator Chaney walked into this chamber today, without any warning to the Government-we cannot complain about that-without more than a few minutes warning to the Australian Democrats, apparently with a bit of warning to Senator Harradine who, fortunately, was able to come into the chamber quite conveniently with a set of the Hansards, and moved this censure motion of the Minister in which the Opposition says that she has deliberately misled this Parliament in an Estimates committee. What we really should be debating is the fact that the Minister tried to assist the inept questioning of Senator Baume and Senator Teague, which is evident if we look at the Estimates Committee Hansard. I suggest that someone should have assisted the inept questioning of Senator Archer on the other Estimates Committee but I will come to that in a moment.

Censure motions of this type are serious. Censure motions brought before this Parliament should be about serious matters. Censure motions about serious matters have been brought before this Parliament; I have brought one or two myself. Let us look at some serious matters that were brought before this place. When I was shadow Minister for Social Security, week after week and month after month I asked the then Minister for Social Security whether there had been telephone interceptions during the Greek conspiracy case, whether the Greek people who had been arrested had been taken to the police station and photographed with the word 'Greek' held in front of them. I got denial after denial. When it came out in the court case that listening devices were attached to the phones, when it came out in a rather pathetic admission that the word ' Greek' was not held in front of these prisoners but the word 'Greece' and, therefore, the Minister had been technically correct and when I moved a censure motion in that regard, it was considered by the people who are sitting opposite now bleating about Senator Ryan that that was an outrageous thing to do. Yet the evidence was there-it is still there-of the deliberate misleading of this Parliament week after week.

Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. I am not surprised that the Minister should seek to canvass matters other than those which are before us. But I draw your attention to standing order 415 which states:

No Senator shall reflect upon any Vote of the Senate, except for the purpose of moving that such Vote be rescinded.

The matters which are being raised in debate by the Minister are matters which have been the subject of a previous censure debate. They have been disposed of and rejected by the Senate. The Minister should go back to the subject matter of this censure motion, which is the shameful behaviour of his senatorial colleague .

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I will rule on the point of order. The Minister, Senator Grimes, must confine himself to the subject of the censure motion. He is entitled to draw attention to other censure motions, but not at length. I ask him to return to the subject of this censure motion.

Senator GRIMES —Thank you, Mr Deputy President. Nothing indicates more the pathetic case on the other side than did Senator Chaney's point of order then.

Senator Chaney —Why don't you say something about the charges?

Senator GRIMES —I have already said much about the charges and I will say a bit more about them now. If we look at the Estimates Committee Hansards we see that Senator Baume, Senator Teague and, later, Senator Archer, were determined to prove that the Department of Education and Youth Affairs was conducting a series of surveys on youth attitudes and, in particular, youth attitudes to the funding of government and non-government schools. They were determined to do so because they were fixated on this idea after they and the newspapers had received a leak that this was happening. Throughout the questions and answers Senator Ryan, as she has demonstrated today in her reply, kept pointing out, and Dr Taloni pointed out, to Senator Baume that Opposition senators were talking about something which did not exist, a survey in the Department of Education and Youth Affairs.

Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I take a point of order. The Minister is totally ignoring the fact that Senator Baume has quoted the question when he asked whether the Education Department had given any advice to any other department. The Minister is totally misrepresenting the case that is being put.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! That is not a point of order. That is a debating point which no doubt will be taken up later.

Senator GRIMES —That is a deliberate attempt to disrupt the debate. As recorded on page 9.4 Senator Ryan said:

Mr Chairman, is Senator Baume referring to the Special Minister of State estimates?

Senator Baume said:

I am asking whether the survey was carried out; I am only speaking of this Department-

That is the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. The transcript goes on and on like that. Quite clearly, the Opposition was fixated on this matter. During the hearing on the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State Senator Archer asked questions in the same way. He did not want to know what the Department of the Special Minister of State was doing but what the Department of Education and Youth Affairs was doing. He asked:

What input did the Department of Education and Youth Affairs have into the survey?

He was answered. He continued:

Who actually formulated the questions? Were these done by the consultants or by a committee from the various departments.

It was then pointed out to him, as Senator Ryan has pointed out, that the framing of the questions was done by the consultants and a whole series of departments, including the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and the Department of the Special Minister of State. When Senator Archer asked to whom the results would be provided, it was pointed out that they would be provided to a ministerial committee chaired by the Special Minister of State. He was obviously greatly confused because he asked why they were not given to the Department of Education and Youth Affairs and whether it was paying for the cost of the survey. So it went on and on. There was an absolute obsession by honourable senators opposite. They were determined that the inquiry which they had heard about through a leak was done by the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. It was not so, and demonstrably not so. When Senator Baume tried to ask questions about the Department of the Special Minister of State, Senator Ryan pointed out that that was more appropriately done at the Estimates Committee concerned with that Department. Senator Baume did not like it. He wanted to get back to the Department of Education and Youth Affairs.

Senator Chaney —But he asked whether they had advised any other department.

Senator GRIMES —Poor Senator Chaney could not make all his points in his speech. He has to make them by phoney points of order and interjection. I am not surprised. None of us should be surprised. This was obviously to be a big presentation case this afternoon. The shadow Minister for Education and the ex- Minister for Education did not lead the debate this afternoon.

Senator Chaney —You never do.

Senator GRIMES —Yes we do. The censure motions moved in our time in Opposition were moved by the appropriate shadow Ministers. Senator Chaney should ask Senator Withers. He had a censure motion moved against him. We know what happened to him. This afternoon Senator Chaney and his colleagues, after imbibing the air and all sorts of things at Thredbo at the weekend, have come back here revived and happy. They drag up this pathetic accusation about Senator Ryan and try to blow up an issue. When the Minister saw that there was some possibility of people misrepresenting her answers, she immediately gave the information required to the Estimates Committee. The information was delivered to members of the Estimates Committee, but they did not ask any further questions or make any further inquiries during the Estimates Committee hearing, in Question Time in the Senate, during the adjournment debate or in any of the places where it was appropriate to do so. They thought to themselves: 'Things are going a bit bad; what can we do which will be spectacular? What can we do to get our names in the paper?' So they moved this pathetic censure motion. The censure motion will not wash.

The substance of this debate, is simply this: Senator Baume and his colleagues did not know the right questions to ask. Senator Ryan answered the questions correctly and accurately. They were answered correctly and accurately by the officer of her Department. Senator Ryan gave further information to the Estimates Committee in a letter which was tabled and circulated to members of the Committee. What happened? No one tried to clarify the situation. The Opposition has moved a censure motion on the most pathetic evidence.

Senator Watson —Why was it necessary to write the letter?

Senator GRIMES —Senator Watson makes a very interesting interjection. Why was it necessary? I have sat on more Estimates committees than he has. It is a very frequent occurrence for Estimates committees to receive letters the next day which clarify questions and give further information. What Senator Watson is saying is that Ministers should not do that; that Ministers should not clarify the situation; that Ministers should not give senators the information that they seek. The Minister did the right thing. She gave honourable senators more than they asked for. She overcame the difficulties that they had in asking the correct questions. The Opposition has failed deliberately to sustain anything like a censure motion. Now it seriously suggests that this chamber should censure a Minister who not only gave the answers at the Estimates Committee, but also gave supplementary information which Opposition senators were too lazy to read, and which they did not bother to ask questions about, then or now. They expect us to support a censure motion under those circumstances.

We reject the censure motion, as would any reasonable senator. We reject the way it has been brought up. We reject the way that honourable senators opposite proceeded during Estimate Committee hearings. we reject the way they chose to ignore the information given by the Minister. We reject the way they failed to clarify that information, if they were in any doubt about it. But, in particular , we reject a motion of this type against an efficient, competent and successful Minister, and that is what it is all about. The Opposition has failed in this debate and it will fail, as it should, when a vote is taken.