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Wednesday, 24 November 1993
Page: 3553

Senator McMULLAN (Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services) (3.31 p.m.) —I did not expect this debate now. I assumed that Senator Patterson would read the documents and if she was not satisfied and wished to speak about them she would come back. I would have been happy to have the debate then and it would have been a better debate. Nevertheless, that is not a problem because she has the right to raise the matter now.

  I want to make it clear that I think the wording of the documents I gave to Senator Patterson make the situation clear. They were certainly meant to. I tabled my copy, so I do not have a copy with me. I am sure the documents make it clear.

  I am not arguing that the Senate cannot request information that conflicts with the privacy principles of that legislation. I am simply saying that that is a very serious thing to do. If we can meet the reasonable information requests of senators without doing that, we should. I think I can give Senator Patterson that information in an alternative manner without literally conforming to her request.

  We often have to balance competing principles. That is what I have sought to do on this occasion. I think it is extraordinary that anybody would be surprised that a minister is involved in the selection of a government committee. How do those opposite think they get there? By osmosis.

Senator Patterson —The whole committee?

Senator McMULLAN —The whole committee is always appointed by the minister.

Senator Patterson —One person?

Senator McMullan —They are appointed by cabinet on the recommendation of the minister. The committees are now appointed by cabinet on my recommendation. That is the only way they get there. The people who serve on those committees have taken significant offence at what has been said. I am not going to disclose the content of private correspondence to others because that is not for me to do. Although, if it becomes necessary, I will do so.

  Mr Bryson, a member of the committee, has in a letter to the Age taken great exception to Senator Patterson's suggestion of a Keating influence over the awarding of the fellowship to Geoffrey Tozer. He says the suggestion that Mr Keating influenced the decision is a furphy and that the award was given on merit. He said some things about Senator Patterson that were very unkind. I will not mention those.

Senator Patterson —About all politicians.

Senator McMULLAN —He gives Senator Patterson a special mention. He says:

The AACF panel does it tough and straight. It toadies to no Keating, no Patterson, no one.

  The other panellists may make their own replies, but I wonder how long committees like it could carry on under this senator and those with the stomach to work with her . . .

He is making his point very clear.

Senator Herron —What else did he say?

Senator McMULLAN —I will read the whole lot, if Senator Herron likes.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator McMullan, The fact that you are reading a document which reflects upon a senator does not move outside the standing orders which forbid reflections on senators.

Senator McMULLAN —Mr Deputy President, I do not think in this instance that that would breach standing orders, but I thank you for drawing it to my attention. We have to be very careful in this place. A lot of people keep leaping up and taking exception to things being said about them, but they feel free to say things about other people. I think we operate an amazing double standard in this place in terms of demanding withdrawal of things—

Senator Kemp —Your own side is worse.

Senator McMULLAN —I think the whole Senate needs to consider its position about how sensitive we are about what is said about ourselves and what we feel free to say about others.

Senator Patterson —You know me, Bob. I have thought about it very carefully.

Senator McMULLAN —I am not necessarily referring to Senator Patterson in this instance. It is a statement that I have made before, as honourable senators know. I am not making it just with regard to this matter, and I will not take time diverting to it for long because it is a debate that we have had before. I think things said about ourselves that we seek to have withdrawn are ridiculous when one looks at it in relation to the things we feel free to say about others. That is not directed particularly at Senator Patterson; it is directed at the 76 of us.

Senator Kemp —Get back to the issue.

Senator McMULLAN —I happen to think that is an important point, but I will not take a lot of time on it. I repeat it on every occasion. I think we should take it into account.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I take it, Senator McMullan, that you are not canvassing my ruling.

Senator McMULLAN —Far be it! I accept that it is undoubtedly correct. I was only trying to make a different point. The President's rulings, in all these matters about what should be withdrawn, are consistent with the tradition of rulings in this place. Until the Senate changes its practice, the President has to continue to enforce those precedents; he has no choice. I am not reflecting on his rulings. I acknowledge that they are correctly interpreting the precedents of the Senate. I just think we should change our attitude with regard to it.

  The debate about the substance of this will come subsequently, either if Senator Patterson is not satisfied with the documents or if she is satisfied with the documents but wants to pursue issues of substance that arise from them. I will be very happy to debate issues of substance because I believe that creative fellowships are regarded overwhelmingly as an important initiative.

  There is a lot of concern. People say that these people are paid too much and big figures are thrown about. Let us make it very clear. Nobody on a fellowship receives as much taxpayers' money as any senator in here. Every senator is paid more by the taxpayer than everybody on these fellowships. Let us not be too pious about the amounts of money—

Senator Short —What has that got to do with it?

Senator McMULLAN —I am simply saying that $325,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it is—

Senator Kemp —Bob, could you get on to the topic?

Senator McMULLAN —It is exactly the topic.

Senator Short —It is absolutely irrelevant.

Senator McMULLAN —It is not. People are entitled to make assessments about whether this is a lot of money. I am simply making a comparison. The people making the allegations about how much money this is get paid more than the people about whom the allegations are made. I think that is relevant. I think the documents will show that the process by which people are appointed was on this occasion absolutely orthodox; it is by ministerial recommendation and cabinet decision. I am happy, as I say, to debate the standards.

  It is long overdue that we had a scheme like these fellowships that enable Australia to give proper recognition to its outstanding artists. I am very pleased that it was introduced and that proper processes, which the documents indicate, were undertaken on this occasion. Mr Bryson and others—but I refer only to him because he is on the public record—made it absolutely clear that they are offended by the reflection that they did not pursue that proper process.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.