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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1507

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(10.35) —In the House of Representatives Hansard of last Thursday, 26 March, on page 1663 and reported in the Illawarra Mercury newspaper of 28 March-that is, Saturday-Mr Colin Hollis, the honourable member for Throsby, alleged of me, as Chairman of the Opposition's outstandingly successful Waste Watch Committee:

. . . last week he had a Commonwealth car waiting for 1 1/2 hours while he was at the dentist.

He went on:

He was wasting taxpayers' money while he was at the dentist . . .

The Illawarra Mercury, which received a Press release from Mr Hollis advising it of these false allegations he has made under parliamentary privilege, ran them prominently on page 4 under the heading `Baume's wasting tax money: Hollis'. It does no good for the status of the Parliament that this sort of inconsequential matter, which in this instance is simply untrue, should receive such prominence, let alone be raised by a member of parliament.

In fact, Mr Hollis's allegations are totally false. I did not visit a dentist either last week or the week before and I have never ever required a Commonwealth car to wait for me while visiting a dentist in Canberra- or anywhere else for that matter. The last time I attended a dentist's surgery in Canberra for emergency work was on Tuesday, 25 February, when the Opposition Whip granted me one hour's leave from the sitting of the Senate from 10.10 a.m. to 11.10 a.m. in order to attend a 10.15 appointment in Civic, which is only five minutes drive from Parliament House, as honourable senators know. The Hansard record for that day shows that I was back in the Senate for a division at approximately 11.15 a.m., barely one hour later. There is no instance of my ever spending 1 1/2 hours at a dentist's surgery in Canberra, nor have I ever kept a Commonwealth car waiting for such a period. Mr Hollis's allegations are simply totally false.

There is no record of my having booked a Commonwealth car or my having kept it for any time whatsoever outside any dental surgery. If Mr Hollis is referring to 25 February, I did not book a Commonwealth car for the visit to the dentist. As is usual in such circumstances, I asked the Senate Transport Office to provide me with whatever transport it had readily available from those cars that wait on call outside the Parliament House building during session, whether it be a Commonwealth car, a hire car or a taxi.

On this occasion, the Senate Transport Office allocated me a Commonwealth car which was waiting in a line of shuttle cars that are permanently available for the use of senators. I did not require the car to wait for me. I repeat: I did not require the car to wait for me. On the contrary, I asked the Senate Transport Office what would suit it best-the car returning, as it had done on a previous visit I had made for emergency dental treatment last year, or waiting.

Whether or not the car was to wait idle in Civic for me or whether it was to return and wait idle outside Parliament House before having to drive back to Civic to pick me up after the dental visit was not my decision. I leave such matters to those responsible for parliamentary transport. In this instance it was apparently considered more practical and cost-efficient to leave the car in Civic during the period of my appointment rather than have it unnecessarily driven back to Parliament House and have it return to Civic later, particularly as there was little likelihood of any demand for the use of the car during that short period, as the Senate was actually in session and senators could absent themselves properly only with leave. As a result, the decision to have the car wait in Civic did not add one cent to taxpayers' or anyone else's costs. On the contrary, it saved the costs of an unnecessary return trip from Parliament House to Civic.

This matter raises a question of concern regarding parliamentary privilege. Mr Hollis said that he was satisfied that the source of his information was sound, and Mr Humphreys, the Government Whip with whom I spoke last Friday on this matter, said that the information came from `someone pretty high up'. My concern is that one of the most important reasons for the existence of a Commonwealth car fleet is the confidentiality involved, both as to destinations and conversations conducted in such cars. It is a confidentiality that could not be guaranteed by a hire car or taxi drivers, who are not subject to Public Service regulations. That is a point I made, by the way, in defence of the Commonwealth car pool and the service provided in an interview last year on Channel 9 which, as honourable senators will remember, was involved independently-it bore no relationship to the Waste Watch Committee-in seeking to establish that there was waste in the Commonwealth car pool and that it should not continue. I repeat: I defended the Commonwealth car pool on that principle, among others.

If there are people employed in this Commonwealth car service who are prepared to break this confidentiality for political purposes, I believe there is a need to establish what redress senators have in general and in particular against the use of such deliberately false accusations based on such breaches of confidentiality by members of the House of Representatives. In this instance the fact that the allegations are so patently false, although based on the fact of a visit to the dentist, indicates that it may have developed from some misheard casual or mistaken comment, but not, I must stress, from the two Senate transport officers, who both have very high reputations for integrity and who deny having discussed this matter with anyone. Details of the facts of my statement to the Senate are verifiable from the Senate Transport Office, whose officers are aware that I am making this statement.

If Mr Hollis, MP, were a man of any repute, he would not have made this false accusation under parliamentary privilege. A decent man would now apologise. I do not expect him to do so. This occurrence is part of a deliberate pattern which, I understand, has been agreed to by various members of the Labor Caucus following a Cabinet meeting last week at which the impact of the Waste Watch Committee, which I chair, on the Government was raised and concerns were expressed about the political damage that the Waste Watch Committee was imposing on this corrupt Government. I use the word `corrupt' in the moral sense. This concern was expressed, I understand, also in the Labor Caucus and, following discussion in the Labor Caucus, it was decided that those Labor members of parliament whose principles allowed them to spread this kind of total falsehood, whose principles encompassed that capacity, would proceed on that course of action.

It is an absolute disgrace that the Government does not have the capacity to respond effectively to the accurate and certainly damaging revelations of the Waste Watch Committee and has stooped to this kind of nonsense through one of the least credible and least creditable members of the House of Representatives. To give further evidence of the concern expressed within the Cabinet last week, I refer to this morning's Melbourne Sun-News Pictorial, which reports as follows:

The Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, will instruct his ministers this week to keep a tighter control on grants to community groups.

He will also ask for greater care in the public description of what grants are for.

The move follows more than a year of damaging publicity about the alleged waste of government funds on fringe groups and doubtful projects.

Senator Newman —They should have done that before.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Yes, I agree, Senator. The Government should have done that before. The article continues:

The publicity has made difficult the government task of selling to the community the need for restraint and lower living standards to meet the economic difficulties.

I interpose that that is absolutely so. While the Government continues to waste money, while it continues to increase these grants to trendy groups, to people whose support it is purchasing with taxpayers' money, it certainly must be difficult for the Government to try to convince the rest of Australia that there should be restraint. I continue reading from today's Sun-News Pictorial:

Mr Hawke first raised the problem of grants at a full ministry meeting last November.

That is after, of course, the Waste Watch Committee's exposures on the John Laws program had generated enormous unhappiness among those people who are paying the bill-that is, the taxpayers of Australia. The article continues:

The continued attention on the issue since then resulted in the grants' issue being raised again in Cabinet two weeks ago.

In a letter to be sent to all ministers this week, Mr Hawke stresses the importance of grant allocations being carefully supervised. It says all decisions on grants should be based on well-informed information and should be capable of being publicly defended.

I would like to see the Government try effectively to defend the grant to which we gave the golden banana award, that is, the one that Mr Hawke's own Department made to a female surfboard designer who admitted on television last week that this was not a grant for surfing-this was a grant for politics. In fact, she admitted quite happily that she was using this grant not to benefit surfing, but as a tool for the women's movement. It might just as well have been used for kite flying or anything else. The article continues:

It suggests any minister having doubts about the desirability of a grant in his or her portfolio should consult colleagues.

The letter says most of the criticism of grants is centred on the description of the activity or the name of the group receiving it. While much of the criticism is uninformed, the letter says, it is still to be avoided.

I have news for Mr Hawke: The criticism is very well informed. The article continues:

The government grants issue was highlighted last week when the Opposition waste watch committee announced its top 10 examples of government waste.

Of course, the Committee gave the top award to Mr Hawke. I do not mind that the Government is concerned about the impact that the Waste Watch Committee is having on the Government and its image. It does not concern me that the Government is responding belatedly to it by trying to impose some restraint itself-belatedly. In fact, I am quite pleased that the Waste Watch Committee has at least had that kind of impact and will, hopefully, save some taxpayers' funds from being wasted in the ludicrous way in which they have been in this cynical attempt to purchase support with taxpayers' money. But I object in the most strenuous way, on the basis that this is an attempt to stand over a senator, to members of another place deciding that, no matter what the facts, no matter what the merits of the situation, they will seek to denigrate the Waste Watch Committee and to attack me personally on these false, puerile, and nonsensical grounds to try to divert attention from their own ludicrous behaviour.

What Mr Hollis has done is indefensible. He has created a situation in which, I suppose, there is a real risk that the whole question of use of cars by senators and members of the House of Representatives could become the centre of an unfortunate public airing. I have no desire to participate in that, but I have nothing to hide and, as a result, I have nothing to lose in participating in such a battle, if the intention of Mr Hollis and his colleagues is to ensure that this sort of thing is aired in this way. I suggest to those in the Labor Party that it would be in all our best interests if the dogs were called off. In particular, if they want to try to bite me, they should find an issue in which they can at least be on the periphery of accuracy. They should at least try to have truth as the predominant element in what they are saying. On those grounds I am happy to combat them at any time. The reality is, of course, that they do not have available to them any facts, any truth, that would add to their attempts to smear or denigrate me.