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Thursday, 18 February 1999
Page: 3273

Mr RIPOLL (12:30 PM) —The Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday, 14 November 1998 gave an interesting insight into the workings of the Liberal Party today, especially the growing influence and power of a small group of extreme right wing power brokers, centred around the Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin. I want to focus on the role of Senator Minchin and his chief Queensland acolyte, Mr Santo Santoro, the Queensland state member for Clayfield, and the Liberal Party's unprincipled and disastrous decision to give its preferences to the One Nation Party at the Queensland state election on 13 June of last year.

The former member for the seat of Oxley must have thought all her Christmases had come at once when the Queensland Liberal Party decided over the May Labour Day weekend to put the Labor Party last in all but one electorate in the state election. Overnight, almost single-handedly, the Queensland Liberal Party made One Nation a real force in Queensland politics. The Liberal Party's decision, following a similar but less surprising decision by the Queensland National Party, gave One Nation a real chance of winning seats in the Queensland parliament and possibly even holding the balance of power in our state.

They almost got their wish, with the One Nation Party winning 11 seats through Liberal and National Party preferences. For some time the Liberal Party state president Mr Bob Carroll, a Queen Street grazier, claimed credit for the preference decision. The fact that he still says it was the right decision shows just how out of touch he is with the people of Queensland.

But the profile of Senator Minchin in the Sydney Morning Herald of 14 November distributes the credit much more widely. The article makes it clear what most political observers already knew—that every decision made by the Carroll regime in Queensland emanates from Mr Santoro. Senator Minchin has been somewhat bashful about his role in the Queensland preference decision. Given the disastrous result it achieved, that is not surprising.

For months stories have been circulating in Queensland politics that Mr Santoro was the architect of the preference decision and that he was backed up in his decision by his extensive range of contacts in the federal Liberal Party. Mr Santoro tells everyone game enough to listen that he has a pipeline to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the minister for labour relations and employment and, of course, the grey eminence of the Liberal Party's right wing, Mr Michael Kroger. Does anyone seriously believe that such a well-connected political hatchet man would not have consulted his southern network before such a momentous decision was made? Bashful though he is, Senator Minchin did concede the following in the Sydney Morning Herald article:

Well, I discuss a lot of things with Santo from time to time. That was a very big issue for the Liberal Party so he would have mentioned it in passing whatever they were doing and why.

Do any of Senator Minchin's party victims and rivals believe him? Does the member for Sturt, who seems to be under attack from Senator Minchin's forces in South Australia once again, believe that?

Also of interest is the fact that the Queensland Liberal Party expelled former state candidate for Ipswich, Steve Wilson. Mr Wilson was expelled because he would not deliver preferences to the One Nation Party. The expulsion shows the lack of support in the Queensland Liberal branch for the Santoro-Minchin preference deal as only 16 of the 44-member Liberal executive voted and with a split decision. It seems not everyone in the Queensland Liberal Party is without principle.

What Senator Minchin must do is come clean on his role in the preference decision. Did he travel to Brisbane on the weekend the decision was made to meet with Mr Santoro and the state Liberal Party president, Mr Bob Carroll? And did he consult with the Prime Minister on this matter?

You cannot blame Senator Minchin for trying to distance himself from such a decision. It was, after all, one of the biggest own goals in political history. The decision helped cost the Liberal Party six of the 15 seats it held and saw it lose official party status once again. It also made the Liberal Party in Queensland a political pariah, even in its own heartland, with sitting members in the blue ribbon seats such as Mr Santoro's suffering swings of 10 per cent or more. The decision also impacted in the federal election, even though with the benefit of hindsight and for political convenience, not principle, the Liberal Party reluctantly put One Nation last in the federal election. It still lost four seats in Queensland and went within a few hundred votes of losing three or four more.

Incredibly, Mr Santoro and his puppet, Mr Carroll, are claiming that the federal election result in Queensland was a good one for the Liberal Party. They even defend the preference decision, blaming the media and dissidents within the Liberal Party for the loss of six seats and for the loss of party status. But the real issue remains: what was the role of Senator Minchin and his Queensland factional colleagues in the decision to give One Nation Liberal Party preferences—arguably, the most inept decision by any political party in the last decade or so.

The people of Queensland are entitled to know who made this disgraceful decision and what role they played. I am sure that the members of the Liberal Party in Queensland, who have seen their party returned to rump status, would also like to know. I am sure most of the people of Queensland would be very interested to know who was involved in the preference decision, why the Liberal Party made those decisions and then what really changed their minds not to make the same decision at the federal election. It certainly was not based on principle. It was certainly based on what they saw as a way to get more votes. (Time expired)