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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1881

Senator COLSTON(7.46) —I am speaking tonight principally in my role as the Chairman of Estimates Committee D. Yesterday afternoon events unfolded which I regard as an affront to this Committee. Estimates Committee D has recently completed examination of the additional estimates of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs, the Department of Sport, Recreation and Tourism, the Department of Home Affairs and Environment, the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The estimates of the first four departments I mention were examined on 3 May, that is, last Thursday. The estimates of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs were examined on Friday, 4 May . The Committee has not yet reported to the Senate. Indeed, it has not yet considered its report. Yet yesterday afternoon, copies of the transcript of evidence were held by many members of the Opposition and at least two Opposition members of Estimates Committee D quoted from that transcript. I must say that I was surprised at their doing so prior to the Committee having considered its report.

An official Hansard record was not available. Government senators did not have copies of the transcript. That includes me, as Chairman of the Committee, and the other two members of the Committee, Senator Coates and Senator Zakharov.

Many questions need to be addressed in relation to yesterday's sorry exhibition by the Opposition. Some of the questions are: First, who requested the transcript of the proceedings of Estimates Committee D? Second, from whom was the request made and when was the original request made? Thirdly, did the person who asked for the transcript say what use was to be made of the contents of the transcript? If so, what was said? Fourthly, when were the transcripts made available to the Opposition, to whom were they provided and who handed the transcripts over? Fifthly, did the officers who made the transcripts available also make them available to any Government members? If so, to whom and when? Sixthly, why were the transcripts not made available to Government members of Estimates Committee D, including the Chairman of the Committee? Finally, are members of Estimates committees to expect that this shoddy, slipshod behaviour of officers of this Parliament will occur again?

Mr Deputy President, I will not ask the President to investigate these matters. I intend to ask the Senate to refer the whole issue to the Senate Standing Committee on Privileges for investigation and report.