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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6828


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:16 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Can the minister confirm that, according to the most recent information from the Australian Electoral Commission, her husband is enrolled to vote at a property in Paradise Avenue, Avalon, on Sydney's Northern Beaches—a property which she and her husband have referred to as their `weekender'? What is the effect of this enrolment on the liability for land tax and capital gains tax on this property?


Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I put it to you that the issue of property ownership or even of the enrolment of Senator Coonan's husband has no relevance to her portfolio whatsoever and the question should therefore be ruled out of order.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, on the point of order: I think a question to the Minister for Revenue about the liability for capital gains tax is very much in order and I would ask you to so rule.


Senator Alston —Mr President, on the point of order: as I understood the last part of the question, it was seeking legal advice as to liability in certain circumstances. That is not appropriate for question time, either, and Senator Faulkner well knows it.


The PRESIDENT —Given the remarks that have been made, Senator Faulkner, I think that perhaps you should consider rephrasing the question—in particular, the inquiry about a minister's husband.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, on the point of order: can you explain to me why I must reframe the question to the Minister for Revenue or, frankly, to any minister of the government? In this instance, I responded to a point of order that was made by Senator Hill. I did not go more broadly. Clearly, the minister is the Minister for Revenue. An impact on a federal tax—in this case, on the capital gains tax—surely is in order for the Minister for Revenue to answer. I suggest to you that it is not appropriate for me, nor is there any need for me, to reframe the question that I have asked.


Senator Alston —Mr President, on the point of order, which Senator Faulkner seemed unwilling to accept: I would have thought that even Senator Faulkner would accept that it would not be appropriate to ask the Minister for Revenue about the private affairs of other individuals, given that she is an adult and presumably does not have full control over her husband's affairs. There is absolutely no reason for presuming that somehow she is aware of his financial circumstances or his liabilities. In other words, once you accept that she is not being asked about her own affairs and the impact they might have on her responsibilities, you ought to treat her husband just as you would treat any other citizen. I cannot for a moment imagine that even Senator Faulkner would suggest that it is appropriate to ask questions about ordinary citizens in this place.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, on the point of order: the question arises from comments attributed to Senator Coonan and Senator Coonan's husband in an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald.


Senator Lightfoot —Mr President, on the point of order: as everyone knows, revenue is, of course, state based. It is not within the jurisdiction of the minister to comment on revenue that arises in the state of New South Wales. With respect to the GST, that only comes about if there is a sale—and we have no idea whether there is a sale. Even then, we do not know—nor should we—whether that property is held in joint tenancy or tenancy in common, or whether in fact the Assistant Treasurer has any equity in that property whatsoever. I therefore put it to you, Mr President, that the question that was directed concerned the Assistant Treasurer's husband and has no validity in this chamber.


The PRESIDENT —I intend to rule the question out of order at this point and I will take advice. But, given the fact that you are asking a minister to answer questions on behalf of her husband, I do not believe it is relevant. I shall take advice on that.


Senator Faulkner —Are you going to call me for another question?


The PRESIDENT —You will get a question after Senator Ridgeway.


Senator Cook —Mr President, on the point of order, since you indicated that you intend to rule this way but have not yet ruled this way, why would you not allow the minister to answer the question if she so chooses? That has been a device that other presidents in this chamber have used when questions have been arguably marginal as to whether they are within a minister's portfolio. Allow the minister to answer the question if she so chooses.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, I would allow you to ask that question again if you were to ask a question that the minister can answer—in other words, as you would understand, you may ask her the parts of question that do not refer to an opinion on her husband.


Senator FAULKNER —Thank you, Mr President. I do not believe there is any need to reword the question but I will do so, regardless. My question is directed to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Has the minister checked her obligation in the Prime Minister's code of ministerial conduct in relation to the statements she has made on her property holdings? Specifically, can the minister confirm the statement reported in the Sydney Morning Herald today that renovations to her house in Woollahra were completed in April 2000—that is, nearly a year before her husband changed his enrolment? Is it also true that the New South Wales Office of State Revenue sent out land tax bills of new valuations in February and March 2001—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Time for asking the question has expired.


Senator FAULKNER —The clock was not put on. With respect, the clock was not put on this question for one minute, Mr President. The clock has not been on for over half a minute. The clock has not been on. Concluding my question, I ask whether this has nothing to do with renovations and everything to do with tax.


Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Mr President, I could not understand the question. As there was so much cavilling and going backwards and forwards on the question, I do not know what the question was. Quite honestly, I cannot tell what it was.


Senator Brown —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It was difficult to hear that question. The senator says that she cannot answer that question because she could not hear it. Therefore, in the interest of the whole Senate, I ask that the question be put yet again.


Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister what the effect of her husband's enrolment was on liability for land tax and capital gains tax on the property at Paradise Avenue, Clareville. Can the minister confirm her statement in today's Sydney Morning Herald that the renovations to her house in Woollahra were completed in April 2000—that is, nearly a year before her husband changed his enrolment? Is it also true that the New South Wales Office of State Revenue sent out land tax bills of new valuations in February and March 2001, and did her husband change his enrolment within weeks? Isn't it obvious that this has nothing to do with renovations and everything to do with tax?


Senator Hill —I rise on a point of order, Mr President. That is a restatement of the question that you ruled out of order. It is asking the minister a number of questions about her husband's enrolment and his taxation liabilities. You correctly, I respectfully suggest, ruled that out of order as not being relevant to her ministerial responsibilities, and you should stand by that ruling.


Senator Faulkner —Mr President, on that point of order, the supplementary question I have asked is a restatement of the question I was invited by you to re-ask. I did re-ask it. If you check the Hansard record, I think you will find there is very little difference between that and the primary question I asked, which no-one took a point of order on and which you did not rule out of order. Surely, if that is the case, the supplementary question must be in order.


Senator Brown —Notwithstanding that, Mr President, you did not rule on my original point of order, which was that the question should be treated as the primary question, because the minister was not able to adequately hear it and therefore could not respond. This is a very important question, and the minister ought not be restricted to one minute in giving her reply. She should be given the full opportunity of the allocated four minutes to respond to that question.


The PRESIDENT —I do not believe there is a point of order, Senator Brown, but I do take note of the points you have made. Senator Faulkner, your supplementary question was certainly different from the amended question you asked, and I rule the part that referred to Senator Coonan's husband out of order. I do not believe it is right that you should be asking questions about a person's—


Senator Faulkner —So is that one sentence out of order?


The PRESIDENT —It was certainly a different question from the first one you asked. Senator Coonan, do you wish to answer that part of the question which has not been ruled out of order?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Yes. I have complied meticulously with the ministerial guidelines. I have absolutely no interest, and never have had any interest, in any property at Clareville. The property at Clareville that seems to have excited so much interest from those opposite was owned by my husband before we were married, and we have been married for about 20 years. That means it cannot be subject to capital gains tax. The property was purchased many years before capital gains tax was introduced in 1985. As those opposite should be aware, capital gains tax does not apply to assets owned before 1985. The Labor Party should know this, because they introduced capital gains tax. There is no liability for capital gains tax, either now or when the property is sold— (Time expired)