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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1391

Dr KLUGMAN(5.56) —I certainly support the proposition that matters which appear in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the motion be referred to the House of Representatives Standing Orders Committee. I must admit that I thought the Standing Orders Committee would have been able to comment on the pros and cons of including any one of those matters. It is certainly depressing to me that one -third of all the Ministers had to correct the statements which they gave to the House less than two weeks ago. For example, it is depressing that the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) who is sitting in front of me did not remember that his wife's income of $53,000 plus was considered to be a substantial source of income.

Mr Howard —Despite the fact that it was in a National Times article. God! Talk about selective amnesia!

Mr Howe —It was public knowledge.

Dr KLUGMAN —It may be public knowledge, but I think Ministers should be quite careful about supporting propositions such as this and then not giving correct answers. Obviously that is up to the people concerned. I was going to refer to this matter of similar statements. We are asked to say that it is the opinion of this House that all honourable members should provide similar statements of their private interests, including those of their families, of which they are aware, covering certain matters. I certainly hope that there will be not be similar statements, otherwise we will be in a lot of trouble.

It is very difficult to avoid conflicts of interest. The simplest conflict of interest, of course, for a member of parliament, especially in a marginal electorate, is what he considers to be in the interests of the country and what he considers best to get him re-elected. I see the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman) sitting opposite. He does not any longer have a marginal electorate, but he is certainly a perfect example, in his questions and in his notices of motion, of what in another House, where the word 'hypocritical' is permitted, one would call utter hypocrisy. He continually moves motions and asks questions in which he does not believe and which he does not accept. He does so purely for the purpose of gaining a few extra votes. To my mind, that is a complete conflict of interest.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) has frequently made a point with which I agree, although I do not share his religious beliefs, that whenever people speak of him and others they refer to the fact that they are Catholics. This may or may not be relevant. One's beliefs and the question of whether there is a conflict of interest are probably relevant. If one is a Catholic, a Jew, or an atheist like I am, certain conflicts of interest occur naturally. One has to support certain pieces of legislation which, because of one's beliefs, one cannot possibly support even if one believes them to be in the interests of the country.

Sometimes we vote on allocations of money for church education, we debate matters relating to money for schools. There is a conflict of interest which I am sure applies to many of us in this House when, for example, we are talking about money for schools and for tertiary institutions. Many of us have children attending schools or tertiary institutions. Should we declare what schools our kids go to? Every time we vote on allocations of money for educational establishments, regardless of whether it is money for government schools or non- government schools, we take certain steps which are in our interests or not in our interests, but we certainly have an interest as to the outcome.

For example, we may be voting on free education for tertiary institutions. Suppose the question arose in the House as to what to do about a particular company. I may own some shares but none of the shares I own would produce for me during one year income equivalent to what it is worth to me to have free education for my children attending universities. Let me be quite clear about that. Honourable members vote for or against, but usually for, an entitlement which would give them certain benefits. One may have parents on pensions. If the eligibility for entitlement to those pensions is changed one might become liable to contribute to the upkeep of one's parents. Should an honourable member abstain from voting on such a change? Should he mention the fact that his parents are receiving certain benefits or that they might be entitled to certain benefits if the assessment of the entitlement is changed? They are all extremely relevant questions. To my mind, in many ways they are much more relevant than the ownership of a particular house.

Let us look at the debates we have nearly every week in this House. We debate how much money goes to local government. Obviously payments to local government affect the rates we are paying. If we are owners of properties we have a direct interest in how much we give to local government. We have debates on taxation matters. We debate Budgets. Whilst most of us are concerned about the Budget from the general point of view we also look at it from the point of view of how it will affect us personally. I continually advocate-I hope not just because I do not drink or smoke-higher indirect taxes on alcohol and tobacco because I think that would be in the interests of this country. But one could easily say that I act in a self-interested way in that it would help me if we collected money from those who drink alcohol and smoke tobacco because I would have to pay less in taxation. There would be a direct interest as far as I was concerned. Where do we draw the line? To me the matter becomes quite ridiculous.

A sort of hair-shirt attitude has developed amongst politicians in the United States of America since Watergate and all politicians are now trying to show that they are somehow better than the rest of the community. I do not suggest for one minute that they are better than the rest of the community. I do not think that politicians as a whole are any worse than the rest of the community but I do not think we are any better. One can go through the propositions which it is suggested we deal with and which are being put to the Standing Orders Committee. One proposition states:

the nature of any bonds, debentures and like investments;

As it happens, I do not hold any such investments so I can speak freely on that topic. But what does 'the nature of any bonds, debentures and like investments' mean? We referred earlier to the fact that a statement prepared by us is supposed to be similar to a statement which has been tabled by the Ministers. They have not disclosed the nature of any investment, unless the name of a particular debenture means 'the nature'. Certainly, if one is not going to refer to the actual value of those investments, bonds or debentures, it becomes quite meaningless. What does 'the nature' mean? Another proposition states:

the nature of any other assets . . . each valued at over $5,000;

What does 'the nature' mean? I do not care whether people own cars, paintings or whatever. If property and wealth taxes come into the argument it may be relevant to know how much a member of parliament has in such assets if he is advocating or opposing the measure. But the nature of those assets is not relevant. The value is not disclosed. We are asked to provide a report similar to that which is prepared by Ministers, assuming that they give the correct report.

I think certain things ought to be revealed to the public. I think it is a pity that in some ways the House does not take seriously enough the matter of sponsored travel and hospitality. I think this is an important issue. I think such an arrangement is wrong for parliamentarians of this country, who are adequately paid and who are given a significant amount of money to travel overseas. Each term of parliament we are entitled to one first class fare around the world. In addition certain trips are sponsored by our Government. I think it is completely wrong for members to accept sponsored travel and hospitality from other governments. This happens continually but I now think it is wrong. People go on all kinds of feasts or would-be feasts, from the World Peace Council to the Moral Rearmament conferences in Switzerland. People go to Israel, Libya, Syria and all kinds of other places. I think this is particularly wrong when the areas being visited are the subject of controversy in the Australian Parliament. I do not think people should accept those kinds of trips, but they do. I do not want to go into that matter in any more detail. I am trying to show that individual members have other interests. Paragraph (5) which we are supposed to adopt states:

That this House- (5) agrees that notwithstanding the lodgement of statements by Members and their incorporation in a public register individual Members should declare any relevant interest if they participate in a debate in the House or vote in a division in the House;

I hope I have pointed out that there will be hardly any worthwhile debate on any issue without such declaration being made. There certainly could not be any debate on any Budget item or any Appropriation Bill in which members would not have to declare a relevant interest before debating the matter or voting on it. Even before on this matter today we would have to declare a relevant interest.

I know from the way the Deputy Prime Minister spoke when he introduced this motion into the House that he has some reservations about some of the aspects of the proposition. He is probably hoping, as I am, that the Standing Orders committees of the two Houses will in fact have an intelligent look, rather than one of those hair-shirt looks, at the propositions put to them. I hope the Standing Orders committees will look at the propositions in a rational way, will decide what kinds of interests should be declared and will decide what kinds of interests are relevant to matters discussed in the Parliament. Members of the National Party and significant number of the members of the Liberal Party who sit opposite have an association with primary industry. They will be faced with questions such as: What will we do about the reserve price of wool? What will we do about wheat? What will we do about all kinds of primary products? Matters affecting primary producers are certainly of great interest to them not only because of their electors but also, in many cases, because of their concerns as individuals.

What are we to do? If we decide that there should be an extra tax on petrol, should those of us who run cars state that we are concerned about that fact because we are running cars? If we do that, should the people who do not run cars also state that they do not run cars? In the same way, a particular kind of interest is involved if one is participating in a debate or a vote in the House. I just hope that the Standing Orders committees will take their time to consider seriously the propositions that are being put to them so that we do not finish up with a worthless register which means nothing and which, worse than that, may mislead the public.