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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1742

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(6.14) —in reply-I thank the various honourable senators who have contributed to the debate and have supported the motion. I welcome some of Senator Harradine's remarks. I agree with him that the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) deserves the strongest condemnation for failing to perform her duty as a Minister.

However, we go beyond that. We believe that on any sensible reading of the transcript and of the letter which was subsequently sent it is quite clear that the Minister knew the facts. We are not prepared to admit what I think is the benefit of the tiniest smidgin of doubt that Senator Harradine has offered. I certainly agree with him that Ministers should be open and frank before Estimates committees. I say to the Australian Democrats, who are represented by Senator Macklin in this matter, who made an excellent speech analysing the material: I believe that the cynicism of his approach was perhaps the one negative. I do not believe that the Senate can approach the Estimates Committee on the basis that it is quite as much a game as he has outlined. I think there is a duty on Ministers to behave in a way other than that which was described by Senator Macklin.

I wish to clear one minor irrelevancy that has been raised across the table; that is, the availability of Hansard copy to the Opposition. That came into our hands because we requested it. There has been a delay-

Senator Grimes —What time?

Senator CHANEY —The Minister should let me finish. There has been a delay with respect to the production of Hansard. There was concern in the Opposition at the answers which had been given by Senator Ryan compared with the written material she provided. The Hansard copy was requested. It was provided with the request that it be made available also to Senator Ryan before it was used. That request was met. It was delivered to Senator Ryan's office some time before this debate commenced. In any event, it was open to Senator Ryan-

Senator Grimes —What time? What time before the debate?

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Minister to cease interjecting. Senator Chaney has the call.

Senator CHANEY —Mr Deputy President, it is good to see at last the Acting Leader of the Government in the Senate taking an interest in the debate. His defence of Senator Ryan was one of the most lacklustre performances that I have heard for some time. The Government has one handy, knockabout speaker on its side, good old Robert Ray. He gets up on every subject, even when he does not know the facts. Let us just stop and think. The first person who got up and defended Senator Ryan with any enthusiasm was Senator Ray from Victoria. Senator Ray really diminished the impact of what he had to say when he told us that he has not actually read the transcript and then accused us of selective quotation. I cannot imagine a more self-damning contribution to debate than that. He managed to keep his enthusiasm going for maybe eight minutes. In the best speech made to defend the Minister, he got up in this chamber and said: 'I have not read the transcript but I think the way in which you have been so selective in your quotation is absolutely disgraceful'. I just say to the honourable senator: If he wants to make accusations which he cannot possibly base on any facts, because he tells us that he does not know the facts, the high respect with which he is held on this side of the chamber will soon evaporate. We will continue to admire his knockout style but we will not have much to think about the content of his speeches.

Senator Ray is new to this place; he is very good but he is new. One of the things that really shocked him was that we ambushed the Minister. Is it not terrible that we did not ring up the Government last Friday and say: 'We think maybe on Tuesday, Tuesday week or Tuesday in three weeks we might run a censure on Senator Ryan'! Is that not a shocking, terrible thing? I can only say to you, Senator Ray, that I very much hope that, when you are in opposition, which I know will be very soon, you will follow some very gentlemanly tactics and give us plenty of warning when you bring in your censure motions, because I would hate to see a nice, amiable, right wing chap like you ambushing people.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to speak through the Chair.

Senator CHANEY —I am sorry, Mr President. There has been a good deal of this sort of thing and I did get a little enthusiastic. Senator Ray raised one serious question. He asked: Why was this matter not dealt with before today? That is a serious question and I wish to address it. The fact of the matter is, as I said a little while ago, the Hansard record of the meeting was not available. Members of the Committee, of course, had a recollection of what had been said by the Minister. They wished to check the material against the written submission that she had made. The matter was raised today because this was the first opportunity we had to do so.

I, and I am sure the Senate, would like to see this matter brought to a vote. Let me very quickly deal with the fundamental defence which has been mounted for Senator Ryan. Senator Ryan's defence was that, in some formal way, in some legalistic way, what she said was accurate. I will deal very quickly with that. In no legalistic way could it be said that what Senator Ryan said was accurate. We had a lot of obfuscation by honourable senators on the other side of the chamber. We had a suggestion that really Senator Ryan was talking about some other department. Was it not silly, the members of the Opposition were asking about another department. They did not realise that that meant that Senator Ryan did not have to tell them all she knew about her Department's involvement in this political survey aimed to provide political benefit to the Hawke Government to enable it to trim its policies to public opinion instead of to principle. She did not have to tell us any of that because technically she was off the hook because we were asking about a different department. Rubbish! That is not true. Any reading of the transcript shows that it is not true. Senator Peter Baume specifically referred the Minister to the other Department's estimates. I will not go over the quote again; it has been read out here several times today. He then said:

Has this Department-

he was referring to the Department of Education-

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

Dr Taloni leapt in with a quick answer. He said:

I am not aware of it.

Senator Peter Baume said:

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

Senator Ryan said:

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

Senator Ryan knew because she had arranged for that survey on youth attitudes to include a set of survey questions on the attitudes of people to public and private funding.

This is the greatest false defence I have ever heard. It is no defence. No decent lawyer would tolerate such a defence. The Minister is condemned by the words she used. She admitted today her close working knowledge of all that had occurred. This is not something that was passed by her desk and her eyes by her Department, not something she initialled and said 'Okay'. This is a matter she talked to her colleagues about. She had a suggestion knocked back. She came back and got a different suggestion. This issue is central to her political survival. She was covering up. She wilfully misled the Senate through that Committee.

I am sure that we all wish this matter to come to a vote. I think that the most damning thing about what has come out is that this Government has no principle at all in this area. All it is trying to do is find out public opinion so that it can tailor its policies to the next election. We have had a lot of debate in the Senate and there will be a lot more about the ability of this Government to shelve issues it thinks will be uncomfortable until it thinks it can get the numbers in this place. This is one example of how this Government operates. It is not a Government of principle. It is a government which simply tries to go down the road it thinks the public will tolerate. We in the Senate will continue to watch the antics of these Ministers. If they continue to behave in the way Senator Ryan has behaved at the Estimates Committee meeting we will bring it to public opinion. We will seek to censure the Minister for her behaviour and to censure other Ministers who behave in the same way.

Senator Gietzelt —Is that a threat or a promise?

Senator CHANEY —That is a promise. I hope that we will not need to bring forward these measures because I hope we will see some better standards from the Minister in the future. But let us make it quite clear that the Opposition regards Senator Ryan as having failed to do her duty as a Minister. We think that not only has she been wrong and wilfully misled the Senate but also she has been incompetent in the process and we believe she is deserving of complete censure.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Chaney's) be agreed to.