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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 549

Senator HILL —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In recent days the minister has denied offering the member for Lalor, Barry Jones, a diplomatic post as an inducement to hand over his seat to him. Today, we learn that Mr Jones has in fact kept a detailed record of the public and private moves to persuade him to shift from his seat, including virtually verbatim records of key conversations with the Prime Minister and Senator Gareth Evans, and that the records suggest that the prospect of employment outside parliament was in fact offered. I ask the minister what alternative employment prospect was raised with Mr Jones during the course of these discussions?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not sure that this has anything whatever to do with my ministerial portfolio and I believe the question is out of order. But for the record let me repeat absolutely and unequivocally that there was no offer of any diplomatic appointment, nor anything more than a fleeting, passing reference to whether either of us would be interested in that sort of career at some future stage. The answer from both of us was no. The only other context in which life after political death was the subject of some particular discussion was in the context of a discussion about how Mr Jones's extraordinarily well-developed talents for thinking, for writing and for articulating a vision about the future of Australia might best be utilised if he were to leave parliament. Some options were canvassed in that respect. Beyond that, I do not propose to go into what was at the time a private conversation and should have remained so.

Senator HILL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It is interesting that the minister confirms that a fleeting, passing reference to a diplomatic post did occur. This should be put in the context of what the Sydney Morning Herald in today's editorial described as the `disturbing trend by the Labor Government to regard Federal appointments as patronage to be dispensed as part of the spoils of office'. The Sydney Morning Herald listed some appointments including those of Bannon, Kirner, Kerin, Ryan, Tate, Cavalier, Hayden, McClelland, Jenkins, Bowen, Maguire, Hurford, Sibraa, Blewett and Grimes. The minister might remember Mr Charles who lost his seat so that a place could be found for Mr Crean. Mr Charles was sent off to San Francisco as a consul-general with no experience whatsoever. With that background, should not the public regard a fleeting, passing reference to a diplomatic post as an inducement?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Rather than being tempted to mention Webster, Garland, McLeay, Rankin, Cotton, Yates, Arthur and a few others that immediately come to mind, let me respond with some of the other appointments we have made during this tenure of government: Warwick Smith as telecommunications ombudsman; Fred Chaney as a part-time commissioner of the National Native Title Tribunal; Peter Baume as chairman of the Australian Sports Drug Agency; Sallyanne Atkinson as senior trade commissioner in Paris; Malcolm Fraser as a member of the Eminent Persons Group; Ian McPhee as chair of the independent review of the Civil Aviation Authority's tender evaluation process for the Australian advanced air traffic system.

Senator Alston —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Evans should sit down.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Alston, it is up to me to call order.

Senator Alston —I would have thought that this was an open and shut case. What we have here is a question directed to the minister, who is obviously exquisitely sensitive about the issue and has not taken the same notes as Mr Jones. Senator Evans was asked why the public should not come to the conclusion that a very squalid deal has been done, yet all he is doing is ranting on about ancient history on our side of the chamber. Mr President, I ask you to direct him to answer the question that Senator Hill put to him.

The PRESIDENT —I judge the answer to be perfectly relevant.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am indebted to you, Mr President. The point of the matter is that persons are appointed to publicly funded jobs when they are judged to be the best person for that job, whatever side of politics they come from. We are satisfied that all of the appointments that we have made are of people who have the expertise, experience and skills required to undertake their duties successfully.

Senator Kemp —Mr President, I rise on a point of order, relating to the question of relevance. The point of the question was that Senator Evans was making an offer of a taxpayer-funded job which would be to his direct benefit. That was the nub of the question. Why does Senator Evans not answer that?

Senator Robert Ray —On the point of order: Senator Evans, by reading out a list of Liberal appointees in previous governments, has shown that that was the practice of the previous government. After all, Mr Fraser got three backbenchers or ministers out of the road in 1980—he appointed them to overseas posts—all of whom who performed well. Senator Evans is entitled to indicate the credentials of Senator Hill and the Liberal Party. In raising the issue of Labor appointees, they are entitled to have the Liberal appointees brought to their attention, because that is what Senator Evans is relying on as a precedent.

Senator Hill —The point of order is that the minister fails to understand the distinction; that is, the jobs that I have referred to have been Labor members who have been removed to create vacancies and given a benefit at the public expense. The Sydney Morning Herald refers to it as:

. . . entrenching a political culture that its boys and girls can expect to be supported by the taxpayer long after their political careers are over.

That is why the question concerned an inducement that was offered to Barry Jones to create a vacancy for the foreign minister, and that is why it is so different from all of the other examples that Senator Evans has given. Therefore, he should come back and answer the question that was asked.

Senator Cooney —On the point of order, as I understood it—and it was quite clear—at no stage did Senator Evans admit that he had given any inducement to Barry Jones.

Senator Hill —A fleeting, passing reference.

Senator Cooney —That is true, Senator Hill. It was a passing reference, but there was nothing from Senator Evans's mouth that could, in any way, lead to the conclusion that he was saying that he was holding out any inducement to Mr Jones. Some senators on the other side have made an assumption which is not justified on the evidence.

The PRESIDENT —I have no reason to change the judgment that I made when Senator Alston raised the point of order.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not surprised that the list that I read out should have profoundly embarrassed the opposition. It has demonstrated that this government approaches its responsibilities in an absolutely even-handed way. (Time expired)