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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 997


Senator VIGOR(3.32) —In the short time I had available at the end of yesterday's consideration of this paper, I pointed out that the opinion of the Solicitor-General could not get to the political heart of the matter. The narrow terms of reference confined the nature of the work done by the Solicitor-General at the direction of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). The unavailability of all material documents and the inability to pursue recollection of oral undertakings forced Dr Gavan Griffith to qualify the applicability of his answers. It is not yet clear the degree to which the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was monitoring the Australian Bicentennial Authority, although at last night's Senate Estimates Committee A hearing letters were incorporated in the record of proceedings. The Department's information collecting procedures and their accuracy do not appear to be without reproach. It is unclear the extent to which various options were put forward to the Prime Minister, along with the consequences likely to flow from them. This is the problem that pervades the whole matter.

It appears that actions were frequently taken in haste with insufficient information. This is a major reason why large sums of money and staff time are being spent analysing the problem areas that remain, especially political ones. The bureaucrats claim that their requests for information were not properly met. Authority staff say that replies were given much earlier than the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has acknowledged. The media have relied on leaks and recycled Press releases. Only with yesterday's Senate Estimates Committee hearings are we beginning to get at the matters of enduring concern.

We need to know about the progress of getting corporate involvement in the funding of the 1988 celebrations. We need to know what efforts are being made to encourage voluntary input by fostering people-directed programs of a creative nature. We need to know what has been done and what will be done to involve the people and governments of countries such as Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia in the Bicentennial. We need to know what guidelines operate when consultants are considered or briefed. We need to encourage the Authority's Board members to seek organisational structures which will enable them to have early access to information. We need to make it the natural thing that people want to participate in community activities in 1988. It is important that all Australians feel that it is worth while participating in Bicentennial activities.

I find it hard to see how one can make rock hard pronouncements two years before the whole process is due to come together. We have to keep a watchful eye on the structure of the Authority and the reasons why things are being done. It is very important that we have more than one body looking at what is happening in these areas. We must not discourage those employees of the Authority who are putting all they have into the work.

We have to take the debate away from personalities, scapegoats and tired red herrings such as this exercise that an embattled Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has belatedly foisted on the Solicitor-General. I hope that we can interest the media also in the thousand-million-dollar stories such as the shambles of Australia's purported offsets policy or the opportunity for Telecom Australia to use its buying muscle to foster an Australian electronic manufacturing industry, rather than just a quarter of a million dollar exercise which involves a couple of personalities and an Authority which is currently under siege.