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Thursday, 20 June 1996
Page: 1890

Senator CHAMARETTE —by leave—I would like to reply to Senator Short's implication that he had only six hours notice of this motion. I think that was very wrong of Senator Short because it implied on the public record that he was ignorant of this request and, therefore, it was unreasonable to fulfil it within six hours. I want to correct that.

As Senator Margetts said, there was an offer three weeks ago by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Hill) that, if we put on notice the questions we were asking in the committee stage of the supply bills, he would provide them to us within two weeks before the next sitting. I have been looking through the Hansard of that day and it may well be that Senator Hill gave that personal assurance to Senator Margetts—

Senator Short —Senator Gibson.

Senator CHAMARETTE —No, Senator Short, Senator Hill gave us an assurance. He may have done it personally but not on the record of the Hansard . I clarified it on the public record and I would like to read it to you. Senator Hill had said to us earlier:

We will do our best to provide the answer to that question.

He also said:

This is not the best way of handling the matter. Why not accept our offer to provide you with the detailed answers to your detailed questions and let us get on with the program?

Later on, I said to Senator Hill:

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 said:

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

Senator Hill indicated that we were setting up a process for which the government was not prepared. That is fine. He said:

With respect, the problem is that you have adopted a new process. We are not seeking to avoid answering your questions. What I am saying is that there is a more efficient way in which this can be done, a more productive way, a way in which you will get better information and a way which also will allow the parliament to get on with its very large program.

If this is the more efficient and better way—when departments which have information about how they will operate between 30 June and 20 August could not provide the information required within the two non-sitting weeks, when the Department of Finance could not provide the information required for another sitting week, when the information will not be completely provided until next Monday—unfortunately, Senator Hill has misled this entire parliament as to the way in which the government conducts its business. With respect, the information should be tabled in the parliament today with an apology since it was not tabled, as promised, before Monday of this week.