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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 486

Senator PETER BAUME —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Education, concerns her answer yesterday to a question relating to the advice to members of parliament about certain government grants. I will quote from two parts of her answer. The Minister said:

. . . it has certainly been my practice since I became Minister for Education to ask the Schools Commission to inform the honourable members of any grants going to schools in their electorates.

She said further:

. . . it is certainly my intention that honourable members will have that information available to them. It is in everybody's interests, including those of the local member, to know exactly what the Commonwealth is spending on schools in each electorate.

I ask the Minister: Will she confirm that what she told the Senate yesterday still represents her intentions? Will she assure the Senate that she intends to give instructions to the Commonwealth Schools Commission to have her intentions put into effect?

Senator RYAN —I am grateful for the elucidation of current policy which my colleague the Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes, gave to the Senate yesterday. This is a policy which he has in relation to grants made through his Department which he inherited from his successor, Senator Chaney. I suppose that it is rather tedious for Senator Baume to raise this matter again. Obviously it is beyond the capacity of Senator Baume and a lot of his colleagues to distinguish between the practice of informing government members in advance of government decisions with relation to grants so that they may make the announcements-which is not only the practice of Senator Grimes and previously of Senator Chaney but also of me-and the general provision that information should be available to local members. There is no conflict between those two practices. I reiterate that I understand the Commission, on advice from my office, gives prior advice to government members. I think it is entirely appropriate that government members should make announcements about the government decisions. I see that Senator Chaney is smiling in agreement. That is a-

Senator Chaney —It is not what you said yesterday.

Senator RYAN —Senator Chaney says that that is not what I said. I was not asked yesterday. Senator Baume did not ask about advance notice in relation to public announcements. Senator Baume asked about information being available to local members. It is the case that information is available to all members. It has been the case ever since I have been Minister for Education. I now wish to incorporate in Hansard a minute concerning the minute that was the subject of Senator Baume's question yesterday which explains quite clearly the purpose of the direction that was sent out in the Department. I will--

Senator Chaney —What does it say?

Senator RYAN —I will not take the time of the Senate by reading out three paragraphs. I presume--

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator RYAN —All right, I will.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Ryan has sought leave to incorporate a document in Hansard. Is leave granted?

Senator Chaney —No.

The PRESIDENT —Leave is not granted.

Senator RYAN —It is probably the case that some Opposition senators would have difficulty in reading it themselves so I will now comply with their request and read it. It is headed 'Information on Grants to Members of Parliament' and states:

At Question Time in the Senate yesterday Senator Baume referred to a minute which I had circulated within the Commission Secretariat on 14 February 1985 regarding the provision of information to Members of Parliament.

The minute refers only to the automatic provision of information to Members of Parliament when grants are initially approved. The Commission will continue to provide information on request regarding the operation of Commonwealth Education Programs administered by it, including information on grants made to schools and school systems.

The minute referred to by Senator Baume was an internal one and, given the wording of it, I am certain that the personnel to whom it was addressed were aware that the process suggested referred only to the automatic provision of information to Members of Parliament on grants. It was not intended to indicate nor do I believe it did, that information on grants should not continue to be made available to Opposition members on request.

Clearly, there is a distinction between making initial information available for announcement purposes and information that is available on request. In conclusion, it is a demonstration of the absolute lack of interest in substantive education issues by the shadow Minister, Senator Baume, that he has wasted the Senate's time and my time in pursuing this trivial matter.

Senator PETER BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I have been concerned that the Minister may have misled the Senate in her answer yesterday. I now ask the Minister: Has she not misled the Senate today? Is it not a fact that the minute to which I referred yesterday said quite specifically that information was to be provided only to government senators and government members? If that is so, has the Minister not misled the Senate this afternoon?

Senator RYAN —Senator Baume has certainly wasted the Senate's time. I have not misled the Senate.