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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2404


Senator MISSEN (Victoria) - I wish to speak briefly on this same subject. I was a member of Estimates Committee A which was involved in this matter which caused controversy on that night and I supported the ruling of the Chairman. I think it was a proper ruling at that stage and one that inescapably should have been given. There probably has been some misunderstanding in this area. When this matter was first raised in the Committee Senator Greenwood was temporarily absent from the room.


Senator Greenwood - No, I was not.


Senator MISSEN - It is my recollection that Senator Greenwood was absent during the early part of this discussion when Senator Jessop and I raised the question of the extent to which we could ask questions about this area. It is correct, as the Chairman of the Committee, Senator James McClelland, has said, that at first there was a willingness on the part of Mr Mollison to disclose the information. In fact generally he was very helpful to the Committee when he was before it. In the course of the problem which the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) raised, it was pointed out- Mr Mollison also referred to this point- that there was a very grave danger of money being lost to this country as a result of the disclosure of information as to what paintings were to be purchased in this year. That is obvious and it does not need to be reiterated.

In my opinion the restriction in the Chairman's ruling on this occasion was not a great one in any event. After the Chairman had suggested that this sort of question should not be pursued by Senator Jessop I said:

The question was one in relation to particular paintings that were being sought.

I am reading from page 472 of Hansard of 3 1 October. The report continues:

I take it that nothing in that ruling would prejudice this Committee from asking questions about the policy being adopted and about the desirability of doing this in the present economic circumstances and, in fact, querying the amount of the estimate. I would have thought that these things were right within the power of the Committee, appreciating entirely what Mr Mollison has said.

CHAIRMAN-There is no doubt that members of the Committee have a right to ask questions of the nature that Senator Missen has outlined. But I think that Committee members should respect the principles that have been enunciated by Mr Mollison, that his task could be prejudiced severely.

Referring to the reservation which Senator Greenwood has expressed, I join with Senator Jessop in saying that it certainly was not in my mind, nor was it my intention, that there should be some protection of the Minister. The Minister seemed to be able to protect himself. I do not think the Committee was concerned in any way about any protection of the Minister but it was concerned about protecting information, the disclosure of which would have been undesirable. I take as an analogy a situation in which an honourable senator might well have a vested interest- I am not saying that this is the situation in this case- and might seek information which could be damaging if it were given. I would have thought that the chairman of such a committee had some discretion to determine whether questions are proper and whether they require an answer.

As I read the resolution of the Senate which dealt with this matter, I do not take it as justifying in any way the contention which Senator Greenwood has put because it says that there cannot be a withholding from Parliament or its committees unless the Parliament has expressly provided otherwise. I suggest that this was not a case of withholding information from the Committee. The Committee ruled that this question should not be asked and should not be answered. I do not accept that an individual member of a committee is entitled willy-nilly to seek any information he wishes. If the Chairman makes a ruling and it is upheld, it is quite proper because it conforms with the requirements of this resolution. I regret that this incident occurred but I think the Chairman of the Committee acted properly, in the interests of gathering works for the National Collection and in the interests of the country generally, in not allowing the question.







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