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Wednesday, 3 December 1986
Page: 3280

Senator COONEY(4.46) —I address some remarks apropos of what Senator Michael Baume has said. In the hurly-burly of this chamber it is to be expected that the Opposition would make an attack on the Treasurer (Mr Keating) for his apparent failure to put in an income tax return. If he has done that, as seems to be admitted, clearly he has done something that he should not have done. I will certainly not pretend that that is any less a matter than it is. On the other hand, when we debate these matters in the chamber and make a political point of them we ought to remember what we are doing. What we are really doing in this chamber is trying to pre-empt the sorts of things that other institutions ought to be doing. If this matter were to go to court I hope that any evidence used against Mr Keating would not include tainted evidence. As I understand it, the evidence relied on in the present instance includes a stolen letter. If the case set up against the Treasurer relies on evidence that has been stolen, it is my view-it is a consistent view which I have put in this chamber over the years-that that evidence should not be allowed. It is time that we, as a parliament, realised that to score political points and to get advantage over our opponents by using evidence which is tainted is to corrupt the proper order of this society and to corrupt the legal system. It is true, I admit, that at common law evidence that is tainted can be admitted if the judge so orders but, in my view, people who rely on tainted evidence rely on a process which is ultimately damaging to society. The question of travel allowances has been raised.

Senator Michael Baume —The Treasurer has now admitted that that situation was so. So it is no longer tainted evidence.

Senator COONEY —This is exactly the sort of proposition I do not like to see relied upon. Evidence that is tainted is used to bring forth a statement or an admission. In my view, that is in the same category as using the tainted evidence in court to obtain a certain result.

The question of travel allowances is a serious one. Travel allowance is paid to politicians pursuant to the laws established by this Parliament. I think there is good ground for saying that that law ought be changed. However, if it is to be changed we ought to debate it. In debating it we ought to realise that it affects not only the Treasurer but politicians generally. To attempt, as it were, to isolate the Treasurer as being exceptional in this area of travel allowance is not correct. It is true that it appears that he receives a lot more in travel allowance than many others. However, the general principle remains that the laws by which he gets it are the same as apply to politicians in general.

I would also go along with the suggestion that the declaration of interests of all members and senators be revealed, but, again, it should not apply simply to a Treasurer or to a Minister but across the board. We should all be obliged to declare our interests and to put that declaration into the public arena. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot criticise the Treasurer in isolation. We must realise that he has operated within a system all parliamentarians enjoy. The laws under which the Treasurer has failed to lodge an income tax return are laws applicable to the community generally. The laws relating to declarations of interest and travel allowance apply to politicians in general. The Treasurer has not been treated in an exceptional way.

Senator MacGibbon —Ha!

Senator COONEY —No. He has been subject to exactly the same laws as apply to the rest of the community.

Senator MacGibbon —Come on!

Senator COONEY —If Senator MacGibbon is saying that in this instance somebody has exercised a discretion never previously exercised, he should produce the evidence of that. Of course, he cannot produce that evidence. It is no good his simply saying across the chamber that something is right or wrong. There is such a thing as evidence that ought to be produced to prove what calls for proof. Unless he can do that, he is left with what he is doing now; that is, throwing remarks across the chamber so as to gain political advantage. That is the sort of thing that happens in this chamber repeatedly. As distinct from that, one has to look at the legal and moral dimensions of this in terms of the values by which this society seeks to live.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.