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Thursday, 14 November 1974
Page: 2401

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Before assuming the mantle of upholder of the sovereign rights of the Senate and its committees Senator Greenwood might have been wiser to have checked his own credentials for this role. I would like to point out to him that the Senator Greenwood of the 1974 Estimates debate is in total head-on collision with the Senator Greenwood of a previous Estimates debate. He has totally misrepresented, as he did before the Estimates Committee, the debate which established the principle on which he seeks to rely today. We are becoming used to misrepresentation from Senator Greenwood. Last night he completely misrepresented what the Committee said on the matter of legal aid. In fact he used words which were in total conflict with what the Senate Committee was saying. I would like to refer Senator Greenwood to the 1971 Estimates Committee B discussion on the matter which gave rise to the enunciation of the principle about which we are talking today.

Senator Greenwood - I hope you will refer to the Senate debate also.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will indeed, and Senator Greenwood will get even less comfort from that. He will have to pardon me, having subjected the Senate to so much punishment in recent days, if I have to become a little tedious in pointing out his errors in this matter. In 1971 Estimates Committee B was considering the estimates of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Senator McAuliffe raised some question as to whether the Commission should supply information about tenders it had made or may have made to get the rights to televise rugby league over its networks. Senator Greenwood, rising to the defence of an ABC officer who was present and who was a little unwilling to provide this information, as reported at page 408 of the Hansard report of Senate Estimates Committee B of 1971, said:

Mr Chairman,I think that I and the officers of the Broadcasting Commission with me here have an understanding of the points on which Senator McAuliffe is seeking information, but I must inform the Committee that the areas which Senator McAuliffe is asking about are areas of business negotiation. The ABC is in competition with commercial television stations . . .

That point is not dissimilar to the one made by Mr Mollison - in areas where it wants a program. For this information to be made publicly available is possibly to prejudice the Commission's negotiating ability when it comes on a particular occasion to negotiate the rights.

This point was raised by Mr Mollison when he was asked to disclose his purchasing program. Senator Greenwood considers it unreasonable that Mr Mollison should withhold information from everybody in the world who might be in the market for the paintings on which Mr Mollison has his eye. On a previous occasion, as I am indicating now, Senator Greenwood was of a totally different view. He believed that it was eminently reasonable for the ABC to want to keep dark what it might have been offering for the right to televise rugby league, but that it was quite unreasonable for Mr Mollison to beg a similar indulgence from an estimates committee. Senator Greenwood said:

I think Mr Gifford is able to inform the Committee as to the total amount spent on obtaining sporting rights for television performances over the last year without the break-up. I will ask him to do so. But to get the other material I think is a matter of policy and judgment for the Commission and I am quite sure that the officers will certainly take back the interest of Senator McAuliffe. But I am not able to give any assurance, and I think the officers with me here are not able to give any assurance, that the Commission can provide this material. I think that when the Parliament gives to the

Broadcasting Commission the autonomy which it has, it gives it effectively.

Later Senator Greenwood said:

I think that in terms of confidential information being granted to Senator McAuliffe, there would be much opportunity for discussion to take place, but I think the considerations I have mentioned are relevant considerations in terms of the Broadcasting Commission's negotiating ability.

If Senator Greenwood experiences some difficulty in seeing the analogy that I am attempting to draw for him I think we should have a rather closer look at what happened before Estimates Committee A.

Senator Greenwood - Are you intending to refer to the Senate debate?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am indeed, Senator, in my own time. Senator Greenwood is not content only to occupy the whole time of the Senate; he wants to interrupt anybody else who attempts to get a little bit of air time. In my own time I will refer Senator Greenwood to that also, to his increasing discomfiture. Recently before Estimates Committee A, Mr Mollison raised much the same point that was raised by the ABC officer to whom I have referred. He said in effect: 'I will tell you if you insist but I would rather not tell you what my shopping list is for the pictures and objects of art covered by this item of $4.6m '. Mr Mollison said:

With respect, Mr Chairman and senators, I point out that this is a public forum and the proceedings of the Committee are a matter of public record. The disclosure of which of the many works of art on offer at the present time are known by us to be available or are known still to be privately owned and thought to be highly desirable could jeopardise negotiations for these works in the future. It might cause them to be withdrawn or the work otherwise placed beyond the resources or the reach of the national collection.

Senator Greenwood - Why do you not read on, because all he said was that he wanted to put it on paper?

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will attempt to conceal nothing if Senator Greenwood will give me time. Senator Jessop, who had asked the original question, expressed himself satisfied with the answer and said later on that he would not press the matter.

Senator Greenwood - You did not read the whole answer. That is the point.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Oh God! Senator Jessop said that he was not asking for any further details. When Senator Greenwood later dissented from my ruling that Mr Mollison would not have to give this information, the Committee went into private session and Senate Greenwood's dissent from my ruling was considered by the Committee. He was left like a shag on a rock. He was the only one; even his own colleagues would not support him so patently unrealistic was his stand.

I acknowledge that Mr Mollison said he would not mind giving the Committee the information in secret. I acknowledge that the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Murphy), who was in control of the evidence being given to the Committee, advised that in his view, even though Mr Mollison was prepared to give the information in secret, the information should not be given at all. On consideration, even though I had at first said I thought it desirable that we should be given it in secret, I ruled that although the Committee undoubtedly had the power in terms of the 1 97 1 resolution to compel Mr Mollison to give the information if it were of that mind, the Senate also had a discretion not to require him to give that information. This ruling was upheld by the Committee with Senator Greenwood the only dissentient.

Let us look at what Senator Greenwood is attempting to achieve. He is not attempting to enlarge the powers of the Senate or its Committees; he is seeking to limit them, because if our power in this regard is confined to the interpretation for which he contends, it means that where we have the power we are compelled to exercise it. Let us take this view to its logical conclusion. Suppose some honourable senator considering the defence estimates asked some departmental officer who came before a Committee for information of a highly confidential nature, the sort of information which might be considered to be of some advantage to potential enemies of this country. There is no question that under the resolution on which Senator Greenwood relies the Committee would have the power to compel an answer to that question, even if it were given in secret. We all know the limitations of secrecy in this place. We all know that once a bit of information is given anywhere in this Parliament it soon becomes public. Does Senator Greenwood mean to tell us that this Committee or the chairman of this Committee would not have a power to rule, subject to being overruled by the rest of the Committee or later by the Senate, that that information should not be given at all? It is not to limit the powers of the Committee or the Senate to say that it is to have this discretion; it is to give reality to such powers.

I suggest that the gross inconsistency between Senator Greenwood's attitudes when he was attempting to cover up and his present attitude is shown by the fact that now he believes that any exposure of facts or events, no matter how embarrassing, no matter how damaging to this country, is to be encouraged in the interest of an attack on this Government. He has asked me to quote what he said in a debate in the Senate when a Committee came back with a recommendation for the adoption of the principle on which he relies, that is, the power of Senate Committees to compel witnesses to give evidence. Senator Murphy moved the motion which had been embodied in the Committee's report, and, of course Senator Greenwood was not game to oppose it. Let us see how enthusiastic he was about adopting this proposal. As reported at page 2314 of the 1971 Senate Hansard, he said while giving a sort of mealy-mouthed appearance of support for the principle that had been put forward by Senator Murphy:

But the point is that if details are to be supplied for his interest -

That is, Senator McAuliffe 's interest - or for the interest of anybody else as to what moneys are paid to these other sporting bodies by the ABC for the opportunity of televising their programs, one could imagine that there would be an advantage for commercial television interests. The ABC would be required to negotiate completely out in the open. Of course it would always be at a disadvantage. Presumably, it would have to pay more than other persons. In these circumstances one can only suppose that the Opposition -

That is, Senator Murphy and senators who were then on the Opposition side - has no concern as to whether there ought not to be some confidentiality simply to protect the expenditure of public funds.

Could we translate that and say that in these circumstancesthat is, the circumstances of Mr Mollison 's case- one can only suppose that Senator Greenwood has 'no concern as to whether there ought not to be some confidentiality simply to protect the expenditure of public funds'? One may well ask that question. Speaking at least for myself, I am not left in any doubt as to the answer. I think we can say on a careful reading of the speech in the Senate which Senator Greenwood has been so insistent on my referring to, that he gave reluctant, equivocal and qualified support to the principle upon which he now relies. Of course he has in his own interests completely misread this principle. The principle is not that the Senate or a Senate Committee must on all occasions use its power to compel a witness to give information which it wants. There is no doubt about that power. There was no doubt that I ruled that the Committee had that power. The power was conceded by Senator Murphy but the Committee, which upheld my ruling, said that even though it had this power there must be occasions when it may use its discretion not to use that power. That is what we did in this case.

I am confident that the Committee did the right thing. In his dissent which is contained in the report of the Committee Senator Greenwood misrepresented the position once again when he said that on this occasion a discretion was exercised to protect a Minister who did not wish to provide information even though there was a willingness on the part of the person having custody of the information to provide the material in private session of the Committee. Are we to say the same about Senator Greenwood back in 1971? Did he want to withhold this information merely to protect himself? The curious double standard of Senator Greenwood in this matter stands exposed to the whole Senate. I do not think he has a feather to fly and the sooner he resiles from this position and forgets all about this incident the better it will be for his reputation.

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