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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 12

Mr LEO McLEAY —My question is directed to the Minister for Finance and the Leader of the House. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the recent expansion to nearly 40 of the opposition's front bench to accommodate the opposition leader's new found friends? Will there be immediate cost increases to the government to accommodate the new shadow ministry? In light of the talented people on the government side, does the government intend to expand the ministry to equal the shadow ministry?

Mr BEAZLEY —It would be almost impossible to miss the size of the shadow ministry. Anybody looking down upon this place would start to refer to the opposition front bench as a sardine tin. There they are stewing quietly in their own juice in one another's laps.

  Bearing in mind the question asked by the honourable member for Watson, I shuddered the other day when the Leader of the Opposition called his shadow ministry together to tell them that he intended to issue punishment to them if there were any more acts of disloyalty. When similar sorts of threats have been made, the opposition front bench has expanded and people have been given additional tasks. There seems to be such an aversion to work in the parliamentary Liberal and National parties that the only way their members can actually be made to be loyal is not to threaten them with a sacking but threaten them with making them work and, therefore, additional positions are given to them. The back benches are the most deserted opposition back benches in history.

  If the government were to follow this example, the costs would be very considerable. I am advised that the additional ministry suites would cost some $1 million. The cost of providing ministerial offices in home states of those people would come to an extra $1.5 million. The cost of overseas travel would rise by a conservative—I do not know which officers in the Department of Finance came up with this particular figure but they are obviously not terribly well informed of some of the travel habits of some opposition members—half a million dollars a year. The extra ministers would incur an additional salary bill of some $340,000 a year and extra staff would rack up another $3.2 million, and that does not even take into account travel or other ministerial expenses associated with it.

  So what happens when those on the other side of the House are disloyal and what about the expense that would be imposed on taxpayers were they ever to be in office and confronted with this? If a minister were disloyal and not terribly effective, the defence portfolio would be added to that minister's responsibilities. That is a time-honoured tradition. Two tactical failures by a subordinate general and he is made chief strategist.

  Those opposite have had the situation of metaphorical megadeaths being created politically by the relevant shadow minister concerned. No doubt there is an inclination on the part of those opposite to make those metaphorical megadeaths real should they ever get into office.

  On the other hand, if a minister is simply disloyal and the question is whether or not that minister is particularly effective, then that minister gets offered the Finance portfolio. It is disappointing to me that such a judgment has been passed by the Leader of the Opposition; nevertheless he has done so in the case of honourable member for Higgins. If a minister is disloyal but is likely to be, at least in the parliamentary party, extremely effective, then that minister is offered the opportunity to shadow the entire government, particularly if the shadow portfolio can, in terms of its title, cover the National Party of Australia.

  We used to have a problem with one of the predecessors of the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser. He was never able to discipline the National Party. But the Leader of the Opposition has gone one better than he. He has come up slightly in the world. He has decided that he is going to share the problem of Senator Bishop around.

  When I was young, I spent a deal of time in India. This was at a time when there was a phenomena called `floor crossing' in the various state legislative assemblies around India, so much so that in the case of one state parliament, the premier of that state was obliged to provide ministerial offices for 50 per cent plus one of the members of the state parliament. Something similar to that clearly applies in the opposition. The last position in the order of precedence in that state assembly was deputy minister for silkworm production! I welcome back the right honourable member for New England.