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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3994

Senator CROWLEY —My question is to Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. Minister, were you consulted by the Prime Minister prior to his phone call to the Governor-General over his reconciliation convention speech? Did you approve of that course of action? Did you communicate that approval to the Prime Minister prior to his call or, minister, were you, as the responsible minister, ignored in this manner? Do you believe that the Governor-General has intervened in the political debate by his comments? Does he enjoy the same rights that you extended to Senator Lightfoot yesterday—namely, the right to express his personal views on a wide range of subjects?

Senator Bob Collins —Good question.

Senator HERRON —That was a very good question. No, I was not consulted by the Prime Minister.

Senator Carr —What about a good answer?

Senator HERRON —You will get a better answer than the question. Just wait for it. No, I was not consulted by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is perfectly capable of making his own phone calls and communicating with people. I read about that. There were a whole lot of other questions seeking my personal view on matters, Senator Crowley. I was actually present at the reconciliation convention when the—

Senator Faulkner —Answer the question.

Senator HERRON —Senator Faulkner is interjecting, `Answer the question.' I have been answering the question for about a minute, Senator Faulkner. What is your problem? Are you getting the relevance deprivation syndrome?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Herron, I invite you to address your remarks to Senator Crowley's question and ignore Senator Faulkner.

Senator HERRON —Madam President, we have been ignoring him for a long time but, having said that, it is a bit hard when he is the closest to us. You just have to keep an eye on him because he might fall asleep during question time, as I thought he did the other day when the questions were being asked.

The question was made up of a series of questions in relation to my opinion. As I say, the Governor-General made a speech, for which I was present. I thought the speeches and the reconciliation council were a great success.

The Governor-General occupies a very senior position, as you know, and long may it be so. Senator Minchin will agree with me that the Governor-General should retain his position for many years to come, right through to the next millennium. I have a very high regard for the Governor-General. I accompanied him to the launch of the health report.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator Faulkner —He will be pleased to hear that.

Senator HERRON —Yes, I am sure he will be pleased.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Herron, please resume your seat. There are far too many interjections on both sides of the chamber.

Senator HERRON —The Governor-General takes a very keen interest in Aboriginal affairs, and I am delighted about that, particularly in relation to Aboriginal health. A lot is going to be achieved under the present government.

Senator Newman —And Aboriginal housing.

Senator HERRON —Senator Newman reminds me that he takes a keen interest in Aboriginal housing as well. I think we are going to achieve a lot because the Governor-General does comment on affairs in relation to Aboriginal affairs. The only ones that we heard from the former Governor-General was that he was on both sides of the fence at one time, if you recall. He does not seem to be sure either of where he is in relation to the monarchy.

Senator Vanstone interjecting

Senator HERRON —Yes, he was very keen on that member for Oxley at one stage. The thing that really disturbs them on the other side is that in Queensland they lost the unwinnable seat for the Liberal Party and it went to an Independent. The seat of Oxley went to an Independent, and that really gets under their skin—the seat of a former Governor-General no less.

Senator Robert Ray interjecting

Senator HERRON —Even Senator Ray is interjecting. It really does disturb them that they lost the seat of Oxley. Once again, it shows their sort of reaction to things. I am sure Senator Crowley has a supplementary question she wishes to ask in that regard.

Senator CROWLEY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I would ask for your reconsideration, Senator Herron, of whether your claim about the Labor Party losing an unwinnable seat is what you actually meant to say. I suspect it was losing the unlosable set. Why did the Prime Minister take offence at a speech by the Governor-General which you told us yesterday was outstanding and a great speech?

Senator HERRON —I suggest somebody ask the Prime Minister. It is a question that should be addressed to the Prime Minister. This distortion of the truth from the other side is quite interesting. I got the transcript Senator Murphy referred to of the 7.30 Report last night and I would ask him to get the transcript. This selective distortion of the truth is quite interesting. I was not privy to the telephone call, nor was I asked about that, nor should I have been. I do not think it is the Prime Minister's place to consult with me. I certainly make my own phone calls and I will stand up for the—

Senator Crowley —I raise a point of order. The question is not about phone calls but about the minister's comments yesterday when he said the Governor-General's speech was outstanding and a great speech. How can you account, therefore, for the Prime Minister's taking a totally different and offensive response?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Herron, I invite you to address the question.

Senator HERRON —Madam President, was that a point of order? I would suggest Senator Crowley ask the question of the Prime Minister.