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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2249

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) - I rise to speak briefly on the Estimates and in particular upon the report of Senate Estimates Committee B. I do so for a completely different reason from the reasons for which honourable senators have spoken in the depate previously to me. My reason for speaking is to raise some very serious matters which I believe have been raised by the report of this Committee over the signature of its Chairman, Senator Button. I must say that I was rather surprised at Senator Button's intervention in this debate and at his criticism of some comments made by Senator Greenwood on the same subject. But long before Senator Greenwood had spoken on this matter I had noted myself some of these major matters which I think have been very properly raised by the Committee and, indeed, reported to the Committee of the Whole by Senator Button, the Chairman of the Estimates Committee.

I note that the Committee stated that it had difficulty in obtaining all the information required in relation to the estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs. It gave 2 reasons for this difficulty. Firstly, the Committee states that there were no officers present from the International Organisations Division of the Department and that it was unable to obtain satisfactory replies to questions relating in particular to matters covered by that body. I was very was disturbed when I read this. I was not a member of the Committee. I did not attend any of its deliberations because I was occupied with other Estimates committees and with other concerns. But it does seem to me that this statement raises a matter of very fundamental importance to the Senate and to the whole process of the Estimates committees. It would seem to me to be a major responsibility of a Minister to ensure that there are officers present who may be required to answer auestions on any of the items. I believe that for there to be a situation when no officers are present reflects very badly on the Minister concerned. I would think that perhaps the Chairman of the Committee himself could have intervened and taken some steps in such a situation.

Senator Buttonnow seeks to defend the situation by saying that it really did not inconvenience the members of the Committee and that they did not really ask any questions on this matter. If there was nobody there to answer the questions, I can well imagine that the members of the Committee would not have asked any questions. But what strikes me as being most peculiar is that the Committee unanimously reports to the Senate, over the signature of Senator Button himself, that: the Committee was unable to obtain satisfactory replies to questions -

So it is quite impossible to understand what on earth Senator Button's defence amounts to, except apparently an opportunity to attack Senator Greenwood. However, that is only one of several matters which are of concern to me in this Estimates Committee report.

The second matter it reports to the Senate is that it was disappointed that more senior advisors on departmental policy were not present to be examined. I was very interested in this comment because it has appeared to me since I have been a member of the Senate and have attended the meetings of Senate Estimates committees that there is an extraordinary discrepancy between the seriousness with which departments take the whole exercise of Estimates committees and the Senate's examination of the Estimates in this manner. I notice that a number of departments send along none other than their permanent heads. I applaud such departments for this action. I think that it is only a proper respect to the Parliament and the Senate for a permanent head to be prepared to lead his team and to be present to answer questions. I would not like to see him take over and I would not like to see him exclude other officers from answering questions. I think that the more diverse the fields covered by the number of officers from departments who appear before the Estimates committees, the better. Certainly, where specialists are operating in certain fields, they ought to be examined separately. I think that its a very poor reflection on a number of our departmental heads and on the Ministers concerned because they must be responsible in the end for those who appear before Estimates committees. Sometimes very junior officers appear before the Committees to represent departments. As I say, on many other occasions I have noticed that year after year the permanent head of a certain department will appear before the Committees, but in many cases only an assistant secretary represents a department. I take very great exception to the fact that on many occasions only assistant secretaries appear before the committees. I believe that it reflects very badly on the Minister concerned that he permits this sort of thing to happen.

The next matter which I note is the Committee's comment that it was concerned at the lack of any detailed report to the Parliament relating to Australia's aid projects. The Committee thanked the Minister for his assurance that something will be provided for the Parliament in this regard. Again, I would have thought that when the Parliament is being invited to make appropriations of large sums of moneythat is what all this exercise in regard to the Estimates is about- the Parliament, and the Senate in this case, obviously should have been given more detail than was provided to it on this occasion. So we have in this report 3 very major matters of concern not only in relation to Senate Estimates Committee but also in relation to the Senate itself. Firstly, there is the fact that no officers were present to give the necessary answers on one matter; secondly, there was an absence of senior advisors and thirdly a lack of information supplied on this particularly important matter of Australian aid projects. Finally, the Committee states that it is concerned at the number of single line appropriations which it had been asked to consider. It is stated that the Committee accepted the assurance of the Minister that the Department would consult with the officers of the Treasury with a view to ensuring in future years that these amounts will be itemised, presumably in the proper and traditional manner. I must say that I find that Senate Estimates Committee B was a very long-suffering and rather generous Committee. Senator Carrick, my colleague who sits next to me, was a member of the Committee.

Senator Button - He was not there half the time.

Senator Carrick - He was there for all but one session.

Senator DURACK -Senator Button says that Senator Carrick was not there. I wonder whether the honourable senator was there when he signed this report, judging from what he has said today. The fact is that this Committee, I suppose in a generous manner, accepted various assurances from the Minister that in future he will do better. He will certainly need to do an awful lot better and a lot of other Ministers will need to do better, as I propose to show when the Committee of the Whole comes to its consideration of some of the reports of other Estimates committees, particularly that of Senate Estimates Committee D.

I am deeply concerned at the fact that there should be this intrusion of single line appropriations in Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) 1 974-75. We have become rather regretfully familiar with single line appropriations for capital works and in relation to trust funds. We have had a good deal of discussion in the Parliament quite recently about the problems which have arisen where a single line appropriation has been made to some trust fund or independent corporation. We have encountered the difficulties of finding out what such bodies are doing with the money and so on. I would have thought that the tendency would have been to require much more detailed estimates than these single line appropriations. I believe that this has happened in many cases. I was most impressed at the meetings of Senate Estimates Committee F. I do not know whether Senator Mulvihill, the Chairman of the Committee, should receive these congratulations.

Perhaps I should congratulate the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Bishop) because the single line appropriation for the Post Office had 36 pages of single spaced typing in explanation of that single item. That is the sort of thing of which I expect to see more and more. Yet what do I find here? This Committee says that in the appropriations for the Department of Foreign Affairs there were a number of single line appropriations. This is very serious indeed. It is quite ridiculous that these entries should have intruded. There can be a result of either sheer laziness or a deliberate attempt to mislead and to confuse this Parliament and those people who are concerned in these matters. I believe that the Senate should take very serious note of the report of Senate Estimates Committee B. I thought that Senator Button would have been here to defend the Committee. I hope that he will. I believe that these matters which are raised here should be seriously noted by the departments and by the Ministers to ensure that these great failings will not be repeated on future occasions.

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