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Tuesday, 20 September 1994
Page: 971


Senator SHORT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. I refer to the document tabled yesterday by the Minister for Transport in response to the Senate's demand for the government to table a detailed list of all documents relevant to a series of matters concerning ANL, including any correspondence between the ANL board and the responsible ministers since the 1990 federal election. Why was the letter from Minister Brereton to the chairman of ANL dated 11 May 1994 not included in the list? Why did the minister mislead the Senate by excluding this letter? How many other omissions are there in Mr Brereton's desperate attempt to mislead the parliament over his disgraceful handling of the ANL affair?


Senator COLLINS —I do not have the list of papers that I tabled last night in front of me. I do not have the slightest doubt that there will be no misleading of the Senate involved in this issue. That is a spurious claim. Senator Gibson has just given me the courtesy of indicating that he will be moving a notice of motion straight after question time today in relation to this matter—perhaps Senator Short has not been hooked into this. I am not sure how many people are handling it on behalf of the opposition.


Senator Kemp —Don't you worry about that!


Senator COLLINS —I do not worry about it at all. In terms of misleading the Senate—seeing as that charge has been laid—I certainly lay that charge on those opposition senators who were in here in question time yesterday. Half a dozen opposition frontbenchers, including Senator Short, asserted that the claim that I made yesterday that Mr Sharp had publicly called upon the government to implement the very policies for which we were being criticised—specifically, taxation relief—was not in fact said by Mr Sharp. That is what they chorused; `He did not say that.' The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate was included in that. I take the opportunity to table at least six publications where Mr Sharp did in fact raise taxation relief.


Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Mr President, could you please indicate to the Senate the relevance of the opposition's supposed drought policy in relation to a question about the ANL?


The PRESIDENT —I judge the answer to be generally relevant to the question. I am not in a position to dictate to the minister how he should answer, except in terms of general relevance.


Senator Alston —On a point of order; the specific question is in relation to ANL and documents that may or may not have been tabled by Mr Brereton. How can it possibly be relevant for this minister to talk about something that Mr Sharp said yesterday in relation to another aspect of the matter? One does not have to be Einstein to work out that the question is a specific one and the answer that has been given is utterly irrelevant and simply an attempt by Senator Collins to balance the ledger. Let him do it after question time. Let him do it in any other forum; he can seek leave to table documents. But, Mr President, do not let him pretend that the answer somehow has the slightest thing to do with the question. Mr President, you are in a position to make that judgment. That is why we have standing orders. They give you a discretion, and you ought to make sure you exercise it.


The PRESIDENT —And I have already done that.


Senator McMullan —Mr President, I would like to speak on the point of order, too.


Senator Hill —He has ruled on it.


Senator McMullan —Opposition senators just had a chance to speak on a point of order, and I do not see why I cannot.


Senator Hill —Sit down; you're wasting time.


Senator McMullan —I realise that some people do raise points of order to waste time, but I am responding to Senator Alston's point of order. We have here a question that asks: do these documents suggest that the Senate is being misled? Senator Collins is referring to documents in relation to this matter which indicate the facts of the situation, and he is perfectly entitled to do so.


The PRESIDENT —I have no reason to change the ruling that I have made.


Senator COLLINS —It appears from these documents that either Mr Sharp is misleading his frontbench colleagues who have inadvertently misled the Senate as a result or, if he did not say it, he has been widely misquoted by a number of newspapers and clearly has misquoted himself when he said it in his own press statement that was issued on 21 April 1994. I table those papers.


Senator SHORT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister again: will he give the Senate an assurance that he will table the missing list and explain why it was missing the first time around in such a way that the Senate was misled and, in fact, there was a contempt of the Senate's return to order?


Senator COLLINS —Mr President, I have just said that I have the utmost confidence that the lists that were tabled last night are properly in accordance with the return to order of the Senate. I know that this matter is going to be pursued with a notice of motion by the opposition straight after question time, but I will refer the particular concerns that Senator Short has to the minister and if there is any need to provide further advice to the Senate I will do so.