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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2202


Senator COOK(10.59 a.m.) —in reply—There is not much for me to say in reply because not much has been put in reply to the motion that the inquiry should proceed. On that last point, however, raised by Senator Troeth of whether or not the committee can accommodate another inquiry given its current workload, I should advise the Senate that I approached the secretariat of the committee to ascertain its workload.

I believe that there is capacity to conduct this inquiry in the time available. Over the next seven weeks the Senate will not be sitting. While there are a number of inquiries being conducted by Senate committees, nonetheless I think there is scope within the foreign affairs, defence and trade committee for this inquiry to be conducted. In any case, this is a matter that one would have to be blind and deaf not to know is notorious. One would have to be blind and deaf not to know the degree of anger and frustration that is felt around Australia by industry, by those involved with helping developing countries and by media commentators and respected former diplomats, not to mention the foreign reaction that has been occasioned here.

If the government has some proposals, an inquiry of this nature is the obvious opportunity for the government to indicate the nature of those proposals. The fact that it has not indicated the nature of those proposals to this point but fobs off the protests on the basis that `We've got the matter under study' is not an answer which inspires any confidence that that study will produce a result which anyone will be mollified by. Therefore, I believe this inquiry will be of major public interest.

May I say two other things. An amendment to the terms of reference has been moved by Senator Bourne. I have no difficulty in accepting those terms of reference. But, looking at them on close inspection—and bearing in mind as well the remarks made by Senator Margetts about the importance of foreign aid and her view, as she expressed it in this chamber a moment ago, about the non-government organisations' view of the DIFF scheme—I think it is probably possible for those matters to be explored within the existing terms of reference. At the end of the day that will be a matter for the committee but I think it could be possible, under these terms, for those matters to be teased out further if that is the desire of the committee and of senators in this place.

I commend the motion and the proposed amendment to the Senate. I trust that the debate at least will have shifted government senators to the more reasonable view that, rather than resist the searchlight of a Senate committee of inquiry being imposed on this vexed area of public concern, the far better thing is to go along and conduct a full and frank inquiry as promptly and as quickly as we can so that all misconceptions and misunderstandings are removed, and hopefully a unanimous view can be taken about a valuable scheme such as this, how it is best run and the importance of retaining it. I commend the motion.

Amendment agreed to.

   Question put:    That the motion (Senators Cook's ), as amended, be agreed to.