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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 582

Senator PETER RAE(4.08) — Madam Acting Deputy President-(Quorum formed) In the light of certain statements, in particular those made by Senator Richardson on this matter, and in the light of certain precedents relating to Senate committee behaviour, I wish to refer to the precedent that was established in the Australian Dairy Corporation and its Asian subsidiaries inquiry and report. I also refer to action taken by the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations, of which the present Attorney- General (Senator Gareth Evans) was a member, and a consenting member, concerning the behaviour that took place. There was conflicting evidence on the part of a witness who came before the Committee and who gave evidence on oath. The Minister declined to come before the Committee, declined to give evidence on oath, and in fact replied by letter. The Committee pointed out, in further correspondence and in a statement in this chamber, that it was left with the dilemma that sworn evidence was given to the Committee which was contradicted only by an unsworn letter. The Committee made a finding on the balance of probabilities as is appropriate in Senate committee inquiries. Again, the present Attorney-General was a party to that finding, which is set out in paragraph 9.38 of the Committee's report. Having weighed the relevant considerations of the direct sworn evidence of one witness and the unsworn evidence of another person who could have been a party to a particular conversation-and they were the only two parties to that conversation-the Committee, on the balance of probabilities, preferred the recollection of the person who had given direct sworn evidence to the unsworn evidence of the other person. I mention all this only because I believe that it is inconsistent for either the Attorney-General or supporters such as Senator Richardson to argue to the contrary. I do not wish to reopen any of the matters which were relevant to that inquiry but simply to say that the precedent is there.

Senator Georges —You have not convinced me it is the correct precedent.

Senator PETER RAE —The precedent is there. It was accepted by the Senate. A special statement of the Committee's action in relation to this matter was made to the Senate on behalf of the Committee. The report was accepted by the whole of the Senate without question when it was presented.