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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 25

Senator HARRADINE (10:48 AM) —The motion that we are considering now is a motion to refer to the Finance and Public Administration References Committee for inquiry and report by 15 August 2005 a list of matters relating to the Regional Partnerships program and related programs. I am concerned that the question of public moneys being expended should become very clear indeed. My concern is that, if we adopt this proposal, it could degenerate into an exercise of trawling the murky waters of alleged political patronage—and some of the debate thus far has confirmed my concern—and that all of this could be done under parliamentary privilege. My fear is that then the credibility of the Senate processes could come under great stress. I know that if that happened the Senate could handle that and the officers could handle that. But there are processes already available, through the estimates committees.

Clearly, the estimates committee processes are most important in determining this particular question—that is, the alleged lack of transparency over the expenditure of public moneys. We want to know how much was spent in certain programs, how much was spent in others, what the processes were, what the criteria were, what the evaluation was and who was on the committee that did the evaluation—all regular things that are discussed at estimates committee hearings. I am obviously concerned about and interested to find out, as all of us are, where public moneys have been spent, what criteria were used and in fact what were the evaluation processes and the like. First of all, we have to seek and obtain the facts. Unfortunately, the Labor Party opposed my proposal for the estimates committees to meet this week. We should be meeting as estimates committees this week. The question of the Regional Partnerships program and the other programs would be under the spotlight now—today—if my proposal had been agreed to by the opposition, but unfortunately it was not.

Most years at about this time we have an examination, through the estimates committees, of the expenditure of particular government departments and instrumentalities. That is important but, unfortunately, it has gone by. But, if you want the pure facts of where the money has gone and why, you have got until tomorrow evening to put all this in writing—and I presume the opposition has done it—to the particular estimates committee secretary. Because of the resolution that was adopted here, the department, in this case, will need to provide the answers by 31 January. You can proceed from then on because, so far as I can recall, there are some estimates committee hearings in the early part of next year. At that time you will be able to analyse what responses you have got. In the estimates committee hearings you can question the public servants and the minister or the minister's representative in the Senate. Again, the estimates committee is a better way to go, normally speaking. That is my proposal. I would like to exhaust all of those options before we proceed to the next step.