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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 2000

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (3.04 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the President, to a question without notice asked by Senator Alston this day, relating to a speech given by the President to the Presiding Officers' and Clerks' Conference held in Darwin on 24 June 1994 concerning the Senate committee system.

Mr President, fortunately or unfortunately the public did not read a speech that you gave in Darwin; the public read the media's assessment of your speech.

Senator Sherry —Come off it! You are not going to get personal about what the media says.

Senator HILL —No. Everyone can come in here and say, `I have been misreported.' Mr President, the media reported your speech under the headline `Senate Committees Unsuitable for Executive Scrutiny: Beahan'. The article states:

  DARWIN . . . Senate estimates committees have failed to effectively scrutinise executive government and are not suited to doing so because of party politics, according to Senate President Michael Beahan.

  In a paper to be given tomorrow at the Presiding Officers and Clerks Conference in Darwin, Senator Beahan said estimates committees were an "opposition show" often "side-tracked into scandal-seeking".

The article continues:

  "On the face of it one would have to conclude that estimates committees have failed to realise their potential for effective scrutiny of expenditure and monitoring of performance outcomes . . . "

Senator Gareth Evans —That is a joke.

Senator HILL —The minister believes they are a total joke. This is raised against the background of a Prime Minister who regards the Senate as unrepresentative swill and an irritant to his executive government and who, if he could get his way, would close it down. We know his attitude to parliamentary scrutiny even in the other place—question time can get lifted, MPIs can be ended. He is prepared to close down at his whim anything that might lead to more effective public scrutiny by the parliament. That is the background, Mr President, against which you gave your speech the other day.

  You told us today that you attempted to make an objective and analytical assessment of the Senate's role. Why then, in making an objective and analytical assessment, did you not look at all the achievements of the Senate in terms of proper accountability through the estimates committees? Why did you not look at the role that was played in the sports rorts affair—the $30 million of public expenditure which was basically disbursed in a way to benefit the government—and the fact that the Auditor-General was brought into the investigation and then Senate estimates committees pursued it further?

  Why did you not make reference to the Centenary House scandal and the fact that the ALP has grown rich on the deal it did with its own government, which is now the subject of investigation by a judicial inquiry but which, nevertheless, was raised and pursued through the estimates procedures of this parliament? Why did you not raise the Midford Paramount scandal, which resulted in $25 million worth of compensation, raised through the estimate procedures and then through the public accounts committee of this parliament? Why did you not raise the overstaffing levels of the Department of Social Security that could result in up to $100 million in excess wages; or the sale of the Trade Union Training Authority to the ACTU—another arm of the government that has been pursued so effectively in recent times in the estimates committees—with a financial benefit to the ACTU and at the public expense again?

  Why did you not raise the Dasfleet scandal that has been pursued by Senator Campbell in the estimates committees, where the Transport Workers Union is getting a financial benefit at public expense? What has happened to LEAN, the law enforcement access network, which Senator Calvert has pursued so effectively? Three million dollars of taxpayers' money has been wasted, and the government now says that it is not going on with it. It was Senator Calvert who brought that to public notice in the estimates committees and pursued it year after year. Why did you not raise the Senate committee's effective pursuit of the Prime Minister's $25,000 Thai teak table and the disgrace in relation to—

Senator Gareth Evans —Pathetic.

Senator HILL —I know Senator Evans thinks that is pathetic but that is his attitude to the whole process of proper accountability as well. What about the Gould prints worth $100,000? What is another $100,000 if it makes the Prime Minister feel better? It is only public money in any event.

  Why did you not raise the issue of performance pay and the $42 million of public expenditure which was so effectively pursued through the estimates committes? Why did you not raise the AQIS travel scandal that Senator Brownhill and others have been pursuing for years in the estimates committees? One can go on. There is the misuse of government credit cards, et cetera. Mr President, when you did your objective and analytical balancing act, why did you not take these matters into account? If, as you say, you did, why did you not mention them?