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Wednesday, 23 April 1980
Page: 1789

Senator COLSTON (Queensland) -by leave- Mr President, I am extremely disappointed by the reply that you have put down here tonight. However, I point out that I note that after about four lines your written statement reads:

I have now been informed as follows:

I assume that the remainder of the statement represents advice that has been given to you. It is with that advice that I find much difficulty tonight.

I do not wish to canvass a great deal of what went on in this morning's Parliamentary Library Committee meeting. I do not want to break any of the confidentiality that we may have concerning its proceedings but it is important to say something about what happened. When we adjourned, at about 10.25 a.m., there was a feeling that we were getting somewhere; that we, as the Library Committee, the Presiding Officers and

Library staff members, were beginning to understand the problem. There was hope that in the near future matters would be righted.

There was a good deal of talk about what the problems were. I outlined that I thought that the Library was an integral part of this Parliament, one on which members depended greatly, but I also detailed some of the concerns. Other members of the Committee spoke of communication problems. I repeat that when we left the meeting most of us had the feeling that we were getting somewhere but tonight, when this statement was brought down, I felt that all that had been achieved this morning had been dashed. The statement incorporates, if I may so, some of the most disgraceful comments that I have seen in my four and a half years in this place. Let me just outline what I mean. In this statement brought down tonight, a person's character has been definitely blackened.

I do not mention this very often because I have bad memories of what happened. But I can remember this very thing happening to me in 1975 when my name was put before the Queensland Parliament as a nominee for a casual vacancy in the Senate. The things that were said about me then were scandalous. I sat in the gallery and had to listen to them, not once but twice, because on the first occasion the Parliament was adjourned and it resumed a week later. On two occasions I listened to the scandalous and totally untrue things said about me in that Parliament. So I have an idea of what this person feels like tonight.

It is possible that until a minute ago when the proceedings of the Senate ceased to be broadcast he might have been listening to the debate. I know what he feels. Let us look at what was said about him. The statement says:

2.   Mr Harrisclaimed in his memorandum that he resigned because he believed the Library administration had come between the staff of the Library and the Members of Parliament.

In the document that was circulated, that was quite so. In the reply that you brought down, Mr President, this statement was made:

That is not true. He resigned because he knew that there was a possibility that he would be charged for improper use of the Library's resources and for making a false statement on the matter to the Permanent Head of the Department.

This man's character has been blackened and he has no recourse. We have been told here, and the whole nation has been told- those people who were not listening to the broadcast of Senate proceedings tonight will be able to read about it in the Press tomorrow- that this person may have been charged with improper use of the Library's resources. We were not told what the improper use was. Senator Evans outlined what he had been told. Surely if it had gone that far the statement should have gone further and said what the matter was so that we could ascertain whether it was a major matter. From what I can understand, it was a minor matter. Senator Knight raised the question of how great was this possibility- was it a great possibility or was it a small possibility? Was this person in fact told that there was a possibility that he would be charged, and did he actually resign because of that? I find it amazing that we are told that there was a possibility that this man would be charged, and yet he remained on duty until today. If there was a possibility that he was to be charged, it is amazing that he remained on duty. If he was to be charged, and if there was an offence, that is condoning the offence. Let us have a look at one other aspect of the matter which I find particularly disappointing or, to use Senator Evans's word, scandalous. The second page of the statement says:

In fact the paper was never formally approved for release since it was unanimously agreed by the senior officers involved, including the director of the group, that it had not been competently prepared.

This statement is just as damaging to this man as the other statement that he might be charged because of an improper use of the Library's resources. His professional reputation has been dashed by this statement. How will Mr Harris face up to another employer in the future when a statement which has been brought before this Parliament says that his work had not been competently prepared? If there were worries about Mr Harris's work, about how competently he prepared his work and how well he did his job, surely Mr Harris should have been told. Surely that should not become public knowledge by being brought before this chamber and thus before the people of Australia.

What worries me is that a most complex situation is before us. Senator Knight said that there is a crisis in the Parliamentary Library. How true that is. But how do we resolve it? I have no intention of letting the matter lie in such a state that these things can be said about Mr Harris without his being allowed to put his point of view before honourable senators and, therefore, before the people of Australia. Senator Evans outlined one course of action which he thought should be taken. I do not know whether that course of action should be taken. But I and, I am sure, many other honourable senators would like to have the matter aired so that we can have the full story from each of the principal three people involved- Mr Weir, Mr Harris and Mr Dunn. I do not know whether this is a way out of the situation, but I firmly believe that each of those three people should be brought before the Senate so that we can ask questions of them and so that we can get the full facts about what has happened. I do not put that forward as a firm proposition at this stage. If those people were brought before us, I would hope that there would not be a witchhunt but that we would try to find the full facts. We continue to get contradictory statements on paper- statements which come from you, Mr President, on advice that you have been given, and which are circulated to us from other areas.

The only really satisfactory way of finding out what has happened is to bring those three people before the chamber and to allow them to put forward their stories. I hope that this possibility will be mulled over by each of us during the coming weekend. I will certainly mull it over and I might subsequently think it is not a good idea. On the other hand, I might firm my view that it is a good idea. But let us think about whether it is a possibility. I conclude by saying that my disappointment tonight arises from the fact that at 25 minutes past ten this morning we thought we were getting somewhere, but that as soon as I heard your statement read to the Senate, Mr President, I felt that all that had been achieved this morning had gone down the drain.

Senator MULVIHILL(New South Wales)by leave- I would like, as a member of the Library Committee, to supplement Senator Colston's remarks. There is no need for endless repetition at this time of the night, but when the original Harris memorandum surfaced, I, along with other honourable senators, asked you, Mr President, for an early meeting of the Library Committee. I am not egotistical enough to think that my request caused that meeting to happen because I think the rising crescendo of criticism made it inevitable. I simply say that most of us accept that our role on the Library Committee involves our being frank and that some of us have voiced elsewhere our private opinion that the matter should be grappled with. At 10.25 this morning I asked the Parliamentary Librarian, amongst other things, when we would receive the report on the consultative process that has been going on. The answer was: 'I think I would be right in saying virtually within a week'. I went away from the meeting feeling that, independent of the individuals, whether it be Mr Dunn or Mr Harris, we could consider that report and proceed from there.

Another weakness in this situation which stands out very forcibly is that it seems to have involved a battle of communiques. It was obvious, as is the case in many of the disputes in the trade union movement and elsewhere in which I have been involved, that this morning the members of the Library Committee met in a low key atmosphere to try to achieve some harmony and thus to overcome the problem. I thought that after this consultative report was published perhaps we could establish better ground rules.

Senator Evansreferred to the difficulties we faced if we accepted Senator Colston's suggestion of a Senate investigation or if we referred the matter back to the Library Committee. On reflection it is obvious that if the Librarian makes a submission, as he is entitled to do, and if other people are not there to put their point of view, we will have what I call a base line debate which will go on week after week. The Librarian has hinted at misdemeanours and, in turn, Senator Evans has filled in the gaps and told us what they were. They certainly seemed small time. Mr President I do not know whether you and your colleague, Mr Speaker, should convene another Library Committee meeting or whether you should take up the suggestion that the Senate be the forum before which the principals appear. But the stage we have reached now, where we have been given a prepared document, is futile. I have had experience in all sorts of disputes and unless people are face to face disputes will go on like a festering sore. I, Senator Colston, who is a fellow member of the Committee, and Senator Evans, accepted our responsibilities today at 10.25 a.m. We were not unaware of the implications in the document. I was prepared to wait. Senator Evans provided some additional advice that probably Mr Harris would have come back with further information.

I think that this matter will remain unsolved until the Library Committee- much less the Senate as a whole- is in a position to hear the contrary points of view and judge for itself the authenticity of the submissions that have been made, otherwise we will be deluged with papers. I agree with Senator Colston that the Library Committee has responsibilities. We do not want to deal with the matter at long range. We will want a confrontation with everyone in the same room or independently. Everyone, including honourable senators, should be involved. This matter cannot go on. We need a general formula for the future. I know there are factors, other than those which have been dealt with. I think it is a futile exercise if one person calls another person names and then one party is not there with our having a right to cross-examination in relation to what has been said. That is the thought I leave the Senate with tonight.

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