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Friday, 31 May 1996
Page: 1545

Senator CHAMARETTE(12.49 p.m.) —I thank the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Hill). I think he has picked up the point that we have been trying to make. I appreciate his comments that we are doing nothing but fulfilling our responsibility in the Senate in asking these questions. We do agree that there is a waste of time involved in asking questions for which answers are not available.

I remind colleagues who may not be quite as understanding as the minister has been that, basically, we are being asked to pass a bill in this place. We are being asked to pass the supply bills. Presumably, we have a right to know what we are passing when we are passing them. If we do not have adequate information, there is no capacity to comment on or make amendments or requests to the legislation, or just simply to make known on the public record the community views on these issues.

One example I would like to give is that of the national agenda for women's grants program, which ends on 30 June. There has been total silence from the coalition government on this essential grants program. If funding for this program does not continue past 30 June, the 20 national women's organisations which are currently funded under this program have a big question mark over their future existence.  I believe these organisations have made requests to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women (Senator Newman) and have received no response other than that they must wait until after the budget in August.

We appreciate Senator Hill's comments, and those of Senator Short yesterday, that we will be given answers to our questions if we incorporate them. I agree to incorporate my questions; however, some of them are not in a form which would make them easy to incorporate. I hope that you will give me some leeway to type them up and send them to you. I would like to present the questions, which we would have asked in the committee stage in an informal way, more accurately for the departments.

I am very glad to see that you appreciate the problems the community faces concerning the period between 30 June and when you make your budget announcements. I was saying earlier that I feel some degree of sympathy for you for the new role you are taking on. I have a degree of criticism for and scepticism about the other opposition parties because I feel that this is not to be seen as the Greens holding the government to ransom in the Senate or obstructing. We are actually doing our job.

To pre-empt any of those unkind and unfair comments, I would like to place on the record that we perceive that this is the only appropriate venue for doing this. We are very glad for the offer of other ways in which to gain the information we require, but I remind the government that we are being asked to pass a bill without that information. I think that is what you are asking. Senator Hill might like to clarify that. While we do appreciate the offer to put questions on notice and get answers within the next two weeks, I think you are asking us to have faith that they will be provided and to pass the bills anyway, am I correct?

Senator Hill —Yes, because if you don't pass them, there will be no money for any of these programs.