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Thursday, 27 June 1996
Page: 2434

Senator SHORT (Assistant Treasurer)(6.45 p.m.) —I seek leave to make a brief statement in response to Senator Faulkner's comments, in particular.

Leave granted.

Senator SHORT —I do not wish to prolong the debate on this, but there are certain things that Senator Faulkner said that I cannot let go unnoticed. If anyone in this chamber has a record of failure and ministerial incompetence, it surely has to be the present Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and former failed minister for the environment. Senator Faulkner seems to think that verbal thuggery and foul loud-mouthedness in this chamber are going to cover his manifest intellectual and political incompetence. One of the things that Senator Faulkner did, once again, was to mislead the Senate on what I said. He quite—I will use the word—deliberately distorted—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Reynolds) —Minister, you cannot use the word `deliberately'.

Senator SHORT —He totally distorted what I said this morning. Senator Faulkner quoted a little of what I said this morning, but he did not quote the key words, because that did not suit his purpose. I said this morning—I am quoting from the Hansard pink:

The government will not be opposing this motion. In agreeing to it going forward, however, I want to make a few points. Firstly, I am well aware that even if the government did oppose the motion, the opposition has the numbers to put it through. Secondly—

and this is the point that Senator Faulkner did quote—

the government will do its best to comply with the undertaking to the maximum extent possible.

That is right. I did say that, but I then went on to say:

However, thirdly, the extent to which the government will be able to do this is still under consideration. We will approach it in a good spirit; but, given particularly the amount of documentation and so on, the extent that we will be able to comply is still under consideration.

That is what I said this morning. That was absolutely and totally clear, I would have thought. For Senator Faulkner now to accuse me, in the way that he did, of misleading the Senate in my remarks is quite reprehensible. The other point I want to make is that the impression one would get from the contributions of Senators Faulkner, Ray and Murphy was that we have said that we will not comply with the order. That is not what we have said, other than so far as the timing is concerned.

Senator Robert Ray —When will you, roughly?

Senator SHORT —What I said, Senator Ray, in my remarks this evening outlining the difficulties involved and the quantum of documentation—which you, I am pleased to note, acknowledged at least in part—was that, despite the quantum of documentation in volved and the timing difficulty in seeking and receiving responses from all those parties who have provided information, I could assure the Senate that we would table the documents requested by the Senate, immediately these issues have been resolved. I cannot put a particular date on that, because there is a huge amount of documentation involved.

There is also the question—as you quite rightly pointed out, Senator Ray—of getting a response from those who have made submissions and to whom we have written to see whether they are happy for the documentation to be provided. All of those things add up to making it quite impossible for us to put a compliance date on it. What I have said, and what I repeat again, is that I give the assurance that we will do that to the best of our speedy ability. As soon as those issues have been resolved, I will provide the documentation requested by the Senate—with the proviso, of course, that there is certain documentation which, for reasons of cabinet in confidence or the like, which is something that needs to be checked out—may not be provided, in accordance with longstanding precedents in this place.

I want to make it clear once again that Senator Faulkner has misrepresented what I have said. We are not saying that we are failing and refusing to comply with the order. We are pointing out, though, the considerable difficulties we have in meeting the timetable, and we will attempt to resolve that as soon as possible.