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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 440

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (3.10 p.m.) —I wish to explain why there is confusion in Senator Alston's mind. This conspiracy theory is an outrageous slur on Professor Pearce—hand-picked; two assumptions. It is disgraceful that Senator Alston is getting down to this level. Professor Pearce is an acknowledged Australian expert on administrative law. He is dean of the law school at the ANU and a former Commonwealth ombudsman. Senator Alston has put forward this extraordinary proposition that because I wrote a letter—I will go through it again; honourable senators should listen to this—saying, `Thank you for your letter of the seventh', it was impossible for Professor Pearce to have seen it.

  I can explain it. It was a trick letter. I will tell honourable senators what the trick was. This letter was designed to distinguish between idiots and cretins. Idiots could see the trick; cretins could not. I will take Senator Alston through it; this is the test. A letter arrives on 7 May—is he following this?—addressed to me, laying out the terms of reference of the inquiry. Has he got it? On Saturday a copy of this same letter—I still have mine—goes to Professor Pearce with a bundle of documents. Professor Pearce received that letter—I have explained all this twice and Senator Alston still did not get the trick, so it is pretty clear which category he is in—and reads the papers to determine whether he thinks that the terms of reference are appropriate.

  Saturday passes and I have still have my letter of 7 May. Sunday passes and I still have my letter of 7 May. Monday comes. Mr Evans telephones Professor Pearce—I still have my letter of 7 May—and says to Professor Pearce—

Senator Alston —This is appalling.

Senator COLLINS —It astonishes me; I have said this three times and Senator Alston cannot see it. I still have the same letter of 7 May; is Senator Alston following this? Mr Evans says to Professor Pearce, `Are you satisfied?'. Professor Pearce says, `Yes, I've read the papers. I think that the terms of reference are appropriate'. Okay?

  I still have the letter of 7 May. The phone rings. I pick it up. I answer the phone—I still have the same letter—and say, `Hello'. The caller says, `Minister?'. I say, `Yes, Mr Evans'. The letter does not move. He says, `I have spoken to Professor Pearce. He is satisfied that the terms of reference are appropriate'. I said, `Thank you'. He said, `Have you read the terms of reference?'. I said yes.

Senator Vanstone —I rise on a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. Under the relevant standing order you have the power to keep control of this place. I suggest that the little stunt that is now being engaged in is a piece of theatre that does nothing but demean the Senate. If you allow this to go on, you will have people bringing in cornflakes boxes and spilling them out on the table and God knows where we will go. We cannot have stunts in this place; he should be made to sit down or at least address the chamber seriously and not engage in some stupid stunt.

Senator COLLINS —That is pretty cute coming from someone who walked into the chamber with a bunch of pornographic videos. I will conclude, so that Senator Alston does not lose the drift. I then say to Mr Evans, `No, I do not want to change the terms of reference'. Mr Evans has already told me that Professor Pearce does not—and I still have the letter of 7 May. So there has been no change to this letter. I then write back and say, `Thank you for your letter of 7 May'. `After you have settled these matters with Professor Pearce'—this is when I am on the phone on the Monday—`I will approve it'.

  I cannot explain it any more simply than that. I am sorry that I did not ask the Secretary to my department to send me a fresh copy of the same letter on that day so that Senator Alston could work it out.

Senator Alston —I rise on a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. I ask that the Minister table his letter of 11 May and at the same time—

Senator COLLINS —It was tabled yesterday.

Senator Alston —Could he just put it on the desk in front of him and at the same time explain how he can possibly come to the conclusion he just has when the letter says, `Thank you for your letter of 7 May . . . following your discussions with Professor Pearce' when no discussions took place with Professor Pearce until the 8th?

Senator COLLINS —Mr Acting Deputy President, I have to make a confession. This is not actually the letter of 7 May; it is a prop. The letter has already been tabled in the House.