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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1960

Senator MISSEN(1.14) —I refer to a matter which was raised this morning. Those who were listening at that time might have been quite surprised and might not have understood what it was all about. I had given notice of a motion the previous day and I tried to bring it on and get it passed this morning. My motion, which was subsequently withdrawn, read as follows:

That in view of-

(a) the totally inadequate reporting by the Australian media of the positive and substantial activities of the Parliament and in particular the Senate and its committees;

(b) the need for the public to be advised promptly of the proceedings of this national Parliament; and

(c) the small distribution of daily and weekly Hansards of our proceedings,

the President and the Publications Committee be asked to consider and report to the Senate on the feasibility of increasing the numbers of persons who may be supplied with daily Hansards, from 10 to 100 for each Senator.

One might think that that was not a particularly controversial motion. It called on the President and the appropriate committee, which is the Publications Committee, to consider the feasibility of a proposal to increase the ability of members of the public to obtain the most up to date records of what the Parliament has been doing. Yet when this matter was called on, this morning, the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, called it not formal. The effect of that is to say that it will go to the end of the Notice Paper; that it will not be debated in this Parliament; that it will be wiped away at the time of the election and one will have to start again to make inquiries some time in 1985. I protested at that time about that action. Of course, when the Minister insisted on that course of action, I withdrew the motion so that it would not be on the Notice Paper and I could speak about it later in the day. The Standing Orders of the Senate deny a senator any opportunity of anticipating the discussion of any subject which appears on the Notice Paper. I would have been denied that opportunity because it appeared in the Notice Paper and it would never have been dealt with. So I withdrew it, but certainly not because it was not a matter of importance. I will urge the President and the Publications Committee, notwithstanding that there is no motion from the Senate, to make those investigations and to report to the Senate on what I think is a sensible suggestion that I and some other senators are making, in order to increase the public knowledge of what goes on in the Parliament.

I refer to the three parts of the motion. I complain about the totally inadequate reporting by the Australian media of the positive and substantial activities of the Parliament, in particular the Senate and its committees. I do not need to prove this at any length. It is constantly the case that newspaper after newspaper contains mainly the same Australian Associated Press version of what happened in the Parliament during the previous day. Often it is quite accurate, but it is restricted to a few limited subjects. There is no variety in the media throughout Australia as to what is recorded. There is no particular interest by the media in the positive things the Parliament does-the committees and the debates which deal with sometimes controversial matters but which do not come within the area of high politics. There is no abuse or criticism in those debates and nothing on which the Parliament can really be attacked. It is that lack of representation of the positive achievements of this Parliament that I find so offensive and which tend to give the Parliament such a bad name. It is true that there is bad behaviour in the Parliament and that there is spitefulness and other unworthy conduct. At the same time, a lot of good work is done. If I could use that unfortunate word 'consensus' which has been greatly misused in the Parliament, we have quite a bit of it in the Parliament and particularly in the Senate, and that ought to be recognised.

I refer, for example, to the reporting of yesterday's proceedings, when a number of speeches were made by honourable senators on both sides of the chamber about the burdens imposed on small business. This was not reported in any way that I could see by the media throughout Australia. Senator Hill detailed many problems in regard to small business, and criticism was rightly made of this Government for what it has not done in that area. I made substantial comparisons between the Government's policies and the Opposition's policies in relation to the reform of regulations and the new policies which Senator Peter Rae and I put down earlier this week. Senator Rae will be speaking on this subject later. That entire debate was ignored by the media; yet it is of substantial importance to individuals-small business men and women throughout the country.

The second point I made in the motion was that the public needs to be advised promptly of what is happening in the Parliament. It cannot wait six weeks or more until the weekly Hansard comes out. It cannot find out what has happened from the Press or other parts of the media. The daily Hansard, which is available the next day, is, I think, an excellent way in which people who are concerned about the political process can have an opportunity of informing themselves of precisely what is said in the chambers, including the chamber which is not being broadcast on any particular day. The proceedings of only one chamber can be broadcast, of course, at any time. We are given an allocation of 10 copies of the daily Hansard to supply to interested constituents. Each senator and member is given an allocation of 10 copies and that is totally inadequate. It is a complete abortion of democracy to think that people are not able to read to a much greater degree what is said by their representatives. I propose a very mild increase in that allocation, but I think it is a start.

It may be argued, of course, that one cannot get an economic payment for the Hansard. In this case, one does not. Copies can be bought, but very few people are willing to pay the price. Some years ago when I was Chairman of the Publications Committee, the price of Hansard was put up by an enormous degree to make it economic. The result was that the numbers of people who subscribed to the daily Hansard were immediately reduced by 90 per cent. The Publications Committee persuaded the government of the day to lower the price to a more reasonable level, although it was still too great, but those numbers have never returned. So a very small number of people actually subscribe to Hansard and the people who are able to obtain copies on what I might call the free list are people who do not very often have the opportunity to come to the Parliament and see what is happening, but who have the opportunity to read the Hansard and therefore to talk or write to their members of parliament and express their views on the members' behaviour, good and bad, and the issues as they are debated in the Parliament.

I do not in any way bring this forward as a party political matter. I greatly regret what has happened in this unfortunate Parliament. I think many of us will be happy to see it end. It is ending prematurely, but the behaviour and the way in which Parliament has been ignored by government and, of course, by the media, will be something that we will long regret. I hope that the next Parliament will be better and that people in the community can read much more about what goes on in the Parliament and do not have to depend entirely upon the media for their information. I make the plea to the President and the Publications Committee to take up this matter, irrespective of the fact that we have made no decision on it.

In the few minutes remaining to me, I shall refer to an entirely different matter. It is one that has been before the Parliament and the people for a very considerable time. I raise the very unfortunate situation of the people who fled from the West Irian province of Indonesia to Papua New Guinea some months ago, who are now in camps near the border and who, according to recent reports, may well be returned to West Irian, where they have a very uncertain future. I have spoken in the Parliament before about this subject. I have expressed grave concern at the inability of the aid organisations and the Red Cross to know what is going on and to supervise any return that takes place. I regret that the Government has not been more forthright and strong in this area. Although we have given some aid to the refugees, we have not taken a very strong stand, nor have we given Papua New Guinea the strength to ensure that it will not return people-11,000 in all-who are situated in camps, who fled because of fear of death and torture and who are fearful of returning. Some people will no doubt want to return, but that should take place under supervision and that has not yet been provided for.

In the last few days there has been a further statement by the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Dr Mochtar, about this matter. He is reported, in the Melbourne Herald of 16 October, as follows:

. . . the time had come for Indonesia to deal in a firmer and more responsive manner to recent charges made by Papua New Guinea.

''We have been too patient all this time because we were sincere in our attempt to foster close relations with PNG,'' Dr Mochtar said.

He accused Papua New Guinea of making too many complaints about Indonesia, adding that some of them constituted interference in Indonesia's internal affairs.

Of course, what he forgets is that the people who have fled are Melanesians, like the Papua New Guineans. They are naturally concerned about the suffering which they have experienced. They are fearful about returning. Dr Mochtar went on to speak about the death from starvation of some people who had crossed into Papua New Guinea. I think that was very regrettable. The article continued:

Dr Mochtar said Indonesians rebels often committed border violations, 'but the Indonesian government is always the one to be blamed and suffer the losses' . . .

I do not think that is true. I believe that the losses have been mainly suffered by the people in the villages. We are aware of the death of Arnold Ap, a very noted Melanesian, who was quite clearly murdered by the Indonesian authorities.

Last Monday I put down in this chamber a copy of the report prepared by the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists following its visit to Papua New Guinea in September. The Australian Government has not in any way commented on this very alarming report. I regret the failure of the Government to comment on matters that are raised in the Parliament. I express my regret to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), who is in the chamber, that, although pre-warned, she or another Minister did not respond to the worries that I have about the Worawa school. But that is another subject. Unfortunately, the Government--

Senator Ryan —There is a meeting about that today.

Senator MISSEN —I know. That is why I raised it last night and advised the Minister's Department. Unfortunately the Minister in the chamber at the time knew nothing about the subject and therefore I can offer no consolation to those who are worried about that matter. I make no particular points about this. I hope that the Minister will respond and say something about this matter in the near future. However, I think there has been a tendency by the Government not to respond to matters that are raised by members of this Parliament. I think that this depreciates the position of Parliament.

I suggest-and here I might almost be returning to the first theme of my speech- that the Indonesian Government is not entitled to take an arrogant attitude. In fact, it has been very loth to discuss these matters; it has been very loth to allow organisations of a charitable nature to come into the territory and to take part in the supervised return to Irian Jaya of some of the border crossers. I think the Indonesian Government should look in its own quarter for the reason for the poor publicity which it has obtained. Many of us who raise these matters are not hostile to Indonesia. We recognise the enormous problems faced by Indonesia. We want to see better relations between Australia and Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. It does not do to bully; I do not think it will affect us. I hope our Government will continue to take a very strong interest in this matter and respond to the feelings which thousands of Australians have on the very worrying future of the people who have fled one country and are now languishing in Papua New Guinea in need of more attention.