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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1717

Senator MACKLIN(3.34) —The censure motion brought against the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) deals with questions raised during Estimates committee hearings last week. But the matter seems to have started on 6 October last year in a speech made in the House of Representatives by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley) who was then the Special Minister of State, in which he was responding in a fairly detailed manner to surveys conducted by the then Australian Electoral Office concerning the attitudes of young people and why they had failed to enrol so that they could be part of the political process. In that speech he made reference to the fact that there was under way a process to undertake a youth survey. The following day, on 7 October 1983, Senator Haines asked a question of Senator Ryan on the same subject. The Minister gave a detailed reply to that question. The question was essentially critical of the Government in terms of the structure of that youth survey. I will read Senator Haines's supplementary question and the answer given to it. Senator Haines said:

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I do not know what the supplementary information that the Minister has contains, but she certainly did not inform me whether officers of her Department in the Office of Youth Affairs have been informed of such a project. Nor did she say whether, if they have not been informed, it is because they will not be taking any part in it and that there was therefore no need to inform them.

Senator Ryan's answer was:

The honourable senator obviously has been mis- informed. Not only are the officers of my Department aware of the proposed research project, but they have participated in discussions about what form it should take, in finding an appropriate research organisation to carry out the project and so on. That is the detailed information that I have here. But, as it would take some time to read out this information, I suggest that I make it available to Senator Haines.

That was undertaken. In other words, the Australian Democrats were concerned about this matter, not during an Estimates Committee hearing last week, but on 7 October last year. The issue is a very old one. On the following day I issued a Press statement attacking the Government over what the Democrats believe is a disastrous attitude in relation to young people's views and attitudes. There was some public discussion about that and then the issue died. We believe that that was unfortunate. We believe there ought to have been a much greater debate about the type of survey that was to be undertaken, what it would achieve and how it might be useful in framing youth policies for this country. At no stage, I might add, was there any contribution by the Opposition parties to what was, we believe, a constructive debate. We would much prefer that the Senate's time be taken up with those types of constructive debates. But that is not to be.

I turn to the censure motion to which we have been listening with interest. The first item that would have been given to those honourable senators who requested it would have been the information which appeared in the Additional Estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State. I requested a copy and, in going through it and other additional information provided, I came across-as did , obviously, Senator Baume-this piece of information. There is a reason for the variation in relation to the funds provided for the youth research project. The reason given for that was this:

The Information Co-ordination Branch required an extra $95,000 to assist in funding the Youth Research Project (a survey of the attitudes of young people to Commonwealth Government policies and programs) and to research attitudes of Australians generally on the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools.

I might say by way of parenthesis that it seems very odd that such questions should ever be included in the youth survey at any stage anyhow. I will comment on that at a later stage. In my understanding, youth do not have terribly much to do with the attitude of the government or the community in relation to the funding of government and non-government schools. But that information was public information on the public record. I think that to that point it is very hard to press that there is anywhere any hint of any cover-up by the Government. The information that that was what the Government was doing was made openly available to everybody. One can question the sense of what it was doing, and I do question the sense of what was going on; nevertheless, there was no cover-up at that point.

I turn to a transcript I have before me. I assume that it is a transcript of the Estimates Committee D hearing. I was not present at the Estimates Committee hearing. I did not receive this transcript in the normal process by which I receive transcripts of committees or of debates in this House, therefore I do not propose to vouch for this material. In fact, I do not even know where it came from since I had to hot foot it down to the chamber at three minutes to two , when this transcript was thrust into my hands. I have not had a chance actually to work out from where the material came. Having listened to some of the interjections from Senator Colston I am not at all sure what he is going to say about it. He is speaking after me, therefore I am not able to make comments on what he might inform the Senate about the veracity or otherwise of that material, Senator Colston being Chairman of the Committee. But let us say, as nobody seems to have objected to this, that it is indeed the Hansard record.

One of the interesting things one notes when one reads the transcripts of an Estimates committee that one has not attended is that it does not exactly read like anything else in which one would ever be involved. In other words, it does not read as a debate. In most cases it does not even read sensibly. Sentences do not approximate terribly much the English language as one sees it in other places. The difficulty with this transcript is that there seems to be large gaps . Honourable senators who are well aware of what goes on at Estimates committees know that there are often long silences and that what comes next in the transcript often does not have very much to do with the question that was previously asked. However, I think there are some disturbing elements in this transcript in relation to the estimates of the Departmant of Education and Youth Affairs. I start with the point in the transcript where Senator Ryan says:

Before Dr Taloni gives what information he can to Senator Baume, I should point out that the conduct of that survey is within another department and it is not a survey for which this Department is responsible.

That is a fair enough statement. However, I believe-I will go on to substantiate this claim-that what was going on here was probably that the Minister was seeking to be too clever by half. The reason I state that is not necessarily to denigrate the Minister but to point out that if one takes that stance in relation to the transcript it can be read in a completely different way from the way in which it has been read by Senator Baume and Senator Chaney. Indeed, this transcript is not too different from most of the transcripts one receives in which a Minister will not do anything that the Minister knows the questioners will press him or her on. If one looks at Senator Teague's and Senator Baume's line of questioning it is not too difficult to understand what they are on about . It is rather transparent. They even referred to the transcript of the consideration of estimates of the Department of the Special Minister of State. They were not trying to cover up what they were on about. We ought to give the Minister this: She knew what they were on about and she was not about to co- operate. That is how I read it--

Senator Walters —Why not?

Senator MACKLIN —I do not know why not. I am not defending her action, but it is the type of thing, that I find Ministers do. Senator Walters's Ministers also used to do it. It goes on all the time.

Senator Chipp —She was less than helpful.

Senator MACKLIN —The Minister was less than helpful. It was quite evident that she was not going to co-operate with this line of questioning. Nevertheless, she was answering the questions accurately.

Senator Haines —As they were put.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. I believe that not only was she being too clever by half, but also Dr Taloni was carrying out much the same type of operation--

Senator Archer —On orders.

Senator MACKLIN —It may have been on orders. I do not know. I am not privy to these--

Senator Sibraa —It happens with the Foreign Affairs estimates every year.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. I am not disputing what goes on at Estimates committees, either under this Government or under the previous Government. What normally goes on is that the Minister says: 'I know it and you find out'.

Senator Haines —And the departmental officials are here to make sure you don't.

Senator MACKLIN —Senator Haines's interjection is probably a good description of what goes on at Estimates committees. It is something that we have all deplored and is something which, when governments change, is continued. That great tradition was exercised by the previous Government. But let me suggest that if this particular question is looked at in that light-of being very strict about what everybody knew they were on about but were not about to reveal-it is not misleading. Senator Peter Baume asked:

Did the Department request some questions to be included in the survey?

One thinks about the words 'some questions to be included in the survey' and answers: 'Of course it did not'. Why not? Honourable senators should not take my word for it. Anybody who knows anything about surveys, of course, knows that the people asking for the survey to be done do not frame the questions. Indeed, if we go to the transcript of the consideration of the estimates for the Department of the Special Minister of State, we discover the very same thing. Senator Archer, hot on the trail of the activities of the Opposition parties, asked:

Who actually formulated the questions?

Mr Malone replied:

It has been a process. The final framing of the questions, I think,-

and it appears from this transcript that he does not know what he is on about either-

has been a responsibility of the consultants.

Senator Baume's question, 'Did the Department request some questions to be included in the survey?', was answered by Dr Malone thus: 'No'. That is less than helpful, but it is technically correct.

Senator Walters —Oh, come on!

Senator MACKLIN —Unfortunately, it is less than correct. I am not defending it, but it is the type of activity that goes on all the time in Estimates committees .

Senator Chaney —Senator, can I ask you to look at one other question?

Senator MACKLIN —I am going on to the next question. Senator Chaney has spoken. He should let me develop my thesis. The next question is in much the same light. Senator Baume was not to be deterred. He too was obviously awake to the game that was going on on the other side.

Senator Haines —He played it for years.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes, he has an inside knowledge of these activities, having been a past master in his own right. He then came up with another tack. He said:

The Department was not consulted as to the public opinion survey of youth attitudes?

Dr Taloni answered:

That is right.

Senator MACKLIN —It is wrong. The Department was consulted.

Senator Sir John Carrick —To pass a view.

Senator MACKLIN —I am coming to that.

Senator Walters —The Minister did not say anything.

Senator MACKLIN —I am getting a great deal of help. I am very grateful for it, but if honourable senators would allow me to develop my thesis-

Senator Haines —You can do it all by yourself, can't you?

Senator MACKLIN —Yes, I think I can get there. As I said, Dr Taloni answered:

That is right.

That is not right, but his next words were:

I am not aware of any details that are being included or incorporated under that survey.

Again, he seems to be technically correct because a little later on he said that in fact he had only ever had one meeting on the survey and that those present talked about general matters and not about details.

Senator Chipp —Sir Humphrey Appleby at his best.

Senator MACKLIN —Oh yes, it is him at his very best: The non-disclosure of information in such a way as not to transgress on the truth but only to mislead. But the misleading is not done by the answer, unfortunately; it is done by when we receive that information. I believe that this is an exercise that takes place annually. It is probably an exercise in wasting a lot of valuable time and money .

Before going on to the point raised by Senator Chaney, which is the crux of the matter, I turn to the transcript of what went on during the exercise with the estimates for the Department of the Special Minister of State. Here again we have Mr Malone who, along with Dr Taloni, does not seem to know precisely what is going on in the area. It is fairly confusing. From reading the Minister's letter, I imagine that when she got back to her Department, someone further down the line who actually did all this work blew a gasket and said: 'We cannot have that, because that is not exactly what happened'. I think that the people at the top probably had no idea what went on, anyhow. They had been generally briefed and, as is the case in these matters, they thought that they knew what was happening. But what was this answer in response to a question from Senator Archer? Senator Archer said:

I refer to the survey mentioned on page 14 of the notes. Did the Department of the Special Minister of State receive a request from the Department of Education and Youth Affairs to include a number of questions on that ANOP survey?

It would seem, from the Minister's letter, that it wanted to know something, but it did not ask for a number of questions to be included. Mr Malone said:

Actually the whole youth research project--

which is where this whole thing started-

partly grew out of an approach from the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs to the Special Minister of State . . .

I am not sure what goes on in the higher echelons of the Australian Labor Party and the Ministry, and I am not sure that the people concerned do, either. But from what I can understand from all this material, they were not about to come up with $50,000 for Senator Ryan, and so to remove the pressure by Senator Ryan on the Special Minister of State, instead of her hounding at his door, they decided to give her $35,000. That is enough to ask about three people down the road a couple of questions, namely, 'What is your name?', and, 'Where do you live?'. In terms of the amount of money required for such a survey, one would not get anything with that. So it was a real push off. But it was not given to the Minister. So the Minister has no ministerial responsibility for that. It was maintained under the Special Minister of State. He was not letting it out of his bag.

When all of this matter finally comes out, it will be very interesting to ascertain what is found out from the people-but that is another story. Doubtless the reason why we are having the debate today is, I understand, that there is a conference of a number of people in Canberra who have an interest in this whole matter.

Senator Haines —Coincidentally.

Senator MACKLIN —Coincidentally. I was talking to one of them when I was interrupted to come here, a very nice person and one of the few sensible people that one gets to meet from time to time in this place. He is from the independent schools. If we could have more of his kind in education, the place would be much better. Let us go through this:

Actually, the whole youth research project partly grew out of an approach from the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs to the Special Minister of State that the ministerial committee on government advertising--

another group that we have not included in this debate yet-

Senator Haines —There must be one or two.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes, we have to get to another couple of committees yet, and we are rapidly running out of time. It continues:

should give consideration to carrying out under its auspices a major research project into the attitudes of young people.

That was to try to get them to vote for the Labor Party, presumably. It continues:

That project got under way after the results were made known of some research that had gone on in relation to the electoral enrolment campaign . . .

Senator Archer said:

And the Minister made the request?

Mr Malone said:

The suggestion, I should say, that something should be done.

In other words, about as much as Mr Malone knows is that someone said something to someone and he thinks that it was the Minister. I am not too sure that we can use the transcript of the Estimates Committee meeting concerning the estimates for the Department of the Special Minister of State to shoot down the answers in the Estimates Committee meeting concerning the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, since the people who are answering this one seem to know as little about what was going on as the people answering the other one.

At that point the Minister got away from the Committee and someone sensible in the Department who actually knew what was going on finally had his word and said : 'All of the answers that you have given are about as close to what was going on as a newspaper of yesterday has to do with what went on the week before'. So the person who knew what was happening wrote a letter. Now, for the first time on the public record--

Senator Ryan —I wrote it.

Senator MACKLIN —Senator Ryan wrote the letter. Presumably she suddenly discovered for herself what was going on. Senator Ryan wrote this very interesting letter on very detailed advice and probably dictation from someone who knew what was actually happening. This piece of information, I presume, is the only bit of information on which we can really rely, because it probably came from someone who knew what he was talking about. It is a detailed explanation. Senator Teague made an interjection recently-I think that it is an important point, the answer to which I would be interested in listening to-as to when the Committee got this piece of information. As Senator Grimes said, the Committee received it the following day; it was given to the Chairman.

Senator Grimes —And it was circulated that day.

Senator MACKLIN —Senator Teague says that the letter was given to the Chairman and the following happened: The Chairman reported to the Committee that he had received correspondence from the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. That piece of correspondence was then sent out for duplication, so that it could be circulated to members of the Committee. When the members of the Committee finally received this communication, the consideration of the estimates for the Department of Education were over.

Senator Teague —Completely over.

Senator MACKLIN —That is Senator Teague's understanding. I do not know; I was not there. Therefore, I must await further debate to ascertain precisely what occurred. If this information were made available, the Committee ought to have had the opportunity for further questioning of the Minister on the matter in the light of the additional information. If the Chairman of the Committee speaks in this debate, as I believe he should, perhaps he will deal with this important point about which the Australian Democrats would like to hear before we make up our minds as to how to vote on this censure motion. As to our attitudes towards censure motions-

Senator Chaney —Perhaps Senator Macklin will address the question on page 10.1 where Senator Baume specifically asked whether the Department had given any advice to another Department on this important question.

Senator MACKLIN —I ought to have done that. I meant to return to it. Senator Baume asked the question which is the crux of the matter:

Has this Department given any advice to any other department on survey questions to be added on the attitude of Australians to the Government's policy on the funding of government and non-government schools?

Undoubtedly, it seems from the Minister's answer, the Department of Education has been involved with other departments in advising the Department of the Special Minister of State on this matter. The Minister's letter makes that clear . Therefore, when Dr Taloni says, 'I am not aware of it', I presume one of two things: Either he was misleading the Senate or he was unaware of it. I believe it is an extremely serious matter to question in this chamber the integrity of senior members of the bureaucracy because they do not have the right to reply. I cannot on the evidence presented to me, and I think to the Senate, say that Dr Taloni was anything other than honest and that he was unaware of it.

Senator Sir John Carrick —But go on.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. The Minister could have intervened in the answer given by a bureaucrat to the previous question and corrected it. That is perfectly acceptable in an Estimates committee. Senator Peter Baume then said:

I ask the Minister: Did you have any input into that survey?

The Minister said:

There has been no such survey, to my knowledge. The survey I am aware of is the survey to do with youth attitudes.

Again, my reading of that is that the Minister, being too clever by half quite frankly, said that indeed there was no survey on the Government's policy on funding for government and non-government schools. But it is really less than informative to the Estimates Committee. It is clear to anybody what Senator Peter Baume was trying to get at, but the Minister was not about to help anybody out on anything at that point. That is a criticism which we in the Australian Democrats would level at every Minister, not only in this Government but also in the previous Government. That is the type of response one tends to get on average in Estimates committees. It is technically correct but less than helpful , less than illuminating, and makes a mockery, quite frankly, of the Estimates committees.

Senator Mason —In other words, normal.

Senator MACKLIN —In other words, normal. The Democrats' view of a censure is this: We consider a censure of a Minister the most serious move that can be made when that Minister is a member of this chamber. We believe that, were that censure to be carried, the Minister would have no course but to resign. If we supported such a censure we would not tolerate the Minister remaining in this House. We took that attitude to the previous Government and, therefore, we did not support censure motions under the previous Government. So, we will await Senator Colston's response on the other matter and will consider our vote in the light of that further information.