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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 12003

Senator HARRIS (2:35 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. What is the Prime Minister's current interpretation of the concept of ministerial responsibility? If it is brought to the minister's attention that an executive agency under his portfolio responsibilities has acted improperly or illegally and, reminiscent of the Queensland era, the minister refers it to the executive agency for advice and the advice given can be described as misleading at best, does the Prime Minister have a responsibility to act in an informed manner in the matter? Would the Prime Minister accept responsibility to act to have the matter cleared up?

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I have to confess to be somewhat puzzled by the question. If in the supplementary question we might get the story to put to the framework, I can have a go at answering it.

Senator HARRIS —I will not thank the minister for the answer. The matter raised is in relation to child support assessment. If the matter raised with the minister was in regard to criminal impropriety and the minister in fact referred it back to the agency through his portfolio adviser and the Prime Minister, having been advised in writing of the issue, referred it back to the same minister—

Senator Faulkner interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Faulkner, Senator Hill needs to hear the supplementary question.

Senator HARRIS —What responsibility does the Prime Minister accept, having referred back to the minister the matter relating to where the advice came from?

Senator Chris Evans —Answer that, Hilly—answer that.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is far too much noise in the chamber. I ask the Senate to come to order and observe the standing orders.

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —The Prime Minister obviously expects good performance from his ministers. If they fail to meet that standard, they will not last long. If the suggestion is that in some way a minister has abdicated his responsibility by passing that unjustly to an executive agency, I would be happy to follow the matter up. My experience is that, if constituents claim there has been some criminal misbehaviour, ministers do investigate those matters and take them very seriously. But it would be better if the honourable senator gave me details of the matter that is of concern to him, and I will get him a proper and considered answer.