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Tuesday, 7 September 1993
Page: 1085


Senator BOURNE (6.07 p.m.) —I believe the most important part of this first section of the inquiry, of which we have the report here this evening, is that which looks into the appropriate contemporary definition of ministerial responsibility. The first two hearings of this committee involved several former leaders, strategists, senior public servants, many academics and other experts in this field, if indeed we can say anybody is an expert in this field—although we feel that we are getting a bit closer now ourselves.

  Those hearings were quite fascinating. They were some of the most interesting I have ever been to. It was interesting that two points of view came out of them. Very substantially the first point of view—and I think it was the most prevalent—was that ministerial responsibility does exist. Only the Prime Minister—in fact really only the Queen—can take away somebody's ministerial responsibilities. But the Governor-General or the Governor, on behalf of the Queen, does that only on the advice of Prime Minister or the Premier.

  It does come down to whether the ministers themselves have the confidence of the Prime Minister of the day and of their own caucus. To a certain extent it does come down to whether they have the confidence of the parliament in which they find themselves and whether they are able to operate effectively in that parliament.

  The second point of view that we heard was that it was none of our business. A couple of people did not really know why they had bothered to come before us to give evidence. They were being generous to us, so they gave us the benefit of their wisdom. That was actually the lesser view. There were only a couple of people who said that and they were related by ties of loyalty. It is a legitimate view. We found the other point of view was far more prevalent. The other point of view is the one that we have reflected in our report.

  In the hearings involving the department I do not actually recall hearing or, indeed, reading anything which had not previously come to light in this chamber, in estimates, in Professor Pearce's reports or in the documents. I think there were about 2000 pages of documents that were tabled in this chamber.

  What that part of the inquiry came down to is this: the whole pay-TV process was a disaster. We all know that. The disaster started years ago with Aussat. It was magnified by the legislation that was forced on this country last year by the government and the opposition and which then had to be corrected. That correction involved an accumulation of omissions, mistakes and, most of all by far, unforeseen consequences. I must say that, in some cases, the Democrats did foresee those consequences, but people would not listen to us. Fortunately, they were forced to in the end.

  The minister has acknowledged his own and his officers' shortcomings in the tendering process. It now comes down to the vital question of whether the minister is able and willing to correct the problems which have been identified. A lot of problems have been identified and we want to see that they are corrected. That is what the second part of this report is about. I believe the second part of the report is vital to this whole inquiry. That is when we find out whether the minister has fulfilled his ministerial responsibilities in a mature and reasonable way.

  I do not want to take up much more of the Senate's time, but I must say that I am very disappointed with the dissenting report by Senator Alston and Senator Tierney. It does seem to me that mentioning the minister's size in this dissenting report is most unnecessarily personally offensive to the minister. I know the minister has a problem with his weight, but I do not think that needs to be put in a dissenting report. I have a very colourful turn of phrase on occasion, but I believe personal offensiveness in a report such as this is totally unnecessary. Not only is it totally unnecessary; it makes the dissenting report less credible than it could otherwise be. I recommend to any senators who are considering putting that sort of thing in any report that it just devalues their own report.

  Senator Tierney has used his favourite quote from Winston Churchill: `I didn't know; I wasn't told; I should have asked'. I prefer the quote from Yes, Minister myself. The minister is told he should have asked a question, and he says, `But I didn't have the information to ask that question. How am I supposed to know what questions to ask?'. Sir Humphrey says, `That's the secret, Minister. We have to make sure you never know what questions to ask'. That is just as easily done to any individual or group in this place as it is to a minister. We have to keep in mind that we are not alone in that, and neither is the minister.

  I am disappointed with this dissenting report. I do not believe that this inquiry allowed enough time—and this could be my fault too—for the opposition to adequately go through everything with the rest of us. The opposition was not interested in doing that, and that could have been a case of timing.

  We have the second part of the report to go. I am really looking forward to this one being taken absolutely seriously by all of us and being a conclusive report. I hope the second part will be something that we all can agree on and that we are all proud to have our names associated with, as is the majority report of this first half of the report on pay-TV tendering.