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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1799

Senator GARETH EVANS (Manager of Government Business in the Senate)(11.04) —I rise on the adjournment to defend the honour of Senator Ryan, which I think was rather unjustly and unfairly traduced by what Senator Watson had to say. I hope that in speaking to this I will be able to clarify for the benefit of Senator Chaney and others the procedural matters in issue here and hopefully make unnecessary any further debate on this matter. I repeat for Senator Chaney's benefit that I hope I can clarify the procedural issues and make unnecessary any further debate on this once it is understood what did in fact occur.

Senator Reid —You weren't in here.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I was listening to it on the blower and I have subsequently informed myself of the detailed sequence of events. They were as follows: Just before 10.30 p.m. Senator Ryan, in answer to a perfectly reasonable question from Senator Newman about compensation payable, gave an answer on advice from officials which was incomplete and, in fact, misleading. At that time, at 10.30 p.m., the adjournment was called on and it became--

Senator Walters —No, you have missed a bit. you have missed a lot.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The error was drawn to Senator Ryan's attention by subsequent contributions, if you like, to the debate. Before it was possible for Senator Ryan to clarify the situation, which she was in the process, as I understand it, of trying to do, and find out what the proper answer was in response to the points that were being made, it came to 10.30 p.m. and we were in the adjournment debate. At the first opportunity in the adjournment debate, Senator Ryan rose to her feet and took advantage of standing order 408 which is, as honourable senators will be aware, in the following terms:

By the indulgence of the Senate-

that is to say, the leave of the Senate-

a Senator may explain matters of a personal nature, although there be no Question before the Senate; but such matters may not be debated.

It was pursuant to that standing order that Senator Ryan sought leave to make a personal explanation. The personal explanation was one of a familiar kind in this place-that she had inadvertently mislead the Senate in her earlier answer and she wished to supplement that answer and put the correct answer on the record so that there would be no further misunderstanding of her position. It was after that, as I understand it, that Senator Watson sought leave to make a statement, at that stage it being clear that what was in issue was not the accuracy or otherwise of what Senator Ryan had said but the substance of it. In other words, it was getting into a debate on the issue which had itself been the subject matter of the Committee stage. Senator Tate denied leave. He did so entirely consistently with the rulings and procedures of this place. I refer to page 200-if people would not mind having a look at it-of Odgers Australian Senate Practice where this is said:

On a motion for--

Senator Archer —You quote Odgers when it suits you, don't you.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am doing this on the advice of the Clerks. This is what is assisting us through the morass that this might otherwise become. Odgers says:

On a motion for adjournment a Senator cannot allude to a debate in Committee, except by the indulgence of the Senate for personal explanations.

What was in issue here from Senator Ryan's perspective, and deliberately put in these terms, was a request to make a personal explanation because she had made a statement which was incomplete, she had been challenged on that statement and she wanted to correct it for the record to make it clear that she had not been deliberately or otherwise misleading the Senate.

When Senator Watson sought to further the debate, he was not doing so by way of a personal explanation; he was doing so by way of a further challenge to what was said and a desire to continue the substance of the debate. It is perfectly proper for Senator Watson to do that, as no doubt he will, when the Committee stage is resumed. But it is not proper to get into that on the adjournment. It was for that reason, and that reason alone, that Senator Tate denied leave. If Senator Tate had not denied leave, it would have been appropriate for the President to rule Senator Watson out of order had he purported to continue with it. I do not think even Senator Watson would claim that what he was trying to do was make a personal explanation.