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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2201


Senator TROETH(10.54 a.m.) —I rise as a member of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. Much as Senator Cook attempted to dress up this motion as a genuine inquiry, the fact that it is being brought on in the last sitting week of this particular session with a reference to report back to the Senate on the first day of the budget sitting indicates that it simply would not be possible for a Senate committee to do justice to this inquiry, given the very wide-ranging terms of reference.

Senator Cook would be well aware that other senators will be engaged during the coming parliamentary break in other major references which have been designed to delay and frustrate government legislation, and that those references to other committees of other legislation are on such major planks of government policy as Telstra and IR. All senators will be very fully occupied in looking at those references in other committees.

Look at just one clause, (d), of Senator Cook's motion, `the impact on Australia's international relations in the Asia-Pacific region'. That would require a detailed and extensive Senate inquiry. It simply would not be possible for this committee to deal with that part of the reference alone in the very limited time frame that he has recommended.

Not only that, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee has had several major inquiries over recent times. When the Senate resumes, it will have to deal with a major inquiry concerning the `appropriateness and effectiveness of the Australian government's provision of consular assistance to Australians abroad'. That alone will be a major inquiry.

It is also very possible that Senator Cook does not want the committee to proceed at the moment with this inquiry which, doubtless, could bring a great deal of discredit to the actions of his former government. Perhaps that is why he has moved that the committee conduct this other inquiry into the DIFF scheme. The China report, which I understand the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee tabled this week, has been delayed through other reports, and the air links report, which is also due for completion, has occupied the committee to a great extent.

Considering the present workload, it would be difficult for the committee to handle a reference of such immensity. Very little notice was given of this reference, even though, as Senator Hill has already remarked, the knowledge of the government's action on the DIFF scheme has been well and truly flagged since before the election.

Senator Cook's last line in his speech summed it up when he said he intends to bring the minister to account. In other words, it is a `Get Alexander Downer' exercise rather than any genuine desire to look at the DIFF scheme as it has existed and the role that it should play in government.

Senator Cook thinks he can expand the four-minute answer, which I am sure he was given in a very satisfactory manner by Senator Short, to a full-scale inquiry. He wants to use that answer as part of the basis for his alleged inquiry because he was not satisfied with the answer given by Senator Short. So we move from the four-minute answer given by a minister in question time to a fully-fledged, full-scale inquiry into the DIFF scheme and only, probably, Senator Cook could do this.

I would emphasise that the committee is in no state to undertake this inquiry at the moment. It is a political stunt by Senator Cook to camouflage any further inquiries into his own government's mismanagement. It is a political exercise aimed at a particular minister, rather than a genuine exploration of policy.