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Tuesday, 6 November 1973
Page: 1560

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) - I rise to speak only because, although I had no notification of it, Senator Greenwood has directed attention to a matter that has been of continuing concern to me. I am particularly concerned about the manner in which questions without notice are answered. In most cases I think they are inadequately answered. Sometimes they are avoided completely. As to that, I hope that we will collectively take into consideration our obligation to frame questions in such a manner as to invite the answers to them to be specific, responsible and prompt. We have allowed the position with respect to questions on notice to drift into a difficult situation. But for this protest tonight and a few intermittent protests in years gone by the Senate has surrendered its right to require Ministers to answer questions properly and with accuracy in accordance with their ministerial responsibility. There is still on the notice paper a question that was placed there by a Government senator as far back as 27 February. Two questions placed there by Government supporters on 8 March also remain unanswered.

Due to the crazy hours that the Senate is sitting it is not appropriate to bring this subject to a full debate but I could not allow it to be mentioned by Senator Greenwood in the thoughtful way in which he has brought it forward without adding my support to his concern about the inadequacy of answers to questions without notice. The substantial disregard shown to questions on notice is a matter that is not at all up to the level of proper ministerial responsibility. The Senate does itself no credit by not insisting upon every question on notice being answered promptly and accurately. In the State Parliament in which I had the honour to serve as long ago as between 1 946 and 1949 a question that was placed on notice one week was invariably answered on the first day of the sitting the following week. Where it was impossible to answer the question the Minister concerned asked to be excused from answering it. It is a small Parliament which would not have anywhere near the same range of territory to cover as this Parliament, but it did not have the complex, confused Public Service that we have to penetrate here. Having regard to those differences, the procedure in this place with regard to our insistence upon the obtaining of information and the furnishing of it by Ministers is a disgrace.

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