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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 78

Senator McLUCAS (2:48 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister representing the Minister for Ageing. Can the minister confirm that Senator Sandy Macdonald was nominated by the Minister for Ageing as her official representative at the opening of the Grace Munro centre in Uralla shire? Is the minister aware that Senator Sandy Macdonald has made numerous public statements this week that it was a decision of the Uralla Shire Council not to include Mr Tony Windsor MP as part of the official opening of the Grace Munro centre in the electorate of New England? Is the minister also aware that the mayor of Uralla issued a press release yesterday saying the council never had a problem including Mr Windsor in the official party and that their decision not to—and I quote the mayor—`was made in light of a request from Senator Macdonald'? Given that Senator Sandy Macdonald at least appears to have made misleading statements about his role representing the Minister for Ageing, what action will Minister Bishop take to require Senator Macdonald to correct the public record?

Senator Patterson —Mr President, on a point of order: I would say that question reflected on a senator and should be ruled out of order.

The PRESIDENT —I listened to the question carefully. I am not sure whether it is in order for a senator to ask about another senator. I think I would have to have a look at that. But there are parts of the question I think the minister could answer, and I ask her to do so.

Senator Chris Evans —Could I say, Mr President, on the point of order, that the question went directly to Senator Sandy Macdonald's role in representing the minister; the question related to his role in representing her and went to those issues. I think it is directly relevant to the minister's responsibility in that Senator Macdonald was asked to represent her, so for that purpose I think the minister ought to answer the question.

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) —Mr President, I believe the question casts an aspersion on my colleague Senator Sandy Macdonald.

Senator George Campbell —It hasn't been ruled out of order.

Senator PATTERSON —Even if it is not ruled out of order, I still will say—and it is not in any conflict with you, Mr President—that it cast an aspersion on a colleague of mine. It just happens that when you happen to be in government—and the Labor Party will not know that for a very long while—you have the privilege of going to the opening of facilities. I had to go, in opposition, to the opening of many aged care facilities where I would have liked to have been involved because I had, in some cases, organised and harassed to get them their beds and some people said, `It would be more appropriate for you to open this than the Labor Party. They've never been here.' So in government you get the privilege of going to open facilities, and I do not know whether Mr Windsor was or was not invited. I will find out from Ms Bishop, and if there is anything that I could add to the question I will do so, but I am not really inclined to do much about it, given the aspersion that was cast on my colleague.

Senator McLUCAS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the Minister for Ageing condone this attempt by the Deputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate to pressure the Uralla Shire Council to exclude the member for New England from a public function in his own electorate? Does this incident of exclusion of the local MP from the opening of the Grace Munro centre indicate a more widespread policy being put in place by the Howard government where funding decisions or public functions can be manipulated by government representatives according to whether the applicants or local government succumb to political pressure?

Senator Hill —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Firstly, the point made by Senator Patterson about the reflection upon the honourable senator, I think, stands. Secondly, this is not a question relating to the minister's responsibility at all; it is an attack on Senator Sandy Macdonald. If Senator McLucas wishes to do that, there are proper procedures within this place to do so, but not under the guise of a supplementary question.

Senator Chris Evans —On the point of order, Mr President: the question goes directly to Senator Sandy Macdonald's role in representing the minister at an official function. He was sent to represent the minister. If Senator Macdonald feels he is under some sort of attack, he can provide a personal explanation to the Senate. He has had a week to do so; he has chosen not to. This is a direct question to the minister about her responsibilities representing the Minister for Ageing and about the Minister for Ageing's role in opening that facility.

The PRESIDENT —On the point of order, I believe the minister has already indicated that she will find out what the role was in representing. I do not think there is any need to have any more detail provided. I cannot see how the minister can know what another senator is doing. She has already indicated that she will inquire as to what that action was. If the minister wishes to add any more to that, she may.

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) —It is not my responsibility. I represent the minister here. We have opened hundreds of nursing homes since we have come into government. I do not know who was invited to every opening of every nursing home. I know there have been a lot of nursing homes opened—more than under Labor and of much better quality than under Labor. As I said, I will find out. But I do object to the aspersion being cast on Senator Sandy Macdonald.