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Wednesday, 27 October 1993
Page: 2671

Senator HARRADINE (7.30 p.m.) —Let us compare our situation with that of the United States senators and congressmen. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why, in opposition, Senator Vanstone would oppose a proposal for a person holding office as a member of the parliament to be exempt from paying any such charge. I heard what Senator Vanstone said in her speech during the second reading stage. I was appalled that she was saying, `Yes, it is a cost to the taxpayer'.

  If those opposite take that view, we might as well abolish the parliament. This is a cost to the taxpayer, yes, but one of our main functions is to audit and control the actions of the executive government. How can we undertake that function if we are kept in ignorance—if individuals such as myself have to pay considerable amounts for freedom of information material? Not only do we have to pay considerable amounts for election campaigns but once having got here we would also have to pay considerable amounts for freedom of information requests. We cannot afford to do that and so we leave it to go by the board. Or we ask questions in estimates committee hearings and departmental officials make us fish in other pools. That is what happens.

  It may be that Senator Vanstone and the opposition see themselves in government at some stage and this might be an embarrassment to them. It might be too much of a problem for members of parliament to obtain freedom of information free of charge on behalf of their constituents. But we do not write off for freedom of information requests just for the hell of it.

Senator Vanstone —No-one suggests they did.

Senator HARRADINE —We do not write off for freedom of information requests capriciously, we consider these matters. We do not just ask for heaps of information from the government departments because all our files would be filled up—like mine are after so many years, so much so that I will have to move out of my office soon. However, every honourable member and senator has a responsibility to be fully informed. I believe, and I am quite convinced of this, that the financial impost on parliamentarians in obtaining information would considerably restrict us in exercising our audit and control function. I strongly support the amendment moved by Senator Margetts.

  Amendment negatived.

  Bill agreed to.

  Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.