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Friday, 11 October 1985
Page: 1086

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I refer the Minister representing the Prime Minister to the advice given to the Prime Minister by his close supporter, Senator Graham Richardson, that Mr Hawke should remove or move sideways three senior officers of his Department because of their actions over the Australian Bicentennial Authority. Has the Prime Minister taken, or does he intend to take, action suggested by Senator Richardson to find further scapegoats for his own failings? Has any officer of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet involved in dealings with the Authority been transferred, demoted or disciplined?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Richardson has always been regarded as a man of great generosity of spirit and on this occasion he has given some gratuitous advice. Senator Richardson is as entitled as any other person in the Senate, the Parliament or the community to give advice to the Prime Minister about what he should do. People do that in various ways-in this place, by telegram, by telephone or in other ways. Senator Richardson has apparently given some advice to the Prime Minister which he apparently announced through a loud hailer across King's Hall. The question of the administration of a department is a matter for the Minister concerned. The acting permanent head of the Prime Minister's Department has proposed certain changes to the Department. I understand that the Prime Minister has endorsed some of those changes.

Senator Durack —Here it comes. They are going to get the chop.

Senator BUTTON —These `ho, ho's' coming from the Opposition members are the sorts of noises they usually make when they are contemplating a free lunch. The changes involve the establishment of a separate Bicentennial Division in the Prime Minister's Department which will be supported by two branches. The head of the division will be Mr Ron Harvey. The Prime Minister, in response to the various suggestions which have been made to him in connection with this matter, including the suggestion made by Senator Richardson, has, both publicly and privately, expressed concern at the way in which the Bicentenary celebrations have been handled at various levels, including the role played by his Department. He sought an explanation from his Department in relation to the missing letter, which he was entitled to have. Of course, apart from this little fracas, the Prime Minister has absolute confidence in the loyalty and dedication of his Department, as all Ministers have in their respective portfolios. I can understand Senator Richardson offering the piece of advice which he did, because it is consistent with the conclusions of the Senate Estimates Committee.

Senator Walters —Where is he?

Senator BUTTON —One has occasion to deal with people suffering disabilities, but not usually blindness. The Estimates Committee of which Senator Richardson is Chairman, had this to say:

The Committee considers that the Prime Minister has to accept the ministerial responsibility for the Australian Bicentennial Authority. Nevertheless he was obviously not kept fully informed by his Department. The evidence indicates that officers of the Department displayed gross incompetence in their handling of this issue.

Senator Short, I must say, in fairness to him-

Senator Chaney —Some Rhodes scholar he turned out to be.

Senator BUTTON —Yes, a real Rhodes scholar. Senator Short, in fairness to him, expressed a qualification about that, but I think that is a qualification which is looking after the interests of a particular peer group to which he belongs.

Senator Michael Baume proceeding to address a supplementary question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister-

The PRESIDENT —Order! The question is clearly not a supplementary question; it is an additional question. I rule it out of order.