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Senate Estimates hears evidence that the Dept of Prime Minister and Cabinet commissioned research designed to assist the Coalition win the 2001 Federal election.

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Wednesday 28 May 2002


Senate Estimates hears evidence that the Dept of Prime Minister and Cabinet commissioned research designed to assist the Coalition win the 2001 Federal election.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Back home and the Federal Opposition believes that it's caught the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet ordering research designed to help the coalition win last November's election.  


At Senate Estimates Hearings last night, there were lively exchanges between committee members when Labor seized on confirmation by bureaucrats that research was commissioned by a task force overseen by the PM's Department about six months before the poll, looking at attitudes to welfare recipients and apparently focussed mainly on seats key to the election outcome.  


From Canberra, Louise Yaxley reports. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Opposition Senate Leader John Faulkner thinks he's found a scandal in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. 


JOHN FAULKNER: This looks like one of the great political stitch-ups. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: He demanded to know why research done into people's attitudes towards welfare recipients was focussed so strongly in marginal Labor electorates. 


JOHN FAULKNER: Is it true that of the twenty one suburbs from which the Sydney participants were drawn, eight were in the marginal seat of Parramatta? 


GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: I can't tell you the number in Parramatta but I know that there was a significant in Parramatta. 


JOHN FAULKNER: Is it also true that all but one of the suburbs from which the Brisbane participants were drawn were in the marginal seats of Lilley and Moreton. 


GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: I'm afraid I don’t have the detail of the seats that the groups were drawn from. 


JOHN FAULKNER: Starting to look a bit fishy, isn't it Mr Henderson? I can go through the groups in Melbourne if you like, Deakin, Bruce, Chisholm, Chisholm, Chisholm, Chisholm, Dunkley, one in Holt, one in Higgins, Isaacs, Isaacs, Isaacs, Isaacs, Melbourne, Ports, Melbourne, Ports, Melbourne, Ports. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The Government's Senate Leader, Robert Hill, pointed out the research wasn't done entirely in marginal seats but Senator Faulkner was undeterred. 


JOHN FAULKNER: You know you wouldn't put every single group into a marginal seat, maybe just one or two go into a different category but the pattern, unfortunately for you Senator Hill, is overwhelming. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: That was a bit too much for the Queensland Liberal Senator George Brandis. 


GEORGE BRANDIS: Ask Mr Henderson if he knows anything about the Kennedy assassination Senator Faulkner. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: But Senator Faulkner persisted with his questions to the Senior Prime Minister and Cabinet Department official, Alan Henderson . 


JOHN FAULKNER: So it's just another coincidence that all this goes on in marginal seats in the lead up to the Federal Election? 


ALAN HENDERSON: Well I haven't heard evidence yet that this is all in marginal electorates. 


LOUISE YAXLEY: But the Labor Senator drew a blank because nearly all those who'd been senior in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet before the election now seem to be gone when the questions are being asked at Estimates. 


JOHN FAULKNER: Is there any responsible officer left in PM&C undertaking any role at all that occurred prior to the Federal Election? 


LOUISE YAXLEY: The final straw for Senator Faulkner was when he discovered the identity of the head of that welfare reform taskforce. 


GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL: Jane Halton was the chair of the welfare reform taskforce.  


JOHN FAULKNER: Of course, I should have known, why didn’t I predict that Mr Henderson? 


LOUISE YAXLEY: That's Jane Halton who was promoted to head the Health Department just after the election but just before it, she was obviously a very busy woman.  


Not only was she on the welfare reform taskforce, under scrutiny from Senator Faulkner last night, but she also played a key role in the people smuggling taskforce, which has been so prominent during that other post-election inquisition, the Senate Committee looking into the children overboard affair. 


LINDA MOTTRAM: Louise Yaxley reporting from Canberra.