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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 215

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia) —Madam Speaker, I seek leave to make a personal explanation.

Madam SPEAKER —Does the right honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr SINCLAIR —Yes, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER —Please proceed.

Mr SINCLAIR —In today's Sydney Morning Herald, under the byline of Peter Bowers, there is an article relating to travel claimed against the entitlement of my family member. There has been a computer error, in a typical manner, in the way in which the charges have been made. On 4 March 1986 a letter was written on my behalf to the Department of the Special Minister of State stating, among other things:

It is my understanding that Mr and Mrs Sinclair's tickets should be charged to the Department of the Special Minister of State-

It went on to state that the ticket for my family member should be charged to my personal account, `which was a TAA charge account'. The present practice of most members of this place, at the request of the previous Special Minister of State, is that they make their wives' bookings on the credit cards which have been issued to each of us with respect to travel on both Australian Airlines and Ansett Airlines of Australia. As a result, within the airlines' computer processes, a system has developed whereby a special section is nominated within each airline to take bookings made by those of us who use Flight Deck or Golden Wing accounts. Our details thus come up on a computer. I have consistently found that, although bookings are made over the phone and never in person, fares have been charged to that account instead of charged, as I have requested, to my personal account. On no occasion have I or any member of my staff requested that the fares be charged to the Department of the Special Minister of State. On the contrary, it has been requested that when they emerge they be transferred to my personal account, as witnessed by the letter of 4 March 1986.

The circumstances concern me in two respects. The first is that, obviously, there can be and are computer errors that can affect all of us. Indeed, at the same time as I received this bill which came to my notice for the first time yesterday I also received a current account from one of the airlines which included a bill for travel to Western Australia for a person unrelated and unknown to me. This has come on to my personal account. It is a computer error. That happens. Frankly, if it were returned to the airline, presumably it would be sent to the right account.

Mr Keogh —Who was it for-Joh?

Mr SINCLAIR —No, it is for a firm of engineers which happens to have the same name as I do. In the fairly normal course the computers, in the way that they seem to do, have managed to get it wrong.

My second concern relates to the Department of the Special Minister of State. I am most concerned that apparently the Department, or somebody within it, gave the information to the media before it came to my notice. I knew nothing of it until it was brought to my notice by this journalist. The account is one which I am questioning. It goes back over two years. I have paid it, but I am not as yet certain whether the amounts that have been allegedly charged to me are in fact correct.

I regard it as very regrettable that, in circumstances in which neither I nor anybody on my behalf has had any involvement in requesting that the Government meet the fare of this family member, it is made to appear that I have done so. I therefore suggest to the Government that, if it is inquiring into all accounts lodged by honourable members, as is apparently the case, it should try at least to keep secure its discussions with parliamentary members so that things are not made public in such a way that it appears as though somebody has been guilty in some way of manipulating accounts when in fact, as in my case, there has been a genuine mistake, I presume by the airline, within its computer booking processing system.