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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1072

Senator TROETH —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women. The Prime Minister has given many assurances over recent months of the government's so-called `commitment to constant vigilance when it comes to improving the status of Australian women'. How then does the minister reconcile such sanctimonious assurances with the vicious personal attacks by Mr Keating as reported by Laurie Oakes in today's Bulletin when he describes Mr Keating as referring to one leading female journalist as `the Tory bitch' and to another as a `fat-arsed bitch'? Does the minister condemn Mr Keating's use of blatant sexism and vitriolic abuse against women? Will the minister make it clear to Mr Keating that Australian women will not tolerate this outrageous hypocrisy?

Senator CROWLEY —I have no evidence that the Prime Minister said anything like that. I will not enter into the debate in this place about using any of those words. Through its policies and programs this government has a clear commitment to improving the status of women. As to the language, I would have to say that this place yesterday decided—

Senator Panizza —Mr President, on a point of order. It was a very specific question. The minister is doing everything except answering it, so tell her to get relevant.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. The minister has only just started answering the question. At this stage I fail to see how it can be relevant or irrelevant.

Senator CROWLEY —I have not finished, Mr President. I was going to say that I do not wish to assist the debate. When opposition members come into this place and want to argue about policies then I will be very much prepared to take up the issue, but we have no campaign at all about policies. What will Senator Troeth do on behalf of women? Nothing! Will Senator Troeth assist this government in its comprehensive policies for women? As to name calling, yesterday this place decided that the word `goose' was unparliamentary. Being of such tender mind, I will not contribute.

Senator TROETH —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I would like to assure Senator Crowley that it gives me no pleasure to use in this place the words attributed to the Prime Minister. If Mr Keating did not use the expressions quoted in the article he has clearly been seriously defamed. Will the minister therefore immediately request the Prime Minister to state publicly whether these reported remarks are true? If they are, will the minister have the courage to dissociate herself from them on behalf of the women of Australia?

Senator CROWLEY —There is little I can add to what I have already said, and I do not wish to buy into it. I will certainly make it my business to find out whether there is any substance to these matters; but I do not believe that the issue about—

Senator Alston —Mr President, on a point of order. The point of order is relevance. The first part of the question enabled Senator Crowley to say she had not read the article; the supplementary question stated that those reports, if not true, are defamatory of the Prime Minister. She was asked specifically whether she would refer the matter to the Prime Minister and respond. You ought to make her answer that question and not pretend that it is simply the same question recycled.

The PRESIDENT —When you rose to your point of order she was doing just that. I thought she was referring to the article and saying she would find out what was said.

Senator CROWLEY —The point at issue is which, the government or the opposition, is seriously concerned about policies and programs for the status of women. That is what the issue is; it is not about these distractions. I rest our case.

Senator Alston —Mr President, I raise a point of order. Do you seriously contend that that is anything other than a non-responsive answer? You have heard Senator Crowley say that the point is nothing to do with the question. I therefore invite you to direct her to answer it.

The PRESIDENT —I am not in a position to indicate how people should answer questions.

Senator Kemp —I raise a point of order, Mr President. You do have the right to tell people to be relevant to the question. Many presidents before you have found it very easy to rule on that. Senator Crowley ducked and weaved when she was asked whether the Prime Minister made those comments or not. That was the question and that is the issue which you have to address Senator Crowley to.

  Government senators interjecting

Senator Kemp —It is embarrassing, I know, Senator Robert Ray, because you know and because everybody else knows that that was the question.

The PRESIDENT —Contrary to your opinion, Senator Kemp, I think my predecessors have always had difficulty with the question of relevance. I think if you look through the Hansards you will find that. There is no point of order. I cannot rule on it.