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Monday, 14 October 1985
Page: 1131

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate as Minister representing the Prime Minister. In view of the constant, wrongful and unmanly attempts of the Prime Minister and Senator Button to pass the blame for the Bicentenary debacle to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and to the Australian Bicentennial Authority, I ask: Does not the Australian Bicentennial Authority Act 1980 vest in the responsible Minister-in this case, the Prime Minister-the full authority over policies and expenditures? If the Minister is in any doubt, I direct his attention to sections 6 and 11 of the Act.

Senator Chipp —Answer that in a manly fashion. Come on now. Get a grip on yourself.

Senator BUTTON —I will try to answer it in a manly fashion. I notice that in an article in the Australian last week, Senator Chaney said that I had been given half marks for industry policy. I think I should answer it in a manly fashion in view of the continual prefect monitoring of our performance by Senator Chaney.

First of all, there have not been attempts by me-and I would like Senator Chaney to point to them if he can-to blame the Prime Minister's Department for any matters relating to the Bicentennial Authority. Perhaps he can refresh his memory from last Question Time, if he wants to do so on that issue.

The position regarding the Prime Minister's Department's misplacement of a letter has already been dealt with in the House of Representatives and was, of course, dealt with by a senior and respected officer of the Prime Minister's Department in a letter or minute which was sent to the Prime Minister. While the Bicentennial Authority Act vests policy responsibility in the appropriate Minister, I would point out that the question of financial responsibility as dealt with in that Act, as I recall it, goes to the questions of appropriations made in respect of the Bicentennial Authority as they are connected to policy.

I have not perused the Act recently myself, but I would remind honourable senators that in respect of the recent incident regarding the Bicentennial Authority, it was the view of the Prime Minister, his advisers and Mr Reid, the Chairman of the Authority, that the negotiations of terms and conditions of termination of employment were the responsibility of the Chairman of the Authority.

Senator CHANEY —If I may put a supplementary question, Mr President, is the Leader of the Government in the latter part of his answer denying that Mr Reid sought the authority of the Prime Minister under that Act for the disbursement of the moneys to Dr Armstrong?

Senator BUTTON —I do not think that question implies a correct interpretation of the facts as I see them. As I understand it, from beginning to end the appropriation of an amount to cover the settlement for Dr Armstrong was not in question. It was agreed, as I understand it, early in the discussions that the Bicentennial Authority had within its current appropriations sufficient funds to accommodate that settlement. That, as I recall it, was given in evidence to the Senate Estimates Committee. Certainly that has been stated either there or in other documents of public record. But if Senator Chaney is concerned to press the point that Mr Reid, having arrived at a settlement with Dr Armstrong, then rang the Prime Minister to inform him about it, of course that is correct. That is a matter of public record too.

Senator Chaney —He wrote asking for authority.

Senator BUTTON —Mr Reid wrote asking for authority in terms of the final amount of the settlement on 28 August. The deed of settlement had been entered into on 23 August and signed by Mr Reid on behalf of the Bicentennial-

Senator Walters —Don't leave that out.

Senator BUTTON —May I answer Senator Chaney's question without Senator Walters's silly mooing? On 28 August Mr Reid wrote to the Prime Minister seeking approval for the final terms of settlement. I make the point that a deed of settlement had been entered into on 23 August, as I recall the evidence. That deed was not, of course, enclosed in the letter to the Prime Minister on the 28th and that was a matter of some disappointment.