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Monday, 11 August 2003
Page: 12958


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:00 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Coonan, Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. I refer the minister to her answer to a question last year, in which she advised the Senate that the Prime Minister had not spoken to Mr Dick Honan on the matter of ethanol excise or domestic industry protection. On what basis did the minister make this claim? Was the information she provided to the Senate contained in a formal brief to the minister? Is the minister aware of her obligations under the Prime Minister's code of ministerial conduct? Will the minister now correct the record?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I do not have to correct the record. I refer to the detail of a letter from the Prime Minister that was published in the Australian Financial Review, in which the Prime Minister gave a chronological account of the conversation he had with Mr Honan on 1 August and referred to all subsequent correspondence in relation to all of the matters that were discussed in parliament at the time. He referred to the first question from the opposition on 17 September. My recollection was that similar questions were asked in the Senate. The Prime Minister has refuted the suggestion that he misled parliament. Certainly in those circumstances there is no reason for me to retract anything that I have said, and I stand by my answers given on that occasion.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that a meeting did in fact take place between the Prime Minister and Mr Honan on 1 August 2002? Can the minister confirm that, in answer to a question in this chamber on 9 December last year, she advised the Senate that the Prime Minister had not spoken to Mr Dick Honan on the matter of ethanol excise or domestic industry protection? Can I ask the minister how she was advised that this meeting had occurred. I would be amazed if it were just through a letter to the Financial Review. Again I ask the minister what actions she will take to correct the inaccurate and misleading information she provided to the Senate last year.


Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I have already indicated that, as previously advised, the Prime Minister had a meeting on 1 August 2002 with Mr Honan, the Chairman of the Manildra Group. It was not a secret meeting— there were others present—and there was a record of the meeting. As I understand, at no time during the meeting was the issue of the overseas shipment raised. The record of the meeting shows that there was a general discussion about ethanol production and the importance of that to the sugar industry. I was not at the meeting, but I can advise the Senate that that meeting took place on 1 August. From the tenor of Senator Faulkner's question, and indeed from any of its detail, I cannot see that there is anything to retract.