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Tuesday, 7 July 1998
Page: 5099

Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. Can the minister confirm that his private company, Investment Management Pty Ltd—in which he owned eight of the nine shares—purchased 2,600 Telstra shares on 25 November 1997? Can the minister confirm that these were registered to the W.R. Parer Family Trust on 27 November 1997? How does the minister reconcile this purchase of shares given the Prime Minister's explicit prohibition on the purchase of shares within 90 days of their issue? Is it the case that the minister did not understand the Prime Minister's directive; is it the case that the minister did not care about the Prime Minister's directive; or is the minister asking us to believe, yet again, that he did not receive the Prime Minister's directive?

Senator Alston —Madam President, I raise a point of order. It sounds pretty much like a hypothetical to me. Firstly, unless Senator Faulkner has a copy of a leaked letter, he is simply asserting what the Prime Minister might or might not have said. On that basis, it falls into the category of a number of questions that have been asked by the opposition in recent times. I think it is about time that they were required to indicate whether there is a factual basis for questions before they simply put forward propositions as though they are true; in other words, a self-serving assertion which a minister is then asked to respond to. That is not the proper basis for a question. It is very misleading and ought to be ruled out of order.

Senator Faulkner —Briefly on the point of order, Madam President: we have come to expect from Senator Alston this completely dodgy point of order being taken about hypothetical questions. There were four specific questions that I asked directly to Senator Parer. You have consistently ruled Senator Alston out of order. It is just an attempt to cover up and protect his colleagues, and I would ask you to rule him out of order again.

The PRESIDENT —There were four parts to the question, and I think the first two were questions that Senator Parer may have an answer to and wish to give. As to the balance of it, I have no idea whether or not what is proposed is factual. Senator Parer may or may not know and will deal with it accordingly.

Senator PARER (Resources and Energy) —The Prime Minister did write to ministers in August 1997 pointing out that ministers directly involved in the Telstra sale should not buy shares in Telstra at all. Other ministers were advised not to buy shares for 90 days after the first day of trading. Spouses and children could buy shares at any time, provided they were acting independently and not merely as a proxy for the minister. Senator Ray raised this yesterday as a lead-up to this particular question and trundled around the press gallery doing what he knows best—repackaging what is already known.

The facts are that the ownership of Telstra shares by the 28-year-old family trust was fully disclosed to the Senate in March. In fact, Senator Faulkner referred to them on 1 April this year. My wife, as I have said many times in this place, has been the manager of that trust and has been for many years. Acting independently of me, she applied for shares on the basis that I was not receiving, and had not received, any income from the trust and was not a beneficiary of the trust since I was appointed as a minister. The only people to have received benefit from the trust since that time have been my wife and the adult children.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Just a moment, Senator Parer. Senator Alston and Senator Ray can deal with this matter at another time. You should not be shouting across the chamber while Senator Parer is answering.

Senator PARER —The Prime Minister's restrictions on bona fide ownership of Telstra shares did not apply to a spouse or adult family members, and the purchase was therefore in accordance with the guidelines.

I did not apply for any shares in Telstra in accordance with the Prime Minister's letter, neither have I subsequently purchased any Telstra shares. Since 26 March, neither my wife nor I have been directors or secretary of the trust company, nor are we beneficiaries under this trust. I might say that my wife did not have to do this but elected to do so. The trust company and the trust are entirely controlled by adult children.

This is no big deal. The Labor Party would like it to be so. It is an old Labor routine. The Labor Party would be better off formulating policies than trawling around looking for mud to throw. There is not any. So my advice to Senator Faulkner is to stop wasting his time and start addressing the issues of real importance to Australia and Australians. For starters, how about having a go at formulating some policies?

Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that this prohibition was imposed by the Prime Minister in order to reassure everyone that no minister would benefit from a crucial government decision? I might ask also whether making a few thousand dollars is more important to the minister than the need to comply with the Prime Minister's ministerial standards.

Senator PARER (Resources and Energy) —That is correct. And I might say that personally I have not benefited in any way whatsoever from the purchase of those shares.