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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 735


Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(6.12) —in reply-It is a pity, given the final words that were uttered by Senator Vigor, that he is not taking his courage in his hands and determined to support this motion. In fact, the narrow point which he made about the faith that we can place in Question Time is a very good reason for pursuing this relatively narrow inquiry. What Senator Vigor was suggesting was that we should set about writing the text and have an enormously wide inquiry, which I would respectfully suggest would take a great deal of time and would not do the good that could be done by a rapid inquiry, which could be undertaken by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations now, into the status of this report. By status we mean: Does it represent a current view, or is it a view which has been outmoded by the change of circumstances that Government Ministers referred to in this debate?

We have a relatively narrow task to assign to the Committee. It is a task that could have been done in a limited time. We are seeking in this motion the chance to move now that the Committee inquire into and report on the authorship of the information-whether it was the sole work of the particular person whose name it bears-and the sources from which the advice was obtained. I believe that an examination of the sources would very likely show that the author was able to draw on the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Finance, the Indicative Planning Council and all of those bodies to which one would expect a senior public servant working in this area to be able to obtain access. That, I think, would give the lie to the suggestion from the Government that this is an answer which has been prepared on the basis of inadequate access to the broader advice which is available to government.

I thank honourable senators for the contributions they have made to the debate. I thought that Senator Sir John Carrick in particular brought out very well the point, which was not a part of my own presentation when I moved the motion on behalf of the Opposition, that the whole practice of Question Time, and the extent to which we can rely on answers given in Question Time, has been thrown into doubt. I thank Senator Sir John Carrick for that. I note that Senator Vigor expressed the same sorts of concerns as were expressed by Senator Sir John Carrick in his contribution. I also want to acknowledge Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle's contribution because she very correctly pointed out that the Government has become terribly confused about policy and outcomes, between policy and facts. The Prime Minister's briefing note that the Government tabled today starts as follows:

The document tabled in the Senate was not an accurate statement of Government policy.

Among other things the document said that the Indicative Planning Council was going to tell the Ministers for housing that the prognosis for interest rates was as set out in that briefing note. In other words, there is little prospect of a reduction in 1987; perhaps some reduction in 1988, but even so, there would be no benign effect on housing until the latter half of 1988. That is an outcome of policy. It is quite absurd to say that a fact is not a fact because `we choose as a government not to have that fact as our policy'. The incredible confusion in the Government's defence was very well exposed by Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle and I thank her for her contribution. I do not intend to go through the contributions of all speakers but I acknowledge the contributions of all honourable senators from this side of the chamber in support of the motion.

The importance of this matter and why it is a matter of urgency is that we face an enormous problem in the field of interest rates. We face a problem in our economy which is so great that the Government will bring down a mini-Budget that it said it would not bring down. It resisted motions by the Opposition saying that that should occur. Now it is trying to fudge on the economic circumstances which give rise to the mini-Budget and it is trying, in my view, to confuse the debate. Senator Ryan, we believe, told the truth yesterday and we believe that she has been prevented from telling the truth today. We believe that she has been forced to substitute the Prime Minister's views for her own, and her careful use of the Prime Minister's words, as I said, both inside and outside this place, is the clearest possible indication that she is speaking under the instruction of the Prime Minister and is terrified to put her own words into this chamber.

A Senate committee now could quickly determine whether this paper was prepared as a result of the advice of the Department of the Treasury, the Reserve Bank of Australia and all those other bodies that properly give advice to government. We do not accept the Government's view that this is a document that has in some way been prepared in isolation in some corner of government. We do not accept as a matter of principle that a government can come in here, having given an answer from a briefing note, and by putting the view `We do not accept that that briefing note is accurate any more', in some way exculpate itself.

The reason we have not moved a censure on the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) for misleading the Senate is that quite clearly she believed what she was saying yesterday and accepted that that was the proper answer to give to the Senate. It would be impossible for us to censure her for misleading the Senate because we do not believe she did. If she misled the Senate it would have been today when she departed from the words she used yesterday and used the words which had been used by the Prime Minister last week, words which, quite frankly, we do not believe to be true. I commend the motion to the Senate and I ask for the support of honourable senators so that we can commence an inquiry to get to the truth of this unfortunate matter.

Question put:

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