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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1528

Senator McLAREN (South Australia) - I have listened with great interest to what Senator Marriott has had to say. He says that if we do not set up these Estimates Committees again we will be doing great harm to ourselves. I want to remind Senator Marriott that some members of the Liberal Party in the Senate did great harm to the Estimates Committees by their behaviour last year when the hearings of Estimates Committees were dragged out hour after hour, night after night- I refer particularly to Estimates Committee A of which I was a memberwhen Senator Greenwood and Senator Wright conducted a witchhunt against Senator Murphy in relation to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation affair. It had been said by Opposition senators that the purpose of these Estimates Committees is to examine the expenditure of the Government of the day. But the 2 senators to whom I have referred were not concerned about examining the expenditure of the Government. What were they concerned about? They were concerned about the action of the Government, which had nothing to do with its expenditure, and they were concerned in pursuing the Attorney-General hour after hour.

Officers from other departments were waiting to be called upon, not hour after hour but day after day. Some of those officers were brought from interstate to provide answers to questions asked of the various Ministers. Of course, the accommodation in Canberra of those officers had to be paid for, but Opposition senators gave no thought then to the expenditure being incurred in keeping those people here. I was so concerned about the situation that I said at the time that I felt that if the Estimates Committees were to be conducted in that fashion they were just a pure waste of time. I spoke in the second reading debate on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) on 29 November last year, and I took the trouble to incorporate in Hansard a table setting out the hours which the various Estimates Committees sat. That table covered a period of years. I would urge some of the new honourable senators to obtain a copy of the Senate Hansard of 29 November 1973, turn to page 2295 and have a look at the table which I had incorporated in Hansard. The compilation was not mine; it was done by the Parliamentary Library. Honourable senators will see just how the Estimates Committees were abused last year for the sole purpose of conducting a witch hunt. For that reason I am opposed to the setting up of these Estimates Committees again. I feel that we will be faced with a similar situation again. If Opposition senators can give a guarantee that they will indulge simply in an examination of the Government's expenditure, I might change my mind.

Senator Sim - You go back to when the Estimates Committees were first set up.

Senator McLAREN - I went right back to the days when the Estimates Committees were set up initially. The table in Hansard gives the number of hours that the Estimates Committees sat, and the number of hours sat last year overwhelmingly exceeded the number sat in previous years. An examination of the Hansard record of what took place at those hearings will reveal that much of the time was spent not in examining government expenditure but, as I said earlier, in conducting a witchhunt against the AttorneyGeneral. That is one of the reasons I have been turned off these Estimates Committees. I attended the hearings of the Estimates Committees religiously when they sat. I had to point out in this chamber that one night we waited for 7 minutes for Senator Wright to attend so that we would have a quorum. Yet he got up in this chamber and said that the Chairman of that particular Committee, Senator James McClelland, tried to terminate the sitting of the Committee. It is on record in Hansard that I pointed out that out of courtesy to Senator Wright- I did not know what he was engaged in to hold him up- we waited 7 minutes for him to attend in this chamber so that he could carry on with his examination of the Estimates. For that reason, I oppose the setting up of the Estimates Committees again.

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