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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2112


Senator PETER BAUME —(New South Wales) (10.30)-I move:

That the particulars of proposed additional expenditure for the service of the year ending 30 June 1984 contained in Divisions 270 to 284 for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs be recommitted to Estimates Committee D for consideration and report to the Senate on or before Friday, 1 June 1984.

I thank the Senate for agreeing to the suspension of Standing Orders. This matter arises out of issues canvassed in a censure motion earlier this month in the Senate. It is not appropriate for me again to go over the details of that motion or to canvass the particular matters. However, later in the debate on the Appropriation Bills we may well use opportunities to do that. I will refer to those matters relevant to the need now to re-examine the estimates of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs.

I remind the Senate that Estimates Committee D did examine that Department on 3 May; that the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) submitted a letter relating to part of the evidence and to answers given on the following day, that is, 4 May, and that, after the following weekend, matters raised in the evidence and in the letter were canvassed in a censure motion against the Minister in the Senate on 8 May. During that debate an exchange took place, and I refer honourable senators to page 1729 of the Senate Hansard of that day. During Senator Colston's speech he took us to task for not having raised the matter immediately. The following interchange then took place:


Senator Macklin —You can recall the Estimates Committee tomorrow night, on request.


Senator Colston —I can recall it if requested.


Senator Peter Baume —I request you.


Senator Teague —I request you.


Senator Martin —I request you.

So we took up the offer immediately.


Senator Chipp —A group of bloody parrots, were they?


Senator PETER BAUME —Nevertheless, we were impressed by Senator Macklin's suggestion and by Senator Colston's echoing it. We followed that up in the chamber with a formal letter of request that the Committee reconvene. The letter of request was not just that the Committee reconvene but that the Committee be reconvened 'to seek further information in relation to the Estimates for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs'. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard that letter which we submitted to the Chairman of the Estimates Committee.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

The Chairman

Senate Estimates Committee ''D'',

Parliament House

Canberra, A.C.T.

Dear Senator Colston,

In view of the debate in the Senate today and the significant issues raised about the conduct of Estimates Committee D, we request that the Committee be reconvened to seek further information in relation to the Estimates for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs.

We suggest that 8 p.m. on Wednesday 9th May would be an appropriate time.

Yours sincerely,

Kathy Martin P. Baume (Senator for Queensland) (Senator for New South Wales)

Baden Teague(Senator for South Australia)


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Senate. We then attempted, at the private meeting which followed, to recommit the estimates for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs for re-examination because that was the obvious course to take. When the Committee did reconvene I moved a motion that the Committee reconvene in public session to take further evidence. I regret to say that at that private meeting a vote was taken on the motion I moved. The vote was lost, I regret to say, strictly on party lines. The vote against the Committee's reconvening was three all, with three Liberal senators moving to reconvene, three Labor senators opposing it, and the Chairman, as is his right, using his casting vote to vote to prevent the Committee's reconvening. We then had to consider our position, which gave rise to the minority report that has now been ordered to be printed in the Senate and in which we set out some of our very real concerns about the failure to reconvene the Committee. I direct the attention of honourable senators to the minority report. We will mention it during debate, but the point we make is that the Senate has not been well served by that decision. Estimates committees, as part of the Senate, have a duty to the Senate, to the system of government, to the whole Westminster system.


Senator Grimes —Pious bullshit. Absolutely pious nonsense and you know it.


Senator PETER BAUME —I am interested in Senator Grimes's first interjection. I hope Hansard will have picked it up and will record the word he used because I think it is unparliamentary.


Senator Chipp —The second word.


Senator PETER BAUME —No, the first word was the word he used; let us record it.


Senator Grimes —What is wrong with pious?


Senator PETER BAUME —I refer to the first noun he used. We believe that the Westminster system of government requires that people tell the truth to parliamentary committees as they would to the Parliament. We believe that sufficient matters arose during this examination on 3 May and the letter which followed to warrant reconvening the Committee just to re-examine those particular matters.


Senator Grimes —Who are you saying didn't tell the truth?


Senator PETER BAUME —I am just making my own speech. I direct the attention of honourable senators to that minority report. Another matter has occurred subsequently to make recommittal of the Estimates Committee evidence, and re- examination of it, necessary and desirable. I refer honourable senators to the material which has just been tabled and ordered to be printed. Included in that is a personal statement by Dr A. Taloni, First Assistant Secretary of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, in relation to the evidence he gave to Estimates Committee D. In that statement, Dr Taloni makes two statements: First, because he knew that the Minister considered that as a survey was being conducted by another department, questions relating to that should be addressed to that other department, he gave certain answers that he did. I point out that we were examining the salaries estimate for officers of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs and to the extent that the officers had been involved in this matter, they should have answered. Secondly, Dr Taloni's personal explanation says:

During the final phase of the questioning . . . I mistakenly believed . . .

He goes on to explain what he mistakenly believed about the questions. It is apparent that the evidence given to us was, to use Senator Macklin's phrase during the censure debate, if not untruthful, intended to conceal the facts. I think I quote Senator Macklin fairly accurately.


Senator Chipp —Or to not divulge the whole facts.


Senator PETER BAUME —Or to not divulge the whole facts. The purpose of reconvening the Committee is to go over those questions again, to examine those matters and to bring out the facts which were not made clear to us during the estimates examination. It is quite possible for this re-examination of this part of the estimates of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs to be conducted expeditiously. It is a very limited matter, a very limited part of the Department's evidence, and we could do that with some expedition. It does not need to be a long public hearing. The ambit of interest is limited generally to the matters which have been in contention, which have been raised in the Senate, which were the subject of Senator Ryan's letter and which were the subject of Dr Taloni's subsequent personal explanation.

I point out to the Senate that Estimates Committee A has already taken a decision to reconvene and to hear some other matters. I believe it is reconvening tonight, Wednesday night. There is no reason why Estimates Committee D could not do the same thing-reconvene tonight, hear this evidence and clear up this matter. There is no reason why the Estimates Committee cannot report by the date which is mentioned in the motion I have moved, 1 June. Further, there is no impediment to the Government obtaining Supply, as it needs to do, even if this examination is incomplete. I have taken advice on this and there is no constitutional reason why we cannot proceed to deal with the Appropriation Bills , to pass them and to give the Government the Supply it needs even if this matter takes a little longer.

For all those reasons, because of all the doubts that have arisen about the evidence given by the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, and because the Estimates Committee itself has denied to us, the other members of the Committee, the re-examination which we believe is necessary, we now appeal to the Senate to pass this motion and to direct the Committee to reconvene in public session, to hear this evidence and to allow this matter to be cleaned up. We believe that is owed to officers of the Public Service; we believe it is owed to the Committee; we believe it is owed to the Parliament and we believe it is owed to the Westminster system of government: And I commend the motion.