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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 826

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(9.45) —I wish to speak very briefly in this debate. I begin by thanking Senator Durack for his support of the motions, and the Government very much appreciates it.

Senator Walters —Is that how you interpret it?

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator said that the motion would not be opposed, and I would like to thank him for that because I think that is important. I am quite grateful for that, but I do want to make a couple of comments about what he had to say because although it was not the best speech I have heard Senator Durack make in this place it was certainly the worst. One would have expected some serious contribution to the debate. It is not sufficient for Senator Durack to come in here to tip buckets, as may be his wont in Western Australia but it has not been here, because he is not very good at it. He might have made some contribution to the issue. Let me first of all put it into perspective. It is not an issue which is beyond serious debate and consideration.

Senator Durack —It is your resolution that is beyond serious contribution.

Senator BUTTON —Now, Senator, none of the bottom drawer stuff. It has been the subject of serious debate and resolution and rules of the House of Commons, of the United States of America Congress and of various State parliaments in Australia. I am talking about the general topic. It is a fact that in 1975 a committee of this Parliament was appointed on which such luminaries from that side of the House as Mr Killen, as I recall it, Mr Peter Nixon and others recommended unanimously a scheme for registration of pecuniary interests of members of parliament. It is a matter about which Liberal Party of Australia politicians and National Party of Australia politicians in the past have given very serious attention and consideration and have made recommendations to this Parliament which, for reasons which I do not assail, the Fraser Government of which they were members decided not to adopt.

The point I am simply making is that it is a serious issue and has been regarded as a serious issue by that committee of the Parliament, by the Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest and by the House of Representatives Committee on Members' Interests. In addition, from time to time it has been the subject of some discussion at the Standing Orders Committee of the Senate, at which meetings constructive contributions and suggestions have been made. But here Senator Durack, I think the shadow Minister for Resources and Energy, made a speech tonight in which he said that the Opposition will not oppose the legislation but in which he offered not one constructive suggestion about its possible improvement.

Senator Durack —There is no improvement possible in it.

Senator BUTTON —Is that right? The point I am trying to make is that that would not be a view accepted by some of his colleagues in the past who have sat on these committees and made recommendations. The saddest thing about Senator Durack's speech was that he confused a number of issues in his own mind. He confused the question of a registration of members' interests with the whole question of conflict of interest. I do not think he understands the notion of conflict of interest. Conflict of interest arises where a member has an interest of a pecuniary kind which is likely to affect his judgment in the carrying out of his duties. That is what it means. Senator Durack, in order to put his mudhook in that slimey barrel which he used tonight, ignored those considerations altogether and ranged over a wide range of issues which have nothing to do directly with the question of conflict of interests. He gave a number of examples of that. Of course the real revealing thing about Senator Durack's speech-I do not want to go into the record of the Fraser Government in respect of these matters as it would take some time--

Senator Durack —It's a lot better than yours.

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator is on record in regard to the bottom drawer. I would not interject like that, old son. The fact of the matter is that if one did that it would contribute nothing to the matter which is now before the Senate. It would just contribute to a further disrespect for the profession which we all attempt to follow. But the real bottom line of Senator Durack's speech tonight was his references to the Opposition, to people such as himself, having more experience of morality and politics than those in the present Government. According to Senator Durack, the present Government has no moral sense. Of course that is what he is offering to the people of Australia in the next election, is it not? He is offering people such as himself, who have a moral sense-I do not know whether that is a result of an accident of birth, or what-and experience of government. What sort of experience of government would he offer to the Australian people? All his problems in opposition at the moment are related to the fact that most of the people who had been political supporters of his party or had been involved in politics for a long time knew his Government was no good. The Premier of Queensland knew the previous Government was no good.

Senator Durack —Can you give a couple of moral examples?

Senator BUTTON —The honourable senator should read today's paper.

Senator Walters —We don't cash in our airline tickets and try to take our kids with us like Brown and his wife did.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Walters might not have been listening to the point I was making a minute ago. I could entertain her with example after example of that sort of thing being done during her period of government. I do not condone it and I do not think there is any point in having a mud sling about that, as Senator Durack did. The question is whether we can arrive at a better set of rules in respect of the disclosure of pecuniary interests of members of parliament. As I have said, many Liberal parliamentarians and National Party parliamentarians have in the past been prepared to contribute to that debate. The point I was seeking to make before I was interrupted by Senator Walters was that, as Sir Robert Sparkes said this morning: `We want a better government in Canberra. We do not want one like the Fraser Government again'. I am not making any judgment about Sir Robert Sparkes's morality or anything like that.

Senator Walters —At least Fraser had standards, which is not what you have got.

Senator BUTTON —Oh, indeed! Losing his trousers in Memphis I suppose was the best demonstration of the standards to which the honourable senator refers. The honourable senator should not provoke me about this sort of thing. If that is the standard the honourable senator espouses and supports, let the people of Tasmania hear about it.

Senator Michael Baume —But what do they think about you?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Baume too should let the people of New South Wales know that he supports that. They know him as a waste watcher but the only waist he does not watch is his own. The point I am making is that this is the source of many difficulties for the Opposition at the present time. It is extraordinary that we have an Opposition here which makes no effort through its principal spokesman on this issue to contribute to improving this system-and I concede, quite frankly, that it could be improved. That is what we, as parliamentarians, ought to be concerned about. I promised Senator Macklin that I would not speak for long if I took advantage of the few minutes available.

Senator Walters —What are you doing about improving it?

Senator BUTTON —At this stage we are trying to get a system in the Senate which is complementary to the system which the House of Representatives adopted. If both Houses can work at that question of improving the legislation I would certainly welcome it.