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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2808

Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Patterson asked me a question at Question Time and I now have some information on computer systems to which she referred in her question.

  It would appear that the estimate now for the amount of money which was spent on Jobsearch allowance, Newstart and special benefit for newly arrived migrants under assurances of support was about $32m. Due to major difficulties in existing computer programs, only about $1.77m of that was raised as debts in 1991. That fault has been rectified and we are proceeding to identify cases which have been missed. However, even with that, the revised debt figure is probably likely to be around $9m.

  The discrepancy between the $9m and the $32m arises because with the number of recipients to assurees one finds that there can be a change of name, names can be misspelt and also they can be anglicised. All of these are very common indeed. We believe that that will mean that we will not be able to get the figure above $9m. The Department is now planning, with the new bond arrangements that were announced in the Budget, a new system to enable matching to be done by permit visa number rather than by name. That being the case, we should be able to get to pretty well the lot.

Senator Tate —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. It relates to a remark that you made near the end of Question Time. I want to know whether you were ruling that I am not permitted to leave my seat during Question Time.

The PRESIDENT —Obviously, Senator Tate, you did not hear what I said. I think that there are two issues involved. The Opposition frequently objects to the fact that Ministers leave before the end of Question Time, particularly when they want to use the standing order to ask a question of a Minister which had not been answered in 30 days. I asked Opposition senators to inform the relevant Minister that they were to ask a question, and I think that solved that particular problem.

  The point was raised today that you were leaving before Question Time. There is no rule that says that you cannot leave at any time you like, but I suggest that the conversation would have been better conducted if you had been sitting next to Senator Harradine instead of standing in the corridor.

Senator Harradine —Further to that point of order: it was entirely my fault that Senator Tate was standing here. I had passed a courteous remark to him and he paid me the courtesy of responding.