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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3031

Mr SCHOLES (Corio) - I briefly want to make some remarks about the report. Unfortunately we have not had time to read the contents of the report, but my understanding is that the recommendation of the committee of inquiry is that Mr Toomer be transferred to Tullamarine as a quarantine officer. This in effect would mean that he has been demoted from a senior quarantine officer to a quarantine officer. It also, I think, means that the bureaucracy of the Department of Health has been upheld in its earlier decision to demote him and place him at Port Hedland. I do not want to enter into the merits of the case further because it is very difficult to comment on the findings contained in a report which has just been tabled and which at this stage I have not seen.

The case itself, I think, is one which is of historic importance and one of which the Parliament ought to take note. Firstly, the inquiry was set up- I should say that it spans a period of two governments, not only the period of the present Government; I want that clearly understoodonly after a royal commission into the Public Service recommended that a judicial inquiry should be held and it was found that because of some deficiencies in the law such an inquiry should not be held. Therefore an internal Public Service inquiry was held.

My concern about this whole episode is that basically it commenced over disagreements between public servants with little or no experience in quarantine matters and a quarantine officer who I believe was conscientiously seeking to cany out his duties, whether or not over conscientiously, and I find it difficult to say that any quarantine officer could ever overreact in the area of quarantine because of the substantial importance of quarantine within Australia. I think it is unfortunate that the judicial inquiry could not have been held because of the circumstances, some of which have been the subject of questions, and one question to which I received a reply yesterday, about the inspection in Sydney of M.V. Vishna Kalyan, in which a member of the first inquiry into this area, the Director of the Department of Health in New South Wales, was in fact present. Whilst it may be that only inquiries were taking place on the methods of quarantine operations, there are other circumstances surrounding that inspection, one of which is still the subject of questions on the Notice Paper, regarding the captain being given a clearance by a non-quarantine officer, which have to lay as matters which could have influenced the course of the inquiry. I imagine- I think the experience of us all would suggest this- that where a member of a former committee which has in fact brought in a decision fully upholding the decisions of the Western Australian branch of the Department of Health, and an associated director of the Department of Health in another State is present at the time of such inquiry, he would be seeking to place the best possible interpretation on the decisions which were taken by the committee of which he himself was a member.

I hope, irrespective of the findings of this committee of inquiry, that it does not close inquiries into the total quarantine service. I do not believe that the quarantine service should be judged on the sins, omissions or successes of one quarantine officer or the disputes which he may have had on personality or other grounds with officers of his department. I make that point quite clearly. I believe that there are very substantial pounds for some degree of inquiry into whether the quarantine service should be an independent service operating similar to the Bureau of Customs, if not in association with it, so that it is not subject to any departmental direction even though departmental umbrella structures may support it. I think it is important that inquiries m that area should take place and continue. The service is too important for any hint of interference, other than for purely quarantine or administrative reasons.

The situation in Western Australia may or may not have improved. Certainly, from the early history of the Toomer case, it was less than satisfactory. I think that the persons who carried out the original inquiry did not get the full facts. I am certain that personality clashes in Western Australia acted to the detriment of the service and most likely created a far greater problem in the Toomer case than would have existed otherwise. I took this opportunity to speak without having studied the report. I will study the report with some interest. This is the last occasion on which we will be able to comment on it in this Parliament. This matter will be rather old news by the start of the next Parliament. I hope that this report will not preclude further inquiries into the structure and operations of Australia's quarantine service, which will become increasingly important as the number of persons and the types of transport coming into and going out of Australia increase.

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