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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19896

Ms ROXON (3:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Can the minister confirm that the second person referred to in the Sydney Morning Herald article today regarding a Sydney college for overseas students, a Mr Yung, is the same Mr Yung who made a donation of $2,000 to the minister's own Berowra federal council on 14 October 2001, the same day as did Mr Dante Tan?

The SPEAKER —Order! I warn the member for Rankin!

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 76. The question quite clearly contained imputations of improper motives and a personal reflection—

The SPEAKER —Order! I warn the member for Batman!

Mr Edwards —It's not a point of order, it's a job application!

Mr Pyne —Chuck him out! He's drunk!

The SPEAKER —Order! I warn the member for Sturt!

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, the question clearly contained imputations of improper motives and personal reflections on the member. Under standing order 76 those words are to be considered highly disorderly. Standing order 78 requires that you consider whether or not you consider them to be disorderly and take action under 304A, 303 or 306.

The SPEAKER —I call the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! I will recognise the member for Mackellar when the House has come to order.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have referred you to a number of standing orders: standing order 74—

A government member—And 98.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —I am reminded about standing order 98 from a member behind me, but the ones I chose to refer to you concerned imputations and the fact that they are disorderly, and I am asking you to intervene in accordance with the standing orders. I ask for a ruling.

The SPEAKER —I have allowed the question to stand.

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I welcome the opportunity to answer the question because inferences are being drawn that are quite inappropriate and they ought to be dealt with quite clearly. I indicated earlier that I read of these matters this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald. The information was of surprise to me, but my department, obviously reading the same article, prepared for me some notes which I think I should use just to put beyond doubt any view that you might be trying to encourage people to form—that is, that these people received some special treatment from my department in relation to their running of a college in Sydney.

The fact is that on 21 August, the Australian College of Technology was cancelled from the Commonwealth Register of Institutions and Courses for Overseas Students by the Department of Education, Science and Training. The college had for some time been a provider of concern to both my department and to the Department of Education, Science and Training. In 2001 the New South Wales compliance office received numerous complaints of non-attendance being condoned by the college, provided fees were paid. These allegations were supported by officers' fieldwork, resulting in the location of non-compliance students. The allegations in fieldwork findings were referred to the New South Wales Vocational Education and Training Accreditation Board, VETAB, and to the Department of Education, Science and Training, and that was to provide possible evidence for the cancellation or suspension of the college's accreditation.

Early inquiries established that the principals of the college had been convicted of serious fraud matters prior to their establishment of the college. This information was referred to VETAB and to DEST, as investigators believed that that clearly breached the fit and proper person requirements of the executive college staff. In October, DIMIA officers served two production notices on the college, demanding attendance and academic details for students. The response was copied to both VETAB and DEST to provide evidence of breaches of the education legislation requirements. On 4 June investigators served a further eight production notices on them, and those responses were again copied to the relevant departments. A student investigations officer accompanied DEST and VETAB officers on a joint agency compliance visit on 17 May. The point I am making is that it is beyond doubt that the department acted properly. There was no interference in the way in which they dealt with those issues. I had no knowledge of any donations being made by particular individuals.

The SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler is warned!

Mr RUDDOCK —My conference does take donations, as it is entitled to. It properly discloses those matters, as I said before. You trawl over that register. You have more knowledge and information—

The SPEAKER —Minister!

Mr RUDDOCK —Well, the honourable member trawls over the register obviously, and has more information about what is on that register than I do.

Mr Kelvin Thomson —You should know about it.

Mr RUDDOCK —I have no idea whether or not the person referred to in a newspaper article today has made donations to my party organisation. And I do not know that I would know from the information provided in the newspaper article if a Mr Yung by another name had made donations. I just do not know, and I do not think you know any more than I do in relation to that.

Ms Roxon —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the two Australian Electoral Commission returns for Mr Yung and Mr Tan, both dated 14 October 2001—the day after the minister's campaign launch.

Leave granted.

Ms Roxon —I also ask that the minister table the document that he was reading from.

The SPEAKER —I understand the member for Gellibrand's request. The minister in fact came to the dispatch box and indicated that he was quoting from notes. Standing order 321 covers documents and papers but not notes.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister said that he was quoting from notes provided by his department. By any measure, notes provided to ministers by their departments can be nothing but a document. The concept of notes relates to one's personal notes and speaking notes, not to documents and records provided by one's department. That is a unique and unsustainable interpretation, I put to you, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —I remind the member for Fraser that the House of Representatives Practiceand I thank the Clerk for the accuracy of this—at page 573—

The SPEAKER —and for the assistance of the member for Werriwa it is at the bottom of the page where it says:

The Speaker also said that if a Minister states that he is referring to notes, then that is the end of the matter—the Chair would not require the tabling of the document.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I am well aware of what the House of Representatives Practicesays, but nobody has ever previously interpreted documents provided to a minister—

The SPEAKER —The member for Eden-Monaro!

Mr McMullan —I appreciate that that is of course what the House of Representatives Practicesays and has said for some time and that is correct and appropriate. The point I am trying to make to you is that we are creating a dangerous precedent if we interpret documents provided to ministers by departments under that category. Briefing notes from departments are the basic information that ministers provide. As a fundamental question of accountability, I think that is an interpretation upon which you should reflect and which you should reconsider.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat! Out of deference to the member for Fraser and his understanding of House of Representatives Practice, I will look again at the implications of this. But, as he would know, I have acted consistently with the actions taken by previous speakers and quoted specifically from House of Representatives Practice in defence of my action.