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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2975

Senator DURACK(10.24) —I have another amendment of which the Committee is perfectly aware to clause 31 of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Bill 1984, which was the subject of a considerable amount of debate in another place concerning the information to be provided in regard to consultants employed by Ministers. This proposal, in terms of conditions of employment under which a consultant is employed, was moved in another place and was not accepted by the Government for reasons which I am sure will utterly fascinate the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), the great apostle of freedom of information. As a matter of fact, my attention was diverted from the proceedings of the Committee because I was reading the views of his colleague, the Minister for Finance, Mr Dawkins. They are a total denial of any principles of freedom of information.

As I said, we do not object to the employment of consultants by Ministers as provided for in this legislation. We think it is a good principle. But certainly the terms and conditions of consultants' employment should be known, as are those of public servants, judges, members of parliament and indeed, Ministers. But for some extraordinary reason the Minister for Finance gets very coy about providing any information on the terms and conditions of ministerial consultants . We propose to pursue this matter by way of this proposed amendment. It will be interesting to see how the Attorney-General who, as I said, is a great apostle of freedom of information handles this proposed amendment.

The most extraordinary feature of the attitude which has been taken by the Government is that although it objects to disclosure being a requirement under this legislation the Minister in another place indicated that the information may be obtained at hearings of Estimates committees. Of course, that is so. We do obtain a great deal of information by the process of questioning at Estimates committee hearings. I would be very surprised if this information was ever refused at Estimates committee hearings. Certainly the Attorney-General when he was in opposition was very anxious to get information about private matters. He always wanted to know to the last cent what counsel were paid.

Senator Peter Rae —He has been less expeditious in government.

Senator DURACK —Yes, there has been a considerable change in attitude since he has been in government. The arguments advanced by this Government in opposition to this proposal just do not hold water. On behalf of the Opposition, I move:

Page 15, clause 31, paragraph (b), after sub-paragraph (iv), insert the following new sub-paragraph:

'(v) the term and conditions of employment under which the consultant is employed of the kind referred to in section (5),'.