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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3138

Senator CHANEY —I preface my question to the Attorney-General by congratulating him for the fact that he actually devised that joke about Senator Walters himself. It appears that that was the only part of his answer in respect of the Law Reform Commission which came out of his own mind. My question is addressed to him in his capacity as guardian of the public interest. Is the Government bound to follow the dictates of the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party? Is it a fact that State branches and delegates are currently challenging the Government's policies on a range of matters, including foreign bases, uranium, East Timor and financial deregulation? I ask the Attorney-General, as the guardian of the public interest: What is the effect of decisions already taken by the Government if decisions adverse to the Government's decisions are taken by the Conference of his Party?

Senator Bolkus —I raise a point of order, Mr President. This matter is in no way under the responsibility of the Attorney-General. I think Senator Chaney, in trying to be mischievous, is failing.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I wish to speak to the point of order. I prefaced my question by reminding the Attorney of what he has agreed with in the past, that as the Attorney-General he is guardian of the public interest. It is a matter of considerable public interest where political power lies in this country. Does it lie in the hands of the elected people who make up the Government of Australia, or does it lie in the hands of people who are not accountable to this Parliament or to the people of Australia? My question to the chief law officer of the Commonwealth is: Can he tell us whether this Government is able to make decisions on these matters or whether it can be overruled by a body which is not responsible to the Australian people, which is not elected and which in the good old days was known as the 36 faceless men?

The PRESIDENT —I will allow the question in sofar as it relates to any effect that such a matter might have on Government policy.

Senator GARETH EVANS —With respect, Mr President, it is an absurd question because, were we to accept Senator Chaney's question at face value, it would mean that any of us could be asking each other for the whole of our duration in government how each of us is contributing to the public interest in various ways outside our portfolio. We would be delighted to answer such questions and to demonstrate how we are contributing a darned sight more by staying in government than by relinquishing the reins to people like those opposite. While I may be a guardian of the public interest, and while I respect that appellation, even coming as it does from Senator Chaney, I am not the Minister for guarding the public interest, although I sometimes have delusions to that effect, and as a result I think it is quite inappropriate to answer the question.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question of the Minister. Can the decisions of the Government of which he is part be overruled by a non-elected section of the community, namely, the Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party? As a matter of fact, is that so?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I made it perfectly clear that, to the extent that that question has any legitimacy, it is not better directed to me than to anyone else , and in fact rather less so. It is, of course, a matter of public record what the relationship between the Labor Party in government and its conference is. I do not propose to lecture Senator Chaney on that subject, much as he might like one.