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Wednesday, 13 November 1985
Page: 2063

Senator LEWIS(12.41) —It has become perfectly clear from the way this Government is operating that it is not prepared to provide information to the public-it is certainly not prepared to provide information to members of Parliament; and it is not even prepared to provide information to its own members of parliament. I made an application for freedom of information because I knew that if one placed a difficult question on notice that question would not be answered until the last day of the session. That is the attitude that this Government adopts. Let me just explain what I mean by that. As at 11 November of this year-that was on Monday of this week-the Senate Notice Paper contained 48 pages of questions on notice which have been unanswered by this Government. The list goes back to 21 February 1985 when Senator Bolkus, a Government senator, put a question, which should not be difficult to answer, on the Notice Paper. The question read as follows:

(1) Are there any aspects of the operation, functions, or otherwise of the United States' Base at Narrungar that are not classified information to the United States Congress.

(2) Is there any such information which is classified within Australia.

That question asked by a Government senator has been on notice since 21 February this year. However, the Minister cannot get around to giving the honourable senator an answer to it. That is the reason why members of parliament have had to turn to the freedom of information legislation to try to extract some information out of this Government as to what is going on. One would have thought that when one became a member of parliament-a senator or a member of the House of Representatives-one would have had access to all sorts of information. The situation with this Government is that one is in fact totally deprived of information. Every possible blocking move is put in front of us.

Senator Robert Ray —I must make a note of this speech for when we go into opposition.

Senator LEWIS —Senator Ray says, and rightly so, that he will make a note of what I am saying so that he can draw it to my attention when his Party goes into opposition very soon. Of course, that is fair comment. However, the situation is that under this Government we just have to use the freedom of information legislation to find out what is going on. Once upon a time under the Fraser Government one could write to a Minister and ask what was happening. One would get an honest, detailed and complete answer to one's questions. One would know what was going on. Now one does not even get an answer under this Government. Ministers really have become secretive and devious. It seems that they are scared to supply us with information.

On 26 July this year I sought some information relating to housing problems in the Australian Capital Territory as part of the job which the Opposition has given me of looking after the Territories area. At that time Mr Brian O'Donovan was conducting an inquiry into the community housing expansion program in the Australian Capital Territory and as such he had access to all of the files. So, of course, all of the material was readily available.

Debate interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.