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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 2003


Senator BOSWELL (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.18 p.m.) —I read your speech carefully, Mr President. I am particularly concerned about a few quotes in it which worried me. I know that when we read a speech in context, we can explain that we did not really mean certain things. All of us in the Senate—and you, in particular, Mr President, as you have been involved in politics for a number of years—should know that references such as—

There is a tendency for committee hearings to get side-tracked into scandal seeking or to provide a forum for an individual's personal enthusiasms to be pursued—

will be taken in the context in which they are said. Mr President, when you read the speech you would have found that it was designed to make a particular point.

  A number of issues have been read out by Senator Hill, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, in which the Senate committees have been put to particularly good use. I could add another couple of issues to those, particularly the fact that former Senator Richardson paid a million dollars to the wrong company. It should have been paid to a particular firm in Ravenshoe that was getting rid of its assets out the back door. Former Senator Richardson paid more than a million dollars to a firm that had no relationship to the firm that should have been receiving the government compensation. I might add that former Senator Richardson was censured by the Senate for that.

  In that situation this parliament had to have some influence on the decisions regarding what the government was doing wrong. I ask you, Mr President, whether there could be a mistake worse than a government minister's department paying out a million dollars to the wrong company and whether you think the Senate should bring up issues such as that. I think that you would have to agree that that is a very relevant issue for the opposition to pick up.

  Let us not forget the sorts of issues that the opposition has exposed through the committees, but there are other reasons for estimates committees. One is to get information, and that is why I think most senators use those committees. For example, I have found out how much money has been allocated to RAS. I pursued Senator Collins over the last three months on every estimates committee. We found that $88 million is going to RAS and, in our opinion, that is totally insufficient to prop up a rural community that is going through very hard times at the moment. Let us look at the CoT investigations that we raised whereby a number of small business people were not receiving adequate telephone services. We investigated those through the estimates committees. The outcome was that Telecom set up a special arbitrator to investigate and compensate those people who have gone broke or lost money.

  Those are the things that estimates committees allow us to do in opposition. We can represent the people—not only those who vote for us—who rely on an opposition to get through when all else fails, even legal proceedings. In many cases this chamber is the last line of defence for people with problems. Their only defence is to bring their problems to the opposition for us to raise in the parliament, and the only way we can do that is by getting information through estimates committees. Mr President, I ask you to be a bit more circumspect when you criticise the estimates committees. You are the presiding officer of this chamber, and I ask you to be careful.