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Wednesday, 9 October 1985
Page: 930


Senator VIGOR(5.43) —The opinion we have before us does not touch on a number of the important questions surrounding the Australian Bicentennial Authority. It has no hope of doing so. The questions given to the Solicitor-General by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and his advisors were narrowly tailored. There was to be no investigation of the manner in which Dr Armstrong was dismissed. Not all the files were available, certainly not those of the Authority pertaining to the negotiation of the terms of the deed of settlement. On page 3 of the opinion the Solicitor-General says:

Hence my answers to the questions are based upon documents provided to me.

And only on those documents. The proper time for this sort of investigation was when the Prime Minister was weighing his options. No attempt to turn back the political tide will reverse the damage that has been done by the Prime Minister's precipitate rush into action. It is a sad irony that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet could not prod the Prime Minister or his staff into providing it with information of vital relevance to these matters earlier. Staff have expressed their surprise at documents turning up up to a month after issue. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has its own problems. On 28 August Mr Reid asked what rights, if any, he had not to disclose anything to the Senate Estimates Committee. In a minute of the same day we find the following inaccurate assertion about the Senate Estimates committees:

The Senate and its committees have full control and compulsive powers over witnesses who appear before them.

At the start of last Friday's Estimates committee proceedings Senator Richardson pointed out that this was not true of Estimates committees. It seems inconceivable that a Department priding itself as a shepherd and refiner of information could stumble so badly under pressure. What checking mechanism went astray? Have others been misled by similar slips at other times? The whole Bicentennial Authority drama shows up a microcosm of the clash of uncomprehending cultures in our community. The world view and langauge of the participants are mutually exclusive. One has only to look at the statements of the Prime Minister, the evidence of Mr Reid and the evidence from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to see this.

Similar problems are arising each day in our nation because we fail to foster proper communication between the various cultures and parts of our society. Our bureaucrats are well versed in maintaining order and keeping a tight grip on troublesome options. They are not encouraged to ask `Why?' or `Is there another way?'. Private enterprise has its own ethos and was represented by the Bicentennial Authority. The media has another form of language and goes searching for more and more leaks. We have politicians who tend to operate in the short term and do not necessarily understand the language of any of these groups of people. This leads to a real problem within our community. This is one of the problems we have to solve. It seems extremely important that the issue concerning the Bicentennial Authority is investigated in full. We do not know about the quality of the monitoring program of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and its predecessors in relation to the Bicentennial Authority. We do not know whether the talent on the Board of the Authority can be put to much better effect by better communication.

Debate interrupted.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Jessop) —Order! The time allotted for the discussion of Government papers has expired.