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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2102

Senator VANSTONE (4.45 p.m.) —I wish to move an amendment to Senator Harradine's motion in the terms circulated in the chamber. I want to say at the outset that the coalition is very supportive of the intention of Senator Harradine's motion. A quick glance at the detail of our amendment indicates that we are not in any way trying to stop his motion. In fact, if our amendment is successful, come what may on 1 September this year, Senator Harradine's motion will be in effect. Irrespective of what a committee investigation says, this motion will take effect on 1 September.

  But we do think it is appropriate that the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration have the opportunity to look at this motion and see whether it can improve on the work that has already been done by Senator Harradine and some members of the government towards achieving the end that they want.

  The first paragraph of the amendment basically details that, indicating the good faith that we have indicated to Senator Harradine. We are not trying to stop this motion. It will come into effect either on 1 September or on the day this Senate adopts a resolution of the committee. One or the other will have to take place; and whichever comes earlier will take effect.

  The second paragraph of our amendment indicates what we want the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration to look at. The first thing we want it to look at is:

whether the order will produce material which is in a user-friendly form for Senators and others.

We have some apprehension that piles and piles of material, in electronic form or otherwise, that is not user-friendly will arrive. That would somewhat defeat the purpose of the information being provided. We all see that in the provision of information to estimates committees; the answers come at the last minute, on the death knell. The answers are not sorted or indexed. They are just piled in with a whole lot of others. We see it in the provision of annual reports that have to be provided within a certain number of days of the estimates committees. Sure enough, out come the drafts, and a speed reader can get through a pile of reports overnight, but anyone who is not a speed reader has Buckley's.

  So just providing the information in form is not good enough. We think this is a good enough idea to ensure that the information is provided in a user-friendly form. Some of the other things we want to look at are:

the practicality of implementing the order;

the cost of carrying out the order;

the implications of the order for Commonwealth Departments;

We also need to look at whether there is another more efficient and effective way to achieve the same aim. So we are not in any way opposed to the intent of what Senator Harradine wants to achieve. We are strongly supportive of any initiatives to improve the accountability of the executive to this parliament. We just want to make the point that for ideals to become reality, a lot of hard work has to take place. Someone has to have an idea.

  In this case it was Senator Harradine who had the idea that it would be easier for the general community and, in particular, for us to have an idea what the government was doing if we could see what the file headings were. It was a good idea and he has been refining it, with a bit of argy-bargy with Senator Evans. Now it comes to the time to try to put that idea, somewhat refined, into practice. We are keen to do that. We want to put the idea into its most practical form.

  We think that by the finance and public administration committee having a good look at it, this should put it in a cost-efficient form for the public sector, if it is not already—it may well be—and in a user-friendly form for parliamentarians and the public. Senator Evans is fond of a phrase that could be used in relation to Senator Harradine's motion—that is, `suck it and see'. The thought is, `Why don't we just pass the motion and see what happens—we can always amend it later.' But we are doing that all the time in this place—passing bills and amending them later; passing motions and amending them later.

  We think, by and large, `suck it and see' is a sensible approach if we have done everything we can to make the confection as palatable as possible in the first place. That is all we want to do: get this chamber, through one of its committees, to exercise a responsible approach to this, have a good look at it, and come back and see whether the intention of Senator Harradine's motion can be further refined in a more practical and cost-efficient way than it already has been. We look forward to that happening. I move:

  At the end of the motion add:

  "(2).That paragraph (1) of this resolution does not take effect until the earlier of the following:

    (a)1 September 1994; or

    (b)the day the Senate, by resolution, adopts a recommendation of the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration that that paragraph or that paragraph as amended, is to take effect on and from a specified day.

  "(3).That the following matters be referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration for inquiry and report, on or before 24 August 1994:

In relation to the order of the Senate for the production of indexed lists of departmental files:

    (a)whether the order will produce material which is in a user-friendly form for Senators and others;

    (b)the practicality of implementing the order;

    (c)the cost of carrying out the order;

    (d)the implications of the order for Commonwealth Departments; and

    (e)whether any more efficient and effective method may be devised to achieve the objectives behind the order".

  Amendment agreed to.

  Motion, as amended, agreed to.