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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2307

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - I rise to speak very briefly, having listened to what the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) just said. Far from what he alleges to be an attack seeking to undermine the judiciary, the purpose of what I have said and what Senator Wright has said has been to establish, and to have maintained, the independence of the judiciary. In deference to what Senator Murphy last said, there is no doubt from a reading of the administrative order arrangements of 1967 that the provisions were meant to apply- in express terms they did apply- to the President and Deputy Presidents of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. To seek subsequently to make some distinction and to justify what has been done on the basis that those officers are different from judges is, I think, to ignore the point that is being made. In any event, as has been said, Sir Richard Kirby had a life tenure and so long as he lived he was entitled to remain a judge and to be paid his salary. He has resigned and did so on the conditions which have been stated and with the payments which have been made.

However, that is one aspect only of the estimates of the Attorney-General's Department to which I desire to refer. It is to be noted that in the report of Estimates Committee A the Committee agreed to my statement of an objection to what had been an experience in the Committee. I simply want to read to this Committee that aspect of the report. It is paragraph 5 and reads as follows:

Senator Greenwood,as a member of Committee, wishes to record his objection to the refusal of the Attorney-General to answer questions relating to the employment duties and activities of persons for which an appropriation was contained in the Estimates. He records also his objection to the refusal to provide information to the Committee as to the nature and the reasons for the expenditure incurred by the Attorney-General 's Department in respect of the hearings of the Senate Committee inquiring into Civil Rights of Migrants. The basis of the objection is that the purpose of the Senate Estimates Committees is to examine the estimates of expenditure proposed for a department. Matters directly relating to the functions and employment of staff of the Department and persons for whom salary and other appropriations are sought are proper matters for inquiry. This is particularly so when the functions being performed are matters of general knowledge and an explanation of why those functions are being undertaken is the purpose of the inquiry.

Senator Murphywell recalls that in Estimates Committee A certain questions were asked which he was reluctant to answer, and his reluctance to answer was sustained by the Chairman of the Committee. There were numerous occasions upon which I, as a member of the Committee, simply was ruled out of order and told that no questions were to be asked on the matter I raised.

I indicated that one had to accept that that was the Chairman's right under the terms of reference of the Committee and there was nothing that a senator could do about it. But I indicated then that it was proper and right to raise the matter in the Senate, and I now raise it in this chamber.

If the Senate estimates committees are to perform their functions, the pattern under which they were established and under which they operated under the previous Government ought to apply under this Government. There was no occasion that I can recall under the previous Government, and certainly no point was sought to be taken by any Opposition senator, of there being an inability to ask questions and to get the information or, if the information was not available, to be supplied with sufficient reasons. It is surprising that a Party which in 1972 made such a great plea and said that it would provide an openness of Government which it claimed was not evident in the then Government should adopt this tactic of refusing to answer questions when they were inconvenient. I raise this point, not because I believe the Attorney-General is any more likely to give the information here than he was in that Estimates Committee, but to indicate that far from there being openness of government there is a desire to make available what the Government wants to make available and to conceal what it wants to conceal.

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