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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1380

Senator PETER RAE(5.03) — This afternoon we have been debating this motion:

That in the opinion of the Senate the following is a matter of urgency:

The need for the Government to provide adequate information to enable proper judgment to be made of its economic policies.

What have we heard in response to that motion? We have had the defence from Senator Walsh, who has continued on his policy of obfuscation and downright deception. Senator Robert Ray agreed with the motion and said that we should not have moved it, and Senator Richardson almost wept at our failure to give the Government sufficient credit for the work it has done, but he did not answer why the Government will not do what it promised to do. That is what we now want to know: Why have we not had an answer from any one of the members of the Government-the future Opposition-on the reasons why they are not doing what they promised to do?

Let me quote what they promised to do. It is stated on page 22 of the Labor Government's policy paper, issued on 9 February 1983, before the election which was unfortunately won by them:

All public authorities to be required to engage in forward financial planning on a 3-5 year basis, such plans to be presented to Parliament for debate, and the general forward operational plans of each authority for the forthcoming year to be the subject of report in that authority's annual report.

That would enable us to deal with about two-thirds of the total expenditure. When will it happen? We have not had it yet.

The former Minister for Finance, Mr Dawkins, produced a paper in April 1984 in which he said:

As with proposals canvassed in Reforming the Australian Public Service, many of the reforms in financial administration discussed here . . . the (Coombs) Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration and the (Reid) Review of Commonwealth Administration . . . have, over the years examined a number of the issues.

The reforms set out in this paper affect all levels of budgeting and financial management. They are concerned with the roles of Ministers and Parliament, as well as of managers of Commonwealth agencies. The main themes are focusing and streamlining the Government's own decision making on budget priorities; improving the information base and the processes for parliamentary and public scrutiny of the budget and program implementation; and upgrading the financial management of programs in Commonwealth agencies.

If Mr Dawkins sat in this House, he could not do anything but vote for our motion. On page 10 of that paper, in paragraph 3.6, he said that, following the release of the forward estimates, the Government 'plans to continue to publish and develop the forward estimates of outlays to assist parliamentary and public scrutiny and debate on these matters'. Yet this afternoon three Government speakers have denied what Mr Dawkins has said, denied their own Government's policies, saying that they are entitled to engage in this form of sleight of hand which has left us in the position where we can only believe that there is some reason for their failing to fulfil their much vaunted promise. I give them credit for what they did. I do not give them credit for what they are now doing. By introducing the information systems they provided, they did something which was worth while. It was a development of the programs we had undertaken.

I thought that the Department of Finance was entitled to take some credit, as it did on page 4 of its 1983-84 annual report, for what was being done in relation to the provision of information, but suddenly the whole information system has come to a halt. We have a major split in the Government, as Senator Short reminded us. As Senator Chaney said, the Government is hiding the facts, shading what is happening in the economy and engaging in sleight of hand. Is that the new trilogy? Is the new trilogy: Why, why, why are we not receiving the information we ought to receive and which the Government promised to give us?

On that basis, the Government ought to vote with us, because we are talking about its policy which it announced and propounded. We were saying it ought to be done. To give members of the Government the opportunity to vote honestly with us in support of the motion, I move:

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Original question put:

That the motion (Senator Chaney's) be agreed to.