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Thursday, 5 December 1985
Page: 3102

Senator VANSTONE(11.34) —I do realise that it is half past eleven and that there are Christmas parties on in various rooms in this building. I appreciate from the comments that the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) has made that he does not want to be here for much longer. I can inform him that I am of a similar opinion. Nonetheless, I believe that it is my right to say what I want to say. I undertake to be brief and to the extent that it can be made interesting, I will. If the Minister is forced to fall back asleep, I am sorry, but he will just have to accept that I am doing my best.

I raise the matter of the Government seeking to bypass Parliament by releasing policies to the media first and then coming into the Parliament. I fully accept that this is a practice that has been undertaken not only by this Government but also by other governments. I am expressing my view-not the view of my Party or anyone else. One very good example of this is the Foreign Minister (Mr Hayden) releasing to the media the code of conduct for Australian companies with interests in South Africa. This might be a matter in which Senator Evans has some interest. I have some interest in this matter. I wrote to the Foreign Minister and asked for a draft copy of the code of conduct to be offered to me on similar terms to those under which it was offered to Senator Missen by Senator Evans. The Foreign Minister wrote back and said that I could not have it on the same terms; I could not have it at all. The code of conduct was released to the media first without Parliament having had the opportunity to debate it first.

Senator Evans, who is at the table, might think that that is acceptable. Ministers in other governments might think that it is acceptable. I do not think that it is acceptable. I think it is extraordinary that the Foreign Minister chooses to give one senator a different answer from the answer which the senator representing him in the Senate chooses to give. That is just one example. Another example is that the other day significant changes to government in the Australian Capital Territory were announced, not to Parliament but in a stage managed Press conference. I noticed that Senator Reid drew attention to this matter and expressed regret that it had been done in that way.

Senator Bolkus —How else do you expect people to find out?

Senator VANSTONE —One could go on-one is tempted to go on by the interjections from the other side of the chamber-with the long list of examples. Nonetheless, as I said, I have undertaken to be brief and I will leave the examples at those two. I have indicated that I do not believe that it is only this Government; previous governments also have undertaken this practice. I also think that the media cannot avoid criticism for the way in which Parliament is conducted and for the invitation that they offer to members of parliament to be lured into their net. The net about which I speak is one that invites senators and members to engage in side-shows, if you like, as though senators and members were here to amuse members of the Press Gallery. It is not my belief that that is the function of senators and members; nonetheless in some cases that seems to be what the media want. I draw the attention of the Senate to an article in the Canberra Times on Tuesday of this week, written by Debbie Cameron, with the headline `Senate is not a sideshow'. She said:

The Senate was sitting yesterday without the distraction of the thespian House of Representatives and the public galleries were fuller than usual. What a cruel surprise for the busloads of pensioners and school children shuttled to Parliament House expecting to see a lacerating diatribe from the Treasurer, Mr Keating, or a fumbling impersonation of Max Gillies from the Prime Minister. What did they get? The Senate.

It fails miserably as a sideshow. No clowns, no whizzing moments of terror, no giddy laughter and no sparkling spruikers.

I simply make the point to Ms Cameron, and I suppose to Ian Warden who wrote an article which has a headline `Knitting in the land of nod', complaining about how boring it was to be covering the Senate, that the function of the Senate is not to be of interest to the Press Gallery, nor should it be. The job of members of the Press Gallery, in my view, is to report to the electors in this country what happens in both Houses of Parliament. If they think that it is boring, I do not mind their saying that it is boring. I do mind the expectation that this chamber and the other place be turned into some sort of side-show.

I am tempted to use, and I will use, one other example. I think that it is the most glaring example of the year of the release of a policy to the media before releasing it to Parliament; that was this Government's so-called Priority One: Young Australia policy. We have seen advertisements, similar to the one I found in the newspaper today, with a big picture of the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke-I can understand why the Age refers to him as `Old Silver'-advertising himself yet again and advertising a policy that has not been properly thought out and debated in Parliament. I can understand why it was not debated in the Parliament before it was released, or at least canvassed in Parliament before it was released; the details were not even properly worked out. One can find that out by ringing any Commonwealth Employment Service office around the country and asking what it has in Priority One for young Australians. Any CES office will tell one that it does not have a damned thing; it has just been worked out. It has just been worked out. Old Silver, as Michelle Grattan refers to the Prime Minister, chose to release this policy prematurely to give himself a bit of advertising to create the impression that this Government is doing something about young Australians. That is yet another example of this Government-along with other governments-bypassing the role of Parliament to scrutinise policy.