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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2283

Senator DURACK(8.53) —I remind Senator Gietzelt that on 17 September, two months ago, at the relevant Estimates committee hearing, I asked this question in relation to Government policy on appointments to the Federal Court of Australia. A number of other questions which were raised at the Estimates committee hearing went unanswered. The Senate has received supplementary answers to most of the questions, but no answer has been received to my question which Senator Evans said he would refer to the Attorney- General, Mr Lionel Bowen, about the policy Mr Bowen is following in relation to appointments to the Federal Court. That question was asked over two months ago. During the consideration of these estimates I would expect to have an answer to that question which has been on notice for two months or more. In fact, I would have expected to have had an answer to it long ago before the report of the Estimates committee was submitted.

It is no good Senator Gietzelt saying that I can ask these questions every day at Question Time. The fact is that what we are engaging in now is a process of the chamber whereby detailed examination is being given to the estimates of particular departments. It has long been a tradition and a right of the chamber and honourable senators to ask questions in this forum. I do not propose to accept being told by Senator Gietzelt when I am to ask questions and when I am not. I am entitled to ask questions when the Standing Orders of this place enable me as a senator to do so. Furthermore, it has been a tradition of this place--

Senator Gietzelt —You can ask as many as you like but I can't answer them.

Senator DURACK —That is the Minister's fault and a problem he has to solve. Officers are present during the consideration of these estimates to assist the Minister at the table if he cannot answer the questions himself. It has been a tradition of the chamber for the Minister who is either himself responsible for estimates of the department which are being considered or the Minister who represents the Minister to have some knowledge and ability to answer the questions and for that person to be present in the chamber when these estimates are considered. That has been the tradition of this Senate. I have said already that it is a total insult to the chamber that the Government cannot organise itself in a better way in order to deal with these matters. That is even more evident when, as I have said, one of the questions I asked was first put on 17 September when the Estimates committees were sitting. I have not had an answer to my question for over two months. It is absurd in the extreme that the Minister cannot be briefed to answer that question.

For Senator Gietzelt to say that he cannot answer these questions is an absolutely remarkable example of this Government's attitude to Parliament and to informing the people of Australia about their affairs. I do not propose to be dictated to by Senator Gietzelt as to when I am to ask questions. I am entitled to ask those questions now. If I cannot get any sort of an attempt to answer them, it is fair enough to postpone further consideration of these matters until I do. As the officers present have had some opportunity to brief the Minister, I am prepared to give him a further opportunity to make some effort to answer my questions. Otherwise, I propose to move that further consideration of the matter be postponed.