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Thursday, 20 May 1965

Senator BENN (Queensland) .- I do not think it is necessary for honorable senators to question or to comment upon the capabilities of the person who is engaged upon the research work in question. The purpose of this Bill is to appropriate an additional sum out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for expenditure in respect of the current financial year, not for next year. The Estimates were passed in August or September last, but it has since been found that a further sum of money is required to carry out the services outlined in the document up to 30th June next. Let us be clear on that point.

The item in question appears in Division 318 - Electoral Branch and is described in these terms: "01. University of Tasmania - Grant for research into Senate electoral arrangements." That does not imply that the officer who does the research has to be a highly qualified research officer. A clerk who is engaged on ordinary duties could be given the research work to do. It is not for us to question that. Unquestionably this item has been included with some particular object in mind. 1 do not think we need even to survey the field of work undertaken by the officer. Any analysis of electoral systems is of some value, but 1 doubt whether any honorable senator is qualified to say whether the analysis in question will be of value.

I listened with interest to Senator Wright. He referred to the Constitution and based the main part of his argument upon it. That is why I was most willing to help him. If the Constitution provides for a certain number of senators to represent Tasmania, nothing can be done to change that provision unless it is done by way of a referendum. Reference was made to the ordinary services of the Government and the question was raised as to whether this item should have been included in the Schedule to the Bill. Of course it is an ordinary service, because the Electoral Branch is carrying out research work all the time. Returning officers in divisions throughout the Commonwealth are engaged continually in some class of research work. They cannot spend all their time simply taking names off and putting names on the roll. The additional work they do ordinary work. I do not agree that is wrong to include provision for this item. Secretly, of course, I supported what Senator Wright had to say. It was not made clear to us that this research work is being done objectively or what the goal was before the person involved was put to work and asked to submit a report. We would have to object to a highly qualified person coming here from the United States of America and the Commonwealth Government just providing him with research work to keep him occupied. If 1 knew that that was being done, I would certainly condemn it and I feel sure that 90 per cent, of senators would also condemn it.

Senator Wright - That is exactly the position. He has run out of a job in Tasmania and this is a continuation.

Senator BENN - I would have to have concrete evidence of that. If there were no evidence before us, I would not be inclined to do anything about it. It stands as an item in the Bill and we can allow it to go through. The Minister would not have the final say about the insertion of that item in the Bill. It would have to be discussed with the Secretary of his Department, the Chief Electoral Officer and the Secretary of the Department of the Treasury. When the question had been distilled by having it passed from one officer to another and having conferences about it, the item would be inserted. Such items can usually be passed by the Senate without fear. I have no doubt that the officer employed to do the research would furnish a report with some authority. Whether the result of his work would be of any value to the Senate or anybody else is not for us to question at the moment, because we have no evidence about it.

Senator Sir WILLIAMSPOONER (New South Wales) [9.23].- I should like to put a point of view very briefly on the facts as I have heard them during the debate. There is no ground for complaint and no substance for the statement that this action on the part of the Minister is in derogation or against the dignity of the Senate. On the facts as I have picked them up from the debate, the Senate, after debating a motion by Senator Kennelly in 1962, refused to agree to the appointment of a select committee to look into this matter. The Minister has a responsibility to administer his Department. Coming to the year 1965, he feels that he wants some advice or assistance and he decides to commence upon a research programme, against the background that the Senate itself has refused to appoint a select committee. What possible ground for complaint can there be against the Minister's acting in that fashion? He has a department to conduct. He has his responsibilities to discharge. He comes to a matter which requires consideration in relation to which the Senate has said: " We will not appoint a select committee ". The Senate having said that he then takes some other course of action. In those circumstances, I find no substance in the argument that something is being done to the Senate which should not be done.

I should like to take my ' argument a step further. I would find no cause for objection to the Minister's authorising a programme such as this even if the Senate had appointed a select committee, because the Minister has to accept the responsibility of making recommendations to the Government upon all matters that come under his control, even on reports that are made by a select committee of the Senate. If the Minister feels that he wants further advice and further work done on the subject, I do not see any reason to object.

It is not to be thought that the report of any committee of the Parliament will automatically be adopted by the Government. I would have no objection to a Minister acting in this way but it would make no difference whether or not T had objections. No Minister will deal with a report of any kind without getting the best advice that he thinks is available and is required. Consider the report of the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television. Does anyone suggest that the Postmaster-General (Mr. Hulme) is not getting further advice on the recommendations of that Committee? I refuse to be influenced by the argument that this is not a perfectly normal and proper thing for the Minister to do. Here we have a complicated set of voting arrangements. Surely it is natural for the Minister to say: " I wonder whether I can get some advice or assistance from the academic world. Someone concentrating on the matter may come up with a set of suggestions which have not been made before." I cannot enter into the argument which has been raised on personal grounds, that is, that the person selected is not competent. I do not know. Prima facie I do not accept that a Minister deliberately would select a wrong person to carry out a research programme.

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