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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2209

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(11.00) —Senator Coleman raised a number of points, including the questions of the availability of officers and access to information which is sought by the Estimates committee . I am sure that is a matter which will be raised in subsequent parts of the Committee debate. I note, for example, that there is reference in the report of Estimates Committee C-we will specifically have that report before us a little later today-to the Committee's disappointment at the time it has taken departments and authorities to provide written answers to questions, which in that case had arisen out of hearings on 30 April. I do not think that this problem was confined to Estimates Committee C.

In the case of Estimates Committee A, it is interesting to see in the material circulated by the Secretary to the Committee, Anne Lynch, a letter signed by the Acting Assistant Secretary, Management Services Branch of the Department of Communications. The last paragraph of that letter, in part, states:

We are aware of the requirement to reply to these queries as early as possible and we hope to be in a position to respond prior to the Senate Debate of the Additional Appropriations for 1983/84.

Quite frankly, I think that paragraph sums up the attitude which has been adopted by departments to requests for information by Senate Estimates committees. I regard it as totally inadequate that we should be treated in this way. It is a quite serious dereliction of duty on the part of the Government that it has not ensured that all of these matters have been dealt with.

We are moving into a debate on the Appropriation Bills at a time when one Senate Estimates committee has not yet completed its deliberations. Reports have come to hand as recently as this morning. Quite frankly, I think it is turning the procedures of this Committee into a farce when we are required to deal with material which we have not had a chance properly to examine and consider. This is not a matter which I raise in a partisan sense. I think there are general management problems. I remind Senator Robert Ray, whose interjection I am not able to pick up, that Senator Primmer when presenting his report made some quite strong statements about his concerns. I think that this is a matter of concern to senators generally.

I wish to record the Opposition's concern at the programming and timetabling of the debate, which is taking place when information is either not fully to hand or, in some cases, is only recently to hand. This is not a matter which takes the Government by surprise. During the recess I wrote to the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh), who represents the Minister for Finance ( Mr Dawkins), and asked him to ensure that answers were given. I commend his office for the way in which that request was dealt with. I received a response from him on the same day in terms of instructions having been issued for answers to be given by the end of that week. So I think that there has been some quite unsatisfactory dealing with these matters. I think that the debate is going to be less satisfactory than it should be as a result. In some cases we might have to seek some standing over of some parts of the Bills, and I think that is probably why Senator Martin is in animated conversation with the Clerk at the moment. But I think the Estimates committee dealing with the Education Department estimates has yet to complete its report.

I rise really to express concern about the fact that the Government's timetabling is such that we simply are not in a position to deal with many of the Bills before us in the way I think they need to be dealt with. I am sure that this will lead to less coherent and satisfactory debate than we should have . I do not have any points to raise now with respect to the Department of the Prime and Minister and Cabinet. However, I draw to the attention of the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) the fact that there has been what I think a very sloppy approach on the part of some departments to these matters. I think reference will be made later in the debate to the attitude of one or two Ministers which leaves something to be desired. However, in the event , the committee consideration of these Bills is proceeding under circumstances which I think are certainly less than optimal.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of Employment and Industrial Relations

Proposed expenditure, $99,786,00.