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Monday, 23 August 1999
Page: 7477

Senator HOGG —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Can the minister inform the Senate of just what the Minister for Defence meant when he stated that, `If he didn't get Malcolm McIntosh for the Secretary of the Department of Defence, he'd return to the bush within six months'? Wasn't this statement recounted by the head of the Prime Minister's department, as detailed in Mr Barratt's sworn Federal Court affidavit, and not objected to by the government's counsel? Wasn't this a blunt threat by the Minister for Defence to resign if he did not get his own way, no matter who was a friend of the Prime Minister?

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —This seems to continue a line of questioning commenced on the last occasion that parliament sat. On that occasion, I took objection on the basis that the matters were before the court. I think another valid objection, really, as it relates to Minister Moore, is that in many ways it was inappropriate for him to respond to allegations made by the instigator of the action. So, to some extent, it has been a one-sided debate. I think that is probably still the attitude of Mr Moore—to engage in the debate and put his side of the story is, really, unhelpful to resolution of the issue. The important thing from the government's perspective is that we have heard the orders of the court, and the government is proceeding pursuant to those orders. If in fact there is a vacancy in the position, the vacancy will be filled according to the proper processes as well.

Senator HOGG —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Assuming, of course, that the government does finally successfully unravel the botched sacking of Mr Barratt, can the minister confirm that the list of potential replacements as Secretary to the Department of Defence is getting shorter by the day as likely candidates realise just what a poisoned chalice heading the department under Minister Moore will be? And will the job still be limited to a six- to 12-month period as originally envisaged, despite the continued instability this would mean for Australia's defence?

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —I do not think that one should assume that it would be an appointment for a short period of time. In relation to Minister Moore, yes, he is a demanding minister, but I think that many of those demands related to the submarine project. I think Australia's defence position, as well as that of the Australian taxpayer, is probably better now as a result of Mr Moore being a demanding minister. We now know what is necessary to rectify that particular program and what the real cost of doing so will be. So I certainly will not apologise for a minister doing his job, even if that is demanding according to what some officials might believe to be necessary. Minister Moore has been a good minister and will continue to be so, and he certainly has the confidence of the Prime Minister.