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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 1554

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (3:04 PM) —I thank Senator Ronaldson for the question. I understand there are 23 questions asked of me and taken on notice. I think eight of them have been tabled in the last few days, but I will get Senator Ronaldson the complete list. Most of those that are outstanding relate to my representational responsibilities and/or are cross-portfolio, and traditionally cross-portfolio questions take a bit longer to respond to, given the number of officers that have to be coordinated. We are happy to provide answers as soon as possible. As I say, I think eight of the 23 have already been presented.

I note that, when Senator Ronaldson gets into high dudgeon about a question maybe having gone over 90 days from notice until it is answered, he should note that the average time taken to answer a question in the last parliament of the Howard government was 97 days. That was not the record; it was the average. This government is certainly not going to be lectured by Senator Ronaldson on performance in this area. The performance of the Howard government was appalling. In the last parliament, of the 3½ thousand questions on notice, 415 were never answered. So, if Senator Ronaldson wants to get us the answers to some of those, that would be helpful. I think two of those questions were placed on the Notice Paper on the first sitting day, so they remained unanswered for 1,103 days. It is important to put all this in the perspective of performance. I think there is one I am still waiting for from 2001. I am sure Senator Hill put it in the mail, but it seems to have gone astray!

I make it clear that the government takes seriously its responsibilities to answer questions on notice. You will find that our record is the best of any government in the last 20 years. We take our responsibilities seriously. We will get answers to the questions Senator Ronaldson has referred to. In my own case, about a third of them have already been tabled, but I will get him the precise details and dates of those—though they should be on the record. No doubt other ministers will do the same with any outstanding questions. For those ministers who have had to leave the chamber for other pressing engagements, Senator Ludwig has taken on board responsibility to respond on their behalf. You will get an answer, Senator Ronaldson, and Senator Ludwig, as Manager of Government Business in the Senate, will try to coordinate responses.

Senator Ronaldson —In response, and I am reading from page 496 of Odgers, a statement by a minister—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! You cannot respond, Senator Ronaldson. You can take note, but I understood that you had other ministers that you wanted to ask questions of.

Senator Ronaldson —I do, but what I am saying is that that is not an explanation. I am putting that on record.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —You can do that when you take note.

Senator Ronaldson —I can actually do it now, I think, Mr Deputy President, and then I will take note as agreed. Normally I would take note after each explanation. We have had some agreement about this, and I will not be doing that. I will do it at the end, as discussed with the Manager of Government Business in the Senate.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Then you should move to the next minister.