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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18599


Mr CREAN (3:29 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Trade. How does the minister justify using public officials to actively pursue the commercial interests of one Australian company by setting out to damage its smaller Australian competitors?


Mr Ross Cameron —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Leader of the Opposition's question is not merely an imputation; it is an explicit allegation that is dishonourable and unparliamentary. The allegation that the minister and his government sought to damage an Australian company should be withdrawn.


Mr McMullan —On the point of order, Mr Speaker: the contention that the government deliberately set out to stop this vessel and this shipment coming here is not an allegation. That statement was made previously by the Deputy Prime Minister.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —On the point of order, Mr Speaker: the standing orders are quite specific in that they require that, if an allegation of that nature is to be made, it must be made by way of substantive motion. I refer you also to House of Representatives Practiceand Erskine May.I think you will find that, on page 517, House of Representatives Practice says that personal conduct is not to be criticised and the question must be dealt with by way of substantive motion.


The SPEAKER —As is my custom, I was listening closely to the question and jotting it down as the Leader of the Opposition stated it. As I heard it, the question to the Minister for Trade was whether public officials had been engaged in offering advice on one commercial company and not on another commercial company or words to that effect, and I did not feel obliged to interrupt. I am listening closely to the Leader of the Opposition's question and I ask him to continue. I will check the Hansard record and raise it with him if I feel that I have been in error, but I had not heard anything that offended me.


Mr CREAN —Thank you, Mr Speaker. A very good ruling. I will start again. How does the Minister for Trade justify using public officials to actively pursue the commercial interests of one Australian company by setting out to damage its smaller Australian competitors?


The SPEAKER —It would be helpful if the latter part of that sentence were not implying that they had been deliberately setting out to damage another company—I accept that.


Mr CREAN —The facts show that they did, to the tune of $400,000.


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition must recognise that, by any standard, I am attempting to allow him to ask his question. Is it too much to ask him to attempt to meet the standing orders in the process?


Mr CREAN —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Aren't the 59 taxpaying Australians employed by Neumann Petroleum entitled to have their public servants working for their benefit too? Why did the government bend over backwards to help Mr Honan and do nothing to assist his smaller Australian competitors?


Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I refute any allegation that public servants did anything to damage any Australian or any Australian business. The public servants involved, as the opposition is well aware—



The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Fraser! Some of the tolerance exercised by the chair might be reciprocated.


Mr VAILE —were asked to seek information, and they did. Certainly, it is obviously the responsibility of the Public Service and any Australian government to work on the full facts when developing policy, and that has been the case. But, certainly, to make an allegation that public servants set out to damage an Australian business is, I think, a bit outrageous.


Mr Anderson —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.