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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1216

Mr NEWMAN(8.58) —I would like to deal with the National Media Liaison Service in a bit more detail. The Government would have it on the record that this is an open organisation, that it was established without any secrecy. But that really has to be questioned. If one looks at the Budget Papers one finds no mention at all of the National Media Liaison Service. It only comes to light when one looks at the explanation of estimates in the papers which the Department provided, in which there is a little bit more detail of what is going on in this Department. But even in that publication, whilst page 12, which contains a general comment on the Department and goes through all its various branches, deals with grants commissions, remuneration tribunals, the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, parliamentary ministerial staffing services, the public order and police affairs division and so on and so forth, there is no mention at all of the National Media Liaison Service. It is only when one goes through the fine print that suddenly this organisation becomes apparent-in fact, that it even exists. I ask the Minister: Why is it that the Budget Papers and this explanation of estimates goes to such lengths to conceal the fact that the organisation exists at all?

The second point is that when one tries to find out exactly what is the budget of this organisation, once again it is only by combing the papers with a fine tooth comb that one can start to get any idea of what that budget is. Whatever the Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) may say, the last Government went to great lengths-in fact I personally ordered it-to see that all expenditure of the Government Information Unit, as it was then known, was clearly stated in the Budget Papers, right down to how many cars, telephones, stationery and so on it used.

I ask the Minister a second question, seeing that he is in the mood to answer all these questions tonight. Exactly what is the budget of the organisation, in detail? Before I go into further questions, I should like to make a couple of things clear. The Minister alleged that it had been proven that the Government Information Unit of the previous Government was operating with political parties in other States. That is simply not so. It was never proven. Allegations were made. Some spurious papers were produced in this place. There was an attempt to make a connection between those papers and the operations of the Unit. But it was never shown that there was a connection. So, for the Minister to say here that it worked with political organisations is a falsehood, and he knows it. I see that the Minister is nodding his head. Let him go to his colleague the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) and ask him to produce the post-election correspondence that I have had with him. I am sure that the Minister would then see there that what he has said is a falsehood. I have had correspondence with Senator Button pointing out that certain things that he said in the Senate when we were in government were false, and I drew his attention to certain facts. That is the correspondence about which I am talking.

As for the Government Information Unit helping honourable members on the other side of the House by giving them details of what the then Government was doing, that help was available to honourable members when they were in opposition. It was part of the charter of the old Government Information Unit.

Mr Robert Brown —It was a propaganda unit.

Mr NEWMAN —It was part of the charter and it was there for honourable members to use. I have a few more questions for the Minister. Is it true that the National Media Liaison Service will have a computing service of its own? If it is to have such a service, exactly what is the Service to be? What will be the system instituted? If there is to be a computing service in the NMLS, how much money will be spent on that Service? What exactly will the Service do? Will it extend to providing media clips for proselytisation in relation to the Government's policies? The Minister mentioned that the old Government Information Unit was an intelligence gathering unit. I suppose that in one sense that was true. It certainly monitored State newspapers, State media, and provided a report to the Government every morning. I always felt that that was a proper thing for the Unit to do. After all, if Ministers did not know what was going on in the various States, regions and provincial cities of our nation, how could they service their electorate by providing answers to the questions being asked and perhaps countering the comments that were being made by the then Opposition? I have another question. Perhaps the Minister could pay attention for a few seconds. Is he operating here or not?

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable gentleman will continue his remarks.

Mr NEWMAN —Will the Minister please tell us whether the NMLS will provide a service to Ministers? Will it monitor what is happening in the media in their States? If not, will the Minister make that clear? If it is going to do that, will the Minister acknowledge it here tonight? He seems to be saying that it will not have an intelligence gathering function, but from the information that I have it is already doing that. Maybe I am wrong; the Minister can confirm that or otherwise.

There is another point on which I hope that the Minister will provide an answer tonight. I notice that in promulgating the National Economic Summit Conference, so-called, $1m-odd was provided for advertising campaigns. I notice in the booklet provided by the Department of Administrative Services in relation to its budget that the Information Co-ordination Service of the old Department of Administrative Services has now gone to the Minister's Department. Is that information co-ordination group working with the NMLS? If so, what is its budget ? If it does not have a budget, will the Minister give an assurance now that there will be no more advertising programs such as that which cost $1m-odd, which was spent on proselytisation in relation to the National Economic Summit Conference?

There are my questions. The only other thing I will say is that I hope that the Minister will answer my detailed letter on this subject, or at least have the decency to acknowledge it. It is about a month since I sent it to him.

The CHAIRMAN —For the guidance of the Committee, I point out that we are running pretty well on schedule. We are not scratching around for speakers.