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Wednesday, 5 June 1991
Page: 4377


Senator CALVERT —My question is directed to the Minister for Defence. I refer the Minister to his widely reported statement in defence of the Prime Minister at the weekend in which he said, `No absolute promise in politics is absolute'. How does the Minister reconcile this statement when, during the adjournment debate in this place on 29 November 1990, in reply to my colleague Senator Tambling, the Minister also said, `When Ministers genuinely promise, they should deliver'?


Senator ROBERT RAY —The other night I said that there was no absolute promise in politics, and that is right. I did not say that some people who give absolute promises in politics do not keep them. I am certain that that applies to very many people; they do keep their promises in politics. But it is not an absolute law of politics.


Senator Alston —Should they?


Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Alston interjects, `Should they?'. Just to put this into context, seeing that both Senator Alston and I represent the great State of Victoria--


Senator Crichton-Browne —The once great State.


Senator ROBERT RAY —No, not once great; still great State.


Senator Kemp —The Albania of the south, you called it.


Senator ROBERT RAY —That is a reference to its foreign policy. I will just remind honourable senators of what has happened in the past two weeks in terms of the credibility of the Liberal Party of Australia. No-one is arguing that the credibility of the Australian Labor Party is travelling well on this other issue. No-one is arguing that. We have the new leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria who ambushed Alan Brown and defeated him for the leadership. These things happen on both sides of politics.


Senator Alston —It is about Ministers.


Senator ROBERT RAY —It is just about Ministers; laws apply only to Ministers according to Senator Alston.


Senator Alston —That is what you were asked.


Senator ROBERT RAY —I will answer the question in my own way, without Senator Alston's assistance. The situation there, as Mr Kennett said, is that he would invoke his fourth step and would make sure that no defeated or retiring Labor member would have his or her superannuation granted.


Senator Collins —He is mad.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator ROBERT RAY —But not only did that flow against the whole promise of the Liberal Party never to support retrospective legislation-leaving that aside-but when challenged he went on air and said, `If I ever resile from this I will resign'. One would have thought that overnight he might think that through and later retract it. But he repeated it in another interview he did the next day. `Just to show I am serious', said Mr Kennett, `I will resign if this legislation--'


Senator Alston —On a point of order, Mr President. I understand the Minister's concern to mount a political argument, but I ask you, Sir, to ask the Minister whether it is not the fact that what Mr Kennett said was, `If I get into government and do not legislate to remove those entitlements, I will resign'. He said nothing else.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.


Senator ROBERT RAY —I will deal with the point of order, Mr President, because it is a reasonably interesting point that Senator Alston has raised. I will not take too much time but, because Senator Alston has interrupted the flow, let me go back to what occurred. Mr Kennett said, `If I don't legislate I will resign'. However, now Mr Kennett has come out and said that he will not legislate. Therefore, which of the promises is to be believed? He cannot win because, if he withdraws the threat, he cannot in fact carry it out. The implication of what Senator Alston is saying is that the withdrawal of the threat is not going to be honoured and, when Mr Kennett gets in, he will pass that sort of legislation. No senator opposite in all this period got up here and properly dissociated himself or herself from one of the most sleazy acts of political blackmail in the history of politics in Australia.


Senator Alston —Should he withdraw it?


Senator ROBERT RAY —He should have been reprimanded. Senators opposite have sat in here and passed superannuation legislation. They have agreed that that legislation should not be discriminatory. They have passed regulations and legislation in this place about non-discriminatory superannuation. But the moment political opportunism and party discipline come to the fore they all shut up and principle goes out the window. Someone can come into the Victorian Parliament and retrospectively legislate on superannuation and senators opposite support that retrospectivity there, but they never did it in regard to the tax bludgers and dodgers.


Senator Kemp —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. The Minister is whipping himself into a lather over Victoria. We are happy to debate matters concerning Victoria at any time, but the question that was put to the Minister was whether the Prime Minister lied during the last election campaign and should he apologise. I ask you, Sir, to make sure that the Minister answers that matter.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator ROBERT RAY —Mr President, I was not asked that question. It was a question about a comment I made the other night, and a comment in the Senate. We are not referring to Federal or State or any other politics; we are talking about politics as a whole. Senator Calvert asked me, `Are there any absolute promises in politics?', and I have said no, but I have also said that some people who make absolute promises in politics always will keep their word in that regard. There is no inconsistency in the two statements.

The inconsistency lies with the hypocrites opposite, not willing to dissociate themselves from one of the most gross distortions in Victorian political history, where Mr Kennett said that he would retrospectively take superannuation from the defeated members of parliament-not the successful ones but the defeated ones. He then said absolutely, `Take my word, I will resign if I don't legislate' and then, like a sleazy cur dog, later on he slips into the press and says a la Nixon `That is no longer operative'.

What do senators opposite say about that? They have never been quoted publicly about it. They have never asked questions about absolute promises in politics in relation to Mr Kennett and many others. What all this is about is where is the consistency in the Opposition's position in the questions that they seek to ask here? I can assure Senator Calvert of one thing: there is no inconsistency in my two statements, that is, that there is no such thing as an absolute promise in politics, which Mr Kennett and many others have proved, but some people who make absolute promises can always be relied on to keep them.


Senator CALVERT —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I thank the Minister for his answer and I also thank him for enlightening us on the situation in Victoria. But in the light of the last comment that Senator Ray made, I ask whether he believes that the Prime Minister's promise to the former Treasurer was genuine.


Senator ROBERT RAY —As I said the other night, it is always the case that circumstances change and that led me on to make the point that there are no absolute promises in politics. That is why it is very unwise for anyone to make an absolute promise in those particular terms. There are a couple of senators sitting on the front bench opposite as a result of promises. During the Howard-Peacock thing it was very interesting sitting on this side and watching who moved from the front bench to the back bench straight afterwards, and who came down. But no promises were made, were they? Were any promises made? Does any senator opposite want to deny that? Do some of those who went over to the Peacock camp want to say that no promises were made to induce them to vote? I start to believe most people within my peripheral vision here on that, but not some others. So what were the promises made down at Dolce Vita by the plotters? What were they? Come clean on them. Who got dudded and who did not get dudded?


Senator Walters —On a point of order, Mr President: the question had nothing to do with promises; it had to do with lies.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.


Senator ROBERT RAY —I was about to wind up but Senator Walters is trying to wind me up again. I am simply asking: during the Howard-Peacock thing what promises were made? Were they all kept? Who crossed sides because of those promises and who got dudded? That is a story that we will read in some of the memoirs of senators opposite in a few years' time.