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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2347

Senator GEORGES(10.46) —For the sake of the record I need to respond to Senator Martin now rather than when the estimates examined by Estimates Committee F are being considered. It is normal for an Estimates committee to establish the procedures that that committee will follow in relation to the asking of questions. I put to one side what the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) said because the Minister did not have quite clear in his mind what went on.

Senator Martin —You disowned him at the time.

Senator GEORGES —I disowned him at the time.

Senator Martin —You said he should not have said it.

Senator GEORGES —I disowned him because he was not correct in what he was saying . The Committee held a brief meeting in order to establish how it would proceed. It decided to put the estimates line by line and not to return to a line once that line had been considered. It is normal practice for a Committee to discuss these matters before the witnesses are called before it. The Committee secretariat provided Committee members with a number of prepared questions. I indicated to the members of the Committee that they could ask those questions orally or the questions could be put on notice. The meeting lasted for about three minutes, and that is the only matter that was discussed. It was not a private meeting as such in collaboration with the Minister to establish certain procedures.

As to senators who were not members of the Committee attending Committee hearings, my view is that they are entitled to attend such hearings. My view goes even further: They are entitled to ask questions when they get the call. As far as I am concerned, they do not have to wait until the members of the Committee have asked their questions to seek the call. That was the courtesy I extended to Senator Martin. Following that courtesy being extended to her, she tried to ask all of her questions under the heading 'Salaries and Payments in the Nature of Salary', on the basis that the payment of those salaries was for the purpose of the effective and efficient administration of the Department and therefore it was relevant that she ask her questions under that item. I argued that if she, having received the call, asked all of her questions under that heading, she would pre-empt the questions of the members of the Committee. When she finished asking her questions after an hour or so, she packed up her papers and left.

I might say at this stage that she exposed her ignorance because the answers to many of the questions she asked were within the knowledge of honourable senators if they do their work in this place properly. Some of the questions the honourable senator asked were of a fishing nature, merely trying to establish whether there was something upon which she could seize to use in this place. In spite of the courtesy the Committee extended to you, you--

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr Chairman. However, I think you are about to intervene.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! Senator Georges, you must address your remarks through the Chair.

Senator Chaney —It was not in relation to that matter that I sought to take a point of order. It seems to me that Senator Georges is addressing himself to the estimates dealt with by an Estimates committee for the purpose of vilifying an honourable senator. I would have thought that he was totally out of order.

Senator GEORGES —Mr Chairman, I wish to speak to the point of order.

The CHAIRMAN —Senator Georges, I do not think you need to. I will rule on it and I think you will find the ruling satisfactory. Senator Chaney, I have been in some difficulty for some time on this matter because, although we are discussing Group D, and specifically the motion before the Chair is that the vote for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs be now passed without requests, questions were raised by Senator Georges and Senator Martin and I have allowed reply. I was going to ask the Committee, when Senator Georges had finished, to come back to the matter before the Chair which is the vote for the Department. I ask Senator Georges to direct his remarks through the Chair and as far as possible not to stir up further debate on the subject which is irrelevant to the matter before the Chair.

Senator GEORGES —I accept that and I will come back to the matter. It seems to me that what is being debated before you, Mr Chairman, is the conduct of Opposition senators at all Estimates Committees. That is what has been raised during debate on Estimates Committee D and one cannot address oneself to that subject without moving across to what happened on other committees. But I accept that the matter can be raised again, and possibly will be, under consideration of Estimates Committee F. If I have sounded excited, I am excited by the fact that, as Chairman, having extended courtesies to members of the Senate who were not members of the Committee, that courtesy was abused. There is no getting away from that fact. On the occasion with which I am familiar it was abused not only by Senator Martin but also almost by Senator Chaney, who at least had the decency to place his whole host of questions on notice.

Senator Martin —Mr Chairman-

The CHAIRMAN —Order! Before you speak, Senator Martin, I understand the problem. This whole debate on the handling of Estimates committee is really not appropriate to debate on the actual appropriations in Committee. I have allowed it to go on because of the issues that were raised about how questions were asked. But I really think that the Committee should come back to the matter before the Chair. Every allegation gets a response and so it goes on forever if we are not careful. If Senator Martin feels she has been misrepresented, I will allow her to speak again.