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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2309

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) -There are 3 matters to which I wish to refer. The first relates to the Auditor-General's part in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I wish to express my keen disappointment at noticing no reference in any Auditor-General's report to an item obviously deserving the attention of the Parliament- the payment to Chief Justice Kirby. I have referred to it previously. I wish to express my keen disappointment that the AuditorGeneral has not been able to furnish me with his opinion, in response to a letter which I addressed to him about 3 months ago, on the propriety of ministerial decisions which allow members of Parliament travel allowances additional to the parliamentary provision for electorate allowances. I consider that in those respects the Auditor-General is deserving of criticism. I think that we must ensure that the Auditor-General's report is complete and is based on proper principle. I make only passing reference to the fact that we have not yet had the report which Senator Cavanagh asked the AuditorGeneral to give about the turtle farms. I think that we should have had at least an interim report. It would be known that the Committee of the Whole would be considering the proposed expenditure for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs today. That report was requested, I think from memory, fully 6 weeks ago. At least an interim report, I think, from the parliamentary officer was due to this Committee.

Another matter which I wish to mention under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet relates to the appropriation for the Australian

Council for the Arts. In the course of the examination of the estimates it was revealed that part of that appropriation was being used to pay pensions to writers. Through the good offices of one of the officers of the Department of the Prime Minister I was able to learn that generally those pensions are of the order of $60 a week. Some of them are $6 or $9 a week. There is no rule about the pensions. I do not know how long they endure, whether they are payable at discretion or otherwise. I do not think that it was ever intended that this appropriation be used to pay pensions. If that is the intention, I suggest that we must have a formula or some rule with regard to it so that all writers will know that they are entitled to a pension if they fill certain requirements. I think that the expenditure has to be subject to a more thorough parliamentary scutiny that the scrutiny which can be given to an appropriation of $12,000 or $15,000. 1 forget the amount, but it is a minimal amount in comparison with the total Budget. Therefore, if that is to be the position, we want rules so that we can exercise responsibility but, more importantly, so that we can ensure equity. I point out that the pension payable by this country to a totally and permanently incapacitated soldier at the age of perhaps 30 years is less than $60 a week or, if it has been adjusted upwards recently, it is not many dollars in excess of that figure. I am one who stands for comparability according to merit.

The other matter that I wish to mention is the painting 'Blue Poles'. I do not wish to re-canvass what we discussed the other day. On that occasion I pointedly brought out that 2 questions were on the notice paper suggesting that a member of the Acquisitions Committee which advised the purchase of 'Blue Poles' had an interest in the agency gallery that got commission on the purchase. One question was answered in a devious way that avoided giving the information. The answer stated that the honourable senator who asked the question had given a wrong name to the Committee but it did not give any facts whatever as to whether a member of the Acquisitions Committee which authorised the purchase had a commercial or financial interest in the gallery agency that was paid $100,000, 1 think we were told, as commission. 1 believe that we should be assured that that position is without concern, that it is completely a matter of integrity, before this vote should be passed by a parliamentary committee.

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