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Thursday, 18 February 1999
Page: 2231

Senator ROBERT RAY —I direct my question to the minister representing the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, Senator Alston. What tender processes were employed prior to the government contracting Mark Textor to conduct research into their jobs strategy? What was the contract price for this research? How much has been paid to date? What procedures were put in place to ensure that copyright integrity was maintained? Is the minister now ready to reply to a question I put on notice three months ago as to how much work that department has given Mark Textor? Given that 11 ministers have replied so far, will he now concede that the department's failure to do so was an effort to cover up its sneaky and politically motivated research?

Senator ALSTON (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I do not have any information on any of those matters. I will seek some assistance from Mr Reith's office. I would have thought they were the very sorts of matters that Senator Ray enjoyed trawling over ad nauseam in estimates committees, but if he did not manage to get around to them there and he wants to waste question time putting something else on notice, I will attend to it. I can assure him that any delay on the part of Mr Reith's office to provide an answer to an outstanding question is in no way a result of any attempt to cover anything up. It probably reflects the priorities of the issues that Mr Reith's office has to deal with.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Would Senator Alston like to explain why he has written to me on other questions on notice to explain why they were late, yet again, but has omitted this one? Why has it taken three months, when this research was done in July last year, to actually come forward with the figures showing how much this particular contract cost? Will the minister find out whether it went to a tender process? After all, Mr Mark Textor did all the Liberal Party research in the last election.

Senator ALSTON (Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I will make those inquiries. But just so that Senator Ray does not get away with the usual smear campaign, let me say that Mark Textor's skills are well recognised around Australia.

Senator Carr —By the Liberal Party.

Senator ALSTON —From our point of view, he delivered the goods, didn't he? He called it right. He knew exactly what was going on out there. If you are asking whether the bloke has credentials, whether he has a decent track record, the answer is yes. I hope you are not suggesting for a moment that he is not properly qualified. I can understand the usual political partisan game playing in the sandpit—that because someone is associated with the Liberal Party he is not capable of doing anything else in the real world—but the fact is he is capable of conducting very effective research in a range of areas.

Senator Robert Ray —Because you are funding him through government contracts.

Senator ALSTON —If you want to say that outside, make his day. You used to be a great man for saying, `Take the walk.' Well, away you go. If you really want to make him happy, go out and say that. (Time expired)