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Wednesday, 1 April 1987
Page: 1845

Mr HOLLIS(11.04) —I am pleased to take part in the debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 1986-87, the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1986-87 and the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 2) 1986-87, and to exercise the freedom associated with such a debate. In talking about the expenditure of gov-ernment funds, I would like to address a few remarks to the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee. Before doing so I will answer some comments made about me by Senator Michael Baume in the other House on Monday evening. I draw attention to an article which appeared in the Illawarra Mercury today where it is claimed:

Member for Throsby Mr Hollis and his Federal Labor colleagues were using stand-over tactics to discredit the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee and its chairman Senator Michael Baume . . .

It further claims that Senator Baume objected to attempts made to stand over him. I point out that there has been no attempt by me or any other member of this House to stand over Senator Michael Baume or anyone else. It appears that I upset the Chairman of the Opposition Waste Watch Committee by revealing that he kept a Commonwealth car waiting for an hour and a half while he attended a recent dental appointment. His first claim was that I was wrong, that it was not an hour and a half but an hour and 20 minutes. He has now got the hour and 20 minutes that he kept the car waiting down to one hour. Of course, after some name calling of me for finding him out, Senator Baume, as the Liberals always do, started to blame the workers. He made comments about people employed in the Commonwealth car service. As I have said to the Illawarra Mercury, my information came not from the transport office or from anyone in the Commonwealth car service but from a member of the public who actually saw the car arrive much earlier than 10.15. She passed the car several times while it was waiting and then waited to see who came out. It was a member of the public who happens to be a constituent of mine. She has work in Canberra and she passed this information on to me. If this person gives me permission, I will mention her name.

The point of my raising this issue is not personally to criticise a member of the other House-I will not revert to name calling of members of the other House-but, as we are talking about government expenditure today, to highlight the fact that those who set themselves up to judge others and to comment on the waste of taxpayers' money--

Mr Snow —That is right.

Mr HOLLIS —The honourable member for Eden-Monaro agrees. Those people must be prepared to set an example. I would have thought that anyone who was so critical of the supposed misuse of public money would have been scrupulous in setting an example. It is just common sense that if one is to set oneself up as an authority on or to oversee expenditure one has to be scrupulous in setting an example. Senator Baume said that it was an inconsequential matter. It is about as inconsequential as the issues that the Waste Watch Committee members raise all the time. That is how inconsequential it is. In his attack on me, Senator Baume said: `The whole question of the use of the cars by senators and members of the House could become the centre of an unfortunate public airing'. Shock, horror! Why should the public not be aware of the use of the cars if we have nothing to hide and we are not ashamed of anything? I use a Commonwealth car when I am in Canberra, as other members do and we can justify the use of those cars. If I used the car for trips to the coast for me and my mother I would be a bit worried about it too, but that is by the by. It is important that senators and members have cars available. Many members come from the far corners of Australia. We do not have our own cars with us and we also have time constraints, but there are rules involved in the use of Commonwealth cars.

It is not true, as Senator Michael Baume claims, that it is easier for the driver to wait. The normal procedure is for the driver to drop a person at his destination and then to return so that he can be allocated to other duties. The person gives the time that he feels he will be through the appointment, or he telephones the transport office here. So it is not true to say that it is easier for a driver to wait, whether it is for an hour, an hour and 20 minutes or an hour and 30 minutes.

I do not want to prolong the debate about the use of cars. It is true, as the claim says, that the debate about cars could become the centre of an unfortunate public airing. Herein lies the difficulty. I suggest that the Waste Watch Committee has been giving certain items of expenditure this public airing without providing all the details. I accept what Senator Michael Baume has said about cars. Unfortunately, journalists give the general public half, a quarter or a tiny bit of the story. As part of their profession, they highlight those items which they think will be of most interest and then they run the story.

My criticism of the Waste Watch Committee is that it does not fully check its facts and it very selectively quotes examples of so-called expenditure waste. The vast majority of projects criticised by the Waste Watch Committee are projects funded under the arm's length principle. This is especially so of the Australia Council grants of which it is so critical and also most of the research grants. The government of the day does not decide on the actual recipients of these grants. This is the whole concept of arm's length funding. Who gets the grant is decided by those involved in a particular industry. If members of the Opposition want to do away with the arm's length funding principle they should come out here now and say so and not hide behind criticism of the Government. I have been involved with the Caucus arts committee. Various people from the arts community have come to us over the last two years and said that there has to be peer assessment within the industry and we have to retain the arm's length funding principle. When the Opposition parties were in government they maintained the arm's length funding principle as well.

As we are talking about some of the projects of the Waste Watch Committee I notice that the speaker who preceded me in this debate, the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) also selectively threw in a couple of so-called waste examples. This is what members of the Opposition are doing. They are not explaining the grants. They sprinkle a few about. The honourable member for Parkes (Mr Cobb) is an expert at this. He throws the ball in-homosexuals, lesbians, et cetera-to the debate and talks about the waste of government funding. I do not know about all the projects, but I turn to a couple that I do know a little about. Two Illawarra projects were mentioned as almost having reached the famous ten that were singled out by the Waste Watch Committee and announced last week. I would have thought that the Waste Watch Committee would be worried about mentioning Illawarra projects. In a blaze of publicity last year it suddenly revealed many projects, most of which were in the Illawarra area and on checking, the vast majority were found to have been funded under the Fraser Liberal Government and most of the criticisms were found to be inaccurate. The Waste Watch Committee talked about money being allocated for a conference which was never held, when the conference was held and a report was produced. Money supposedly went to purchase a bus which was purchased under the Fraser Government seven years previously. The Waste Watch Committee threw out all sorts of examples. The information that is supplied by the Waste Watch Committee in almost every case is incorrect.

I have mentioned a couple of cases in the Illawarra Mercury. One is Redback Graphix. Redback Graphix got its start under the wage pause scheme of the Fraser Government in the early 1980s when it received funding through the Australia Council. I know this personally because all grants are administered by an outside official. I happened to be the outside official in this case. I used to sign the cheques for Redback Graphix in my previous job, so I know its history. In its report last week, the Waste Watch Committee stated:

Redback was the subject of much controversy during its time in Wollongong because it was constantly receiving Federal grants while operating as a private enterprise.

It does not say that these grants were made under the Fraser Government when Senator Baume was Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer. I ask you! This is what he is criticising. The other matter that the Waste Watch Committee criticised was the allocation of $41,410 for a project which it claimed took two academics at Wollongong University to write the history of the Australian Labor Party.

Mr Goodluck —Crikey!

Mr HOLLIS —The honourable member for Franklin should let me finish. The sum allocated to the project was allocated over a three-year period-a point that Senator Michael Baume fails to acknowledge. The project has been evaluated and reviewed twice. As I said before, the Federal Government did not allocate the money, the allocation was made through the Australian research grants scheme. The Australian Research Grants Committee comprises a chairman plus 11 other committee members, most of them professors at the leading universities in Australia. The Committee operates independently of the Government and a substantial number of the present Committee members predate the Hawke Labor Government.

The award was highly competitive. Many more applications were received than there was money available, and the projects were judged purely on their merit. Do Senator Michael Baume and his Waste Watch Committee wish to impugn the integrity of the Chairman and members of the Australian Research Grants Committee? Senator Baume is wrong in his allegation that two academics from the University of Wollongong are the recipients of the award. The members of the Waste Watch Committee never check their facts; they just run on a tangent. In fact, only one academic, Professor Jim Hagan, is associated with that university. The other academic, Professor Turner, is associated with the University of Sydney. It was a joint award to the two academics from two different universities. The two universities concerned, which are highly esteemed in the academic world, have judged this project to be worthy of their support and endorsement, without which the award would not have been made. It is not a project to mark the Australian Labor Party centenary, as Senator Baume would have people believe. Instead, it is an independent research into the history of one of the major political parties of our nation and one which has done much to mould the history of our nation and-I might add-will continue to do so. As such, this project is part of a general program of research into the political life and history of our nation. It is not a case of the ALP contemplating its navel but the work of two independent and highly respected researchers getting on with their job as professional historians. The ALP-and this is important-did not ask them to do this work; in fact, the ALP was not consulted on the matter.

Senator Michael Baume's remarks are the statements of an intellectual philistine. They show his utter disregard and ignorance of what constitutes history and historical research. Professor Hagan and Professor Turner have embarked on a very critical historical inquiry and will most certainly produce a very different work from that which would be expected were the ALP to write its own history. The work is being written by two men with a long and highly respected record of research with distinction in the field of political history. The study will contribute to the art and science of politics, of which Senator Michael Baume might presumably be considered to be a practitioner, albeit not a very intelligent or well informed one. Of course, the Australian research grants scheme is funding two studies on Malcolm Fraser-not one, but two studies. This point was not raised by Senator Michael Baume or the other members of the Waste Watch Committee.

Mr Snow —That is right; and we have not objected to it.

Mr HOLLIS —We have not objected, as the honourable member for Eden-Monaro said. Indeed, it is odd that a practising politician cannot recognise or identify historical research which is likely to be of considerable interest and value not only to the general public but to his own Party. I suggest that we will all become better politicians, better practitioners of the art and science of politics, and will come to a better understanding of the political process of our nation's political history, which necessarily includes that of all political parties, not just our own.

Senator Michael Baume has also claimed that my so-called attack on him was the result of a Cabinet decision. He really flatters himself if he thinks that the Cabinet is concerned about him and does not have more important things to worry about. A Cabinet meeting was supposed to have been held at which the Opposition Waste Watch Committee was on the agenda, and from that the Ministers hot-footed it back to the Caucus and told all Caucus members to get up and attack Senator Michael Baume and the Waste Watch Committee. I do not know how long the Waste Watch Committee has been going-a year or so-but in all the time it has been going I have never once heard it raised in Caucus. I am not privy to what goes on in Cabinet meetings, but I suspect that this matter has not been raised there. The members of the Cabinet have more important things to worry about. It is simply not true to say that this matter was raised in Caucus. To my knowledge, it has never been raised in Caucus. I raised the issue because, as I said, if Senator Baume is going to set himself up to criticise this so-called government waste, he should set an example.

I conclude by saying that, if the Waste Watch Committee is so concerned about waste of government money, the members of the Committee should have been in the Senate corridors last night when the Senate Estimates committees were meeting. I do not know how many public servants being paid upwards of $50,000 a year were waiting around to appear before those committees. If we are to talk about waste, those are the sorts of things we have to look at. As the honourable member for Perth (Dr Charlesworth) said last night, we have to look at some of the proceedings in this House and streamline them if we are to cut costs. We should look at the fact that all these public servants being paid huge salaries are dragged before Senate Estimates committees.