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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2757

Senator MARGETTS(10.47 a.m.) —I rise to speak briefly to this motion because I was amongst, as most non-government senators were, those people who helped draft the words to the inquiry into Telstra. The reason these words were carefully drafted was that there was concern that many of the problems the community had were not problems in the bill but were problems not mentioned in the bill. That was why it was necessary to carefully draft the reference so that the concerns about going a new step would be able to be dealt with in the inquiry.

Added to that was concern for the prospective witnesses to this inquiry. If people wanted to bring in those concerns about what was not mentioned in an inadequate bill, then they would be likely to be abused by government members of the committee. So for many reasons, including the lack of desire to have people face that kind of treatment, the various non-government senators looked carefully at the wording of the inquiry to make sure that the community had the chance to put those views about their concerns to the whole package and issue as widely as they could.

The problem is that we failed. We failed because, despite the ability or what should have been the ability of members of the Australian community to speak to various terms of reference without having to speak word for word on the bill, there were many witnesses who were abused during this inquiry. They were abused and intimidated. I would go as far as to say that those witnesses were bullied. I was ashamed to see that treatment.

People from the eastern states who were wishing to give evidence were contacting my office and saying, `I've been listening to the inquiry and I'm really quite concerned about giving evidence to the inquiry because I don't want to be treated that way.' We advised them to state very clearly that they were speaking to a particular term of reference and that they did not purport to be an expert in every aspect of the bill or in telecommunications, but that they had the right to speak to a term of reference. That did not stop them from being intimidated and abused.

I think this was a shameful way for the government senators involved to behave and I think it does no good at all. It probably means that they wish to restrict that kind of information from going on the public record. I would certainly like to say that the Senate has not heard the last of my concerns on this issue.

Question resolved in the affirmative.