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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2040

Senator COATES(10.51) —I opposed this matter being dealt with as a formal motion because I understood that the reference was a very narrow one and I wanted to express my reluctance about the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations being involved in a very particular matter merely because an Estimates committee was miffed at not being given a piece of juicy information about one newsreader's income. I thought that the general principle ought first to be determined. I have discovered, now that I have been able to read the terms of the motion that has been moved, that this to some extent is what the motion seeks. I think it needs to be determined whether statutory authorities, especially business authorities, ought to be allowed to enter into contracts with people who work for them rather than insist that everyone be paid a salary at an award rate, and whether they should claim commercial confidentiality. One of the problems is that the Estimates committees hold their hearings in public. We would need to determine the extent to which that commercial confidentiality is reasonable and whether the information should therefore be provided.

I do not accept that what might have been decided by the Senate in 1971 or in some other year should automatically stand forever. But I am happy for the Committee on Finance and Government Operations to look at the general principle. For a while I was under the impression that Senator Primmer was part of the Chaney conspiracy to overload the Committee and its staff. But now that I understand the situation, of course, I forgive him. I inform the Senate that the Committee is trying desperately to finish the half a dozen references that are before it before Senator Jack Evans finishes his term on 30 June. That is our priority at the moment. The Committee is working flat out to do so. I inform members of the Estimates Committee that the matter will not necessarily be able to be dealt with quickly. It was suggested earlier that I might be tempted to call for a division on this matter. I reassure the Whip that I will not be doing so. As far as I am concerned, the matter can be referred to the Committee, but it is not something to which we would be able to give an answer in a couple of days.