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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 428

Senator GEORGES(8.45) —Senator MacGibbon, who was next listed to speak, has deferred to me and I thank him for the opportunity to say a few words on the Quarantine Amendment Bill and on the matter raised by Senator Jack Evans. Senator Jack Evans called for some revision of the Toomer case, a well known quarantine case in Western Australia. What Senator Jack Evans said ought not to be as lightly dismissed as Senator Teague hopes it will be. Senator Teague has a simplistic faith in the integrity of departments and the way they respond to criticisms from their own employees who very often raise important questions. They are inclined to respond by escaping from the facts which are presented to them. I would say to Senator Teague that he ought not to use the evidence brought before the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources to diminish in some way the evidence given by Toomer on that occasion to prevent the reopening of the inquiry.

Often evidence has been brought before the Senate which at first glance appears to be unjustified and without a sound base. It has turned out that the department has been wrong. We had a recent example where a honourable senator raised the case of Witheford in the Department of Foreign Affairs. At the outset it seemed that honourable senator was exaggerating and that his case was without support. As it turned out, of course, the person was on that occasion under great pressure-similar to the pressure which has been imposed, the accusations which have been levelled and the treatment which has been meted out to Toomer. I heard this morning that the person concerned has been appointed as ambassador to East Germany. Of course, we realise that some time ago the head of the Department resigned. Let me suggest that there is a possibility that that may be the case as far as Toomer is concerned and we ought not to pull away from that possibility. We ought to examine the new evidence that is appearing and give Toomer an opportunity to receive some sort of reconsideration.

On the various committees on which I have served there always has been evidence that people who might be critical of the department in which they serve are brought under considerable pressure and are disadvantaged. They often find it necessary, because of pressure brought to bear on them, to resign. This is not quite relevant to the Bill, which is a very important Bill. I say this in order to balance what Senator Teague had to say and to give support to what Senator Jack Evans put before the Senate tonight in support of Mr Toomer. I was not on the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources, but the Joint Committee on Public Works investigated the establishment of an animal quarantine station off-shore from Australia. I can only say that governments respond very slowly to advice. It was some five years, perhaps even longer, after the Committee had finished its work before the quarantine station was commenced. Similarly, we have here a situation where a committee has brought down a recommendation and it has taken quite a deal of time--

Senator Teague —Six years.

Senator GEORGES —Six years before governments respond. We must appreciate that the situation is serious indeed. Senator Boswell and other speakers indicated that we are wide open to the entry of exotic diseases. With the world economy in its present position that would be disastrous in the extreme. Any suggestion to facilitate improvements ought to be heeded. My suggestion is that the intentions of this Bill should be accelerated. What needs to be done to establish further surveillance ought also to be accelerated. If the funds are not available for an extension of those services, the services which already exist in the Department of Defence ought to be fully utilised to carry out this surveillance.