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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2731


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(10.29) —In three days-Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, and today-69 reports from government authorities were presented to the Senate. From memory, we have had the opportunity of spending 1 1/2 hours in dealing with those 69 reports. At the most, six speakers are allowed to speak in that half-hour period each day. So 18 opportunities for comment on 69 reports from honourable senators on both sides of the chamber have been afforded to the Senate. This, of course, is unreasonable and unfair and is of particular significance when time is not made available for General Business so that they can be dealt with in that time. The reason I raise this is that many of these reports come from authorities that in the past have been subjected to quite proper criticism by the Senate for the nature of their reports. I seems to me to be totally inappropriate that the opportunities that should be available to the Senate are no longer available, particularly in this situation. It would seem to me that the Senate be given an opportunity to deal with the reports in a far better way. It is totally inadequate that 18 opportunities for comment are presented. I understand that specific objections have been made to this device that has been used by the Government to submerge very important statements among reports. This device has been discussed with the Government, and I must say that it has concerned me.

Having made that objection and complaint about the lack of opportunity to discuss these matters, I must say, Mr Deputy President, that the opportunity you kindly gave to honourable senators at least to get these reports put on to the Notice Paper keeps them alive and before the Senate, but it does not provide any opportunity to discuss them once they are on the Notice Paper. To that extent my complaint stands.


Senator Peter Baume —How many reports do you think we will get in the next two or three days?


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Exactly. As my cousin points out, how many more reports are still to come and what opportunities will we have to discuss them, on top of the 69 reports we already have? There are some matters that many honourable senators want to raise, not simply to congratulate or condemn the authorities-whatever is appropriate-for the nature of their reports. For example, on the Australian Bicentennial Authority there is one matter I want to raise briefly. The Senate will remember that in the House of Representatives on 8 October the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) said at page 1601 of the Hansard of the other place--


Senator Peter Baume —That other place.


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —That other place, indeed. In relation to the reasons why Mr Hawke asked Mr Reid to resign as Chairman of the Bicentennial Authority, the Prime Minister said:

. . . related to the fact that Mr Reid misled me over this whole period about the nature of the ABA's contractual obligations to Dr Armstrong and about the reasons for the composition of the settlement. On 26 September, when I saw Dr Armstrong's letter of appointment for the first time, it was evident that his services could be terminated with four months' notice and that there were no other overriding clauses. There was no contractual commitment for a further six years, as I had been told on 19 August. In the circumstances, I had no option but to seek Mr Reid's resignation.

I remind the Senate of that, for one reason. We now know that Mr Reid had every reason to understand that Mr Hawke had the very terms of that contract. Mr Reid had every right to expect that Mr Hawke, the Minister allegedly responsible, had the copy of Dr Armstrong's letter of appointment and that Mr Hawke, if he were a competent Minister, would have apprised himself of those terms at that time. It is totally improper for Mr Hawke now, because of his own incompetence-having had to admit that he did not have that letter-to blame Mr Reid. All I am seeking is that the Prime Minister should at last apologise to Mr Reid, a gesture he has not had the decency to make.


Senator Puplick —He has not had the manliness.


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Indeed, as my friend Senator Puplick says, he has not had the manliness to make it.


Senator Ryan —The what?


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Manliness, Minister, is something that is quite useful in males who claim to have courage and determination. This Prime Minister-and I will use another phrase-has not had the guts to admit that he made an error, that he improperly criticised Mr Reid and that in fact Mr Reid had every right to expect the Prime Minister to know what he was talking about when Mr Reid was discussing the matter with the Prime Minister on the telephone. Mr Reid, who is an expert and experienced businessman, would not have thought it possible that the Prime Minister could have been so incompetent as not to have the details of Dr Armstrong's terms of appointment in front of him. For Mr Hawke to pretend that he was misled is totally disgraceful.

I do not mind whether Mr Hawke is clearly shown to be incompetent. We all know that he is described as such; we all know the facts of this matter. We know that the Prime Minister behaved in an incompetent way and then blamed everyone else. All I think the Senate has a right to require the Prime Minister to do is to apologise to Mr Reid and admit that the major reason for his forcing Mr Reid's resignation was false. The Prime Minister should have the guts to apologise. I hope that the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), who is in the chamber tonight, will not let this session of the Parliament end without encouraging the Prime Minister to clean his particularly dirty slate on this matter.