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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1624

Senator PARER —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. I ask the minister: in respect of the question asked by Senator Panizza earlier regarding restrictions on parliamentarians meeting CSIRO scientists, would the minister respond yes or no—and I am really not interested in what he said to caucus—as to whether the restrictions on parliamentarians meeting CSIRO scientists applies to Labor members of parliament?

Senator COOK —One ought to be very careful about this question and about the language that is being used here. I have not said there are restrictions. I am now in my seventh year as a minister, and every time an opposition member, or any other member of parliament, has wanted to have access to one of the departments or authorities in my portfolio, that has been expedited. I might also say that in the last few days a number of members of the opposition have contacted me or written to my office requesting access to the CSIRO, and that has been expedited. The tradition of access has been carried on.

  As I said in my answer to Senator Panizza, we are in government now; I expect we will be in government for a damn long time, but sooner or later we may be in opposition and we would expect the same rights and obligations to be extended to us as we observe and extend to the opposition.

  What I have said, however, is that there ought to be a record of conversation, or some way of knowing what in fact transpired. Indeed, under the rules of the Public Service, if an opposition member contacts an officer of the Public Service on a matter which is within the minister's responsibility there is to be an indication to the minister's office that that occurred so that the minister can be aware of it. That just means that everything happens out in the open where everyone knows about it, and we can deal with the issues and contend between ourselves if we so choose without having to make the Public Service or the officers of the particular agency the meat in the sandwich. That is a sensible standard rule.

  When the word `restrictions' is put in the question, I respond to Senator Parer by defining the rights of access on that basis. It is a tradition that we have observed in this place and under the Westminster system for a long time. Senator Parer also asked whether this situation applied to members of my own party. The answer is yes.

Senator PARER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. If this applies to the CSIRO, why does it not apply to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation as pointed out by Professor Helen Garnett in the Canberra Times today? Does the requirement that meetings with CSIRO scientists need the attendance of someone from the minister's office also apply to Labor MPs and senators?

Senator COOK —I have said that in the case of the CSIRO there ought to be a senior officer—someone from my department or someone from my office—present. The critical thing is that there ought to be a record of what was discussed so that the officers can be protected. In the case of ANSTO, I understand that Professor Garnett was referring to the fact that she has not issued an instruction to her staff in ANSTO in the same order or form that Dr Stocker has with CSIRO. Quite clearly she has not done that because there has been no need to do so. Opposition members have been walking into the CSIRO—in one case sitting down at a meeting that was under way in the CSIRO—

Senator Hill —Who and when?

Senator COOK —I do not want to name the person because to do so would be to identify the CSIRO officers and again drag them into a political forum and put their reputations on the line.(Time expired)

Senator Robert Ray —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Senator Kemp —Mr President, I rise to take note of Senator Robert Ray's answer to Senator Hill's question.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Kemp, I understand that Senator Cook has an answer to give.