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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1705

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs)(2.29) —I rise to respond to the series of bizarre allegations by Senator Chaney. I am quite astounded--

Opposition senators interjecting-

The PRESIDENT —Order! A very serious motion has been moved against the Minister. The Leader of the Opposition in moving the motion was heard in comparative silence. I ask that the same courtesy be extended to the Minister.

Senator RYAN —Thank you, Mr President. This is a serious matter. Normally it is a very serious matter when an Opposition seeks to censure a Minister. For Senator Chaney, obviously aided and abetted by Senator Peter Baume, to try to blow up and exaggerate some confusion which may have occurred in a Senate Estimates committee discussion which, as every honourable senator in this place knows, ranges far and wide-confusion, which was immediately and very frankly clarified by me-and try to turn that into a major issue of criticism against a Minister, in this case me, is really extraordinary.

Let me take a little of the time of the Senate to explain what happened, for those of my own colleagues who must have been truly mystified by Senator Chaney' s very selective reading of bits of Hansard that they themselves have not yet had available to them, on the occasion of the Senate Estimates Committee. It was quite clear from the line of questioning of Senator Peter Baume and Senator Teague-I can give some backup references to this in a moment-that they came into the Senate Estimates Committee with one idea firmly fixed in their minds-that I, through my Department, had commissioned a major research into community attitudes to schools funding. When honourable senators have the opportunity to read through the Hansard report of that Estimates Committee they will find repetitious questions from Senator Teague and, to an extent, from Senator Baume which clearly show that they were trying to reveal the existence of a major survey conducted by my Department involving officers of my Department, specifically into the matter of community attitudes to schools funding. I can understand why it was that Senator Baume and Senator Teague had come to this conclusion and had decided that their strategy for this Estimates Committee was to reveal the existence of this survey.

Some time ago, some time in February, a letter from my Department was leaked to Margot O'Neill of the Age. I think that letter is referred to in my letter to the Chairman of the Committee which I sent to him shortly after the Committee's discussion of this matter. In that letter I had written to Mr Dawkins, at the suggestion of some officers in my Department, requesting $50,000 so that my Department could conduct a survey into community attitudes to schools funding. Honourable senators will not be surprised that such a suggestion would have arisen because, as Senator Chaney says, schools funding is a controversial issue ; it has always been a controversial issue and it is still a controversial issue . When one has competing demands for slices of a cake which is not growing fast enough to satisfy all of those competing demands, one gets controversy. Some officers in my Department believe that we should have more information available to us as to what community attitudes actually were, in distinction to the wild claims and allegations that were made by the likes of Senator Baume.

That letter was leaked to the Age and therefore Senator Baume and Senator Teague knew that I had sought funds for such a survey. Of course, what happened was that having had discussions with my colleague the Minister for Finance, John Dawkins, we decided that $50,000 would not be well spent on that exercise. We were trying to restrain the Budget and we also felt, in discussion, that it was not necessary to have a major survey into that question although obviously more information about matters such as how the community comes to get its information about schools funding and whether that information is right or wrong naturally is of interest to the Government. But we decided not to proceed with that matter . Subsequently, as was explained by me to the Senate Estimates Committee, in written information which I volunteered in order to assist honourable senators to understand what had happened, I requested the possibility of some of the major youth attitude survey being conducted through the Department of the Special Minister of State-though certainly in consultations with the Office of Youth Affairs in my Department-to cover this issue. There was general agreement that that should happen. That agreement explains why there was a reference to schools funding questions in the estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State, but it was not possible or proper for officers of my Department to be pushed for information about a survey which was not being conducted within my Department, which was being conducted within the Department of the Special Minister of State. I referred honourable senators to that fact. On a number of occasions I referred the Senate Estimates Committee to the fact that the survey they were clearly interested in-they had the wrong one in mind- and trying to get information about was in fact being conducted by the Department of the Special Minister of State. Questions should have been properly addressed to that Estimates Committee. I really fail to understand how, out of that explanation of the facts of the matter, Senator Chaney--

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator RYAN —Let me clarify this matter. The Government wishes clarification of these matters. Some members of the Senate Estimates Committee, notably Senator Teague and Senator Baume, were trying to get information about a survey which did not exist; namely, a major survey in my Department investigating community attitudes to schools funding. There is no such survey. What I clearly directed the Estimates Committee about, what was previously a matter of public knowledge anyway, what is being conducted right now or perhaps is in the stage of being analysed right now, is a major attitudinal survey by the Department of the Special Minister of State investigating attitudes of youth to a number of issues . That is the survey in which Senator Baume and Senator Teague were obviously interested. That survey has now been extended; to what extent I cannot precisely say because I have not seen the questions. The whole thrust of the questioning by Senator Teague and Senator Baume was misdirected. They were interested to find out about this attitudinal survey but they kept framing their questions in terms of activities in my Department. I will now read from the Hansard from which Senator Chaney so selectively quoted to demonstrate the context in which these questions were being pursued. I refer to page 9.4 of my version of the Hansard. I asked, because I wished at that stage, as I still do, to clarify this matter:

Mr Chairman, is Senator Baume referring to the Special Minister of State estimates?

Senator Peter Baume answered:

I am asking whether the survey was carried out. I am only speaking of this Department--

I will just repeat that because that is what this censure motion hangs on. Senator Chaney has come into this place and has undertaken a very serious exercise against me and against the Government, suggesting, claiming, alleging, that I had given wrong information to a Senate Estimates committee.

Senator Chaney —Why did you write the letter then?

Senator RYAN —Because I wished to clarify the situation, of course. I could tell from the line of Senator Baume's questioning that he was asking questions about something that did not exist. He was asking questions about a major survey in my Department. No such survey had been carried out. I was trying to assist members of the Committee by directing them to the Estimates committee where there would be information. Indeed, questions were asked and answered on the Special Minister of State estimates. I do not know what all this fuss is about. I just repeat that, on page 9.4-

Senator Chipp —Would you mind repeating that quotation and giving me the reference?

Senator RYAN —I repeat: On page 9.4 of the Hansard I asked:

Mr Chairman, is Senator Baume referring to the Special Minister of State estimates?

Senator Baume answered:

I am asking whether the survey was carried out; I am only speaking of this Department--

I then consulted the Chairman, and Senator Colston will be able to uphold this, and said:

Mr Chairman, I ask whether you consider it appropriate for estimates of another department to be the subject of questions at this stage.

The Chairman said:

I think what Senator Baume is doing is quoting from those in order to ask the officer whether this report was under this Department.

I replied:

I just point out that my officers cannot be expected to answer questions about estimates of another department.

Senator Lewis —What did the Chairman say?

Senator RYAN —The Chairman said:

I do not think that was quite the line of questioning.

Quite clearly, Senator Baume said-his words are there in black and white-that his line of questioning-

Honourable senators interjecting--

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask that the Senate come to order. I have already requested that the Minister be given a reasonable hearing and I ask that those who sit behind the Minister also give her a chance to be heard.

Senator RYAN —All I can say in rebuttal to this absurd, overblown charge--

Senator Tate —I take a point of order, Mr President. I want to bring this up again because it is an intolerable situation. Senator Harradine and other senators on the other side have the transcript in front of them. We have nothing in front of us.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator Harradine —Mr President, speaking to the point of order, I suggest to Senator Tate that he go to the Chairman of the Committee and get one from him.

Senator Colston —The Chairman of the Committee has not got one himself, you fool .

Senator Harradine —Or he could go to any of the members on that Committee and obtain a copy.

Senator Grimes —Mr President, on the point of order, this is obviously a very serious situation. Senator Harradine claims that he got his copy of the Estimates Hansard from the Chairman of the Committee.

Senator Harradine —I did not say that.

Senator Grimes —You had better make an explanation because that is what you said . The Chairman of the Committee has quite clearly said that he does not have a copy of the Hansard, nor do other members of the Committee. We know where Senator Harradine got his copy, but if we are to have a sensible debate we should have copies of the material which has obviously been carefully made available to Senator Harradine and others but not to the responsible people on the Committee.

Senator Harradine —Mr President, I wish to make a personal explanation.

The PRESIDENT —I call Senator Harradine on a personal explanation.