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Monday, 28 October 1996
Page: 4563


Senator CARR(3.27 p.m.) —This is a proposition that calls for the Senate to note Senator Vanstone's appalling array of answers today. This is predicated on a whole series of gaffes that she has made, fundamentally geared to the issue of the quest for truth. Of course, Senator Vanstone's quest for truth may never ever be achieved. She probably never will be able to find the holy grail that she seeks. The tangled web of fake families, bogus babies, advices from the secretary covered up, injudicious statements to the Senate and dorothy dixers have snared her in her own failures to actually be able to respond. If you cannot get it right in an answer to a dorothy dixer, then you probably will not be able to get it right as a minister. If you cannot correct the record as quickly as possible, then you should not be a minister. That is essentially what is at stake here.

The pattern of deceit and the pattern of fast and loose handling of the truth, of course, stems right back to the very beginning of this government. This minister, in a press release on 18 August, indicated this about her department:

. . . DEETYA has advised that at the time of the election, on information available to the previous government, unemployment in 2000 would have been between 6.8 and 7.3 per cent.

The minister quite clearly reinforced that view in an interview on Channel 10 on 25 August and in this chamber on 10 September. Of course, the department indicated its position very quickly, after the publication of these views, in an answer to a question that was posed by the opposition. Mr Hollway indicated to us that the department had written to the office of the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs to draw the attention of the office to the incorrect reporting in the Australian on 19 August 1996 which implied that the department had advised the former Labor government that a five per cent unemployment rate was unachievable.

That is quite clearly what the evidence was before the Senate estimates committee as well. The officials there quite clearly indicated that that was not the advice that they had given despite what the minister had said on three separate occasions. Dr Volker from DEETYA indicated this:

Dr Volker—Again, Senator, we provided a brief which outlined the assumptions which would be needed to get there.

Senator CARR—But it did indicate that it was achievable?

Dr Volker—If the assumptions were met.

This was said by Dr Volker on 23 September 1996. In the supplementary round on 23 October, Mr Grant, from the same section of the department, was asked by Senator Chris Evans:

In your view is there any way that such a conclusion could be fairly drawn from the advice given to the former minister, Mr Crean?

Mr Grant replied:

No, there is not.

There is no way a reasonable person could draw the conclusion that the department had advised her that the five per cent unemployment targets could be met. We see a similar pattern on 23 September in regard to the so-called Wright family. The minister had a big day on 23 September. She had already been down, before she arrived at the estimates committee, to an education conference at Darling Harbour in Sydney. In an address which was entitled `The quest for truth' she told a distinguished audience:

Unfortunately, this political scenario often means that the truth, the facts and the figures are lost. The headline, the grab and the spin take over from rational and informed debate. As a politician I can live with this. However, as a custodian of the nation's higher education system I am perplexed and concerned that important information about such a vital sector is distorted and ignored.

She went on to say:

The distortion of information carried to the voters distorts and damages the democratic process.

That is precisely what she has done with the Wright family. She indicated quite clearly that she has in fact misled this chamber. Some pretty important issues arise from this. It strikes me, from one of the biggest and most important government departments in this country, that such poorly constructed and consequently useless information could in fact be produced. How could that information find its way to the minister and into the Senate? The other important issue is: why did the minister take so long to correct her answer, quite clearly in breach of the ministerial guidelines that her Prime Minister has set down?

I repeat: Senator Vanstone's quest for the truth may never ever be achieved. She will probably never be able to meet the criteria and the standards set down in terms of reasonable ministerial behaviour. As a consequence, she ought perhaps now consider her position and resign. (Time expired)