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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 978

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave—Basically, the offers—as I refer to them—are unsatisfactory. There is no doubt about that. If the work had been done in accordance with the previous undertakings of the Minister for Transport and Communications (Senator Collins), the documents would have been tabled today—could have been tabled today—in accordance with the order that the Senate made yesterday. It is clear that that work was not done. One can only draw the conclusion, regrettably, that the Minister had no intention of meeting any of these earlier undertakings that he had given. It is the only interpretation that can be given; otherwise we would have seen the documents. It was our frustration in being constantly given undertakings that were not met that led us to seek the order of the Senate yesterday.

  It now seems that after the order of the Senate yesterday nothing was done to start preparation of the documents in any event. I know the Minister has been under a lot of pressure, and his department is under pressure, but I regard this matter as totally unsatisfactory. We are after the documents. Senator Evans has given certain undertakings on the basis that preparation will now commence. He has put to us a timetable that would enable the documents to be presented to the Senate on the basis that the preparation of those documents and the necessary checks be made from now. I do not think we have much alternative other than to accept that.

  In doing that, we express our grave concern. When Ministers give undertakings in this place we have a right to expect that they will stand by those undertakings. The effect otherwise is—

Senator Alston —The consent order.

Senator HILL —The consent order was only as a result of the Minister's failure to comply with his undertakings. It should have been unnecessary. The only time that we have sought orders in the past has been when a Minister has refused to give documents or agree to give documents. But day after day this Minister has given the undertaking, `Yes, the documents are coming; they are being gathered; they are being prepared'. It seems that was not the case at all and I find that very regrettable.

Senator Alston —The bulk of them were to be delivered on Tuesday, and the rest on Wednesday. Here we are; it is Thursday.

Senator HILL —That is correct. Even going beyond the documents that were specifically sought by yesterday's order, what about the documents that the Minister undertook to table in the Senate—that is, all documents that were provided to Professor Pearce for his assessment. Obviously, they are in a form in which they can be presented because they had to be first presented to Professor Pearce some week or so ago.

  I ask Senator Evans whether, in addition to the timetable that he has now put to the Senate for meeting yesterday's order of the Senate, the Minister will comply with his earlier undertaking—that he would table all documents that were produced to Professor Pearce, and upon which Professor Pearce considered and made his report—or is he intending to renege on that undertaking. We need to know whether or not we should seek an order to produce those documents as well. That process should not be necessary but unfortunately, in view of the history of this matter, it now seems to be necessary. So I would like to know whether we should regard as genuine the undertaking given by the Minister yesterday that those documents would be tabled and whether there is any reason why they cannot be tabled today.