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Wednesday, 11 March 1998
Page: 1041

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (7:40 PM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Third time lucky!

Mr Slipper —I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A moment ago you pointed out that you would give precedence to backbenchers over frontbenchers. The member for Perth is a frontbencher, and backbenchers were on their feet.

Mr SPEAKER —Unfortunately, I mean backbenchers from that side. While I am delighted that you are on that side of the House, I think it is appropriate that I call the honourable member for Perth.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —In question time today I asked the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) three questions. The Prime Minister came into the House shortly after 7 o'clock and gave a very tawdry explanation as to why there was no basis for Senator Parer to resign.

The Prime Minister did not respond to one of the questions, either in the particular or in the general. I asked the Prime Minister the following question: `Is the Prime Minister aware that Senator Parer personally holds shares in a subsidiary of Queensland Coal Mine Management but has not disclosed this on his register of interests? Prime Minister, does this not also breach your guidelines on both disclosure and conflict of interest'?

I subsequently sought leave to table the information contained in the relevant corporate report of the company, which is QCMM Group (ESP) Pty Ltd, which shows that, effective from January of this year, Senator Parer personally holds 44 shares in that company. That is clearly and expressly in breach of the requirements of the Senate as far as registration is concerned, and it is clearly and expressly in breach of the Prime Minister's code of conduct which says:

Ministers should not have an interest in an area in respect of which their portfolio operates.

Mr Slipper —I raise a further point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to draw your attention to standing order 76, which refers to imputations of improper motives and all personal reflections. The comments made by the honourable member for Perth are clearly a reflection on the minister, and I would ask that he desist from doing so.

Mr SPEAKER —Thank you. I am listening carefully to what the honourable member for Perth is saying, and he is not transgressing.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —Thank you, Mr Speaker. So we have one clear example: 44 shares held personally in express breach of the Senate requirements—44 shares held personally in a company which is involved in a group of companies operating in Queensland Coal. It is an express breach of the Prime Minister's code of conduct—

Mr SPEAKER —I suggest you be very careful in the use of those words.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —that ministers are not to engage themselves in interests in portfolio areas in respect of which they have responsibility. But where are the other conflicts of interest and breaches of the Senate requirements? Firstly, Investment Management Pty Ltd, in which Senator Parer has eight shares and his wife has one: Senator Parer is a director that company. It is a requirement of the Senate register provisions, effective from March of 1997, that if a family company or business or trust is controlled by an individual senator or members of his or her family then the share interests that that company holds are required to be disclosed. Senator Parer did not disclose to the Senate the interests that that company holds in Queensland Coal Mine Management Pty Ltd. Senator Parer was a director of that company. He resigned from that company when he became a minister in March 1996, and he disclosed that on his register. What he failed or refused to do on that occasion was to either dispose of those shareholdings or to put them on the public register. He did neither. That is clearly in breach of the Senate share register requirements.

Mr SPEAKER —Again, I urge the honourable member to be very careful in making assertions. If he wishes to do so, he must do so by substantive motion, and the assertions you are now making are running very close to contravening the standing orders.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —Very close but not, Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —I am not sure. I would have said they were if you want to question me. I am letting you go, but be careful where you go.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —I was about to say, Mr Speaker, that I have listened very carefully on two occasions to what you are saying—

Mr Slipper —Mr Speaker, I wish to take a point of order. I wish to point out that as you yourself said the honourable member for Perth is in fact casting a personal reflection on the minister. You yourself in the chair said that he was, and I would ask you to uphold standing order 76, which says that he ought to desist from doing so. I would ask that you sit down the member for Perth.

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member will resume his seat. The honourable member for Perth will not cast any adverse insinuations against a member of this parliament.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —I would not dream of it, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —I suggest you do not or you will be sitting down.

Mr STEPHEN SMITH —Let me come to the Prime Minister's explanation. He said that none of this breaches the ministerial guidelines or the Senate share register. Firstly, he makes the point that the shares are non-voting. That is not an excuse. The Senate share register refers to shares, not non-voting shares. Secondly, he said that these were arrangements entered into a considerable time before Senator Parer became a minister. It is not an excuse that they were not entered into at, before or after the time he became a minister. The point is this: he became a minister of the Crown and he is clearly in breach of the prime ministerial guidelines. As a consequence, he ought to resign.

Mr SPEAKER —You can make aspersions but you cannot make them in the adjournment, I am afraid. The honourable member will resume his seat.