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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2071

Senator CHAPMAN (3.09 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Robert Ray), to a question without notice asked by Senator Chapman this day, relating to the Prime Minister's lodge.

As I said in my supplementary question, even Senator Robert Ray, who was no friend of the present Prime Minister (Mr Keating) in the Australian Labor Party's earlier leadership bloodbath, has by now so succumbed to the Prime Minister's imperial style that even he treats this extravagant waste of taxpayers' money as a matter for humour and levity. That clearly demonstrates just how out of touch not only the Prime Minister but also his ministers—indeed the whole Labor government—have become with the real attitudes and needs of the Australian people.

  We now find that not only has the sleeping facility of the Prime Minister's dog been heated at some expense to taxpayers but it also appears that the dog is being fed $28 per kilo meat at taxpayers' expense—another extravagance! The government and its ministers are so out of touch, as Senator Ray indicated in his answer, that it completely misses the point of this issue: the attitude of the Prime Minister—an attitude which says it is okay to use taxpayers' money to heat his dog's sleeping facilities. At a time when some 950,000 people are unemployed and thousands are homeless, many without so much as a roof over their heads let alone money to put food on their table, we find the Prime Minister displaying utter contempt for them by abusing taxpayers' money in this way.

  The other interesting aspect of this issue is the way in which the government appears to have gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up this provision of the facility to avoid embarrassment. Senator Ray misled the Senate in the answer that he gave to me, and then used semantics to get around it. The Sunday Telegraph sought an explanation of this issue in a freedom of information request to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The newspaper asked that the freedom of information request be interpreted as broadly as possible. But again, some time after I had asked my question, that department was still denying that this facility had been provided at taxpayers' expense. So, clearly, there has been an attempt by the government to cover up this matter.

  Amazingly, Mr Keating's imperial lifestyle obviously extends even to the family dog. This imperial hound living in the Lodge appears to live even better than the Queen's corgis. It seems that it is costing over $100 a week to keep this dog in the lap of luxury. Obviously the government has been embarrassed by the series of exposes on the Prime Minister's lifestyle. We have had the Thai teak table, the Gould bird print fiasco and, on top of that, we now find a dog living in the lap of luxury at taxpayers' expense. No wonder, when this embarrassment is exposed, the government wants to cover it up by telling lies to this Senate and not answering questions as they were asked.

  We saw Senator Ray try to avoid the issue by saying that he had answered correctly when he said that no heating had been provided in the dog kennel. Firstly, I did not ask whether heating had been provided in the dog kennel. I asked whether it had been provided for a dog kennel, which meant it might have been in the kennel or it might have been in a room in which the kennel was located. This was predicated on the reasonable assumption that this dog kennel, apparently so lovingly hand-built by the Prime Minister, would certainly be the area in which Ruben was sleeping. It turns out Ruben does not like what his boss built for him—he is not sleeping in the dog kennel; he is sleeping in a vestibule entry to the Lodge. He is so disgusted with the kennel that they put his dog basket in this vestibule, and that is where he is sleeping. The fact that he was sleeping there led the Prime Minister to have the heating installed.

  To dismiss the issue as Senator Ray did, on the basis that he was correctly answering the question, clearly indicates an attempt to deliberately avoid the issue. The question was certainly broad enough for Senator Ray to come back and provide an honest answer by saying, `Yes, heating had been provided for this dog. Sure, it wasn't in his kennel but it had been provided where he was sleeping and it had been provided solely for the benefit of this dog'. Apart from storing a few pool chemicals and other items, the room's only other use is to provide sleeping quarters for the dog, so the heating has obviously been provided purely for the dog's use. Mr Deputy President, I come back to the only conclusion that can be reached on this issue: this government has completely lost touch with the Australian people, and its abuse of taxpayers' funds in this way clearly demonstrates that.