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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2305


Senator MARTIN(10.59) —We have proceeded in consideration of this group of departments by following the report of Estimates Committee D. As it happens, the first Department, and I presume the Department we are looking at in particular now, is the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. The evidence given to this Committee has given rise to some controversy and has also given rise to two minority reports. It is probably appropriate now that we follow on with the report which also happens to coincide with this Department. When the original report of Estimates Commitee D was tabled in the Senate on Tuesday, as I recall, a minority report was appended to it which bore the signatures of Senator Peter Baume, Senator Teague and me. That report said that it was the opinion of those senators who signed the minority report that Estimates Committee D should meet again for certain reasons, which I shall come to in due course. It was the opinion of the Senate that the Committee should meet again. It met today, took further evidence, and has made a second report which was tabled by Senator Colston earlier this evening.

The second report contains certain statements disagreeing with the original minority report and it has appended to it yet another minority report, this time signed by Senator Teague and me. Senator Baume has been absent from the Senate from late this afternoon because of a prior arrangement he had. We knew that that would be so. I discussed the possibility of what might appear in the report with him this afternoon. Whilst he is not here I do have his authority to say that the sentiments expressed in this second minority report, dated 31 May 1984, have his support. He will be in attendance in the Senate tomorrow and it is possible that he might take the opportunity to confirm that himself. Lest there by any misunderstanding because there were three signatures on the first minority report and only two on the second, it is only because one senator was absent. There would have been three signatures otherwise.

On 8 May the Senate debated a motion of censure against the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan). This arose out of evidence given to the Committee on 3 May and a letter given by the Minister to the Chairman of the Committee on 4 May which was made available to those members of the Committee present on 4 May. There is no hint of criticism in that; I was not present. It just happened that I did not get the letter. That was my lookout. On the basis of the information of 3 May and the letter of 4 May the Opposition moved a censure motion on 8 May. There was some reference in that debate to certain evidence and page proofs of the transcript of the Estimates Committee on 3 May were available to some people. I was not one of the people who had those page proofs, so as it happened I had neither the Minister's letter nor the page proofs.

I did not participate in the debate on 8 May but I listened to it and I had certain surprises come my way in the course of that debate, as I heard what was read into the record, on the basis of my recollection of the evidence of 3 May. I hasten to add that I had not discussed any of these items with anyone. I then read very closely the evidence in Hansard when I received it when I returned to Canberra this week. As well as reading the evidence in Hansard I, along with other members of the Committee, had amongst the additional information-the answers to questions that had been provided-a document entitled 'Senate Estimates Committee D: Personal Statement' signed by A. Taloni and dated 22 May 1984. I seek leave to have this document incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

SENATE ESTIMATES COMMITTEE D: PERSONAL STATEMENT

I wish to make a personal statement to the Committee in order to explain my answers at hearings on 3 May 1984 as recorded in Hansard, pages 131-133, 137-138 .

My impression at the time of the hearing was that there were three surveys (and the associated funding) under discussion. Whether valid or not, these perceptions affected the quality and clarity of responses.

The three surveys which I thought were under discussion were:

1. An independent survey proposed by this Department but not proceeded with.

2. A well publicised survey on youth attitudes being conducted by the Department of the Special Minister of State (SMOS).

3. An add-on survey to the SMOS survey on behalf of this Department.

I was aware that the Minister considered that, as the survey combining 2 and 3 above was being conducted by SMOS, questions relating to it should be addressed in the context of that Department's bids for additional estimates. I was aware that additional estimates had been sought by SMOS for the add-on survey.

During the final phases of the questioning recorded on page 131 I mistakenly believed that questions were being directed to me on details of the add-on survey. In that context I was replying to the effect that I had no detailed knowledge. This was correct. I was aware of general aspects such as agreement by the Minister to the add-on survey and to the fact that discussions were taking place between officers of the Departments and ANOP but that was the extent of my knowledge. I did not have details nor was I required to have them. I was not involved in discussions on the areas to be covered by the add-on survey, let alone on the details of questions to be included.

To the the best of my recollection I have not had any meetings with departmental or interdepartmental staff or of staff of external organisations to discuss the add-on survey. The survey questions and the reasons for them were of no direct concern to me in my present position.

For the record, I had two discussions with ANOP staff. The first lasted a matter of minutes and concerned the preliminary findings of the Youth Attitudes survey in the context of the production of a Participation and Equity Program ( PEP) publicity film. The second was a meeting arranged to again discuss publicity for the Participation and Equity Program. Neither discussion related to the add-on survey. This meeting is referred to on the bottom of page 137 of Hansard.

I felt concerned after the conclusion of the Department's hearing about the possibility of there having been some confusion and immediately on my return to the Department, no later than 7.15 p.m., I advised the Permanent Head of this. I advised him that the Committee should be informed of this and that the matter should be clarified.

The Minister was advised by the Permanent Head and agreed to write a letter of clarification to the Chairman of the Committee. I add this statement on my own behalf, to explain the circumstances pertaining at the time and the apparent inconsistency in information presented during the hearing.

A. TALONI

22.5.84.


Senator MARTIN —It is desirable that this statement be in Hansard because other key documents are. On the basis of that statement, other events and the evidence , I supported the minority report dated 29 May. The second report of the Committee that came in tonight would have the Committee repudiate statements made in that report. I refuse to repudiate them on the following grounds. The second report says:

On the basis of the evidence in the original hearing, the Committee does not accept certain statements in the minority report about Senator Ryan and Dr Taloni . . .

On the basis of the evidence of the original hearing I did, and on the basis of that evidence I would, accept those statements. Evidence given today has modified my view on some things but not all of them. However, I refuse to disown the statements in the minority report; I do not resile from anything that appears in it. I think, bearing in mind the information before us, that was reasonable. In the Estimates Committee hearings today-again other senators will be at a disadvantage because we are going on page proofs as the Hansard report is not available, which is understandable under the circumstances-the questions and answers that gave rise to the controversy were debated at great length. Questions were repeated and officers and the Minister were given the opportunity to reconsider answers given on 3 May and to elaborate or expand on them. It was a very detailed hearing. I had some questions in my mind but did not ask them because I did not think that they were really to the central issue. However, they are interesting questions that arise out of Dr Taloni's statement. In our minority report Senator Teague and I say:

We do not agree that the hearings of Estimates Committee D confirm the assessment contained in the majority report to the Senate.

That is, the majority report delivered this evening. I have given an indication of why. We continued:

We do not consider it appropriate to canvass the reasons for our opinion in this report.

We did not, either in this minority report or the previous minority report, canvass opinions. We stated that we had drawn certain conclusions. We thought Estimates Committee D should follow a particular line of action; it had not and we were appealing to the Senate to support us. So only so much of the principles of Estimates committees as we felt were central to the issue were mentioned in that report. The reasons were not detailed. We said in that report, as I have already mentioned:

. . . we have concluded that the Minister and Dr Taloni consciously withheld information when answering questions on the involvement of the Department in a survey being undertaken by the government . . . This is the first recorded instance of an Estimates Committee having been given what appears to be calculated, incorrect information.

As I have said, I stand by those statements having been correct at the time. However, I would like to examine the statements in the light of the evidence of 3 May and since and to state my views, which I have not stated previously. I indicated, in outline, some of them during the hearings of the Committee today. The essence of this matter is that there were a series of questions from Senator Teague and Senator Baume on the subject of public opinion surveys or other surveys. As I sat in the Committee I had no knowledge of any public opinion surveys or other sorts of surveys. I heard a series of questions about surveys, and answers, and I concluded from the original line of questioning that the officers of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs did not know anything of use to the Committee about these surveys. Subsequently, some time later, Senator Baume came back to the subject and asked another series of questions. These questions were specifically in relation to whether there had been some sort of survey on the subject of the funding of government and non-government schools. Those questions were commented on very briefly by Dr Taloni and at greater length by the Minister.

As I sat and listened to the questions, answers and comments I really thought Senator Baume was up a dry gully. I understood him to be asking questions about a survey on government and non-government schools and my belief from the answers given was that there was no such survey that people at that Estimates Committee could tell us about. I will come back to some of the detail because it has been suggested that there might have been some confusion. I think there is an attempt to confuse with these assertions of confusion because my reading of it is really very clear. The Committee today and on 3 May spent some time asking Dr Taloni a number of questions. Dr Taloni is the First Assistant Secretary of the Management Division in the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. Those questions were repeated today to Dr Taloni, with invitations to the Minister and any other officer present to answer. I think that is a fair and general statement of the situation. Originally the questions and answers were as follows :


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

Dr Taloni-No.


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

Dr Taloni-On the part of the Department, no.


Senator TEAGUE —Has the Department requested public opinion surveys through a statutory authority or one of the commissions?

Dr Taloni-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.


Senator TEAGUE —That is being handled by an interdepartmental committee?

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


Senator TEAGUE —Has the Department engaged in any market research since March 1983?

Mr Maher-No.

At this stage Senator Ryan interposed for the first time. The exchange continues :


Senator RYAN —No, we have not done any. I think some was done under the previous Government, but not by us.

CHAIRMAN-Do the officers want to make any further responses?

Dr Taloni-No.

I am not aware whether any other officers said no. Dr Taloni is the only one recorded as saying that. It is important because the evidence today showed that other officers could have added to that and knew more about this survey than Dr Taloni. The questioning continued:

CHAIRMAN-Did you want to interpose, Senator Baume?


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

That is a very general question. The Minister interposed again. I point out that the question was directed to Dr Taloni but Senator Ryan interposed:


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

At that point Dr Taloni had not said anything about detailed information, but the words start to appear fairly regularly. Senator Baume then asked a question.


Senator Georges —I thought it was bad enough on Committee F. It must have been dreadful on this one. For the last 10 minutes you have been going on with some rubbish that is hard to understand. Still, I will listen.


Senator MARTIN —There has been considerable misrepresentation of things that have happened on this Committee. I suggest to Senator Georges that he avail himself of copies of the Hansard. He will understand better if he does.


Senator Ryan —You would need to.


Senator MARTIN —I do not intend to be cut short or diverted. Dr Taloni then answered a series of questions in which he referred to details of the SMOS survey. Those questions did not necessarily ask for details but those answers were given and an impression was left. The statement that Dr Taloni subsequently gave points out that he did not have any detailed knowledge of the survey. He was aware of the existence of certain surveys and he said that he had a wrong perception about the questions that were being asked. Subsequent to the hearing he was concerned that there might have been some confusion. I read from his statement:

. . . immediately on my return to the Department, no later than 7.15 p.m., I advised the Permanent Head of this. I advised him that the Committee should be informed of this and that the matter should be clarified.

The Minister was advised by the Permanent Head and agreed to write a letter of clarification to the Chairman of the Committee.

Further questioning of Dr Taloni today showed that he had knowledge of the survey but not detailed-


The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.