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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4418

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs)(3.31 p.m.) —by leave—Mr Deputy President, under the standing order you were referring me to, which is 191, I wish to clarify something for the benefit of Senator Faulkner—who still misunderstands what I have said, despite the fact I have said it three times. I will not take long to do this.

Mr Deputy President, you may or may not have been here yesterday. I think you were here during question time today. You may or may not have seen the letter I wrote to the Senate estimates committee. On each of those occasions I said the same thing.

Yes, my department made a mistake. They started with an actual family and made variations to it. I was given to believe that that was an actual family. It is true that, because of the actual means test, those sorts of people would now be deprived of Austudy. Senator Faulkner rightly pointed out that that test was introduced—

Senator Bob Collins —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order—

Senator VANSTONE —I am coming to it.

Senator Bob Collins —What standing order allows Senator Vanstone to get up on her hind legs and start talking?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Standing order 191 says:

A Senator who has spoken to a question may again be heard, to explain some material part of the Senator's speech which has been misquoted or misunderstood . . .

It is under standing order 191 that Senator Vanstone is speaking.

Senator VANSTONE —As I was saying, that is the context in which the department made the variations to what was an actual family. That is in the documents that have been tabled. They were certainly not intending to mislead at all but to give an example of the sorts of people who this test was meant to get. On realising that it was not an actual family, the department notified me and steps were taken to correct a number of errors.

I have come in on all those occasions and, in short form, have clearly indicated that whatever has happened has not been inten tional. There has been no intentional misleading on my part and, I frankly do not believe, on my department's part either—but that is for another day. I do believe I could get better service from my department in this particular area, but I do not believe that the public servant sitting with me on the occasions this matter has been referred to has deliberately misled me. I really do not believe that. Nonetheless, what I have tried to indicate—and that was in my speech I have just made—is that there is nothing intentional here.

Despite that, Senator Faulkner got up and said a minute ago that I am willing to depend on a fraud to make a fallacious point. What he is saying is that, if you are willing to depend on a fraud, it implies that you know it is a fraud.

That brings me to the point I made. I have not used the Wright family knowing it to be incorrect at all. Senator Faulkner further went on and said that I had fabricated an example. I think that might have been the first time that occasioned me to rise to my feet on a point of order and seek to correct him.

If Senator Faulkner did not understand me, let me repeat it in short form. The department has admitted the error that it made. It did not intend to mislead, and I did not intend to mislead. I have taken every opportunity since then to get the facts right. As late as last night, more facts arrived. Therefore, for Senator Faulkner to purport to make a speech on standards and to consistently pretend to misunderstand what I have said after having heard my explanations is a disgrace.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —In case I am accused of misleading the Senate, standing order 191 says:

A Senator who has spoken to a question may again be heard . . .

I am reminded that there was not a question before the chair, but I think the intention of standing order 191 could be taken into account in that way.