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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1730


Senator LEWIS(4.59) —The Senate is debating a motion censuring the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator 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 say at the outset that in connection with this matter I would adopt a statement made on a previous occasion by the Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser. He said:

Ten per cent or even 50 per cent of the truth is as good a way of misleading this Parliament and the Australian people as a downright lie. The half truth, the partial answer and the slipping over of the full facts are a misleading of this Parliament . . .

That is what the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser said on a previous occasion. I also adopt the words of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator John Button, when on 9 April 1981 in this place, having quoted the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser, he said:

I rely on that statement of government standards to support the wording of the censure motion . . .

He then moved the motion. Those honourable senators on the other side of the chamber who criticise Malcolm Fraser for saying that are, in effect, criticising their leader, Senator Button, for adopting those words of Mr Fraser. I congratulate Senator Macklin for his analysis of the Hansard transcript of the Estimates Committee hearing.

As he explained to the Senate what he could see happening in this case, it seemed to me to be an accurate analysis of the probabilities of what was going on. It is clear that the Minister is cagey-so cagey that in this case she ended up deliberately misleading the Committee. On any analysis of the letter which she wrote to the Committee we can see that she was being cagey. She used the following words:

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 . . .

Finally, she conceded that the survey was conducted at her request. But it would be impossible for any member of an Estimates committee which was dealing with another matter, on a gleaning of that letter, to have appreciated that the ultimate analysis of the letter was that she was conceding that she had deliberately misled the Committee on the previous day. It is clearly an attitude of mind. As Senator Macklin pointed out, her attitude of mind was: 'I will give you smart answers. My officers will give you smart answers. I will give you the minimum of information. I will just answer the question and no more'.

We can see that her officers are imbued with that same spirit. Why did the government waste thousands of dollars having all those public servants waiting to help the Minister answer questions, when it was clear that the Minister would not provide the Senate Estimates Committee with the maximum of information? She provided the Committee with a minimum of information, and the result of that attitude of mind was that ultimately she misled the Committee, as she conceded in that letter.

Let us look at the evidence. Senator Teague asked this question:

Has the Department commissioned any public opinion surveys since 5 March 1983?

Dr Taloni said:

No.


Senator Robert Ray —Is that wrong?


Senator LEWIS —Senator Ray asks whether that is wrong. No, the answer was quite correct. It had not commissioned any surveys. What had happened was that it had requested someone else to conduct a survey. Let us look at the background. The Minister, as she concedes in her letter, had already applied for $50,000 for an independent survey on public attitudes to the complex question of schools funding. That is why she wanted $50,000. The Minister for Finance, Mr Dawkins, quite rightly knocked her back. However, she then went to the Special Minister of State, Mick Young, who perhaps was indebted to her, and somehow or other she persuaded Mick Young to add $35,000 to his estimates so that this survey could be added on to the bottom of another survey which his Department was doing. The Minister had made her application to the Department. She had had a discussion with Mr Dawkins about it. She then had another discussion with Mr Young. Finally , she got Mr Young and his Department to agree to add $35,000 to his estimates so that the survey could be added to another survey. When asked the question: ' Has the Department commissioned any public opinion surveys?', Dr Taloni said 'No ', because that was an accurate answer. That was the minimum of information. He was not going to help by stepping in and saying: 'No, we have not commissioned any, but we have requested another department to do it'. What did the Minister do? She sat there and did not say a word at that stage.

As I said before, how does one mislead the Parliament? One can mislead the Parliament by telling a deliberate untruth or by remaining silent when one has an opportunity to speak. The next question asked:

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

Glory be, the Minister and Dr Taloni knew exactly what they had done. That question could not have been more general. Again, Dr Taloni gave the bare minimum of an answer:

On the part of the Department, no.

Of course, Senator Baume picked up, as did Senator Teague, that there was something funny about that answer: 'On the part of the Department, no'. So they kept pressing on, seeking further information, until Dr Taloni said:

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.

It was the Department's survey. It wanted the information and it received a $35, 000 additional grant through the Special Minister of State. Yet Dr Taloni said: 'This might have some relevance to our departmental function'. Was that being truthful? What did the Minister do?


Senator Withers —He ought to be sacked.


Senator LEWIS —I agree with Senator Withers, but perhaps no. I suppose the man is entitled to make his defence. I do not know what the Minister had said to him beforehand. Clearly, there was a conspiracy of some kind going on between those two people not to reveal this information to the Estimates Committee. I do not know why. Perhaps there is something in the information which they think will be misused. As I said before, the Minister is as cagey as anyone could possibly be. I do not know how she will use this information, but I have my suspicions. Dr Taloni having conceded that there was something going on, Senator Baume then asked him:

Could you tell us something about that survey?

Here was an opportunity for the Minister to step in and say: 'I will tell you about that survey. I want to know about this, and I have asked the Special Minister of State to do this'. She could have given the Senate Estimates Committee all the information. But what did she do? Listen to the words she used . She interrupted Dr Taloni and said--


Senator Ryan —Read the record.


Senator LEWIS —I am reading the record. 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.

I put it to the Senate that she was warning Dr Taloni to shut up. She was warning him: 'This is not your business and if you open your mouth, just be careful'. She continued:

So Dr Taloni does not have any detailed information about it, but he might like to make some comments.

I do not know what Dr Taloni thought at that stage. I guess that what he was saying to himself was: 'What is the Minister on about? We have arranged for this survey. Am I to keep it a secret? How can I get out of this?' This would have been going on in the fellow's mind as he tried to work out what the Minister was on about. He stated:

I have no knowledge of the details of what the SMOS surveys.

That is not true. He knew that SMOS-the Department of the Special Minister of State-was undertaking the survey at the request of his Department. Senator Baume asked:

Did the Department-

that is, the Department of Education and Youth Affairs-

request some questions to be included in the survey?

Dr Taloni answered:

No.

Of course, again that may very well be a truthful answer. Maybe it did not request any questions. But it requested the whole survey. Yet there was that fellow, sitting before a Senate Estimates committee, telling it that no, the Department did not request any questions. It requested the whole survey. What did the Minister do?


Senator Chipp —A science called casuistry.


Senator LEWIS —Yes, I agree.


Senator Peter Baume —That is generous.


Senator LEWIS —That is generous on the part of Senator Chipp. But what did the Minister do or say? Nothing. The Hansard copies that have been given to me-there seems to be some doubt as to whether it is the Hansard; perhaps it needs to be verified as Hansard; perhaps we need to wait for a while-indicate that the Minister remained silent.


Senator Chipp —Perhaps we could get the tapes.


Senator LEWIS —Senator Chipp is quite right. Perhaps we could get the tapes and listen to what happened. It would appear that the Minister remained totally silent when Dr Taloni clearly misled the Senate Estimates Committee by answering no to the question:

Did the Department request some questions . . .?

Senator Teague went on to ask:

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

Dr Taloni answered:

That is right.

Again the Minister remained silent. Dr Taloni was able to add the words-which no doubt he thought might save him:

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

In other words, he was saying: 'I am not aware of the details of it'. But he did not admit that he knew all about the survey and that the survey was being done at his request. The Minister remained silent. Senator Baume later said:

May I return to the question of surveys that might have been done. Did Dr Taloni tell Senator Teague that there were no surveys done which related to Department of Education and Youth Affairs policy?

Dr Taloni answered:

I did say that, yes.

In other words, he was conceding that he had admitted to Senator Teague that there were no surveys done which related to the Department of Education and Youth Affairs.


Senator Peter Baume —That is not true, is it?


Senator LEWIS —As Senator Baume says, of course it is not true. Of course a conspiracy to deceive the Senate was going on at that time. Senator Baume asked:

Can I ask you then about the explanatory notes for the Department of Special Minister of State . . .

He knew that there was something wrong because it was showing up in other explanatory notes. Senator Ryan chipped in at that stage, because she did not want that revealed, and asked:

Mr Chairman, is Senator Baume referring to the Special Minister of State's Estimates?

I say to the Senate that a deliberate attempt was made by the Minister to cover that up. Senator Baume said:

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

At that stage he was interrupted. I hope that the Chairman, Senator Colston, finds this Hansard because Senator Ryan then said:

Mr Chairman, I ask whether you consider it appropriate for the estimates of another department to be the subject of questions at this stage.

She was trying to chop him off.


Senator Peter Baume —She was trying to block the questioning.


Senator LEWIS —She was trying to block the questions. But the Chairman recognised that. Senator Colston is to be admired and congratulated for showing the impartiality which should always be shown by Senate chairmen and Presidents, because he said to the Minister:

I think what Senator Baume is doing is quoting from those in order to ask the officer whether this report was under this Department.

The Minister was not to be blocked by a chairman. Senator Ryan said:

I just point out that my officers cannot be expected to answer questions about estimates of another department.

The Chairman said:

I do not think that was quite the line of questioning.


Senator Teague —That is right.


Senator LEWIS —That is right. The Chairman knew what was going on at that stage. Later on, of course, we come to the absolute deliberate untruth issued by the Minister, when Senator Baume said:

I ask the Minister-

he asked a simple question-

Did you have any input into that survey?

Senator Ryan answered:

There has been no such survey, to my knowledge.


Senator Ryan —No survey within my Department.


Senator LEWIS —The Minister is prepared to mislead the Senate again today. Dear, oh dear! Mr Deputy President, what is going on in this place? In my view, the Minister really is behaving abominably. She deliberately misled that Estimates Committee. She is confirming that today, notwithstanding that she has written a letter to the Estimates Committee in which she admits that she misled the Estimates Committee. If one wades through all the garbage in her letter-her undated letter, as far as I can see-one will see that she concedes that she was well aware of the $35,000 being spent on the survey.


Senator Colston —It did have a date but it was lost in the duplicating.


Senator LEWIS —Senator Colston interrupts to say that there was a date on the letter; however, it did not come out on my photocopy. Senator Baume even went on to say:

I point out that I am very concerned because if the Minister is correct the explanatory notes from another department are incorrect.

Of course that is why we ultimately got the letter. The Minister knew that she would have to face up to Mick Young in due course and that he would say to her: 'Listen, I am not carrying that $35,000. That survey was done for you. It is not part of my Department. It has just been tacked on'.


Senator Peter Baume —She was caught out.


Senator LEWIS —That is right. She has been caught out. There was no doubt that she would have to face up to Mick Young in due course and explain to him what the 35 grand was all about and what she had been going on about. So she wrote the letter. Let me come to the last point. It is quite clear that the honourable senators who were present at that Committee were misled by the Minister. Ultimately, Senator Ryan said:

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 . . .

Does she really think that? She got $35,000 as part of that general survey but she 'thinks' it might be carried out as part of a more general survey. Is that not misleading the Committee? She went on to say:

I have had general discussions about youth attitudes . . .

She then gives us a line of rhetoric about her concern about secondary participation rates and all the rest of it. She then admits:

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 . . .

That, of course, was one of the smart answers we were getting. We were told that the survey had not been completed so she was not able to say anything definite. She was able to give smart answers. She went on to say:

. . . 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.

It is clear that what happened then was that when the Minister got outside with Dr Taloni and the other officers of her Department, they said: 'Minister, you can't go on with that. They know about the appropriation through the Special Minister of State. Sooner or later Mick Young is going to be asked about it. We are going to have to get out of this in some way'. With her arrogant, cagey attitude, this Minister, who has put supporters of independent schools right across the nation off-side, who is showing all the signs of becoming another one of Mr Hawke's disasters and whose own departmental officers realise that she is a liability, then wrote this letter. On any analysis, this letter would really worry one. It says:

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.

So Mr Dawkins and this Minister got together. He said to her: 'You don't need that survey'. She agreed that the survey was unnecessary. What did she then do? She went around the back door and got Mick Young to do it for $35,000 by tacking it on to his survey. It is obvious what this Minister is on about. She did not want to disclose it. It may be that it has something to do with her Caucus. I do not know what she is doing in the Caucus, but it may be that that is why she did not want to disclose that she was spending 35 grand on the survey. It may be that it was in breach of the guidelines of the Department of Finance that this money was tacked on to the other Minister's appropriation. I do not really understand what it is all about, but it is clear that the Minister decided that the easiest way out of this matter was to mislead the Senate Estimates Committee . That was the easy way-'Don't bother to tell the Committee anything about this, Dr Taloni; let's keep this down to the bare minimum, and we'll just skate around the truth'. I conclude by reminding the Senate of the words adopted by Senator Button when he quoted Mr Malcolm Fraser on this matter:

Ten per cent or even 50 per cent of the truth is as good a way of misleading this Parliament and the Australian people as a downright lie. The half-truth, the partial answer and the slipping over of the full facts are a misleading of this Parliament.