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Wednesday, 16 August 1989
Page: 190

Senator MICHAEL BAUME(6.38) —Although I have not seen the report, which has come down only now, may I say that it is refreshing-I say this as a critic of the Government and various departments in their normally slow way in reporting to this Parliament-that on this occasion the Department of the Senate is presenting early in August its annual report for the year that ended only in June and where credit is due, I think it should be given. I must say there are some matters I would have liked to have raised about this report had I had the opportunity to see it and I hope that it will come forward for discussion at a later time.

I want to draw to the attention of the Senate the fact that the Senate and the Department of the Senate are consistently under threat of attack by this Government, certainly by way of funding, and that unless there is adequate funding of this House of review the process of government is at some risk. In this context I am very disturbed to note some correspondence from the Minister for Administrative Services in which there has been a discriminatory decision in favour of members of the House of Representatives relating to their postage allowance.

I hope, Mr President, that you will be able to take some action about this. It is extraordinary to me that members of the House of Representatives are to have their postage allowance more than trebled to $30,000 a year which will enable Government members, for example, particularly in marginal seats to conduct very extensive direct mail campaigns to secure those seats while Opposition senators will be prevented from exercising exactly the same sort of right in response. I believe it is an absolute disgrace and another deliberate attempt by the Government to diminish the capacity of this chamber to conduct its affairs properly. I hope that this matter will be looked into very seriously by you, Mr President, and by the chamber and taken up with the Government. It is yet another example of this Government treating this chamber and its members with contempt. It is totally undemocratic to give this absurd benefit to Government members in borderline seats to prevent senators such as me from conducting our very proper contact with as many residents of the areas that we seek to provide alternative representation for, particularly in a region such as mine, which unfortunately has seven Labor representatives blanketing it. Those people are being denied the sort of access to and relationship with a senator that they should have.

Labor members are being given additional points of contact in what I believe is an utterly disgraceful, discriminatory and politically self-serving way from a government which continually seeks to denigrate this chamber because in fact it stands in the way of this Government by providing the only safeguard against its exercising the sort of arrogance and power that it displays in the House of Representatives when it gags vital bits of legislation late at night and thus denies the opportunity for proper debate. As we noted from the annual report of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet just a few minutes ago, this chamber sits on many more occasions-41 per cent more-than the House of Representatives sits. As a result, there is a greater burden on this chamber and on its members and their staff than, I submit, there is on the House of Representatives. Yet you see a Minister-the Minister for Administrative Services (Mr West)-in a discriminatory way aiding his marginal seat holders.

We all know that the Labor Party is at present engaged in a new lot of direct mail initiatives which require a very large volume of stamps. Those direct mail initiatives are politically oriented election initiatives. They are aimed at inundating the people of Australia with direct mail material. Yet this Government is deliberately setting out to deny the same sort of access to mail to members of the Senate so that they can counter this insidious campaign. I believe it is grossly improper.

I wish I had had the opportunity of seeing the report of the Department of the Senate, but I say in conclusion that this unfair approach to senators is not something that we should take lightly. There have been consistent attempts in the past by the Government to freeze and limit the expenditure on this chamber; in other words, to limit its capacity to examine matters of enormous moment. Its committees have been threatened with reductions of funding. Its capacity to examine many items has been limited. I would say to the people of Australia that they must recognise that the Senate is the only thing that stood between them and such undemocratic matters as the Australia Card, the Bill of Rights, and you name it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Baume, you are addressing the Department of the Senate's annual report. There is a matter of relevance.

Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I thank the President for reminding me of the relevance. I am saying that the annual report of the Department of the Senate in fact indicates the expenditure, the budget and the activities of the Senate. I am just saying how vital these are and how under threat they are from this Government. I am glad you mentioned relevance, Mr President, because it seems to me that this is absolutely central to the functioning of the Senate. Whether the annual report which deals with its activities in fact mentions these matters, I am not certain; but if it did not mention them, Mr President, perhaps it should. It is the functioning of this Senate which is the guarantee of democracy, particularly when we have an authoritarian and dictatorial Prime Minister like the one who, in the other place, rammed through vital legislation. I think the Bill of Rights legislation was rammed through in one night, as I recall it, and gagged so that there was inadequate debate. What we have seen today is simply another example of the contemptuous way in which the Government deals with the Senate.