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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 371


Senator MASON(12.24) —I would like to take this point a little further because it raises yet another point which is of basic importance not only to this legislation but also to the whole process of Government. I ask: How does the Secretary find out the facts which would allow him-or her, with respect to my colleague Senator Powell-to make that judgment? He cannot because no test is required. It is a very slovenly attitude of Government which seeks to impose on a public servant a responsibility which that public servant ought not properly to be required to assume. In other words, who carries the can? The Secretary carries the can. Is back-up given to the Secretary? No, there is no back-up given to the Secretary. The Secretary carries the can in conditions where importers do not have to test; they test only if they want to. They can give the Secretary all sorts of assurances. They can say: `We have tested it there and it is great stuff`. They can take him to lunch and say: `There is nothing wrong with this, Joe, it is perfectly okay'. But after that process is completed and something goes terribly wrong-and that could happen-presumably the person who will get clobbered is the Secretary. This is not satisfactory. It really is thoroughly and fundamentally unsatisfactory. We in this Parliament are paid to take the responsibility for seeing that that sort of thing does not happen-that public servants are not placed in that intolerable position. If we allow this provision to slide through, I suggest we are very much failing in our duty.

I think this is a matter of very great importance, Senator Powell stated it at some length. She has not overstated it. Senator Vigor, I think, has strong feelings on it, too. No doubt we will hear from him shortly. But before he starts to speak, I ask the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) to raise that point. I think it has been eloquently demonstrated by Senator Powell's reading of the actual Bill. It is an intolerably unfair burden-in a matter of potentially tremendous consequences to this country-to impose on a Secretary of a department. There is no back-up and no real teeth in the machinery that he can invoke to protect himself. If some variety is brought in and there is something wrong with it which we did not know about and if, meanwhile, the Secretary has said `As far as I could establish, the tests were okay', does the Minister have his head? What happens?