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Tuesday, 9 May 1989
Page: 2054

Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Treasurer. Did he see a letter from the Australian Statistician, published in today's Australian Financial Review? Has he any further information to add regarding the household expenditure survey?

Senator WALSH —I did see the Statistician's letter in the Australian Financial Review, and I should like to read most of it into the record. It says--

Senator Chaney —On a point of order, Mr President. The question that was put to the Minister was whether he had seen the letter and whether he had something to add to it.

Senator WALSH —All right, if I am given leave I will incorporate it.

Senator Chaney —It seems to me that the question itself is an abuse of Question Time. The Minister has just said that he would like leave to incorporate--

Senator Collins —He is the responsible Minister.

Senator Chaney —It is nothing to do with his being the responsible Minister; it is a question of whether the Minister has anything to add on the issue of the household expenditure survey, which has occupied a huge amount of parliamentary time, and which raises many issues. I suggest, Mr President, that the lack of specificity in the question renders it simply a carte blanche for the Minister to say anything he likes about a particular subject.

Senator WALSH —If Senator Chaney is willing to grant leave for the letter to be incorporated, I am quite happy to do that. I seek leave to incorporate the letter in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

SIR, According to Mr Don Cameron MHR, (AFR Letters, January 26), the Household Expenditure Survey being conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics is a ``new proposal'' which should have been tabled in Parliament prior to its commencement. Mr Cameron noted that the Commonwealth Ombudsman was investigating whether the ABS misled the Attorney-General's Department when seeking legal advice.

The Ombudsman has now reported that the ABS did not mislead anyone and was not wrong to implement the survey without tabling it. He also considers that ``the HES is not oppressive or unreasonably intrusive, bearing in mind the public interest in collection of the information and the protections for privacy''.

In another letter, Senator Patterson (AFR Letters, February 8), claimed that the ABS had ``failed to produce any convincing arguments as to the validity of compulsorily obtained information as against that offered voluntarily''. She said that extensive searches of the social science literature had shown no support for the ABS argument that the HES needed to be compulsory for valid data to be obtained.

In his report, the Ombudsman states that he is ``satisfied that there is a reasonable case for providing power to compel provision of information for an HES''. The ABS approach, which has been very successful, is to seek the willing co-operation of selected householders.

In the Ombudsman's view, HES results have very substantial value to the community. First results of the present survey should be released in September.


Australian Statistician,

Canberra, ACT

The PRESIDENT —Order! So far as Senator Chaney's point of order is concerned, I must admit that this was a very badly worded question. I was waiting to hear the Minister's answer to see how it involved his portfolio. Obviously the survey was involved in his portfolio, but I would remind senators that when they are framing questions, they should ensure that those questions are framed better than the last one.

Senator WALSH —I was asked whether I had anything to add to the letter. Of course, it blows right out of the water the nonsense that Mr Cameron, amongst others, has been peddling for the last six or eight months. I believe that, as a result of this letter and other things, at least Mr Cameron and Senator Walters, and some of the other TSMs who have been cheer-chasing among their League of Rights squad on this issue for the last six or eight months, ought to apologise to the Statistician. Also, in view of the vast amount of misrepresentation, obfuscation, deception and fatuous rhetoric which this issue has generated, I think the letter that the Statistician wrote to Estimates Committee C ought also to be tabled. I have a copy of that letter, but I understand Senator Crowley, as the Chair of that Committee, will be tabling it before too long.