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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 570

Mr JOHN BROWN (Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism)(11.00) —Once again I am in here defending myself from these puerile and quite pitiful attempts to denigrate my own character by my opposite, the shadow Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, the honourable member for McPherson (Mr White). The honourable member brought up the question which was canvassed rather widely in the Press, I might add, of an aeroplane ticket which I had downgraded. I would like to explain to the House exactly what the situation was.

Members of this House who have been Ministers and perhaps other members might understand that there is a long-standing tradition-not in any way a ruling by the Remuneration Tribunal-that a Minister has the right once a year to take his dependent children on an interstate flight. It is a right which I have had from 1983. As I am sure the honourable member for McPherson will agree, I have underutilised that right greatly. I know that he has sought under the Freedom of Information Act the list of trips that my children have taken. I am sure that he will agree that I have underused this facility greatly.

My wife has a peculiar aversion to travelling first class on planes. If the honourable member bothers to get FOI on her quite infrequent trips to Canberra he will find that she chooses to fly economy. It is her own choice. She could fly first class at government expense but she chooses to fly economy. I wanted to take my children to the grand prix in Adelaide. I do not have to weep crocodile tears in here about how rarely we see our children because that affects all of us. I had not seen them for a fortnight. I had the facility to fly our two sons to Adelaide first class at government expense. My wife refused to travel in that style. She said that the only way that she would go would be for me to downgrade her ticket, to get three economy tickets for her and our two children and for me to pay the difference, which I did. So my sin was to put in $250 out of my pocket instead of charging the taxpayers of this country $800.

The charges that I oppressed some person at Ansett in order to--

Mr White —No.

Mr JOHN BROWN —The honourable member can shake his head all he likes. I happen to be not a liar and I am telling the truth. The charges that I oppressed some poor employee of Ansett to make him do that are absolutely false. I challenge the honourable member to produce the person who allegedly makes these complaints. I have denied it consistently in the Press. The honourable member continues to put out these puerile attacks as he did at that time. Never at any stage have I oppressed anybody, let alone an employee of Ansett over this matter. It is not in my nature to be a bully.

Mr White —Did you ring or did you not?

Mr JOHN BROWN —No, I did not. That is the answer. I have told the honourable member three times. I have answered it in the Press but the honourable member continually asks the question.

The simple fact that has been disregarded in this whole episode is that I did not even infringe a guideline. This is an agreement between executives of many governments and the Minister who administers members' rights. There are no remuneration guidelines affecting the travel of a Minister's child interstate on one trip a year. I have a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) at the time this alleged offence occurred pointing out to me that I had not even infringed the guidelines. There were not any. Since then the Government has introduced some guidelines which now preclude a Minister from downgrading a ticket. The honourable member can shake his silly head all he likes. It happens to be on the record; it is documented. I am getting pretty sick and tired of the honourable member's puerile attacks on my honesty. If he were able to do something constructive about policy in the area of sport and tourism that he is supposed to look after, he might not be considered the joke that he is by every sporting and tourism organisation in Australia.

Mr White —You have never answered the questions.

Mr JOHN BROWN —I have answered all of the honourable member's questions. I did nothing wrong. I paid $250 out of my own pocket instead of the taxpayer paying $800.

Mr Beale —Answer the five questions.

Mr JOHN BROWN —What five questions? I did not oppress anybody at Ansett. What are the rest of them-what are the rest of the honourable member's stupid questions? They would be as silly as the first two. Mr Deputy Speaker, if the honourable member likes to give me those questions in writing I will answer them in writing for him. Mr Deputy Speaker, it would be a better idea if this member of the white-shoe brigade started investigating how much the taxpayers of Queensland have paid to his spiritual leader to fly around Australia in his private aeroplane instead of worrying about my--

Mr White —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. We have been through this before. I find the phrase `white-shoe brigade', in the current political context, quite offensive and I ask the Minister to withdraw it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —It is up to the Chair to decide whether something is parliamentary or unparliamentary.

Mr White —No, I find it quite offensive.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is unfortunate. If words are not unparliamentary it is not necessary for them to be withdrawn.

Mr Beale —Why won't he answer the five questions?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Deakin will be answering things outside if he continues to interject. There is no need for the Minister to withdraw the words. It is difficult to put them in a context in which they are unparliamentary.

Mr JOHN BROWN —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am here wasting my valuable time answering puerile charges, my children and my wife having their names smeared all over the newspapers of Australia, because of the attitude of this fellow in putting out puerile Press releases when he is sitting up there in that decrepit State of Queensland--

Mr White —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I am being accused of spreading these rumours. The matter was raised in the Press.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr JOHN BROWN —The matter was raised in the Press, in that puerile publication the Sunday Times, exaggerated and exacerbated by Press releases the honourable member put out quite constantly as if this is a big national issue. It is the only thing the honourable member could ever catch me on. He should try me on policy, on my achievements in the area to which he aspires. He should compare my achievements with the exploits of his predecessors in government. I find it quite offensive that I am constantly in here answering the charges made by this person. If it is not him, it is the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt). He is always getting freedom of information claims. It is a good story. I have a letter from my Department about all the FOI claims the honourable member for Richmond makes. When he is sent the bill he refuses to pay. The Government briefs solicitors and gets to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. On six occasions at the last minute he has withdrawn. This has involved an extraordinary cost to the Commonwealth. It is a pity the honourable member for McPherson was not as concerned about that as he is about the fact that my wife is sufficiently modest to want to travel economy class with our children at our expense rather than booking the cost to the Government, as the honourable member would.

House adjourned at 11.08 p.m.