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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1595

Senator NEWMAN —I refer the Minister for Education to her answer yesterday, in which she categorically denied that the Commonwealth Government was paying the $250 administration fee for some teachers in the Australian Capital Territory. I refer the Minister to page 38 of the Additional Estimates explanatory notes issued by her own Department and, in particular, to the section that reads:

Increased requirement due to need to pay administration charge of $250 each for 85 teachers attending courses in first semester 1987.

The cost of that item is $21,250. Why did the Minister mislead the Senate yesterday? Will she now apologise and answer the other part of yesterday's question-namely, is there any plan for the Commonwealth to pay the charge for others in its employ?

Senator RYAN —I think that the honourable senator is getting a little over-excited. If she looks at what I said yesterday in answer to her question, she will see that I said that there is no payment via Austudy of the charge, and that is the case. However, my attention having been drawn to this matter by her question, I then investigated the matter and found that at officer level, without any consultation with me or with the Finance Minister, some officials had decided that, because the enrolment was a condition of employment for technical and further education teachers, the charge would be paid.

Opposition senators-Ah!

Senator RYAN —Before Opposition senators get too excited, let me say that I also understand that there have been some officer level decisions at the Public Service Board along the same lines. However, I am now investigating the possibility of reversing that decision. I shall have discussions with my colleague Senator Walsh, who has just suggested to me that he would be keen to see the decision reversed or not implemented. When there has been a further investigation of whether any charges have been paid-and that has not yet been ascertained-it will be considered by Senator Walsh and me and a decision taken by us.

Senator NEWMAN —I ask the Minister a supplementary question. Does that mean that once again the Minister has got caught up with a bit of paper that she has not read thoroughly? Is she not responsible for the actions of her Department? Will she not take responsibility for the actions of her Department, and how is it that members of her Department can be operating without her authority? Is it not a fact that yesterday in answer to my question she said it was impossible under policy--

Senator Elstob —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. Supplementary questions are supposed to supplement. I put it to you that Senator Newman is not asking a supplementary question, but making another speech.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The question was relevant, but it was too long. However, the Minister should answer the question.

Senator NEWMAN —I have a further part of the question that I have not finished. I was stopped in mid-sentence.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask Senator Newman to ask her supplementary question as quickly as possible.

Senator NEWMAN —In her answer yesterday she said that under the policy it was impossible for these teachers to have their $250 tertiary fee paid. It is quite specific in Hansard. Does she deny it?

Senator Walsh —What a harpy!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Walsh, will you withdraw that comment?

Senator Walsh —Very well. I withdraw the comment that she is a harpy.

The PRESIDENT —Withdraw unreservedly, Senator Walsh.

Senator Walsh —The comment was that she is a harpy. I just want to make it specific, and I withdraw it.

Senator RYAN —I simply repeat to Senator Newman, who seems to be in a state of dreadful excitement about all this, that if she checks in the Hansard what was asked yesterday and the answer given, she will see that what was asked was whether, via the Austudy scheme, payments were being made. They are not. However, the rest of the answer is as I have told her, and I have nothing to add at this stage.