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Thursday, 28 October 1993
Page: 2702


Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) —by leave—I need to clarify a few of the things that Senator Panizza has said. It is true that this matter has been the subject of constant negotiation. The Australian Democrats have no desire to shield any statutory authority from public scrutiny and we have no desire to treat ATSIC any differently from any other organisation. However, I think there are a couple of other facts that we ought to take into account.

  When I persuaded Senator Panizza to confine the terms of reference to Western Australia, and to give specific focus to the Auditor-General's report, that was in the spirit of improving the scope of the inquiry and it was acceptable to Senator Panizza and to the Democrats. Subsequent to that, I discovered that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs is required to look at all Auditor-General reports that deal with anything relating to Aboriginal affairs. Therefore, the matter that Senator Panizza has brought up as a term of reference is already to be investigated by the House of Representatives standing committee. I am not sure that insisting that finance and public administration persist with this inquiry is not duplicating something that already exists.

  The next thing I did was speak to the chair of that committee, Mr Garrie Gibson, and ask him whether there was any way in which he could take over the thrust of the terms of reference. He agreed that his committee would look at the details. He cannot take over the terms of reference word for word and the Senate cannot require that the House of Representatives committee do so. Because his committee is about to visit Western Australia, and because there are coalition members on that committee who can pursue Senator Panizza's questions, it seemed to me that we were being asked to agree to the expensive duplication of an inquiry. I do not think we should do that. My last suggestion to Senator Panizza was that we simply put down notice of a motion—drawing attention to his terms of reference—and request that the House of Representatives committee consider the issues raised in that notice of motion.

  It is not true to say that the FPA is urging us to refer this matter to it. That leads us back to these questions. Can it be done? Is it being done? Does it have to be done by this Senate committee? It does not have to be done by this Senate committee. We can achieve the same purpose by letting the House of Representatives standing committee continue with its inquiry and pursue this matter there. In fact, there are Western Australian coalition members on that committee who will be in a perfect position to raise the questions.

  I am not seeking to deny an inquiry but there is just one other thing. Senator Panizza has had a lot of correspondence; we all have. But we also have to be realistic enough to know that we are in the first stages of an ATSIC election campaign. The election will be held in December. I do not think it is right for us to let any individuals seek to use the processes of the Senate to assist them as candidates in an election campaign.

  I can only say to Senator Panizza that we cannot agree to duplicate expensive inquiry processes when we believe that the matter can be handled, and can be handled thoroughly, by an existing committee in the other place. That is not to give up our jurisdiction; it is simply to say that we should be sensible about these things. If Senator Panizza insists on pressing on at this moment, I regret that because we have not found a more cooperative resolution we will be forced to vote against it.