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Friday, 22 February 1985
Page: 77

Senator MESSNER —I direct my question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I remind the Minister of the Hawke Labor Government's endorsement of the convention of the collective responsibility of Cabinet as, to quote from the Government's Cabinet handbook, 'central to the Cabinet system of government'. Does the handbook also say that Ministers are expected to give their full support to the Government, and to refrain from public comment in advance of issues being considered in Cabinet and their endorsement by Cabinet and Caucus? Does the Minister agree that he breached the convention by saying, as reported in the Melbourne Age of Tuesday, 5 February, that he believed the decision to allow a couple of United States planes to refuel as part of the testing of the MX missile should be reviewed and that he was 'not very enthusiastic about it', and that the Minister for Education did likewise when she said she would not be defending the MX decision?

Senator BUTTON —I am not familiar with all the terminology of the Cabinet handbook but I am familiar with the broad thrust of it. The point of Senator Messner's question is whether I said something at a particular stage which was in breach of something which was suggested in the Cabinet handbook. I do not know whether Senator Messner was purporting to quote me when he read something-

Senator Messner —From a newspaper article reporting you.

Senator BUTTON —He read from a newspaper article. I did not say that. The expression which is familiar and which I did use, and which reflects my state of mind, is that I was not enthusiastic. That expression I did use. He is drawing a very long legal bow, if I may put it in those terms. I suggest that the honourable senator gets his shadow Attorney-General to run his eye over that to see whether the expression that I was not enthusiastic about a particular thing was foreshadowing a Cabinet decision on the matter in any respect. Insofar as his question goes to statements allegedly made by Senator Ryan, if he had been here earlier at Question Time he would have heard the Minister for Resources and Energy give to that question a very able answer which covers the points the honourable senator raised.