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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6755

Senator LUDWIG (4:59 PM) —by leave—I wish to respond briefly to the minister's comments. I acknowledge the minister's comments in relation to Senator McLucas's motion for an order for the production of the final report of the TFG International. However, I wish to take the opportunity to remind the minister of the 13 other orders for the production of documents which, according to today's Senate Notice Paper, remain outstanding. That number does not include the 15 other orders for the production of documents still current from previous parliaments. This is disgraceful! These orders of the Senate—and I wish to remind the ministers present that they are orders of the Senate, made under this government—date back to May 1998. This is a shocking and abysmal record and continues this government's complete lack of accountability. I have spoken before of this government's lack of accountability. In the interests of time, I shall not repeat myself. However, the government's lack of transparency and its unwillingness to explain its actions to the electorate and to be accountable to the Australian public through this parliament's processes undermine the strength of our democratic system. The Senate's brief on orders for the production of documents states:

The power to require the production of information is one of the most significant powers available to a legislature to enable it to carry out its functions of scrutinising legislation and the performance of the executive arm of government.

I can put no greater emphasis on it than that. This government's failure to respond, or slowness in responding, to orders for the production of documents is frustrating the function of the legislature. It is frustrating to the opposition. We ask in good faith for the production of documents and they are not forthcoming. It is not explained in any detail why they are not forthcoming. It would be far better if this government took notice of the order for the production of documents and provided that information. The government needs to explain the reasons for the disrespect that it is showing to the orders of the Senate and to drastically improve its compliance with orders. More than that: it needs to start complying with the orders. It is not good enough to ignore the orders.

The government talks frequently about corporate governance and about companies being accountable. However, it does not set a good example itself. Complying to orders for the production of documents is about accountability. We have just had an opportunity to pass a bill dealing with the Australian Crime Commission, and in that bill we talked about ministerial responsibility and accountability. Yet, when we come to orders of the Senate, the government has been lackadaisical. You have to come to the conclusion that the government's noncompliance of the orders for the production of documents is more than just a lacklustre performance by this government; it is something that deserves criticism. The government should do better. The government clearly does not understand that its actions in not complying with the Senate's orders only confirm what I have long suspected: this government is not interested in corporate governance in relation to the big end of town or as it applies to itself.

I want to remind the Senate of what Senator Ian Campbell said in relation to an order for the production of documents in 1994. At that time he moved a censure motion condemning a minister for not complying with an order for the production of documents. I am not about to do that today, but I reserve my right to do it at a later date—this is not a threat—if the government does not respond more readily to orders for the production of documents, or provide good and cogent reasons why it is not complying or cannot comply with the order for the production of documents so that this Senate can take note of and heed them. Senator Campbell said at that time:

The subject of the censure motion is that the minister has breached an order of the Senate. That is a serious offence. The Senate considered the points I put to it last week and made the decision to order the minister to table documents. The minister has breached that without any apology or explanation and without even seeking to have discussions, and that requires censure.

If the Senate loses its power to compel the executive to table these sorts of documents then we may as well go home.

That is a euphemism, but this is the point that Senator Campbell made back then: if you do not produce the documents, then you are remiss as a government, you have missed the boat and you may as well go home. I am not going to go home this time, but this government's failure to respond to the orders of the Senate is frustrating the processes of the Senate and the democratic processes in Australia.

On another occasion, in relation to the same return to order, Senator Campbell said:

When the Senate is not able to be properly informed about these matters, we are undermining the democracy and the accountability processes that are quite proper in this parliament.

I hope that Senator Campbell is listening. I will certainly convey to him what I have said, and I expect the advisers and the minister on duty may do so as well. This government is making a habit of hiding information and of not disclosing information that Australians deserve and are due. It is not acceptable that orders for production are not, without proper reason, complied with or complied with in a timely manner. It is disappointing, but I am hoping that the government will take heed and seek to comply with the orders still current.

Senator Ellison —We all feel duly chastened.