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Tuesday, 31 August 1993
Page: 666

Senator CRANE (4.15 p.m.) —I would like to join my colleagues Senator Baume and Senator Boswell in commenting on this issue. As estimates hearings will be continuing over the next two or three days, I wish to make only a couple of key points.

Senator Robert Ray —Give us a preview.

Senator CRANE —I will give Senator Ray a preview, all right. The first thing we need to recognise about AQIS is that it is the postage stamp for Australian agricultural exports. This is a very serious matter because, once again, its credibility has been significantly dented. The flow-on impact from that dented credibility has serious medium and long term ramifications for Australian producers and Australian produce. I certainly join with Senator Boswell and Senator Baume in urging the government to take immediate definitive action to clean out what has been going on in AQIS.

  There are many examples one can refer to. The Danish letters are a classic example. The intent of those letters was continually changed or their wording was pronounced as incorrect. The important point about this—as made by Senator Boswell—is that, as well as the damage it does to our exports, it is the farmers who pay the bills for these inefficiencies.

  My next point relates to the credibility of internal investigations, or the failure of internal investigations or, as Senator Boswell put it, Caesar judging Caesar. When these matters are raised in the future, I think it is absolutely imperative that they should be referred directly to the Auditor-General—and I congratulate him or his officers on this report and the recommendations contained within it. This report and, I think, the activities that have gone on in estimates over the last two or three years have proved quite conclusively that internal investigations, particularly in this area, just do not work and they whitewash the facts.

  The report states:

The ANAO did not support the findings of the Departmental officer that no misconduct had occurred in any of the cases examined.

It goes on to say that it is improbable that a court would agree to any action being taken. I am not suggesting that this matter should necessarily go to a court—although it could well do so—but I do believe it is up to the minister, the government and the people involved to clean out these people who have abused the privileges which exist for those who are employed in that operation. I particularly note the recommendations regarding management systems and doing business in a proper and efficient way.

  I conclude by saying it is absolutely crucial that the government now takes the action that is required, and that those officers who have abused the system and the privileges that they enjoy are replaced by people who will not abuse those privileges.