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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7000

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:03 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (Senator Coonan) to questions without notice asked by opposition senators today relating to her pecuniary interests.

Through newspaper reports and Mr Rogers's own statement, which was of course released last night in the dead of night, we do have the undignified situation where Mr Rogers has been scurrying around, trying to organise his and Senator Coonan's affairs into some semblance of legitimacy. This is a very sorry episode. We do know that Mr Rogers had to hightail the company secretary of Endispute to ASIC to lodge the late company report of Endispute on Friday, 15 November—two days after Senator Coonan's status as director was exposed in the Senate. But of course the plot thickens. On Monday, 18 November, Mr Rogers contacted the Office of State Revenue and told them that Clareville was no longer his primary place of residence and asked for a land tax bill. November 18—as you would recall, Mr Deputy President—was the Monday after the opposition started asking detailed questions about Endispute and was the same day that Senator Coonan made a statement to the Senate in relation to her involvement with the company.

Mr Rogers wrote to the AEC at the same time and he re-enrolled at his Woollahra address. He is now officially on the roll back where he lives. Mr Rogers received the land tax assessment for Clareville on Friday last week and paid it yesterday. In relation to that, I say: score one up for Senate accountability. On the other hand, Senator Coonan has a real problem. She has been proven to be a comprehensive and serial misleader of the Senate. Endispute, it turns out—

Senator Brandis —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order: that is an attribution against Senator Coonan which is in violation of standing order 193(3). It is an allegation of dishonesty.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, on the point of order, I would ask you to withdraw `serial misleader'.

Senator FAULKNER —I withdraw the words `serial misleader'. If that is unparliamentary, let us examine the record. As it turns out, Endispute is not a shelf company, although that is what Senator Coonan claimed in the parliament. She said it was; it is not. It is an active, trading family company. We know that Endispute provides alternative dispute resolution and mediation services to, I think, the top end of town. It is not an inactive shelf company at all. I believe that Senator Coonan has misled the parliament in that regard and has almost certainly contravened the code of ministerial conduct. And, of course, she is still to explain a conflict of interest.

Senator Coonan misled the parliament over her property in Manuka, having stated yesterday that the only property she owns is in Woollahra. Senator Coonan misled the parliament with her declaration of pecuniary interests, stating that the Woollahra address was an investment property. She blamed her staff. She signed the form. She has now corrected the record, having had the discrepancy pointed out again by the opposition in the Senate. We do not know the details of the status of Mr Rogers's electoral enrolment. Senator Coonan may be the Assistant Treasurer and the Minister for Revenue, but she clearly does not have a head for detail. This is a person who claimed triumphantly before the Senate that she is meticulous.

Worst of all, Senator Coonan has ministerial responsibility for insurance matters, yet apparently this family company has been involved in providing services to the insurance industry through dispute resolution. Minister Coonan's policy recommendations for the reform of the insurance industry in Australia included, for example, her statement to the Senate on 17 October when she said that she was looking at:

... how one can better do further work to encourage mediation and pre-trial dispute resolution.

The truth is that heads in this place have rolled for less than this. It is about time that Senator Coonan faced the music on these issues and explained this serial misleading of the parliament. I believe that Mr Howard should act.

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Faulkner repeated his unparliamentary words `serial misleader', and he should once again be asked to withdraw.

Senator Faulkner —Mr Deputy President, on the point of order: when you called on me to withdraw those words, which I am not certain are unparliamentary—

Senator Ian Campbell —You should withdraw them again!

Senator Faulkner —No, no. I am speaking to the point of order.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, I may be able to assist you. The advice from the Clerk is that the offending word is `serial'. The two words together are offensive, but in particular `serial'.

Senator Faulkner —I thought I made a very strong case that she is a serial misleader; so no, I will not withdraw those words. I will withdraw the word `serial'.

Senator Ian Campbell —Mr Deputy President, I would ask you to direct the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the unparliamentary words `serial misleader'. You have told him that twice now. He is not prepared to accept it. I ask that he be asked to withdraw those words immediately without qualification and then to sit down.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —As you know, Senator Ian Campbell, I cannot instruct anyone. I can rule on the point of order and I will do that. My previous ruling on the point of order was that the words `serial misleader' are unparliamentary because the phrase implies deliberate misleading. That is unparliamentary, and I asked the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw. I repeat the request for the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the unparliamentary comments.

Senator Faulkner —Mr Deputy President, you asked me to withdraw the words `serial misleader' earlier in my contribution. I doubted that they were unparliamentary but I withdrew them in deference to your ruling. Towards the end of my contribution, you explained further that it was the use of the word `serial' that made the term `serial misleader' unparliamentary, and I have withdrawn the word `serial'.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The point that I was making in my ruling was that the words `serial misleader' together are unparliamentary. The word `serial' implies deliberateness, so I ask you to withdraw the whole phrase `serial misleader', please.

Senator Faulkner —I withdraw the whole phrase `serial misleader' and just replace it with `misleader'.