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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 7005


Senator COOK (3:28 PM) —Senators in this place should operate on a basic political principle: if there is nothing to hide, hide nothing. When answers are given that obscure the facts, when answers are given that do not reveal all of the facts and when answers are given that refuse to answer the question put, a reasonable issue arises as to why there is an effort not to tell all the truth. We are dealing with a minister, with a code of ministerial conduct and with a principle that justice must be done and that justice must equally be seen to be done. And the only way in which it can be seen to be done is for everything to be put on the record openly and without bias so that the record can speak for itself. On this occasion, that has not been done. Things have been prised out. The memory of a key minister has been found lacking on issues of their own personal management and repeatedly, in answers to questions from the opposition, the minister has suddenly recalled things. That is just not good enough for a person in public office.


Senator Brandis —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. That statement entirely misrepresents what the minister said. What the minister in fact very truthfully said was, `I do not recall, but I will check.' Having checked, she came back to question time today and gave accurate answers that totally destroyed the allegations made against her yesterday.


Senator COOK —Mr Deputy President, there is no point of order. It was an attempt, under the guise of a point of order, to have a further say in the debate that was closed for this senator a few moments ago. Of course, if the senator curbed his zealotry on this matter and got some balance into his conduct, he would wait and see what other things I was going to say, because that will establish beyond any doubt that my headline remarks are entirely justified.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. Senator Brandis was on a debating point rather than a point of order. Senator Cook, I ask you to resume your contribution.


Senator COOK —We have now seen Senator Coonan engage in the White Rhinos loophole. Senators in this place all know about White Rhinos trust—it was former Senator Parer's trust. We know that Senator Parer was in breach of the ministerial code of conduct, and we know that the Prime Minister changed the ministerial code of conduct to bring it into conformity with Senator Parer's financial arrangements through the White Rhinos trust. The facts of the trust were that, under the ministerial code of conduct, you could not hand over your benefits to a family member. What did the Prime Minister do? He changed that to a spouse or a dependent family member, thus allowing Senator Parer's adult children to take over his trust. In the case of Endispute, that is exactly what Senator Coonan has done. She has used the White Rhinos loophole to hand over her beneficial interest in Endispute to her 25-year-old son—a principle that of course was first illegal under the ministerial code of conduct, was then made legal to allow Senator Parer off the hook and is now being benefited from by other ministers.

We know as well, by the conduct of the key players in this issue, that there is something to hide. We know that Rogers himself lodged an ASIC report and paid his taxes on 15 November, after this matter became publicly notorious. We are left with the hanging question: if it were not publicly notorious, would he have done that? The fact that he only did it after the event and not before it is a matter of considerable interest. We know that Endispute is not a shelf company—it is an active trading operation—and we know in all probability that it would be pretty hard to disguise that from Senator Coonan, because it trades out of the property that she owns in Woollahra, in Sydney. It would be pretty hard for her not to know that a company operating from her private home was in fact an active company. We know that Senator Coonan could not remember, when she spoke yesterday, that she actually owned a house in Manuka, when she said the only house she owned was the house in Woollahra. This is from a minister who is in charge of taxation and insurance in this government, and we know that Endispute provides services to the insurance industry.

There is a further question that ought to be answered, and it ought to be answered forthrightly, straightforwardly and without any qualifications—just tell it as it is up-front and do not duck and weave and hide. It is about the active trading company Endispute, which is not a shelf company but an active business whose business premises is the Woollahra home entirely owned by Senator Coonan—we know that those two things are facts. Does this company pay any rent to Senator Coonan for the use of her private premises? That is a question that ought to be answered.


Senator Brandis —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. This is the oldest trick in the book, and Senator Cook is a serial offender. There is, once again, an innuendo in that question—by the use of the device of a rhetorical question—to suggest a conflict of interest by the minister. That is in violation of standing order 193(3). The allegation does not have to be made as a statement; it can be concealed in a rhetorical question, but the allegation still lingers in the air. It is a very intellectually dishonest thing to do. In this case, it is also in breach of standing order 193(3).


Senator COOK —Mr Deputy President, this is quite an outrageous point of order. There is nothing in what I have said that is in the slightest bit out of order in this chamber. The intellectual dishonesty of Senator Brandis is quite staggering. He is a serial offender in terms of intellectual dishonesty in this place, and has been intellectually dishonest on major questions on many occasions. That having been said, it is quite appropriate—


Senator Ian Campbell —You should withdraw that immediately, before you are told to.


Senator COOK —I beg your pardon?


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think you should withdraw unparliamentary language, Senator Cook.


Senator COOK —I withdraw unparliamentary language, but in doing so I merely say that I was repeating exactly the phrases used by Senator Brandis when he spoke of me. If it is unparliamentary language for me to use those phrases in speaking of Senator Brandis, it must equally be unparliamentary of Senator Brandis to use those phrases when speaking of me. In which case, Mr Deputy President, surely you should now invite Senator Brandis to do the honourable thing—something that he is not keen to do, because he remains seated—and withdraw those reflections.


Senator Brandis —Mr Deputy President, if you have ruled the expression unparliamentary in relation to Senator Cook, as I understand you have, then the ruling would apply equally to me.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brandis, without getting into a lengthy debate, are you withdrawing?


Senator Brandis —Yes.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Cook, there is no point of order. I ask you to continue your remarks.


Senator COOK —The point I was making was that the owner of this property is Senator Coonan. A business is conducted from this property. It is worthwhile to know whether Senator Coonan charges that business a fee for the purpose of the use of her property or not. If she does, then surely she knows it is an active business. If she does not, she is providing an in-kind, free good to that business. I would like to know if that is then set out in their profit and loss accounts and in their records of transactions, because the use of the property is a key input in the ability to conduct a business of this nature. Since it is entirely conducted from the premises owned by Senator Coonan—(Time expired)

Question agreed to.