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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2335

Senator CHANEY —(Western Australia-Leader of the Opposition) (9.37)-I would like to briefly intervene in this debate because it does touch on some important issues and I would like to make some comment on them. Towards the conclusion of his remarks the Chairman of Estimates Committee D, Senator Colston, talked about the rights of public servants and the business of attacking them. I hope that he makes the same vigorous speech next time his colleague Senator Primmer makes yet another one of his attacks on public servants in this place. I am sickened sometimes by the abosolute double standards which are adopted in debates so often in here. I have not heard Senator Colston get to his feet-not once-to complain about the succession of attacks on senior public servants which have been responded to by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), by the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and by other people. I suggest that we do not have to take Senator Colston's remarks very seriously in this Committee because he has shown no signs of indignation, not the vaguest glimmer of crossness on his expressive face, during Senator Primmer's attacks on public servants in this place.

I am sorry to have to mention that matter because I was going to suggest that Senator Colston might look to the example of Senator Primmer as a chairman of an Estimates committee. I think on this occasion Senator Primmer has shown some very considerable regard for his duties as a chairman and for his duties as a senator. I contrast the reports of the two Estimates committees to which Senator Primmer has drawn the Senate's attention to some very serious deficiencies. I thoroughly agree with the way Senator Primmer has conducted himself on this occasion and brought forward recommendations that were supported by the Opposition because it believes that that Estimates committee threw up some difficulties that the present Administration is causing to the proper operation of government and this Senate.

I suggest that when Senator Colston comes in here and talks on behalf of the majority that we all remember that, of course, he has a majority. He is part of the majority because he has two votes. He is probably another person who goes around shouting 'One vote, one value'. He has two votes; that is why he is part of the majority. He is the Chairman. There are three senators on each side of this argument and it is a pity that unlike the usual tradition of Senate committees there is a division on party lines because it does not do a lot of good for the committee system of this place. However, I do not believe the fact that there is a majority has any relevance at all when one bears in mind that Senator Colston represents two of the majority of four. The simple fact of the matter is that the concerns of the Opposition members of that Estimates Committee, concerns which have been expressed in a number of reports and in speeches in this House which went to the conduct of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) about this matter-

Senator Ryan —Oh!

Senator CHANEY —Yes, oh! I regard that conduct of the Minister as thoroughly inadequate. The fact is that Dr Taloni himself has demonstrated that there was a proper basis for the concern of the Opposition members of that Committee.

Senator Ryan —Absolute rubbish! Pull your head in.

Senator CHANEY —I will not pull my head in. The Minister might like her public servants because she can tell them to pull their heads in and tell them what to do. One of the nice things about democracy is that she cannot tell me or the Opposition what to do so I suggest she sit and listen. I want to quote her public servant, Dr Taloni, who is subject to her authority.

Senator Ryan —Why don't you leave the public servants alone and keep your attack to me? You are now attacking someone who can't answer back. Playground bully!

Senator CHANEY —I am about to quote Dr Taloni's own words.

Senator Ryan —Why don't you leave Dr Taloni out of it?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Sibraa) —Order! There are too many interjections . I suggest, Senator Chaney, that you address the Chair and that Senator Ryan cease interjecting.

Senator CHANEY —Thank you, Mr Temporary Chairman; both requests are very sensible. I am seeking only to quote the public servant involved. The public servant involved, on his own words, chose to make a further statement to the Committee before the question of a further hearing had been raised. The statement by Dr Taloni is dated 22 May and begins:

I wish to make a personal statement to the Committee in order to explain my answers at hearings on 3 May 1984 as recorded in Hansard.

So the situation is that Dr Taloni himself has volunteered, and he tells the Committee in the statement that that is so. He says:

I add this statement on my own behalf, to explain the circumstances pertaining at the time and the apparent inconsistency in information presented during the hearing.

I do not like talking in this place about public servants. I have made my views known in response to Senator Primmer on a number of occasions and I stand by those views. I do no more than quote what Dr Taloni, according to this paper, volunteered to the Committee. Dr Taloni has said to the Committee that he is adding a statement to explain the circumstances pertaining at the time and the apparent inconsistency in information presented during the hearing.

Senator Zakharov —'Apparent'.

Senator Ryan —Apparent-because of the bullying tactics of your colleagues.

Senator CHANEY —Again I have help, and not courtesy. In response to the honourable senators interjecting I am not one to use the expressions 'birds' and 'chirping'. I note their interjections-'apparent'. Of course we have to rely on words; what else do we have to rely on? Is the Committee supposed to make its judgment on the basis of demeanour? The fact is that the words used by Dr Taloni and the Minister did leave apparent inconsistencies and Dr Taloni felt moved to do something to clarify that. Again I quote Dr Taloni's words:

I felt concerned after the conclusion of the Department's hearing about the possibility of there having been some confusion and immediately on my return to the Department, no later than 7.15 p.m., I advised the Permanent Head of this. I advised him that the Committee should be informed of this and that the matter should be clarified.

I will not go back over all the matters debated in the Senate in trying to censure Senator Ryan.

Senator Ryan —Why not? It is all you ever do. Feel free.

Senator CHANEY —I note her encouragement that I should continue. The fact of the matter is that the Minister herself found it necessary to write a letter of clarification and weeks after the Minister had written to clarify the situation the public servant involved felt it necessary to put in a statement adding his clarification. I would simply put to this Committee that in such an apparent situation of confusion, which both the Minister and the public servant involved felt it necessary to clarify, anyone who suggested that the evidence had been satisfactory would have been flying in the face of obvious and unassailable facts. It is a pity that the move initiated by the Chairman of this Committee in debate in the censure motion, to reconvene the Committee and recall the Department-that was raised by Senator Colston as a possibility-was then blocked by the majority of which Senator Colston is so proud but which of course is merely an equality of numbers with one person having two votes. That was blocked and the matter had to come back to this Senate for a majority to get the Department recalled and evidence heard.

I believe that this is one of the lesser committee exercises that I have seen. I really do believe that the behaviour of the Committee majority in this case has been outside the traditions of this Senate and the way Senate committees operate; on both sides of politics there has been a readiness to get to the issues and to examine the facts to try to come to conclusions. I say that on the objective facts-forget all the shouting and abuse that has gone on in this place -clearly there is room for very considerable concern on the part of the minority of the Committee, which had only three votes instead of four. On Dr Taloni's own assessment apparently, weeks later-after the Minister had done her bit to clarify the position-he thought it necessary to make a personal statement. That is ample justification for the fact that the Opposition has shown such concern on this matter. I hope that we will not prolong debate on this matter because there are other things to deal with but I do want--

Senator Georges —Wild, hysterical laughter.

Senator CHANEY —I do not mind if honourable senators opposite all have wild hysterical laughter; that is up to them. However, I say that if everything was as nice as the Chairman of the Estimates Committee claims it was over the succession of debates we have had in this place, I find it extraordinary that Dr Taloni should have volunteered the statement from which I quoted in part. If there is any objection on the part of Government senators that I have quoted only part of Dr Taloni's statement, I am more than happy to have the whole statement incorporated in Hansard.

Senator Colston —It is in the record.

Senator CHANEY —Fine. I do not want some honourable senator to stand up afterwards to accuse me of selective quotation, which of course was Senator Robert Ray's effort in a recent debate when he also admitted he had not actually read the material himself.