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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 10328

Mr LATHAM (3:26 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his promise to stand up for the needs of Australia's small business community. I also refer him to the requirement for ministers to be honest in their dealings with the public. Prime Minister, are you aware that, following the completion of building works on her Woollahra home and conservatory, your Assistant Treasurer, Senator Coonan, is refusing to pay outstanding bills of $40,000 to her builder and $15,000 to her architect, causing severe cash-flow problems, particularly for the builder? Will you now ensure that these bills are paid and that these battling small businesses remain viable?

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The House will come to order—and if it takes an expulsion to bring the House to order I will be happy to oblige. I struggle to see how the Prime Minister's ministerial responsibility is covered in any way in the question asked. I will hear the member for Fraser, in order to assist me with a decision.

Mr McMullan —Thank you, Mr Speaker. There has never been any doubt in the past that questions that go to the enforcement of the ministerial code of conduct are questions properly asked of the Prime Minister. The ministerial code of conduct, as explicitly quoted in the question, is that ministers need to be honest in their dealings with the public. I think it is beyond question that if ministers are behaving in a manner that is not acceptable publicly and would be a matter of public odium, then it is proper that the Prime Minister might be asked about the standards within his government. It has always been ruled that way and should be again.

The SPEAKER —In response to the comment made by the member for Fraser, my difficulty was determining in what way the ministerial code of conduct had in any way been transgressed. The Prime Minister has indicated that he is happy to make a comment about this. That is not a criterion for whether or not the question is legitimate. The dilemma for me is that I do not see that the failure to pay an account necessarily transgresses ministerial standards.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The comment I made could have been inferred as making some criticism of the minister. What I meant was that the dispute about an account would not of itself be an infringement of ministerial standards.

Mr Tanner —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Surely it is up to the Prime Minister to answer that question, not you. It is the Prime Minister who should answer whether or not there is a breach of his ministerial standards.

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne will resume his seat or I will deal with him. I would point out to the member for Melbourne that I was making a genuine effort to determine the relevance of the question to the Prime Minister, not in any way to reflect on the actions of the minister. That should have been self-evident.