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Tuesday, 17 September 1985
Page: 629

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition) —I seek leave to make a brief comment on the issue raised with respect to the Hansard.

Leave granted.

Senator CHANEY —This is the second occasion on which concern has been expressed in the Senate by the senators on this side of the chamber about the alteration of the Senate Hansard record as it affects the words used by a Minister in this place. The first occasion involved Senator Gareth Evans and, in the view of the Opposition, there was a clear distortion of meaning in that case. In the case of Senator Walsh I have examined the transcript and, certainly, if the words which are said by Senator Michael Baume to have been added were added, in my view there is an alteration of the clear meaning of the words.

I rise at this time to ask you, Mr President, to examine this case. I think the Hansard officers perform a difficult task and they do undertake the alteration of the transcript from time to time. Senator Walsh has told us that no alteration was requested by him or by his office. If that is what he has said presumably that is true. If that is so, it seems to me that it goes beyond the province of Hansard to make an alteration which can alter the sense. On the occasion that this matter was raised in the past I made inquiries and found out that, on occasions, my own staff had requested alterations to Hansard when I was a Minister. I found out that their requests, according to Hansard, had been to restore the original words used which, no doubt, were often less grammatical and less elegant than those which had been inserted by Hansard. But when there is an issue such as this which goes to the standing of a senator and on which he thinks it necessary to seek leave to make a personal explanation, I think it is highly undesirable that there should be any alteration to the record.

Mr President, I ask you to examine the matter and to report to the Senate on the rules which govern alterations. I am not satisfied. I certainly do not impugn the motives of Hansard officers-I think they do a very difficult task well-but I believe that, if there is to be any error, it should be in favour of maintaining the errors which we make in our language and not in correcting them. If, in correcting them, there is any alteration of the sense of what is said, if potentially injustice is done to honourable senators, the position of either the Government or the Opposition can be distorted.

The PRESIDENT —I take it that Senator Michael Baume, in making the personal explanation he has, has taken the opportunity to state his position clearly and to put that position on the record. I accept the statement of the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) that neither he nor his staff sought to make or did make any alterations to Hansard. I have taken cognisance of the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Chaney). I shall discuss the matter with the Principal Parliamentary Reporter and, if necessary, with the Principal Parliamentary Reporter and Senator Michael Baume. If my recollection is correct, the debate that took place and the words that were used at that time were in relation to a ruling I gave that certain remarks were offensive. To that extent I suppose that the Chair, too, is involved. I shall discuss the matter, certainly with the Principal Parliamentary Reporter and, if necessary, with the Principal Parliamentary Reporter and Senator Michael Baume, and report to the Senate.