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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2452


Senator SCOTT (New South Wales) - I rise to claim the attention of the Senate very briefly while I refer to a matter which I believe is of some importance and substance and which is contained in a question I addressed to the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) in this chamber this morning. I believe the question was an important question. I draw attention not only to the substance of the question involved but also to the somewhat summary and I believe unworthy reply that 1 received on that occasion.


Senator Devitt - Does Senator Wriedt know that you are addressing yourself to this matter?


Senator SCOTT -I have asked that he be advised. I believe that the Government, the Opposition and indeed all Australians have a right to expect proper clarification of a matter raised in a responsible substance-filled question asked here this morning and particularly such clarification from one whom I know must be classified as a responsible Minister. Because I do not think this happened I draw the attention of the Senate to this problem. Briefly and very shortly I shall recall the main substance of the question and the chief thrust of the somewhat brief and irrelevant reply that I received. The reply, I believe, did neither justice to the Minister nor to the question. I asked:

What is Australia's commitment in food aid as pledged by him at the World Food Congress? What form will this food aid take? Will it be solely wheat and mixed grain or will it involve meat in processed form? Is it true that the Minister now asserts that our commitment made at the World Food Congress was only approximately $A19m? If that is the case, why was a note bearing the Minister's letterhead pinned on the Press gallery board this week saying that the commitment was $30m? Did the Minister in an interview on Sunday last say that the commitment was $30m.?

I do not believe that any part of that particular question can be ruled off as briefly as the Minister ruled it off this morning.

I turn now to the significant matter, and that is the nature of the Minister's reply. When he rose he described the question as being unworthy of reply, as being facile and stupid. Facile, amongst many things, means easy, fluent or flexible. I am quite sure that the Minister did not intend to be complimentary to the question or to myself so I presume he did not have in mind that sort of definition of the word 'facile'. The word 'stupid' which was the other adjective involved means, among other things, unintelligent and uninteresting. As far as unintelligent is concerned, I do not believe that the matters referred to required no intelligence. Although perhaps from a somewhat biased angle, I suggest that even the questioner may not have been unintelligent. But be that as it may, I am sure that the Minister can answer this section of the problem merely by saying, as he has on several occasions to me with reference to other questions, that it is just a matter of judgment. Of course, it is a matter of judgment whether this question or the questioner were unintelligent.

As for the second part of the definition of the word 'stupid'- that is 'uninteresting'- I think that is incredibly bad. I cannot really believe that the Minister sincerely thinks that the subject matter of this question is uninteresting. Once again let me refer to the major matter of the question. I asked: . . what is Australia's commitment in food aid as pledged by him -

That is the Minister-

At the World Food Congress?

Is this a facile or stupid question? Is it uninteresting? Is it irrelevant? I continued:

Will it be solely wheat and mixed grain or will it involve meat in processed form?

Is that a facile or stupid question? I further asked: ls it true that the Minister now asserts that our commitment made at the World Food Congress was only approximately $ 19m?

Is that facile or stupid? The question continues:

If that is the case, why was a note bearing the Minister's letterhead pinned on the Press gallery board this week saying that the commitment was $30m? Did the Minister in an interview on Sunday last say that the commitment was $30m?

Was it $ 19m or was it $30m? I do not believe that any section of the main body of the question is facile or stupid. I believe that the whole question is of supreme significance to the Australian people. If there is any facile or flexible quality in the Minister's reference to the question then it can only be flexible with regard to his attitude to mathematics which, in his assessment, seems to vary between a figure of $ 19m and $30m. Surely there is quite a significant area of flexibility there. I am concerned because I believe we should be thinking in terms- my Party, the Australian Country Party thinks in these terms- of a food stockpile around the world to make, in some way, a real contribution to the hungry nations. So I am convinced that no part of this question was facile or stupid. I regret that that should have been the reply of a responsible Minister to what I believe was generally conceded to be a sensible and important question.







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