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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7880


Senator McGAURAN (1:34 PM) —Earlier, Senator Mackay sought leave to incorporate certain adjournment speeches. The government has agreed to that request.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Senator Marshall:

I rise in recognition of the significance of Tuesday, that being the 52nd United Nations International Human Rights Day.

Human Rights Day was initiated in 1950, under a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly.

According to Resolution 423 (v), carried two years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the intention behind the marking of an International Human Rights Day was:

· To recognise a distinct step forward in the march of human progress;

· To play a role in the common effort to bring the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the attention of the peoples of the world; and

· To express appreciation to all those countries, Members or non-members of the United Nations which have already celebrated the anniversary.

The resolution invited all States and interested organisations to adopt 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day, to observe this day to celebrate the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948, and to exert increasing efforts in this field of human progress.

For the benefit of Honourable Senators and the listening public, I would like for a moment to outline a number of the key principles enshrined within the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute's website dedicated to the Declaration—I quote:

`The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the primary international articulation of the fundamental and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.

`Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represents the first comprehensive agreement among nations as to the specific rights and freedoms of all human beings.

`Among others, these include civil and political rights such as the right not to be subjected to torture, to equality before the law, to a fair trial, to freedom of movement, to asylum and to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression.

`The rights outlined in the UDHR also include economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to food, clothing, housing and medical care, to social security, to work, to equal pay for equal work, to form trade unions and to education.

`Originally intended as a “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”, over the past fifty years the Universal Declaration has become a cornerstone of customary international law, and all governments are now bound to apply its principles. Because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights successfully encompasses legal, moral and philosophical beliefs held true by all peoples, it has become a living document which asserts its own elevating force on the events of our world.'

In 2002, the international community is in a precarious situation. Human rights violations are rife and are not simply confined to areas of the globe that could be considered the 3rd world.

While many areas of the world are subject to war on a daily basis, many Western nations are now faced with an increased presence of and threat of terrorism and as such, violations of human rights.

In addition, a United States-led war in Iraq looms off in the distance.

It is precisely for the reasons just mentioned that the need for an annual day commemorating Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of 1948 exists.

In his message on the occasion of Human Rights Day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, said—and I quote:

`On this day, I would like us to think in particular of the countless number of civilians who are living in the midst of war and conflict and who continue to endure atrocities which should outrage the conscience of humanity. Their basic rights, though enshrined in human rights and humanitarian law, are denied.

For many, war is distant and the graphic images of human suffering enter their lives only through the media. But for the millions of victims of armed conflict, war represents a daily reality.

Men and women are killed, maimed, raped, displaced, detained, tortured, and denied basic humanitarian assistance, and their property destroyed because of war.

Children are abducted, forcibly recruited into arms, separated from their families, sexually exploited, suffer hunger, disease and malnutrition, and are unable to go to school.

They are not only denied their present, but also their future'.

Violations of human rights are often associated with being committed in areas of the world under the control of totalitarian regimes and just simply in other foreign places. However, it is true to say that here in Australia—our historic track record with human rights is less than perfect. Human rights abuses have occurred in the past and are occurring today.

Take for example past government policies that embraced the removal of indigenous children from their parents and their family units, bringing about what is now known and referred to as the “stolen generation”. Even today in 2002, the current federal government steadfastly refuses to apologise or say “sorry” for the injustice and violations of human rights caused by those decisions of the past.

Now for a current example, let me take the treatment of people being held in Australia's Immigration detention centres.

A recent report written by the Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Sev Ozdowski, on visits he undertook to Australia's detention centres throughout 2001, outlined a number of human rights violations existent with the current immigration detention process.

To quote the report:

`detainees raised a number of concerns ranging from minor complaints about daily conditions through to perceived serious injustices, including mental health issues. Some of the issues raised were specific to a particular facility. However, many of the issues are common, in greater or lesser degree, to all the immigration detention facilities managed by ACM and reflect systemic problems which need to be addressed.'

On top of the fact that in 2001, the average number of days detainees spent inside detention facilities was 155 days—nearly 5 and a half months, basic human rights afforded to people in detention, such as some access to the outside world through telephones, magazines, newspapers and televisions were reported to be in many cases and facilities, either inadequate or non-existent.

General health, dental health and mental health services in many cases were reported as poor, as was some accommodation, including a case in the Curtin facility where 18 people were sleeping in one small donga designed for one person.

The Report also outlined, and I quote:

`a number of detainees complained that they had not been fully informed of their status and the progress of their asylum applications, including their right to access legal assistance. Many detainees interviewed indicated they had never been informed of the reason why they were in detention.'

One detainee in the Port Hedland facility was quoted as saying:

`I don't know why I'm still here in detention. Nobody explained the process. They just said to ask my friends.'

This example and the report in general is a disturbing account of various abuses of human rights existent within the current immigration detention system and of numerous contraventions of international laws and treaties.

It is imperative to remember that our federal government has an obligation under international law to ensure that all people who arrive in Australia, without exception, are treated with dignity, respect and are viewed and valued as people.

The cases of Mr David Hicks and Mr Mamdouh Habib, two cases I have repeatedly raised through forums in the Senate, highlight yet another example of this Government's clear failure to protect human rights.

Both of these men have been remanded in detention under the command of the United States—for Mr Hicks, yesterday marked the one year anniversary of his capture and for Mr Habib, a slightly shorter time, yet still 7 months.

No charges under US, Australian or International law have been laid against either man and they remain in detention without access to legal counsel, Australian consular officialdom or their own families.

A US district court, under judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, which dealt with the case of Mr David Hicks stated that the Australian Government, at its will, could pursue rights Mr Hicks would have under International law. The same principle must also apply to the case of Mr Habib. Yet, when I asked the relevant Minister through a question on notice “is the Australian Government making any representations on behalf of Mr Hicks and Mr Habib to secure their release from US detention”, the answer provided to me by Senator Hill was a plain and simple no.

This is just simply not good enough. This government cannot sit idly by while its citizens' human rights are being denied.

In conclusion, I'd like to finish this evening by echoing some further words delivered by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights through his 2002 Human Rights Day message:

`The best chance for preventing, limiting, solving and recovering from conflict and violence lies in the restoration and defence of the rule of law. Armed conflict stands as a bloody monument to the failure of the rule of law. We must break the cycle of violence. Where armed repression strips people of their rights and dignity, let those responsible answer under the rule of law. Where terrorism inflicts misery, let those responsible answer under the rule of law. Let the fundamental rules of human rights and human dignity apply to every state and every armed group, every individual and every collective, every public entity and every private corporation.'

—————

Senator Marshall:

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit a workshop in the Canberra suburb of Mitchell, where Australia's first owned and built satellite in over 3 decades has been constructed, beneath the offices of Auspace by the Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems.

The experimental satellite—Fedsat, a 50 cm cube weighing just 58 kilograms, has been successfully attached to the rocket from which it will be released into space in just under a weeks time.

Whilst the satellite is relatively small in size, it will carry a number of high-technology payloads, the instruments carried by the satellite to gather data for research and development.

Among the payloads carried by Fedsat will be a magnetometer to measure features of the earth's magnetic field related to investigations of space weather; a computer that can be reconfigured in space by reloading software from the ground station; a new means of gathering environmental information through satellite communications; and a global positioning system (GPS) receiver.

Fedsat will be one of four satellites to be placed into orbit by the H-IIA launch vehicle, which will be that vehicles fourth launch. In an agreement signed in September, the National Space Development Agency of Japan will launch Fedsat in exchange for scientific data from the Australian research mission.

The HII-A rocket, over 53m tall, is able to carry up to 6 tonnes into geostationary orbit, and a larger amount into lower orbits. It is powered by solid-fuel strap on boosters and cryogenic main engines burning liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

Over two years has been spent working on the satellite, with 15 Australian engineers and scientists having had an opportunity to create it.

Fedsat, our first owned and built satellite since 1967 is expected to collect data and operate for a period of three years.

Fedsat will orbit at about 803 kms above the Earths surface and will circle the planet every 100 minutes. The satellite will be controlled from a ground station in Adelaide that will have two twenty-minute periods each day to communicate with the satellite, communication which will include downloading data and maintenance work. The first signals are expected about ten hours after launch on 14 December.

The satellite has withstood rigorous testing, including violent shaking and having been `cooked' in a special oven to ensure it can stand the severe temperatures of space.

Complementing the research side of the mission, the purposes of Fedsat as stated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems include: to establish Australian capability in micro-satellite technologies; to develop expertise necessary for sustaining space industries and profiting from them; to test and qualify Australian-developed space engineering systems and to provide a research platform for space science, and to investigate applications of satellite communications and GPS technologies.

The level of engineering that's being applied to components of the satellite is intense and unique to this project within Australia. The completion of the satellite and its eventual launch and operation will demonstrate that despite three decades of little investment or interest in an Australian space program, Australian ingenuity and know-how has been able to complete this project despite funding short-falls and a company that was contracted to assist in the production of the satellite becoming insolvent.

As I mentioned earlier Fedsat is the first Australian owned and built satellite to be produced since 1967, when the WRESAT, Weapons, Research, Establishment Satellite, was launched from Woomera.

The launch of WRESAT saw Australia become only the fourth space-faring nation, and it is worth noting that it occurred just 10 years after Sputnik first orbited the earth, demonstrating that Australia had advanced quite quickly in the early years of space research and exploration.

Unfortunately three decades between launches has done little to constitute a comprehensive and vibrant space program in Australia. Hopefully the launch of Fedsat will help restart Australia's satellite industry and further demonstrate that Australia has the knowledge and skill to effectively take on such ventures and succeed.

We are living in a high-tech era and it is essential that the Australian space program does not return to hibernation after the launch of Fedsat.

It is important that Australia ensures that the skills, experience and intellectual capital developed during the construction, launch and eventual communication with Fedsat is maintained and further developed for the future benefit of Australia.

The experience and knowledge that is developed during the lifetime of this project may assist in providing more advanced communication services on an affordable basis. Communication services such as two-way internet access that is efficient and effective in helping to link up all sections of the Australian community, and assist us in breaking down the barriers of distance that inevitably exist within a nation as large as Australia.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems is aiming to do just that through the establishment of a Broadband Satellite Working Group, which will aim to explore how to assist the Commonwealth in implementing modern communication services via satellite and related wireless systems.

If Australia invests in these sorts of programs we are going to benefit from the returns, we will be smarter as a nation and we will open new export markets.

The potential acquisition and sharing of knowledge and innovation across Australian industry and society that projects such as Fedsat can produce is worth further investment by Australia.

Projects such as Fedsat demonstrate Australia's capability to participate in space research and is a potential medium for creating new and valuable spin-off technologies. These include bio-engineering, robotics, optics, software, electronics, power cells, ground control systems, data processing and advanced manufacturing technologies.

I commend those associated with the development of Fedsat and wish them every success in their endeavour to demonstrate that Australia is back in the race, we do have the knowledge to get out in space and explore the various possibilities that come with such research. I hope the successful launch and completion of the Fedsat program will be a catalyst to bigger and better things for the future of the Australian space program.

—————

Senator Mark Bishop:

Mr Deputy President, I rise to speak on the recent visit to Papua New Guinea of ex-service men and war widows to commemorate the battles of Milne Bay, Gona and Buna, 60 years ago.

As background I should also mention that I also had the privilege in September to join a similar party to the commemoration of the new memorial at Kokoda, high in the Owen Stanleys. The Senate may recall that I have already spoken briefly on that event and on the Battle of Milne Bay previously on the Adjournment.

From the outset may I say that commemorative visits such as these serve a very special purpose.

Thanks to the Australia Remembers Program initiated by the ALP in the first instance, there is amongst Australians, especially the younger generation and families of veterans, a strong and growing awareness of the importance of these battles—and many others—60 years after they took place.

It is in fact salutary to consider current threats such as the so called “war” on terror and compare the reality of these new threats against those of 1942.

1942 was probably the worst year of the war for Australia. One disaster followed another. Everywhere, in Europe the Middle East and in SE Asia the enemy were making ground. Singapore fell, Darwin was being bombed, and the HMAS Sydney was sunk with the loss of all crew.

Prime Minister Chifley was fighting to get the 9th Division returned from North Africa, but only succeeded in doing so after the Battle of El Alamein in which 660 Australian lives were lost, having taken the brunt of Rommel's punishing assaults.

The news of war casualties had become a daily horror story—and the losses continued, particularly from New Guinea.

There were good signs though. El Alamein was a breakthrough, but probably too far away to relieve the direct threat to our north.

The onslaught of the Japanese along the Kokoda Track also stalled, and at Milne Bay after two weeks of bloody fighting, the Japanese invasion was repelled.

The cost was enormous though, with 161 men lost and a similar number seriously wounded.

High in the mountains the Japanese retreated as well, but with continuing loss of Australian lives, emerging to defend their positions on the northern coast at Popondetta, Buna and Gona.

In total 1300 Australians died in this phase of the war, as well as 1000 Americans and 6000 Japanese.

In reading the excellent accounts prepared for the occasion, one cannot but be humbled by the awesome nature of the task—so much so that it does not bear repetition here—suffice it to say however, that to be in the company of the small band of veterans visiting these sites after 60 years, was indeed something very special.

For the record, Mr Deputy President, those travelling to Papua New Guinea were as follows:

Qld: Ken Allen, Frank Beitz, Mrs Gloria Lee, Frank McCosker, Stan Powell, and Neil Russell

NSW: Bob Aylward, Malcolm Coppock, Bob Crawford, Norm Ensor, Peter Gibson, Griff Spragg and Peter Wright

SA: Ray Baldwin, and Mrs Elizabeth McDougall

Vic: Neil Barrie, Bob Brazenor, Eddie Cooper, and Don McKay

WA: John Corbett

Each of these people were worthy travellers, and despite the elapsed time, were, like all of us, affected by the occasion.

For these veterans who experienced some of the worst conditions imaginable, with constant rain, mud, debilitating diseases such as malaria, impenetrable jungle and kunai grass—the visit I am sure was truly memorable.

To undertake this journey, to see the sights, smell the air and again experience the tropical jungle after such an absence is a demanding and daunting task.

Yet like their original journey, they did it with pride.

It was also a pleasure to see that attendance at each of the commemorative services of the local Papua New Guinea people.

As we all know, the fuzzy wuzzy angels as they were known, were the saviour of a large number of wounded and ill Australians—and at the same time suffered from the cruel hands of the Japanese invaders.

That bond should never be forgotten, but it is a stereotype to some extent for it must be remembered that the Papuan people had their own fighting force which fought alongside the Australians for much of the Kokoda campaign and elsewhere.

The Papuan Infantry Battalion (PIB) was raised in Port Moresby in June 1940, and three more battalions were raised before the end of the war by which time they had come together as the Pacific Islands Regiment.

This included many Australians as well, in fact 500, to which were added 3,850 Papuans and new Guineans. Of these 21 Australians lost their lives, as well as 134 native people.

What is also not commonly known is that some villagers were commandeered by the Japanese and indeed worked with them during their invasion and retreat—working as bearers and guides, but also as informants and collaborators. Quite a number of people were executed by the Japanese when handed over after capture, and some of these were hanged after the war.

Overall though, the native people were an excellent source of support to the Australian campaign, and it was obvious from their attendance at the ceremonies at Milne Bay and Popondetta that they remain proud and loyal to the cause they then served.

That bond should never be forgotten, but in passing I must say that it is tragic to note the obvious decline in the economic health of this young nation.

I know that we are already generous donors of aid, but I do feel some regret that the magnificent effort made by so many young and brave Australians so long ago cannot be better preserved through a more enduring legacy which might see the growth and well being of the country restored.

Certainly these magnificent, kind and welcoming people who helped our men so much deserve a better future than the one currently facing them.

Wouldn't it be better for example to be investing the millions of dollars we have spent on memorials on development projects, perhaps like that at Kokoda initiated by Rotary, where tourist and other facilities could be established to encourage Australians and others to visit, climb the Track, and visit the battle sites and the cemeteries?

Despite the issues of corruption and public safety, a special effort could be made on a local basis with the people to develop something along these lines in a more cooperative way.

In conclusion Mr Deputy President may I congratulate the veterans and war widows who travelled with me on this commemorative visit. I wish them well and I am sure that their trip was a most fitting recognition of not just their own effort and courage, but also of all those others who fought with them side by side, and those who never returned.

My thanks also to the officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the ADF who made all the arrangements.

—————

Senator Mark Bishop:

Tonight I wish to address concerns about the outcomes of the Estimates hearings on 21 November for the Department of Veterans' Affairs, conducted by the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.

What concerns me most is the state of estimates prepared by the Department of Veterans' Affairs, oversighted by the Repatriation Commission, flowing from not just the most recent hearings, but also from previous hearings including Additional Estimates last February and the Budget estimates for 2002/2003.

There are two features of DVA's budget and they are that estimates are inaccurate, especially in the Health program where there seems to be repeated need to obtain more money during additional estimates—not just of a million dollars or so—but hundreds of millions.

The reasons for his are not clear to me. The Department claims their model needs tweaking, or alternatively that health care costs are increasing because veterans are getting older, using more services, and that the cost of medical services and technology is also increasing. I don't believe any of those problems should prevent accurate estimates being given to the Parliament.

And I should add, that this is for a portfolio where the client numbers are falling noticeably.

The second feature of DVA budgets is probably endemic to government, and I referred to this game yesterday in this place—and that concerns phoney savings proposals submitted and accepted as offsets for new spending proposals—but where the savings are not made, or cannot be shown because there are no measures in place.

As I mentioned I have an unanswered question on the notice paper seeking this information, but after 9 weeks I suspect the Department simply doesn't know. They have probably never been asked to reconcile previous savings.

The recent savings initiatives of reducing fraud in veterans pharmaceuticals is a good example. The numbers were simply extrapolated across from the Department of Health and Ageing—yet there may be no relationship except that veterans use pharmaceuticals. Those savings won't be made and the Department at Budget estimates as much as admitted it.

The other trap in estimates is that of a good idea which can't be proven, and here I refer again to the Veterans Home Care Program which is now being cut all around Australia, simply unlike other veterans programs it is capped and there has been unpredicted demand not budgeted for.

The concept of this program is indeed sound— that is, that it is better and cheaper to keep ageing people in their own homes than to have them institutionalised—so provide those services which will make that happen. The savings ought to outweigh the costs of the new program. But how do we know?

In this case an evaluation has been conducted by the University of New South Wales under contract, and we know a report has been provided. But silence prevails. What are the findings we ask—but we will probably never know because it will be so vague and based on uncertain assumptions. We wait patiently.

In the meantime the charade continues—the program is under funded, but the Minister has falsely claimed that the budget has been increased (it has not) and a further $6 million has been found from a mystery place for related services such as respite care and community nursing—funds we suspect have already been appropriated as part of a standing appropriation.

This is truly smoke and mirrors. Veterans may think this generosity marvellous, but in reality it is a desperate and deceitful act to cover incompetent management.

Further, it is a deliberate attempt to mislead not just veterans, but this Parliament as well.

The list of savings proposals is a long one, but another worth highlighting is that of a Departmental Management Information System (DMIS) which was budgeted for first in 2000/2001 at a cost then estimated at just over $20 million over 4 years, but with projected savings over that same period of $50 million. As far as I am aware there has been no evaluation of this project, and when I last asked, a methodology had not been agreed with Finance.

Turning to other matters, Mr Deputy President, there has been another financial fiasco and here I refer to the proposed new war memorial in London to commemorate the contribution of so many Australian lives to the British war effort last century.

The Office of Australian War Graves is building this memorial at the behest of the Prime Minister at a cost of $6.4 million. It has now been delayed by 12 months as the result of the bungled selection of a design team—and one I suspect could have been avoided by a proper selection process rather than the old mates network. Instead we have a bungled project with $550 000 being wasted on cancelled contracts and other remedial action.

This is scandalous.

The other ongoing saga for the Howard Government with its veterans' policy is the fate of the Gold card.

Despite constant denials by the Minister which remain in the briefs of Minister representing in the Senate, it is now quite clear that the Gold card is rapidly losing currency.

In Estimates we were informed that to that date only 57 % of the 12 000 GPs in the scheme had indicated their agreement to extend for 6 months beyond 13 December. According to the press, this has risen to 90%, but that leaves the ranks of doctors accepting the Gold Card much depleted.

Further, over 240 specialists were known to have indicated their intention not to accept the Gold Card as payment for treating veterans and war widows.

These are very dramatic figures, especially considering that there are few specialties of relevance to veterans, and in those areas, such as ophthalmology and orthopaedics, there is already extreme difficulty getting treatment.

Unless the Government acts quickly, the great benefit and security of the Gold Card will be rapidly eroded. Agreement with the AMA must be reached as a matter of urgency. The time for fudging and denial has run out. Veterans and widows are now becoming alarmed and seriously inconvenienced.

Moving on through estimates, the next issue of note is a regrettable one.

It has long been a tradition in this portfolio that there should be a bipartisan approach to veterans issues, respecting the contribution of veterans to the nation—but acknowledging at the same time the responsibility of an Opposition to scrutinise the estimates and administration in the interests of veterans and the taxpayers.

It is sad to note though that the Department now seems to be becoming a machine for the promotion of the Government and the incumbent Minister. Questioning at Senate Estimates recently has revealed that departmental advice of country visits to veterans is only provided to Government Members of Parliament, and the Minister has taken over the DVA function of writing tens of thousands of personal letters to veterans and widows advising them of minor pension changes at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars.

Further, decisions on grants made under programs such as Saluting Their Service, BEST and Community grants are only being advised to Government Members and Senators. This effectively disenfranchises veterans living in non government electorates, but it also marks the commandeering of DVA's processes for the promotion of the Minister and the Government. This is cheap political stuff, is not worthy of this portfolio, and is very disappointing.

It also seems that a practice has developed of having the Minister's staff having direct membership of steering committees for example the SAS health study—which is unusual to say the least. The tradition in the veterans' portfolio as I understand it is that the Repat Commission was at arms length from the government—but now seems to be completely captured by the political process, along with the DVA which is its administrative arm.

Mr Deputy President, there is a swag of other issues on the agenda for Estimates, some of which are simply information gathering to better understand policies and programs, but many of which seek to test the proper appropriation of taxpayers' money.

They include the performance of former repatriation hospitals which by and large do appear to be living up to our commitment to care for veterans. I have spoken previously here about some dissatisfaction within the T&PI community about the availability of treatment in Perth from the Hollywood hospital, and I note that they have now been advised that the monopoly given to them by the Repatriation Commission, while disputed, will not be changed.

For many veterans, linking their service with current disabilities has long been difficult where they believe they have been exposed to radiation or hazardous chemicals. Research seems to be patchy and the progress of health studies on which further research might be based is painfully slow.

The health study of Australia's Gulf War veterans for example is over 12 months late and it is to be hoped that we do in fact see it before Xmas as we have been promised.

Mr Deputy President I draw these issues to the attention of the Senate to show the value of the Estimates process, particularly in identifying shortcomings in government and administration which are detrimental to Australians or which are negligent with taxpayers' funds.

We can only hope that the outcomes of the process are heeded.

—————

Senator Forshaw:

ABC

On Thursday 5 December Senator Alston was asked a question regarding the possible appointment of former Minister Peter Reith to the ABC Board. Senator Alston refused to rule out appointing Mr Reith.

Given the track record of the Howard Government regarding appointments it is not unexpected that Senator Alston would be considering appointing a former ministerial colleague to the ABC Board. Since its election in 1996 there has been a plethora of political appointments by the Howard Government.

For example the following Liberal politicians have been rewarded with diplomatic appointments: Andrew Peacock (Ambassador to the USA); John Spender (Ambassador to France); Michael Baume (Consul-General to New York); David Connolly (High Commissioner to South Africa); Jim Short (Special Envoy to Cyprus); Bob Halverson (Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See); John Herron (Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See); Bill Taylor (Administrator of Christmas Island); Allan Rocher (Consul-General to Los Angeles); John Olsen (Consul-General to Los Angeles); and Tony Messner (Administrator of Norfolk Island).

In addition Victorian Liberal Party President Michael Kroger was appointed to the ABC Board and former Liberal Minister and Liberal Party President Michael Staley was appointed to the National Museum along with well-known Liberal supporters Christopher Pearson and David Barnett.

This is not a complete list of all the political appointments under this government but it is still substantial for only six years in office.

I do not want to suggest that all these appointments have been unsuitable but one has to draw the line when it comes to the possibility of Peter Reith being appointed to the board of the ABC. Such an appointment would be an outrage considering the history of Mr Reith's period as a Minister.

When Senator Alston was asked last Thursday how the Government could consider appointing to the board of the ABC someone who has been found by the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident to have `deceived the Australian people during the 2001 Federal Election campaign concerning the state of the evidence for the claim that children had been thrown overboard from SIEV4' he replied, inter alia:

The idea of somehow taking the view of a committee on which the government does not have the numbers as a benchmark for deciding to appoint people to the ABC board is pretty breathtaking stuff, I have got to say. (Hansard 5/12/02, p 6846)

Apparently, Senator Alston has very little regard, if any, for the findings or recommendations of Senate Select Committees.

In the light of this response it is interesting to recall Senator Alston's own views when he chaired the Senate Select Committee on ABC Management and Operations in 1994/1995.

Recommendation 21 of that Committee, chaired by Senator Alston, stated that:

The ABC Act should be amended so as to ensure that at all times the Board is made up of persons with an appropriate mix of skills, particularly proven management, financial and personnel skills, in large public or private sector organisations and recognised broadcasting experience.

It is difficult to see how a former Minister who was unable to manage his Telecard and had to repay around $50,000 for improper use of his Telecard has the necessary financial or management skills to be appointed to the ABC Board.

It is difficult to see how a former Minister who provoked the waterfront dispute and the use of guards with balaclavas and dogs against waterside workers has the necessary personnel skills that Senator Alston believes are necessary.

It is impossible to see how a person who was unable or unwilling to pass on vital information to his ministerial colleagues during the “children overboard” incident and thereby allowed the media and the public to be misled during the election campaign has the appropriate broadcasting experience to be a member of the board of our national broadcaster.

However, if Peter Reith is being considered for appointment to the ABC Board then, to be fair, he should be given the chance to have his credentials examined. This is indeed what Senator Alston's Committee recommended in 1994. Recommendation 22 of the Select Committee Report stated:

Before the appointment of a person to the Board, the proposed nominee should be required to appear before a joint parliamentary committee to enable the Parliament to scrutinise the person's credentials. The committee would not have the power of veto, but would be able to comment on the suitability of a nominee prior to appointment.

The chances of this happening of course are zero. Given that Peter Reith refused to appear before the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident it is unlikely that he would agree to appear before any other Committee of the Parliament.

In any event Senator Alston has ignored his own committee's recommendations when he has appointed other persons, such as former Liberal Party President Michael Kroger, to the Board. This is not surprising because Senator Alston has ignored other recommendations and findings of that Select Committee which he chaired.

Since becoming Minister for Communications in 1996 Senator Alston has, contrary to his own Committee's report, slashed funding to the ABC resulting in large scale redundancies, the sale of ATV, substantial reductions in the services of Radio Australia and a decline in the morale of ABC staff.

To cap it all off he supported the appointment of Jonathan Shier—the most disastrous Managing Director the ABC has ever had! Fortunately the ABC Board last year finally took action to get rid of Jonathan Shier and restore some stability to the ABC.

The ABC is a great Australian institution. It is one of the world's great national broadcasters. Let's hope Senator Alston doesn't make another mistake by appointing Peter Reith to the ABC Board.