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Tuesday, 29 October 1996
Page: 4678


Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(5.46 p.m.) —I have not followed the detail of the estimates committee hearings as closely as my colleague Senator Stott Despoja, with whom I have discussed this return to order. I think Senator Vanstone made a fairly cogent general case about the use of return to order, but when I look at the material that Senator Faulkner has presented today, it seems to me that the question is not first and foremost a matter of misleading but whether it is pertinent to statements you have been making, whether this advice is pertinent.

It seems to me that the advice is pertinent. It has been used and is being used. On the wider matter of the words of the motion which ask for advice relating to unemployment projections up to the year 2000, given that the whole future of employment-unemployment policy arising out of the budget is so important to this country, in the budget context the future of unemployment and this government's responses to unemployment, the framing of those responses and the advice that goes into the framing of those responses is really important.

I do not regard that as general fishing. I do think that the information the Democrats got on a return to order which Senator Hill complied with ultimately on Hinchinbrook gave us material that was so useful in the estimates process that I do not think it is sufficient to argue, `If you wait until Friday, you get another go at it.' I am not persuaded by that particular argument.

I am certainly not persuaded by the argument of market sensitivity and that there are things that the public does not have a right to know when it comes to commercial confidentiality. I think the issue of employment projections is an important one. On page 119 of Budget Paper No. 1 we have projections. On the page after that we have assumptions, four years out. It is no big deal. Treasury is worried about us doing this but it is no big deal in the budget, as long as you spell out the assumptions. At page 227 we have the actual forecasts and yes, of course, they are only one year out.

I think the wider question of the debate we can have on projections and forecasts, what that means for unemployment policy and what advice is being given to you by the department is a relevant matter for the Senate to discuss. I am not focusing on it, as I said earlier, from the point of view of the major emphasis being on misleading the Senate, but I do note that in your answer to Senator Carr on 23 September at the estimates committee you said:

. . . the government asked for advice on basically, if I can put it this way, `What would you have to do to get unemployment to five per cent?' That advice was offered.

Further over, Mr Hollway answered a question from Senator Carr which said:

Can we have a copy of that advice?

Mr Hollway said:

I would like to have a look at it and see whether I should provide it.

Quite clearly it exists.


Senator Vanstone —That is not denied.


Senator KERNOT —I know that is not denied, so I am taking it the next step: is it pertinent? You say it is not pertinent to your misleading of the Senate and that it should not be a fishing exercise, that this is not a licence to fish. I believe that it is pertinent to the wider debate about what the department is relying on in terms of future employment policy. I think that then goes back to you and your statement. So I am going backwards and saying—


Senator Vanstone —So you support a return to order because it is a general policy area. Is that the principle you are establishing?


Senator KERNOT —No. I am taking that first and going back and saying that that is then relevant to your statement. I am saying I would like to look at the advice and then go back to that other step. That is why I think we should consider this return to order. I am not moved by the arguments of the Treasurer (Mr Costello)—`We don't want to have to provide projections'—because the projections are in the budget. Treasury does this all the time. We all know that it is like reading chicken's entrails and we know that we can add in the implicit assumptions and we can draw the conclusions we want to draw. There is nothing wrong with being asked to provide that sort of advice, in my view.