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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7145


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:18 PM) —I direct my question to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Minister, when was the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet asked to investigate the possible conflict of interest between Senator Coonan's ministerial responsibilities and the activities of the private company Endispute? When was the investigation completed and by whom was it undertaken? How did the department satisfy itself that Endispute did not engage in any activity involving Senator Coonan's responsibilities, which are described by the Treasurer as the `development, implementation and administration of taxation policy, administration of APRA and the prudential regulation of superannuation and insurance'?


Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I will refer the question to the Prime Minister and see if there is anything that he wishes to add to what he said yesterday. Yesterday, he said that he is satisfied—and he is the one that has to be satisfied—that there has not been a conflict of interest. Furthermore, I am not sure whether he said it but I know that he believes that Senator Coonan has been doing an exceptionally good job as a minister.


Senator FAULKNER —I rise to ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I thank the minister for taking that on notice. I can assure the minister that the Prime Minister did not avail himself of the opportunity to answer those questions about the details of when the department was asked to investigate those matters, so I ask the minister to check when the investigation was completed and by whom it was undertaken. Perhaps the minister, if he is going to take these matters on notice, could also request that the Prime Minister table—or he could agree to do so in question time today—the Prime Minister and Cabinet report in order to establish that Senator Coonan has no conflict of interest between her ministerial responsibilities and the interests of the company of her immediate family. Will the minister give a commitment to table the PM&C report?


Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I have to say that this exercise has been one of the grubbier exercises that we have experienced in a long time. The implicit attack upon Senator Coonan, which suggests that in some way she has been party to an electoral act rort— which has been totally fabricated by Senator Conroy—is one of the worst examples of abuse that I have witnessed in my 21 years in this place, and it is endorsed by Senator Faulkner and others of the leadership group of the Australian Labor Party. They did it in the House of Representatives as well. They knew that she had not witnessed it; they invented it and they implied it in this place. It breaches all the rules in relation to—


Senator Faulkner —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I asked the minister a set of substantive questions. He has taken some questions on notice. In my supplementary question I asked the minister whether he would undertake to table the PM&C report. He should be directed to answer that question. If he cannot answer it now then perhaps he could take that on notice as well, but that is the question that was directed to him and I ask you, Mr President, to request the minister to answer the supplementary question.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Hill has 16 seconds to go, and I presume he is getting to an answer.


Senator HILL —I remind the Senate of an article in the Weekend Australian of 12 February 2000, which says:

Now, Faulkner is the type of fellow who can spot a misdeed where none exists.

He knows there has been no misdeed in relation to this matter. He knows there has been no abuse by Senator Coonan. He knows there certainly has been no abuse by her husband. (Time expired)