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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 400

Senator KERNOT —My question is directed to the minister representing the Treasurer—I believe it is Senator McMullan today. I was very interested to read today's Sydney Morning Herald article by Mike Seccombe which reports the Treasurer, Mr Willis, as saying `he will push for changes to ensure the decision-making process on foreign investment will be open to public scrutiny'. If, based on the overwhelming evidence, the Senate select committee were to recommend greater public scrutiny, does this mean that we could expect the government to take some sort of prompt action on such recommendations? Secondly, does today's article signal that the Treasurer is himself willing to take such a lead? Thirdly, does the minister acknowledge that that reform alone would be a very positive result to come out of the present Senate inquiry?

Senator McMULLAN —Most of the question is based on a premise that I certainly do not accept, which is that any approach by the Treasurer such as that reported flows from the Senate committee's activities. If one were looking for any proposal in Australia to improve the quality of public administration in Australia, the last place one would look is the Senate committee looking into media ownership. It has been a scandal and a farce from beginning to end, and remains such.

  I have not discussed this with the Treasurer—I have read the press report—so I cannot comment on the extent to which this is a matter on which he is going to take action or whether he has any intention of awaiting the outcome of the committee's activities before so doing. If the Treasurer has been accurately reported, he does give an indication of circumstances in which, when he became Treasurer, he became aware of certain information and formed a judgment about what policy was the appropriate response. It does not in any way flow from the absurd posturings of Senator Alston and his merry band.

Senator KERNOT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If it had nothing to do with the Senate inquiry but if the Senate inquiry were to go ahead and make such recommendations—and we would harp back to the Treasurer's own understanding of the problems—could we then still expect a swift response to our recommendations?

Senator McMULLAN —If the committee makes recommendations with which the Treasurer agrees, I am sure he will be enthusiastic about adopting them.