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Wednesday, 10 February 1999
Page: 2337

Mr BEAZLEY —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, is it not the case that you have watered down your guidelines to make the standards fit the ministers rather than the other way around? What assurance will the public have that a minister's decisions are not influenced by his or her shareholdings, simply because someone else is temporarily controlling them, particularly when there is nothing in the revised guidelines to stop ministers from having knowledge about interests they have transferred to a nominee or trust or to non-dependent family members? What public confidence can there be that decisions taken by ministers in matters where they have a commercial stake are not free of a conflict of interest? Prime Minister, how can you justify this serious diminution of longstanding standards of ministerial conduct?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I, of course, reject completely the rhetorical elements contained in the Leader of the Opposition's question. Can I remind the Leader of the Opposition that we now live in a society where 40.3 per cent of the population own shares.

Mr O'Connor —So what?

Mr HOWARD —He says, `So what'! Forty point three per cent of the Australian population own shares, and that is a direct result, I am proud to say, of the privatisation policies of the coalition government. If the member for Melbourne had his way, it would be 75 per cent of the Australian population, because he is the great privatiser.

I would inform the House that the changes that were made to the code were, with one or two very minor exceptions, direct recommendations contained in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's brief to an incoming government. They make the guidelines more contemporary. They are totally defensible. I completely reject the envy credo of the Labor Party, and I do not intend to be Prime Minister of a country which allows a situation to develop where men and women who have been successful in business, men and women who have accumulated assets, are intimidated out of offering themselves for public service.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —I do not intend in this or any other question time to allow persistent interjections such as we have just witnessed from the member for Wills, the member for Corio, the member for Hotham and the member for Lilley.