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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 515

Senator CHAMARETTE (4.43 p.m.) —The Greens are also supporting the motion moved by Senator Campbell. We support it in principle as part of a series of incidents which illustrates this government's and this minister's disrespect of the Senate by breaching an order of the Senate. The Greens are not necessarily aware of all the facts underlying Senator Campbell's request—though I must add that he has tried to keep us informed. It is not one where we are involved with the issue. However, we respect his right to request that information.

  We are aware of the conflicting principles and that there is a difficulty between commercial confidentiality and the parliament's obligation to be accountable on the expenditure of taxpayers' money. I believe that Senator Spindler has commented adequately on that. I want to comment on Senator McMullan statements where he said that there was a time when an order of the Senate was dealt with as a weighty matter but of late—

Senator McMullan —I was talking about censure motions.

Senator CHAMARETTE —Yes. He said that they were dealt with as a weighty matter, and he said that as of late these have been so like confetti that they are in danger of being devalued. I consider that as being of very great concern. Senator McMullan's remarks implied that the withholding of cooperation by the government is an exception rather than the rule. So I am very interested to find out when and on how many occasions the government has demonstrated its compliance with an order of the Senate. I will endeavour to look at that further.

  I believe that Senator McMullan is right when he says that generally in the past returns to order have received respect and that there has been only a handful of occasions on which they may have been ignored or some delay may have occurred between the request and the tabling of the documents that have been requested. The one that stands out in my mind was a letter between two ministers concerning woodchip export licences. A request was made on 16 December, the document was not tabled and the minister was censured.

  I believe that this trend towards non-compliance with requests for tabling by the Senate is very damaging. I believe that the principle of censuring a minister may be also treated more lightly than in the past. On the basis that this is a matter of principle and seriousness, and on the basis of accountability and the need for the government to be transparent in its dealings, the Greens indicate our support for the motion.