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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2305

Senator COULTER (3.09 p.m.) —I rise to speak on this matter because, frankly, I am fed up with Senator Ian Macdonald using every single opportunity to try to undermine any initiative which this government, or anybody else in Australia for that matter, takes to protect the Australian environment. He feigns concern for the environment, whereas in fact his motivation is absolutely clear. His motivation is to have development at any cost—at any cost to the environment, at any cost to the Australian people. He uses every opportunity whenever anybody speaks on an environment matter to simply knock that approach in any way that he can.

  Here Senator Macdonald is attempting to set up this straw man of factional deals or factional battles within the Labor Party, but his real motivation is simply to get this absolutely destructive development at the Hinchinbrook Channel under way. He could not give a damn as to what happens to North Queensland. If the fact is known, because of Senator Macdonald's connections with tourist development, somewhere along the way he probably has some sort of a finger in the pie anyway. He certainly has a general interest in the promotion of these sorts of—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. I do not have to put up with that sort of scurrilous accusation from someone of Senator Coulter's standing. Had it been from someone of some standing in the community, I might have taken some note of it. That accusation is absolutely untrue, of course, and absolutely scurrilous. It shows the depths to which the Australian Democrats will sink in personal abuse to get some sort of filthy message across.

Senator Faulkner —Mr Deputy President, on the point of order: I am not one for taking points of order about myself when I am defamed by people for whom I have absolutely no regard at all—and Senator Macdonald fits into that category—but perhaps you may consider that what Senator Coulter has just said about Senator Macdonald appears to me to be extraordinarily moderate compared with what Senator Macdonald alleged about me about my having some sort of improper involvement in this project on the basis of some alleged interparty factional arrangement or brawl in Queensland. Is Senator Coulter's alleged indiscretion any greater than Senator Macdonald's?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —With respect to the point of order, I will take up the second part first. Senator Faulkner, I rather did think Senator Macdonald was trespassing into the area of impugning motive when he was suggesting that you had undertaken a certain course of action for less than honourable reasons. But certainly Senator Coulter was trespassing with more vigour into that same area when he attempted to assert that Senator Macdonald had conducted himself in a certain way for personal benefit. That, with respect, is a great deal less attractive proposition than that put by Senator Macdonald. But, if one were to interpret the standing orders precisely, I would have ruled both of those statements out of order. Senator Coulter, I ask you to withdraw your comments.

Senator COULTER —I withdraw any assertion that Senator Macdonald has a personal and direct financial interest in the Hinchinbrook Channel development. What I was alluding to was this: he certainly has a general interest in tourist development in North Queensland, which interest is identified quite frequently in this chamber. So he has a predilection—

Senator Campbell —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. That withdrawal is being qualified, and it should not be qualified in any way whatsoever. The assertion that should have been withdrawn was a general assertion that Senator Macdonald has a financial interest in tourism developments in Queensland. The withdrawal should be entirely unqualified, and a personal apology should be made to Senator Macdonald. This has been disgraceful behaviour by Senator Coulter.

Senator Panizza —Mr Deputy President, on the same point of order: I thought I heard Senator Coulter say that Senator Macdonald has a personal interest. The second time round he said Senator Macdonald has a general interest. I believe he should withdraw that statement about personal interest, otherwise we are going to have the Cook situation where senators can get away with that sort of thing.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —My understanding is that Senator Coulter made an unreserved withdrawal of what he said. If he did not, then I misunderstood him. When it comes to motives, I would point out that one can have honourable motives and one can have dishonourable motives.

Senator Faulkner —I have never had the latter myself.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am certain that Senator Faulkner has not, nor have the vast majority of his colleagues. Senator Coulter, I understood you to be withdrawing without qualification. If I have misunderstood you, I should be grateful if you would let me know.

Senator COULTER —You have understood me absolutely correctly, Mr Deputy President. I went on as a separate point to assert—and Senator Ian Macdonald can verify this—that frequently in this chamber he has identified himself as somebody with a direct interest in the promotion of tourism in north Queensland. In that connection he has a predilection in this direction and allows that concern to override his feigned concern about environment to the extent that he has no interest whatever in protecting the environment. As I said earlier, he uses every single opportunity that comes along to denigrate, to damage those people who seek to protect the environment, and in this case he is using the situation in the Hinchinbrook Channel to do that.

  In this connection the minister is perfectly correct in using all those powers that legitimately come within his purview as minister for the environment in the Commonwealth to protect that environment which is of benefit to all the people of Australia—not just those in north Queensland who may have a particular interest in a particular area, as Senator Ian Macdonald has pointed out. It is quite ridiculous for Senator Ian Macdonald to suggest that for some reason Senator Faulkner should stand back from using those powers which he is quite legitimately seeking to exercise.

  Senator Ian Macdonald also seeks to exploit the fact that often very little information is available in relation to the environment early in the day. He would undercut the financial support to the establishment of these databases giving this information. Yet he relies on that information when ministers have to come in late in the day to protect the environment. He cannot have it both ways. I think that in every respect he is somebody who has shown himself to have no interest in environmental protection, to be committed to environmental destruction. I think people need to recognise that that is his motivation, where he comes from, where he stands, and that is the beginning and the end of it.