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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1498


Senator BOURNE (3.50 p.m.) —I move:

(1)That a select committee, to be known as the Select Committee on Matters Arising from Pay Television Tendering Processes, be appointed to inquire into and report upon the following matters:

(a)the extent to which the Minister for Transport and Communications discharged his ministerial responsibilities in relation to satellite and MDS tender processes, having particular regard to the appropriate contemporary definition of ministerial responsibility, and including any different responsibility which might attach to the role of a Minister during the caretaker period of an election; and

(b)the adequacy of action taken by the Minister and the Department of Transport and Communications to rectify any problems identified in the reports by Professor Dennis Pearce tabled in the Senate on 19 May 1993 and 26 May 1993 respectively, including but not limited to the following matters:

  (i)tendering arrangements for price-based licensing allocations;

  (ii)understanding of administrative and commercial law;

  (iii)proper management of documents, files and records; and

  (iv)public service accountability.

(2) (a)That the inquiry into the matters described in paragraph (1)(a) shall commence forthwith for report to the Senate by 2 September 1993.

    (b)That the inquiry into the matters described in paragraph (1)(b) shall commence on receipt of reports by the Minister for Transport and Communications and the Secretary of the Department of Transport and Communications on those matters, or on 6 September, whichever is the earlier, for report to the Senate by 25 November 1993.

(3)That the committee consist of six Senators, as follows:

  (a)three nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate;

  (b)two nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; and

  (c)one nominated by the Leader of the Australian Democrats.

(4)That the committee may proceed to the despatch of business notwithstanding that all members have not been duly nominated and appointed and notwithstanding any vacancy.

(5)   (a)That the chairman of the committee be appointed by and from the members of the committee;

  (b)That the deputy-chairman of the committee be appointed by and from the members of the committee immediately after the appointment of the chair;

  (c)That the deputy-chairman act as chairman when there is no chairman or the chairman is not present at a meeting; and

  (d)That in the event of the votes on any question before the committee being equally divided, the chairman, or the deputy-chairman when acting as chairman, have a casting vote.

(6)That a Senator who is not a member of the committee may participate in its public sessions and question witnesses, unless the committee orders otherwise, but shall not vote.

(7)That the quorum of the committee be three members.

(8)That the committee and any subcommittee have power to send for and examine persons and documents, to move from place to place, to sit in public or in private, notwithstanding any prorogation of the Parliament or dissolution of the House of Representatives.

(9)That the committee have power to appoint subcommittees consisting of three or more of its members, and to refer to any such subcommittee any of the matters which the committee is empowered to consider, and that the quorum of a subcommittee be a majority of the Senators appointed to the subcommittee.

(10)That the committee be provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee, with the approval of the President.

(11)That the committee be empowered to print from day to day such documents and evidence as may be ordered by it, and a daily Hansard be published of such proceedings as take place in public.

(12)That the committee may report from time to time its proceedings and evidence taken and any interim conclusions and recommendations arising from its inquiry, and may make regular reports on the progress of its proceedings.

I have negotiated these terms of reference with the Government and the Opposition and I believe that they are acceptable to both sides. This motion would establish a Senate select committee to inquire into matters arising from the pay TV tendering mess of the past few months. The Democrats have said all along that any Senate inquiry should deal with matters which had not been adequately processed by the two Pearce reports. The Pearce reports are thorough, well-considered and consistent with the mountains of documents tabled in the Senate. I believe that there are about 4,000 pages. We have read them all.

  The Democrats are satisfied that Professor Pearce has identified the problems, and there are many. They include: a lack of understanding of the law and its importance in policy development; an absence of clear guidelines for price-based licence allocation tenders; poor document handling; and sub-standard file management. Sections of the department and the Minister's office have a great deal of work to do to rectify those problems and implement public service accountability requirements.

  There is no point in the coalition's proposed inquiry, which it brought up last week, because we believe that it would go over the ground covered so adequately by Professor Pearce. We are very pleased that the coalition has agreed to the terms of reference we have now put forward. However, there is every point to an inquiry into questions which Professor Pearce was not required to answer, and in ensuring that thorough corrective action is taken by the Minister and his department. We need to ensure that, as far as possible, there is no recurrence in this department, or in any other, of this mess. In other words, we are not interested in re-inventing Professor Pearce's wheel. The problems have been identified; we now want to look at the solutions.

  The Opposition has highlighted the fact that Professor Pearce was not asked to comment on the doctrine of ministerial responsibility in the handling of pay TV licence tenders. It is quite clear that there is no agreed contemporary definition of ministerial responsibility. There is no agreement on where the line should be drawn between the responsibility of Ministers, their advisers and the senior officers of their departments.

  The first phase of our proposed two-stage inquiry would seek to define ministerial responsibility, and suggest where the lines of responsibility should be drawn. The first report should be tabled in the Senate by September this year. The second phase of the inquiry would start in September at the latest, and would examine the corrective action taken by the Minister and his department in response to the problems identified by Professor Pearce. This three-month delay is designed to give the Minister and his departmental head time to put solutions in place and report to Parliament on what they have done. The second phase would start once those reports were received, which could overlap with the first phase.

  To ensure that the second stage cannot be stalled, we have set a deadline of 6 September, after which the inquiry would proceed regardless. The Democrats' proposal for an inquiry is practical and sensible. It provides for continuing parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial and public service performance, without needlessly going over old ground. I commend this motion to the Senate.