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Tuesday, 30 September 1997
Page: 8748


Mr BRERETON —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to my unanswered question to him last Thursday and the 47 instances of travel allowance subsequently repaid by the former—


Mr Howard —Would you mind starting again.


Mr BRERETON —I refer the Prime Minister to my unanswered question to him last Thursday and the 47 instances of travel allowance subsequently repaid by the former Minister for Transport and Regional Development. Prime Minister, were no fewer than 30 of these false TA claims submitted for payment during the last week of June 1996? Didn't these include alleged stays in Canberra on both the Thursday and the Sunday immediately preceding the lodging of the claim? How can the government suggest that the former minister's behaviour involved mere oversight on his part? Prime Minister, now that you have been fully briefed on his behaviour, why have you referred this matter only to the Auditor-General and not to the Attorney-General for appropriate police investigation?


Mr HOWARD —How you can be so lucky! You are prepared to sit on the front bench with two perverters of the course of justice in relation to Mal Colston. You are prepared to sit on the front bench with those two. You were prepared to sit in a government that exhibited the most deplorable ministerial standard, and you were a member of a New South Wales government that also exhibited the most deplorable ministerial standard, and you were the arch-ringleader of those deplorable standards. You were regarded as a disgraceful minister of that government and you earned an absolutely unenviable reputation.

In relation to the former minister for transport, he has resigned. The claims of the former minister for transport in relation to travel allowance are now the subject of examination in a most detailed way by the Auditor-General of the Commonwealth—a person that was appointed by the former Labor government. That is a measure of accountability, that is a measure of examination, that is a measure of transparency that you could not even dream about. The last person on the front bench opposite who can ask questions about ministerial probity is the shadow minister for foreign affairs. You were prepared to sit and endorse all of the actions that were taken by the other ministers.

The question asked by the member for Kingsford-Smith gives me the opportunity to supplement an answer that was given by the Acting Minister for Administrative Services to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition. It concerned a person who has worked for the Liberal Party in earlier years—and I am very proud to say that—Mr Vincent Woolcock. I am proud to acknowledge the enormous contribution that Vincent has made to the Liberal Party of Australia over a long period of time.

I have had the opportunity of investigating the question that was asked by the Leader of the Opposition. I have been informed by the federal director of the Liberal Party that the situation is as follows: Mr Woolcock has gone on leave without pay from the ministerial unit—


Mr Beazley —Ha, ha!


Mr HOWARD —Hang on, it gets even better, Kim. He travelled to South Australia at private expense and all salary and costs in relation to his work in the South Australian election campaign are being borne by the South Australian division of the Liberal Party. That is the situation.

Now let me take the opportunity of contrasting that with the disgraceful behaviour of my opposite number, the Leader of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has to explain to the Australian people how he has allowed a member of his staff, apparently outside of entitlement, to use a privately plated, self-hired motor vehicle for 22 days during an election campaign when plainly that staff member has not been engaged on the official business of the Leader of the Opposition.

We have a clear-cut difference in standards: you have Woolcock who is working in the Government Members Secretariat and who, according to my information, has gone on leave without pay and the lady in question in your office who did not go on leave without pay. She continued to be paid by the taxpayer, even though, through the duration of that 22-day period, she was not working for you but working for the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party.

That is whom she was working for, and everybody in this parliament knows that. What Vincent has done and what we have done, according to my advice from the federal director of the party, is absolutely the right thing. He has gone on leave without pay, and all the expense involved is being borne—as it should be—by the South Australian division of the Liberal Party.

I also inform the House that I have been told by my Principal Private Secretary, Mr Nutt, who at the time of the Lindsay by-election—the very successful time of the Lindsay by-election—was the state director of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party, that there was at least one person who worked in the Government Members Secretariat here in Canberra who worked in that by-election campaign, but that person also took leave without pay from the Government Members Secretariat and that person's salary was paid by the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party.

Once again, you have a comparison of a standard up here from the Liberal Party and a standard down here from the Australian Labor Party. Over the last few weeks we have had a demonstration of vitriol and hypocrisy from those who sit on the front bench. We have had the arch-muckraker from Hotham, who was momentarily silenced yesterday because he was apparently getting a bit too much publicity, but he is up again today. We have got the member for Kingsford-Smith trying to put his hobnail boots into the former minister for transport—


Mr Tanner —Are you going to answer the question?


Mr HOWARD —despite the fact that the former minister for transport resigned—


Mr Tanner —And he lied.


Mr HOWARD —despite the fact that the matter is being examined by the Auditor-General, and any decent man or woman in this parliament—


Mr SPEAKER —Prime Minister, will you resume your seat for a moment, please? I invoke standing order 304A in respect of the member for Melbourne. He will remove himself from the chamber forthwith.

The honourable member for Melbourne thereupon withdrew from the chamber.


Mr HOWARD —The former minister has resigned. The former minister's travel claims are now being subjected to an examination by the Auditor-General of the Commonwealth. In the teeth of that, nonetheless, the Leader of the Opposition, who is ultimately responsible for the behaviour of those who sit with him— while he allows them to sit on the front bench he is ultimately responsible for them—is perfectly happy for the member for Hotham to get up and ask these questions. He is perfectly happy for the member for Kingsford-Smith to ask questions.

I can imagine that the member for Kingsford-Smith is still smarting about the fact that, when he was the Minister for Transport, the former Minister for Transport in my government regularly humiliated him at question time. He is still smarting over that and he is still trying to fight old battles, so he thinks to himself, `Well, Sharp may have resigned and he may be subject to an Auditor-General's investigation, but that's not good enough for me. I'll try to put the boot in a bit further.' That is the sort of disgusting behaviour for which you are famous, and I think by doing that you diminish yourself.

But far more importantly than that, I want an explanation from the Leader of the Opposition as to why he has allowed a member of his staff to rort the entitlements under the Comcar rules. I want the Leader of the Opposition to tell the parliament whether he authorised the hiring of that Comcar. If I may borrow a phrase, it really does beggar belief that the Leader of the Opposition did not know that this car was being used. The Leader of the Opposition leads a party that had no ministerial standards when it was in government and he now leads a party whose standards fall deplorably below ours in opposition.


Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to the fact that the members for Prospect, Hotham and Isaacs are carrying enlarged photographs extracted from a newspaper the other day, which is contrary to the standing orders. This happened yesterday as well. I would ask that you take action. Those people should all be named and tipped out of the place.


Mr SPEAKER —I thank the honourable member for O'Connor for his point of order. The last few days have been particularly boisterous in terms of the behaviour of members of this chamber. I do reflect on the honourable member for O'Connor's point of order. I endorse it and remind members of the opposition that I find their behaviour intolerable. A general warning already applies: heed my advice.