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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2251

Senator BUTTON (Tasmania) - I am grateful to Senator Durack for attributing the virtue of generosity to Senate Estimates Committee B and to myself. I am afraid that I cannot attribute the same virtue to him. Certainly I cannot attribute the virtue of diligence in reading our report because I think it quite inappropriate to attack- this seems to me a matter of logic- the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) about single line appropriations considered by Estimates Committee B which were in fact single line appropriations for another department altogether, namely, that of the Special Minister of State. That is where the Committee directed its criticism about single line appropriations and not to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I draw attention to 2 other matters raised by Senator Durack. In speaking to this report earlier I said that the Committee was concerned about the absence of officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs to answer specific questions relating to the United Nations and other international organisations and about our contributions to them. In that situation we asked the Minister whether those questions could be given written answers. Those answers which were sought by the Committee appear on page 9 of the appendices to this report. At that time every member of the Committee as it sat was satisfied that those written answers should be given. They were given and they were accepted by the Committee when it met this morning. So it is not a fair criticism of the Minister or of the Committee to say that those answers were effectively not given. They were given. Our criticism was made of the absence of officers on the day on which the Committee sat. Paragraph 5 of the report which deals with the matter of aid programs, states:

The Committee was concerned at the lack of any detailed report to the Parliament relating to Australia's aid projects and thanks the Minister for his assurance . . .

The context in which that arose was in answer to a set of questions from Senator Davidson. He asked a series of probing and thoughtful questions about Australia's aid program and the estimates for that program. But to say that the Committee by paragraph 5 of its report was doing anything more than saying that it would like further information on the matter- not at the Estimates Committee hearing, but in due course- is to draw something out of the paragraph of the report which cannot properly be drawn. In general I say about the report of Estimates Committee B simply that I believe that as a committee of the Senate we acted in good faith. As a senator one has a role to protect the interests of the Senate and to see that at all times as much information as possible is made available to estimates committees. But in acting in that degree of good faith, which I believe all members of the Committee did, we did not open ourselves to anything more than that. We did not open the Committee to the criticisms which have been raised here today on a purely party political basis.

Senator Durack - No one is criticising the Committee.

Senator BUTTON - Yes, the honourable senator was. What the Committee did was to put a forthright view about what happened at the hearing of the Estimates Committee on the first day. If we are to be blamed for the circumstances in which this matter arose, as I pointed out and if that is to be used as an attack on the Minister the Estimates committees will be deterred from doing that sort of thing in the future.

Senator Greenwood - It is the Minister's responsibility, is it not?

Senator BUTTON -The point I am trying to make which Senator Greenwood seems to have gravest difficulty in understanding- it might be my fault but I suspect it is the honourable senator'sis that nobody on the Committee raised the criticism in the way in which the honourable senator seeks to do.

Senator Greenwood - I read out only what is in the report. Why did not Senator Button change the report if he had a different attitude?

Senator BUTTON -Nobody in the Committee raised the question which the honourable senator now seeks to raise. Senator Carrick cannot but agree with me that when we met this morning there was unamimous acceptance of the answers which were given by the Department.

Senator Carrick - And of the report.

Senator BUTTON -And of the report. I do not back away from it. I was there for the whole time so I know what happened. The point which I simply make. is that if Senator Greenwood wants Estimates committees to present reports which are prejudiced by party political allegiences then, as I understand it, that cannot be the correct function of an Estimates committee.

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