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Wednesday, 19 November 1986
Page: 2516

Senator COLSTON(6.07) —Before commenting on the motion and the amendment before the Senate, I remind the Senate that I spoke to the substantive motion on 17 September this year. The record of my remarks commences at page 576 of the daily Hansard. The record of Senator Teague's earlier statements commence at page 2038. I support the amendment moved by Senator Teague. I would like to examine certain aspects of that amendment, which states that the Senate:

(a) agrees with the Committee's conclusion that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's approach to the Committee's inquiry was incorrect . . .

In part, the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, at page 67 of its report to the Senate, stated:

. . . the Committee reports that it considers the ABC's approach to the Committee's inquiry was incorrect . . .

What exactly was the approach of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation? Basically the ABC refused to co-operate with the Senate Committee. It refused to answer questions and, if I may be permitted to say so, it treated the Committee with the utmost contempt. For example, after refusing to supply certain factual information to the Committee at a public hearing in Brisbane, the ABC a few days later took out a half-page advertisement in the Courier-Mail, outlining the information which the Committee had requested. In addition, it readily supplied a Senate Estimates committee with information it had refused to supply to the Senate Standing Committee. The amendment then states:

. . . and that the ABC and any summoned officers for the ABC should have answered the Committee's questions;

This is mentioned on page 67 of the report which states, in part:

. . . that the ABC should answer the questions which the Committee asks on behalf of the Senate.

In the report it is noted that, when the Committee summoned witnesses, the witnesses refused to answer the Committee's questions, principally on the grounds that they were before the Committee as private citizens, not as employees of the ABC. The Committee regarded this argument to be quite spurious and the amendment states that those officers should have answered the questions put to them. The amendment moved by Senator Teague then states:

(b) asserts that the ABC and any other witnesses to Senate Committees have an obligation to co-operate and to answer questions within the terms of reference of Senate Standing Committees and Senate Estimates Committees alike;

In this respect I draw the attention of the Senate to pages 99 and 100 of the report. This matter was mentioned just a short time ago by Senator Teague. An opinion from the Attorney-General's Department states quite clearly that the Committee's inquiry was within the terms of reference of the Committee. The final paragraph of the amendment states:

(c) requests the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts to consider in the light of its own evidence and the answers subsequently given by the ABC to Senate Estimates Committees whether further investigation is required.

This part of the amendment refers to information provided at an Estimates committee hearing after the information had been withheld from the Standing Committee. If this amendment is passed, as I consider it should be, the Standing Committee will consider the evidence now available and determine whether further investigation is required.

Amendment agreed to.

Original question, as amended, resolved in the affirmative.