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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1210

Mr STEELE HALL(8.23) —The presentation of the estimates for the Department of the Special Minister of State raises the question why the Department was set up at all. In the first few days and weeks of its operation it was indeed a mystery why the Government had set up this Special Minister of State organisation. The first description of it from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) in a Press release on 10 March, soon after the elction, under the heading 'Other Important Changes', was this:

The new portfolio of Special Minister of State, under Mr Young, who will also be Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the House, will take over electoral matters and police and protective services and certain other policy functions from the Department of Administrative Services, which will be a more clearly focussed 'common service' department. This change will also enable a greater concentration on important law enforcement responsibilities.

That was a rather mysterious explanation of its origins and its purpose. On 15 March, five days later, the new Minister in charge of that Department said on a radio program that his title sounded pretty impressive.

Mr Coleman —Who is he?

Mr STEELE HALL —That was Mr Young, who became the political agent of the Government for a short time while heading this Department. He was reported to have said that after languishing on the Opposition benches for seven years it was going to be rather refreshing to have something to do. He said:

To wake up each morning and think, well, I'm getting down to the business of doing something for Australia today-it's one hell of a change.

He found out what a hell of a change it was because he not only did something for Australia, he also did something for a friend who was a lobbyist. That landed him right out of the Department which he had been thrust into in the early days. Of course, it was difficult to find out what the Department was about because the Government was extremely secretive about it. In fact the Ministerial Directory was published only in August, and even that is inefficiently put together because it still shows Mr Young as the Minister, although he resigned back in July. The Commonwealth Government Directory this year is to be published in three volumes. We do not have it. It will contain descriptions of the functions of and services provided by various departments and authorities, but it may not be available until November. So we had to find out from practical experience, the test in politics, what the Department was all about. Of course, we found out, and we received confirmation in these estimates. Page 13 of the explanatory notes shows that the numbers employed in the Department are to be increased from 288 to 417. The explanation given to the Senate Estimates Committee for this was that most of the increase was due to a transfer of responsibilities for automatic data processing work from the Department of Administrative Services to this Department. That does not adequately explain the position at all, because we find from the questioning that took place in the Senate Estimates Committee that new appointees are envisaged to take up some of the increase in staff numbers in the Department. During questioning in the Estimates Committee Senator Durack asked:

Positions for six ministerial advisers to be attached to the staff of the Special Minister of State were advertised recently. Can you tell me something about those positions? What will the people appointed do? Will all six be appointed for one Minister?

The answer was this:

The Government has agreed that the Special Minister of State, in his capacity as Leader of the House, should be provided with additional resources in the Department to give him advice on matters which come to his attention as Leader of the House. Following Mr Young's resignation, arrangements have been made for the staffing of the executive projects units to be suspended so that there will not be positions in our Department unless the Special Minister of State is also the Leader of the House . . .

This matter is left in abeyance. We do not know whether these six new senior positions are to be filled because the ministerial vacancy has not yet been filled. When one goes further into the Senate's inquiries one finds a reference to that old subject of the Government Information Unit, now called the National Media Liaison Service. We could refer back to remarks made by Ministers about this subject, as the Minister for Aviation and Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley), who is at the table, well knows. I will be surprised if he had not joined his colleagues around Australia in criticising the previous Government for the numbers in the then Government Information Unit. Senator Button led this campaign, with the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) when in opposition. On 14 February this year a newspaper reported:

A Labor government would wind down the Government Information Unit, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator John Button, announced yesterday.

He amplified his remarks, as the Minister at the table well knows. I am sure that he, in his electoral work, presented to the Australian people the argument that the then Government Information Unit was a waste of public money and ought to be disbanded and got rid of. What do we find that our colleagues in the Senate discovered in their inquiry? The Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), in answer to a question, said:

May I give you a ministerial answer in respect of the nature and functions of those two respective organisations. The National Media Liaison Service comprises 23 positions.

How many did the old Government Information Unit have? It had 21 positions. The Government says that it is economising for the sake of the Australian public, yet here is one more deception practised on the Australian public, one clear deception added to the dozens of others that have permeated the whole political scene since this Government came to office. This is not something that it can say is beyond its control. It cannot look to overseas; it cannot look to the economy. All it can do is look to its own ranks and decisions and admit that, for political purposes, it has not only taken over the old GIU but it has also expanded it into two other areas in Australia-Darwin and Townsville. That was done, of course, to further its political ends. I was concerned to find that in June the Minister who was then in charge of this Department had entered into what can only be described as the role of a commissar.

Mr Milton —Ah!

Mr STEELE HALL —The honourable member should listen again. I remind him of an article published in the Canberra Times on 10 June headed ' ''Politically Sensitive'' cases for police to be screened'. The article states:

Commonwealth departments and agencies wanting police assistance on '' politically sensitive'' matters-

I reiterate 'on politically sensitive matters'-

have been told to make their requests through the office of the Special Minister of State, Mr Young.

. . . .

Mr Young said in his letter-

this is a letter to departmental heads. I emphasise what Mr Young said:

that all such requests should be raised with him in the first instance to ' ensure that a coherent and consistent approach is taken to the area of police activity, both from a law-enforcement and from a Government point of view'.

We then had a reaction from members of the Public Service. The article continues :

The instruction has caused consternation among officers of some public service departments, who have raised the possibility of direct political interference, or the appearance of it, in the conduct of investigations.

I could refer to other actions of the Minister. He used to rant all over Australia, talking about the Opposition, and talking about capital gains tax.

Mr Howard —He used to talk about corruption.

Mr STEELE HALL —Yes, I am reminded by the shadow Treasurer that one of the favourite themes of the Minister who resigned his position was to point to others and cry: 'Corruption'. He used to look around the chamber and say: ' Corruption'. Why did he leave the ministry? He left because on the eve of learning one of the most vital national security secrets in this country he sought out in a car park a friend-a long time friend of this Government-and a lobbyist to tell him a national secret. So it has been revealed that this Department is the political arm of government. It does not serve the public. It does not serve the Public Service. It serves Ministers not in the performance of their duties but in the performance of politics in Australia and the furtherance of the Labor Party's anticipation of political success in this country. It is a political arm of Labor and I resent it very much. I put to the new Special Minister of State (Mr Beazley) who, I suppose, holds this position temporarily, that he should take it up with the Prime Minister and reverse what Australia has not seen before.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired .