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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 822

Senator DURACK(9.16) —Before I commence my remarks on this motion moved by the Government, could I ascertain whether the Government is dealing with these three motions cognately? Are we having separate debates on them or what?

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr Acting Deputy President, I seek leave to debate them cognately.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Is leave granted to debate the motions cognately? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Senator DURACK —We are setting precedents. Cognate debates are being decided upon in the middle of the debate, but Senator Evans seems to be in a slightly harassed state of mind, so I suppose it is understandable.

Senator Button —It happens to the best of us, Senator, even you.

Senator DURACK —Never. With both the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Button) and the Manager of Government Business (Senator Gareth Evans) in the place we might have expected some efficiency, but I suppose that is too much to expect. The Opposition approaches this motion moved by the Government about the disclosure of pecuniary interests with the greatest cynicism we can command. We have very good cause for doing so in view of the fact that the Government is full of the most righteous rhetoric on this subject, but its performance has dismally failed. The colleagues of the two Ministers in the chamber at the moment, the Leader of the Government and the Manager of Government Business-the latter is trying to escape as fast as he can-have revealed this. The Minister remaining, Senator Button, would have to have the greatest intestinal fortitude imaginable to stay here and seriously advocate to the Senate the desirability and wisdom of these motions. The Government is proposing, with all the sanctimony we have learned to expect from certain of its members, particularly from Mr Dawkins, the Minister for Trade, and the Leader of the Government in the Senate-

Senator Walters —And Mr Keating.

Senator DURACK —And Mr Keating and Mr Campbell, the honourable member for Kalgoorlie. We have had from them the most nauseating sanctimony one could ever imagine. The Government maintains that it will be able to make its members honest by passing these motions. The Opposition takes very seriously the question of conflicts of interest in the course of the duties of a member of parliament. We think it is of such fundamental importance that each and every individual senator and member should accept personal responsibility. We know perfectly well that this Government does not believe in personal responsibility; it has never heard of the concept of personal responsibility. The Minister for Resources and Energy, the failed Attorney-General of this Government, who has just walked out as fast as he can, believes that passing legislation fixes everything up; that people are made good by passing laws and the more laws are passed, the better people become. People with a little more experience of life, morality and politics would know that simply passing laws does not make people good or responsible and does not make better members of parliament; but the Government is deeply attached to the function of passing laws and resolutions to tell people how they should behave.

There is a very fundamental issue in this piece of nonsense that the Government has introduced, slavishly following whatever the Caucus tells it to do. It has to do whatever the left wing and other elements that the Australian Labor Party seems to follow slavishly tell it to do, so we have this absurd resolution which will make us all better and more honest and honourable parliamentarians. The resolution says that a whole lot of pecuniary interests and liabilities must be disclosed. This is a very fashionable view which has been around for some years now. If we are to be serious about this sort of thing, I would have expected that one of the fundamental things required to be disclosed would be the value of the interests and liabilities one has. Of course, that is too much like elementary common sense for this Government to entertain it for one minute. We do not have to say what anything owned is worth or what any liabilities amount to in dollars and cents. We can satisfy this resolution by saying that we have shares in Invicta Group Industries Pty Ltd or, closer to home, indirectly in Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. Like Senator Button, one can be a director of a company which has shares in BHP but one does not have to disclose that.

Senator Button —And have a pecuniary interest. But you do not understand that, do you?

Senator DURACK —Senator Button does not understand anything about responsibility, companies or the moral standards that he is trying to impose. No wonder he does not understand that; that is too simple for him to understand. Then we have the question of liabilities. I would have thought that one of the most serious matters is that a senator may be subject to pressure, influence-or corruption. I must not use that word, because the Government does not seem to think about that. One may owe a lot of money to somebody and that money may be owed on a short term arrangement. In this day, under this Government, we have the highest interest rates that have ever been imposed on the Australian electorate, where interest rates commonly are 20 to 22 per cent. A lot of farmers owe money at those rates of interest under this Government. If one owes even a moderate sum of money, with the interest rates of this Government, one may be in considerable trouble and subject to considerable pressure. But under this resolution that does not have to be disclosed. One does not have to say how much is owed, what interest is being paid, what the term of the loan is, or whether the loan is repayable on demand or in 10 years time.

This is the hypocrisy of this Government under these rules. Yet virtually nobody on the Government side is here tonight to defend this hypocrisy. The Leader of the Government, who is here, was the director of a company owned by some union or other that he happened to be associated with, or acted for, or something or other. He disclosed that he was a director of this company; he disclosed all that he had to disclose. He complied. Senator Button is a great example of compliance with rules. He complied with the rules which were laid down by him and his colleagues, and he is supported by two Government senators in this chamber tonight. That company had a very large holding in BHP at a time when there was a serious debate in this country about the takeover of BHP, which was the subject of legislation which was considered by the Government and the Parliament. Yet that interest held by the Leader of the Government in the Senate did not have to be disclosed by him. What value is there in any requirement of disclosure if that does not have to be disclosed?

Then we have a much more egregious Minister than Senator Button; we have a notable, or perhaps I should say infamous, character in this Government-namely, the Minister for Trade, the honourable member for Fremantle, Mr Dawkins. Fortunately for us he does not reside in this chamber, for which we should all be thankful. Mr Dawkins was one of those holier-than-thou characters of this Government, particularly when he was in opposition. We remember Mr Dawkins's moral homilies some years ago when he was in opposition. Mr Dawkins was very shocked by the bottom of the harbour schemes.

Senator Button —Bottom of the drawer.

Senator DURACK —He was very shocked by all that.

Senator Button —We were all shocked by that.

Senator DURACK —I did not hear much shock from Senator Button. Despite his rather wimpish efforts in those debates, I did not really perceive much shock from him. Mr Dawkins was very shocked by all this. Then it turned out that he had an interest in a family company. He had to disclose the interest in the family company, but he did not have to disclose the fact that the family company had an interest in other companies which had benefited from bottom of the harbour schemes. Mr Dawkins was knocked for six by a man of whom this Government makes a great deal of fun, namely, the honourable member for O'Connor, Mr Tuckey. Mr Tuckey was able to reveal the total hypocrisy of one Mr John Dawkins, the honourable member for Fremantle, about all that.

But Mr Dawkins's record is not confined to that. I referred to Senator Button and BHP, but a much more serious matter than Senator Button's involvement in BHP occurred about a year ago when the egregious Mr Dawkins was appointed by the Government to head a Cabinet committee to look into the whole question of the BHP takeover. When that Committee met Mr Dawkins went to great pains to explain to all the members of the Committee how they had to disclose their interests. He said that the disclosure of their interests was very important. He gave them a great homily in his usual sanctimonious style, but he failed to tell anybody that as a beneficiary under his mother's will he stood to inherit shares in Bell Resources Ltd worth some $200,000 or $300,000. He failed to tell anybody about this, despite the homily he was giving his colleagues, despite the disclosure of interest requirements of this Government. The egregious Mr Dawkins did not tell anybody about his interest. Maybe it is not a pecuniary interest as such but by any commonsense standard, by any honourable standard of any honourable man, Mr Dawkins should have disclosed his interest in the whole issue of the takeover of BHP by Bell Resources. But there was not a word from Mr Dawkins in relation to that matter.

Then we had the case of one of the honourable men of the Government, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) himself, no less a person than the Attorney-General, the man responsible for the administration of law and justice in this country. There is a requirement for the disclosure of interest by Ministers. Mr Bowen disclosed an interest in a family company which had some exotic name which I do not think is of any relevance. So the Deputy Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, Mr Lionel Bowen, if that is his name-I am not too sure about these things; Senator Button seems to have lapses of memory-disclosed an interest in a family company. But there is no requirement here to say what the interests in the family companies are. One can have a family company worth millions of dollars or with millions of liabilities and one does not have to disclose it. I suppose the piece de resistance of all is the efforts of a very minor and insignificant figure in this whole ramshackle outfit that masquerades as a government, namely the honourable member for Kalgoorlie. What is the name of the member for Kalgoorlie?

Senator Michael Baume —Graeme Campbell.

Senator DURACK —The honourable member for Kalgoorlie, the most eminently forgettable member of this outfit. When all this conflict of interest nonsense came in Mr Campbell made representations on behalf of some gentleman who approached him for an interest in an abattoir which the Western Australian State Government was going to sell. Apparently these representations did not succeed, which is not surprising, but he received a gift of 100,000 shares worth $20,000 in the company owned by the person for whom he had made representations. Mr Campbell hung on to those shares. He disclosed that he held 100,000 shares in this company. These were given to him in compensation for the fact that he made representations on its behalf to the Western Australian Labor Government of Premier Burke.

Senator Walters —What standards!

Senator DURACK —What standards! He just disclosed that he had the shares; he did not say how he got them. He was not required to say how he got them. He got them as a pay-off for making representations to the Government.

Senator Walters —This is the mob that is talking about morals.

Senator DURACK —Yes, this is the mob. We have talked about Senator Button, the egregious Mr Dawkins, Mr Campbell, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Attorney-General, Mr Lionel Bowen. We have had many examples of cases in which conflicts of interest may or may not have applied and in relation to which these rules have no relevance, no significance and no effect whatsoever. These show the hypocrisy of this Government, and the wimpish, slavish following of fashion about a conflict of interest disclosure.

When we were in government we took this matter fairly seriously and we appointed a committee to inquire into it under the chairmanship of the Chief Judge of the Federal Court, Sir Nigel Bowen. Sir Nigel Bowen's committee made a very valuable report which not only the Fraser Government acted upon but also this Government has acted upon. The recommendations of that committee keep on cropping up in legislation time and time again. The heart and soul of that recommendation which the Fraser Government accepted, and which is so obviously common sense and moral sense-of which this Government has no understanding-requires that when people in this place and in the other place speak on a matter before the chamber they have to disclose possible conflicts of interest. That is the point when conflicts of interest matter; it is not passing some motion which has no relevance whatsoever. This requirement says that a person has to focus on what possible interest he or she has in a matter before the chamber or-unlike Mr Dawkins-that a person has to disclose it at a Cabinet meeting or a Cabinet sub-committee. There could be no more disgraceful performance, no more disgraceful conflict of interest, or failure to disclose a conflict of interest, than Mr Dawkins who was a Cabinet member, the chairman, the convener-what was he? Does Senator Button remember? Senator Button is probably too uninterested to worry about it. Mr Dawkins was the convener of the Cabinet sub-committee on this whole question of the propriety of the Bell Resources takeover of BHP-a matter of the most enormous public significance to this country about this time last year. Mr Dawkins was so moralistic, so self-righteous, and such a total prig, that he told his own colleagues how they had to disclose their interests, but he did not disclose that he was in fair shape to inherit $200,000 worth of shares in the takeover company, Bell Resources. Perhaps Senator Buton was one of those colleagues-I do not know. Perhaps he was not significant enough to be put on the Committee-I do not know. Perhaps he was. I notice that he is very silent about this. Why did Mr Dawkins not disclose? These rules do not require him to disclose a most vital matter.

Senator Walters —He is not going to defend his colleague. He is keeping very quiet.

Senator DURACK —Of course. He cannot defend him. How they keep him I do not know. He must have some mesmeric influence that escapes me. To think that he would be kept in any government, even Mr Hawke's Government! There is really no substance in these resolutions. I have shown that they will achieve nothing. The Government has put them forward but does not even believe in them. It cannot defend them. They cannot work and they have not worked.

Senator Reid —They are like Priority One.

Senator DURACK —They are like Priority One: Young Australia and so many other subjects of this Government. Yet we are being asked to pass these resolutions. As far as the Opposition is concerned, we will let them pass. Despite the total hypocrisy with which they have been brought in and despite their total ineffectiveness, we will comply with them. As we have already seen, we will see that they will be of no use whatsoever in making anybody honest who is not prepared to be honest. They will be of pathetic nuisance value to those who have to go through this ludicrous charade which this Government thinks is some form of good government.

There is one aspect of these rules and regulations which is totally at variance with all the rhetoric of the Government-sex equality, equal opportunity for women and so on. That was pointed out to honourable senators opposite by the wife of the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism, Mr John Brown, one of their own colleagues. This resolution requires senators and members to disclose the interests of their spouses even though their spouses may have their own careers and may have assets earned by their own efforts which have nothing whatever to do with them. Members and senators are required to disclose the interests of their spouses about matters or interests totally acquired by their spouses' own efforts and totally unrelated to members and senators. We have all the mouthing hypocrisy of this Government about sex equality, yet here is a classic example where women who have their own careers and have made their own way must have those matters disclosed, even though they are of no relevance whatever.

As I said, even one of the Ministers of this Government has failed to disclose and will not disclose certain interests. Although I am not an admirer of Mr Brown, at least he has a better understanding than Senator Button or the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, of these matters. Where is Senator Ryan? We have not seen her for a long time. I suppose we will not see her again after her great contribution to the Senate last time we sat. Where does Senator Ryan stand on this? Does she support this? What about all the sisterhood? Not one of the sisterhood is over there. Where are they all? Are they going to disclose what the assets of their spouses are? Is that consistent with all the rhetoric and hypocrisy of this Government about equal opportunity for women?

Senator Michael Baume —Senator Ryan is expressing a lot of interest, but it is generally interest rates.

Senator DURACK —Yes, but she does not know much about that either, according to the Government.

Senator Siddons —Senator Ryan is a very busy senator.

Senator DURACK —Busy at what?

Senator Siddons —Running the Education Department.

Senator DURACK —Yes. I do not think there is much more that I can say about this. This is an absolutely magnificent example of the priorities of this Government-the priorities of the smokescreen, of irrelevance and of hypocrisy. That is what the Hawke Government's trademark is-total rhetoric and hypocrisy over and over again to a nauseating extent. This particular resolution is the high point of this Government's contribution to the government of this country. It is the greatest example I have seen of how rhetoric and hypocrisy have totally taken over sound commonsense judgment and sound government.