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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 3373

Mr SNEDDEN - My question is directed to the Prime Minister. On 27 September in reply to a question which I had put on the notice paper the Prime Minister listed the interdepartmental committees on which were represented the 2 departments for which he was responsible at the time - that is, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Department. His Ministers have since refused to answer similar questions with respect to their departments despite his statement in this House on 7 November in which he said, in part:

It is only by knowing what departments are represented on committees which are considering certain subjects that the public and members of Parliament, above all, can ascertain what aspects a government considers relevant to the consideration of those matters which have been entrusted to the committees. That is my view .... I expect that Ministers will answer in the spirit of the answers which I have given to questions. I am not aware that they have not done so. I expect them to do so. I will see that they do so.

Will he give the appropriate instruction to his Ministers based on his clear assurance of 7 November, that they are to provide lists of interdepartmental committees in which their departments are involved?

Mr WHITLAM - Last week the right honourable gentleman asked me a question based on the assumption that my Ministers had not answered questions concerning interdepartmental committees in accordance with my instructions or undertakings. He has since placed questions on notice to many of them based on the same assumption. My Ministers and I have followed the practice of our predecessors in refusing to authorise the expenditure of time and money involved in answering questions seeking grab all, dragnet, generalised information on interdepartmental committees. They and I have, however, repudiated the practice of our predecessors in refusing to answer questions on specific interdepartmental committees. As I told the right honourable member at question time 8 weeks ago, and as my Ministers have since repeated in written answers to him, we shall provide information on the composition and function of any particular interdepartmental committee and for what period of time it has been active. I have consistently and promptly done so myself and I am sure my Ministers will do so.

I notice today that in an editorial the Financial Review' asserts that I had not given information in one of the answers to which the right honourable gentleman refers concerning the Standing Interdepartmental Comlar the editorial asserts that information on the. IDC only came out when dropped in Parliament by a Labor backbencher. The fact is that the Standing Interdepartmental Committee on Assistance to Industries was established by me in a letter to my colleagues dated 13 April last and it appears as appendix 5 to Sir John Crawford's report on a commission to advise on assistance to industries. All honourable members have had that report for close on 5 months. The Committee is listed in the answer which I gave to the right honourable gentleman on 27 September. It is the second of the committees which I listed. The right honourable gentleman followed up his question by seeking information, which I had promised to give, concerning the composition, function and time-table of certain interdepartmental committees - about half a dozen - which were among the 2 dozen or 30-odd which I had listed for him on 27 September. I forget now whether this particular committee was among those on which he sought information. I certainly would have given him the information, as I did with regard to all the committees about which he asked me, if in fact he had not asked me about this one.

Mr Snedden - Why will your Ministers not give the same information as you gave in answer to the question?

Mr WHITLAM - They are acting in accordance with the undertaking that I gave 8 weeks ago. If the honourable gentleman asks them about any specific committee they will give information, as I have. I quote here an instance where an interdepartmental committee is asserted to be a mystery. In fact information about it has been available to the Press and to all honourable members for at least 5 months. Yesterday, the right honourable gentleman asked me a question based on the assumption that in the early weeks of my Government - he left out 'in the early weeks of my Government' - I had sought a consolidated list of interdepartmtental committees or that I had been given such a list. I did not receive such a list and I find, as I thought was the case, that I had not requisitioned it.

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