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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1721


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(4.03) —The Senate is debating a motion for the censure of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, Senator Ryan. The motion says that she has deliberately misled a Senate Estimates committee. The circumstances are that Senator Ryan was the Minister at the table at a Senate Estimates committee inquiring into the estimates of her own Department. For those of the community who do not understand the Estimates procedure, let me say that a Senate Estimates committee has all the powers, all the privileges and all the responsibilities of the Senate. The Minister sits there with officers of her Department listening to the answers of those officers , taking responsibility for those answers, correcting them if she thinks they are wrong and adding to them or subtracting from them. She has total responsibility for the advice, the answers and the facts given. Against that background, the answers given not only by the Minister but also by Dr Taloni are the responsibility of the Minister. If the Minister did not correct any of those answers, we must assume that the Minister took full responsibility for the accuracy and veracity of those answers. That must be so.

The circumstances were these: A number of Opposition senators directed their attention to an item in another set of estimates. That item was in the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State, an agency portfolio to other portfolios. The item itself related specifically to the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. It provided money for certain purposes 'and to research attitudes of Australians generally on the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools'. Quite clearly that item related to the responsibility of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs and was known to everbody-the Minister and all the officers of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. A series of questions was asked and answered. Subsequently in another Estimates committee, Estimates Committee E, evidence was given which showed a direct contradiction of those answers. The following day a letter was provided by the Minister which showed direct contradiction of those answers. The Minister says that she wrote it. I put it to her in fairness that the Department wrote it and she signed it. Let us look at that.

Today in the atmosphere of a censure motion the Minister has said: 'These question were not related to the special intervention by me into another department's information opinion poll. They were related to general opinion polling by my Department. I took them as such and I answered them in that way'. That is no good. That does not wash, because a number of the questions related specifically to the polling that was to be done through the Department of the Special Minister of State relating to information being sought on independent schools. They were specific. Following the answer from Dr Taloni in which he said that there was a youth affairs survey by the Department of the Special Minister of State but that he had no details of that survey, Senator Baume said:

Did the Department request some questions to be included in the survey?

That means: 'Did the Department request some questions to be included in the Department of the Special Minister of State survey?'-not a survey by the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. Dr Taloni said no. The Minister, sitting there, knew that that question was directed to questions in the Department of Special Minister of State survey. She heard a senior officer of the Department say no and she knew the answer was wrong. So she must accept that responsibility.

I now turn to the next set of questions on this matter. Senator Baume said to Dr Taloni:

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?

Honourable senators should not forget what this question says. It says: 'Did the Department of Education and Youth Affairs give advice to another department, namely, the Department of the Special Minister of State, on survey questions on independent schools?' The Minister, in her letter, now says: 'Yes, it is so'. The evidence in the other Estimates Committee says that is so. Dr Taloni said: ' I am not aware of that'. But the Minister was listening. The question concerned advice from the Department of Education and Youth Affairs to another department on questions on independent schools, and Senator Baume asked a question of the Minister to this effect: 'Did you have an input into that survey of the other department, questions concerning independent schools?' Senator Ryan said:

There was no such survey, to my knowledge.

She said in her letter that of course she knew it was; it was there at her request. In the Estimates Committee she said:

The survey I am aware of is the survey to do with youth attitudes.

Of course it was, but she knew, and says so in her letter, that to that survey on youth attitudes on her initiative she had added questions on independent schools. A question was asked of Dr Taloni to this effect: 'Did the Department give advice to the Department of the Special Minister of State on survey questions on independent schools to be added?' There is no question at all as to what that meant. Dr Taloni said that he was not aware of it. Senator Baume pressed that question. Senator Ryan said that there was not any such survey by the Department of the Special Minister of State with questions on independent schools in it. There can be no plainer meaning than that. Step by step we see that this is so.

Let me now look at what has happened. The Department of the Special Minister of State has revealed that it was by the primary initiative of the Minister under question today, Senator Ryan, that the youth survey went on at all. Let me read what was said. Senator Archer asked a question on this matter and 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. That project got under way after the results were made known of some research that had gone on in relation to the electoral enrolment campaign, and the Department of Education and Youth Affairs was intimately involved as part of the steering group that prepared that.

Senator Ryan sat in the Estimates Committee and heard it said, by implication, that there was no such steering committee. The question was asked:

Was there a steering committee conducting the survey?

Senator Baume asked:

That is being handled by an interdepartmental committee?

Dr Taloni said:

That is being handled by SMOS, Special Minister of State.

The Minister, hearing that, must have known there was a steering committee and she let it be known it was just the Special Minister of State who was handling this situation. She must have known that there was a ministerial committee on this matter, because evidence from the Department of the Special Minister of State has now revealed that. The Minister sat there in silence. This is quite an incredible situation because it is the duty of a Minister to correct any false evidence that is given in an Estimates committee.

Senator Archer asked:

And the Minister made the request?

Mr Malone replied:

The suggestion, I should say, that something should be done. Later, when we got the program under way, ANOP had been selected by competitive submission to do the job.

Senator Archer asked:

What input did the Department of Education and Youth Affairs have into the survey? Did it actually set it up?

The whole context in Estimates Committee D, from what the Minister and Dr Taloni said, was that the Department of Education and Youth Affairs had a peripheral- that is, hardly any-input at all. I will read the transcript. What did Mr Malone say? He said:

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.

He went on to say:

Through the auspices of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs we had a meeting with the research agency and a number of the groups they recommended-the Youth Affairs Council et cetera-which it thought could make a contribution from the non-government side. We also had letters written to all other departments getting them to put in any input for particular interests they had. The Department of Education and Youth Affairs participated at all levels in the steering group discussions.

Whereas in the Estimates Committee it was made plain by the Minister and the officer at the table that all this was done by the Department of the Special Minister of State and that the Department of Education and Youth Affairs had no initiative, no intervention at all-this is quite clear as I read it-it now appears that they were the prime initiators, that they were involved all the time, and that the very questions were initiated by them. Mr Malone stated:

The input then came from the major departments with concerns to flesh out the questionnaire.

Senator Archer asked:

Which were they?

Mr Malone replied:

Education and Youth Affairs, Employment and Industrial Relations, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and ourselves. Then the actual final framing of the questionnaire was left to the consultants.

What emerges is this. An inquiry into attitudes on independent schools, a subject which was the responsibility of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, could not have been conducted at all by the agency department except by the authority of the Minister sitting here, the Minister under censure. For what other purpose could it have been done? Could it have been done in a vacuum or done by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) without the Minister's authority? Quite clearly, the very appearance of the figure in the Special Minister of State's estimates indicated that the Minister herself had acted to have that survey done . It could not have been done otherwise. When the questions were asked, it was quite clear that the Minister had to say how that survey came about.

It is no good the Minister saying here today that what she was taking to be the line of questioning was a question about the general public opinion poll. She knows that that is not true because the question was asked specifically:

Did the Department request some questions to be included in the SMOS survey?

That is a plain question that was asked in the Minister's presence. She heard the answer 'No', and she knew that that answer was wrong. She knew that the question was directed not to what she is trying to say today about a general survey on youth affairs but to a survey relating to independent schools. She knew when that question was answered that she had initiated the survey, had sought money, could not get the money, and then agreed with the Special Minister of State to include a series of questions, at her initiative, into the public opinion poll to achieve a purpose, and for that purpose a certain amount of money was included in the Special Minister of State estimates. She knew that but she let Dr Taloni say 'No', as she let him say 'No' to the question: 'Was there a steering committee?'

Once again, step by step by step, I come to it. The Minister sat in the Committee and heard Senator Baume ask:

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?

Did the Department of Education and Youth Affairs give any advice to any other department on survey matters relating to the funding of government schools? Senator Ryan in her letter said: 'Yes, it did. We advised the Special Minister of State to include in the survey questions on this matter'. Indeed, money was sought and put aside in the appropriations for exactly that purpose. In her letter she said yes, but in the Estimates Committee Dr Taloni said:

I am not aware of it.

Senator Ryan said:

There has been no such survey, to my knowledge.

She said 'no such survey', not 'no survey'. No such survey arose from her Department giving to the other department questions to be included in that Department's survey; to her knowledge no such survey was conducted. They are plain words; there is no question of misinterpretation at all.

Right throughout the whole train of the questioning the Minister knew that the senators were asking how a public inquiry by way of public opinion poll had been initiated and developed on the attitudes towards independent schools. She knew that and she knew that she had initiated it. She knew all the circumstances of that, and now she is hiding behind one defence and one defence only, that is, that all the time she was imagining that they were asking about the SMOS survey on the broad compass of youth affairs, unemployment and so on. She cannot get away with that because Senator Baume, Senator Teague and others did not leave her with that. They asked regarding that survey: Was there an intervention into that survey in terms of non-government schools? The answer from Dr Taloni was ' no', and the answer from Senator Ryan was 'no'. What do we know now? We know that at the Estimates Committee this was the picture given: 'We really know nothing at all about such a survey. Yes, there is a youth survey being conducted by the Special Minister of State, but it is a general one. Really we are only on the periphery of it. Yes, we had one little conversation at one stage about the shape and size of it. It is the total responsibility of the Special Minister of State. The Department itself has no intervention in this situation at all'. That is what the evidence in the Senate Hansard reveals. Of course, what the Minister 's letter reveals is totally different. What the letter reveals is that the broader survey itself was largely started as a result of the Minister's initiative. Of course such a survey is conducted by the Special Minister of State because it is an agency ministry. Senator Ryan then conceived the idea that there ought to be a study of the attitudes of people regarding independent schools. She sought the money from the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) and failed. She reached an agreement with the Special Minister of State to include- at her initiative-questions on independent schools in the survey. The Minister also knew that the conduct of this matter belonged to a steering committee of departments of which the Department of Education and Youth Affairs was not only an equal amongst equals but-as is revealed by the evidence given by the SMOS officer-a leader amongst them. She knew also that rather than travelling alone as a department, SMOS was running this under the control of a ministerial committee. So one by one the arguments fall down.

When one looks at the matter and imagines the Minister sitting at the table knowing the line of territory it is not good enough for her to traverse half truths. That is not good enough. For example, when Senator Teague opened up the questioning and asked, 'Has the Department commissioned any public opinion surveys since 5 March 1983?', and Dr Taloni replied, 'No', the Minister's mind must have run to the fact that the Department may not have done so directly within the ministry, because that would not be, and that such a question related to whether the Department, as the prime mover, commissioned the agent department , SMOS, to do that. The answer was no. So that in itself was a wrong answer. Senator Teague continued:

Were there any commissioned surveys of any kind that in part included anything that could be described as a public opinion survey?

Dr Taloni said:

On the part of the Department, no.

But of course, on the part of the Department, the answer was yes. The fact of the matter is that the Department did not do that itself; but by the agency of the Special Minister of State it did do so. Dr Taloni said, in regard to a survey on youth attitudes:

There is a survey on youth attitudes being conducted by the Department of the Special Minister of State . . .

He was asked: Is there a steering committee? He said: That is being handled by SMOS. On and on it goes. We then come to the key situation concerning the attitude of mind of the Minister. Senator Teague had asked:

That is being handled by an interdepartmental committee?

Dr Taloni replied:

That is being handled by SMOS, Special Minister of State.

Senator Peter Baume said:

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

Here was a chance for the Minister to say: 'Yes, in fact we are part of a steering committee. We are part of a ministerial committee. I initiated the asking of certain questions'. The Minister knew that. They were the facts; no selective truths or half truths. What did the Minister say? She said:

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.

What nonsense is that? Her letter says that SMOS is acting as an agent department to run surveys of her initiatives, both the broader and the narrower ones. Senator Ryan is on a ministerial committee and her Department is on a steering committee. Yet Senator Ryan said to the Committee:

. . . it is not a survey for which this Department is responsible.

She continued:

So Dr Taloni does not have any detailed information about it.

But the simple fact of the matter is that the whole Department and all responsible officers must have known the circumstances. Indeed, Senator Baume realised that what the Minister was trying to do was to cover up behind the broad survey. Step by step Senator Baume and Senator Teague directed their questions to the nub of the matter: Did the Department of Education and Youth Affairs intervene any subject matter at all relating to independent schools into the public opinion polls? The answers came back clearly: No. Of course, what have we got now? Instead of that defence we have a letter. I am sorry that the Minister interjected in the cross-fire of debate that she had written this letter. I hope she will acknowledge that this letter is obviously a departmental letter which she has signed, because I would not want that kind of misleading situation to persist. The fact is that the letter was written not as an afterthought by her, after coming out of the Estimates committee, but after she and her Department knew that the evidence of the officers of the Department of the Special Minister of State had exposed her evidence as totally wrong. The Minister wrote a letter stating:

After reflecting on yesterday's hearing . . . it appears to me there needs to be some clarification on responses . . .

The Minister had said that she was being dragged along by her Department in all this. Her letter states:

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-

So there we are. She is a front runner in this situation. The Minister then said that there was a steering committee which she acknowledged involved her Department. She then said-a fact which she did not admit in the course of the estimates:

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.

So Senator Ryan, sitting at the Estimates Committee, knew that it was not a matter of somebody else doing something but that the initiative to get subject matter into the public opinion polls was hers and hers alone. The initiative was not that of some agency of SMOS. Senator Ryan in her letter goes on to say that she was knocked back by the Minister for Finance. She said:

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.

I acknowledge that what has happened here today is a sad thing. Censure motions are not pleasant for anybody, particularly for the honourable senator concerned. The Minister has brought forward no explanation at all as to why there is such a gross disparity between the evidence of Estimates Committee D and Estimates Committee E and the Minister's subsequent letter. The Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Grimes) has offered no defence at all except bombast. He did not even bother to understand the issues and did not direct himself to a single fact at all. He simply got up and spoke with his usual bombast. It is a pretty sad reflection that any leader could do such a thing to his colleagues who sit behind him. I feel sorry for the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs that that should have been so. At least in the days of the Fraser Government, if we were under fire, we at least fought as colleagues and packed around each other. I apologise to the Minister for the fact that she should find herself in such a miserable situation.

The facts of the matter remain. I will recapitulate them now. The examiniation of the estimates for the Department of the Special Minister of State revealed an activity relating to independent schools which was the initiative of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. That is a fact. At the Estimates Committee hearing, the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs knew all about how those steps were taken. The Minister set about pretending-that is the only way to put it-that none of those things happened. In all her answers there was not a word which suggested that there was such a survey. How pathetic that is. She must have known she could not get away with it. She must have known that she as a Minister and nobody else could have initiated that appropriation for the Department of the Special Minister of State. Nevertheless, she and her departmental officer tried to stall and to answer questions in such a way that no evidence would come out; in fact, that the wrong evidence would come out, that evidence that did come out would be that there was no intervention by the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, no steering committee, no ministerial committee, no intervention by the Minister to initiate this situation.

It has taken a letter, dragged out of the Minister, to tell her real story. The letter was written by the Department because the Department knows that it cannot withstand the defects of facts. That letter has proved that the evidence at Estimates Committee E is correct, that the questioning by Opposition senators is correct, that the answers given by Dr Taloni and the Minister were wrong and that there has been a culpable and deliberate misleading of this Senate. Those are the facts. They cannot be denied.

Nobody has put forward any argument, save the Minister herself who said that the questions were not directed to the intervention by the Department on questions on state aid, that she was directing her answers to the total survey. Even if she were, in her letter she says that she was the initiator of the main inquiry. She cannot have it other than on the substance of her own evidence. I have to conclude, on the evidence of the Senate Hansard records, on the evidence of the letter of the Minister, on the evidence of the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State, that the Minister, and indeed the officer, have gravely misled the Senate.