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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 425

Senator ALSTON —My question is directed to the Minister for Transport and Communications. I refer to the Minister's letter dated 11 May which he tabled yesterday. Is it a fact that it claims that the secretary to the Minister's department had had discussions with Professor Pearce about the pay television tender inquiry's terms of reference prior to 7 May? Is it not the case that in fact Professor Pearce was not approached about the inquiry until 8 May?

Senator Cook —This is devastating stuff.

Senator COLLINS —It really is desperate stuff. If Senator Alston had put this question to me last night during about six hours of Senate estimates committees, the proceedings of which had nothing to do with the supplementary estimates, I would have answered him. Senator Alston should stop looking for conspiracy theories. The only bad faith in this debate is on the Opposition side of this chamber.

Senator Walters —Why don't you answer the question?

Senator COLLINS —Why don't you go back to Tasmania, Shirley? I am counting the days. There are, what, nine to go?

Senator Faulkner —Eight.

Senator COLLINS —Eight? The situation is that Mr Evans sent a copy of the draft terms of reference to me on Friday, 7 May. The corporate management division of DOTAC was also provided with draft terms of reference by Mr Evans. Consultation on those draft terms of reference was held with the department of the Attorney-General. Following this consultation with the Attorney-General's Department, a copy of the draft terms of reference and a large number of documents relating to this issue were sent to Professor Pearce on Saturday morning.

Senator Alston —When?

Senator COLLINS —Let me answer. On Saturday morning—

Senator Ian Macdonald —That is the eighth.

Senator COLLINS —It can count too. Professor Pearce has to do a great deal of work in a very short time. I understand that that is well under way. He has already spoken to quite a number of departmental officers. The draft terms of reference were given to him on Saturday morning with a large number of documents, I am told—several large boxes—relating to this issue. The reason for that was so that over the weekend Professor Pearce could read the paper, get across the paperwork, and determine whether in his view the terms of reference were appropriate to the inquiry—a perfectly reasonable thing to do, I would have thought. On Monday morning the secretary to the department contacted him and asked him for his view. Professor Pearce said that in his view the terms of reference were appropriate to the inquiry and he did not wish to make any amendments to them.

  I was given those draft terms of reference as well. I was told by Mr Evans that Professor Pearce did find them appropriate and did not want to make changes to them. I said that that was my view also and that they did not require amendment. I found it interesting to get the questions in the Senate estimates committee last night because I was referring to the terms of reference as the questions were being asked. I was not asked a single question on this central issue last night that was not covered by one of those terms of reference.

Senator ALSTON —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. The Minister has just confirmed that Professor Pearce—

Senator Cook —What is your question?

Senator ALSTON —Don't be a clown all your life. The Minister has just confirmed that Professor Pearce was not given the documentation until 8 May. I therefore ask why the Minister's letter said:

Thank you for your letter of 7 May in which you provided draft terms of reference for the inquiry following your discussions with Professor Pearce.

Is that not manifestly untrue, in the same way that the Minister said in the Parliament on 10 May that he did not draw up the terms of reference; that Professor Pearce did? Is the fact of the matter that the Minister is simply prepared to say or do anything to get himself off the hook?

Senator COLLINS —Why would Mr Evans need to send me a second letter when there was absolutely no change to the terms of reference? I will go through it slowly for Senator Alston. I got a letter on Friday, 7 May. Here is the letter. It has the terms of reference on it. So I have the letter and it has the terms of reference on it. The terms of reference were then given to Professor Pearce on the Saturday, with a big pile of documents. I have still got the letter of 7 May with the terms of reference. This is my letter. Professor Pearce reads all the documents, looks at the terms of reference, decides they are appropriate—and I still have the letter; it is still there.

  Senator Alston and Senator Faulkner interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Alston! Senator Faulkner!

Senator COLLINS —I am doing all right, John.

The PRESIDENT —Well, you are not, because your time has expired.