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Tuesday, 1 October 1974
Page: 1515

Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Opposition) - The Opposition will not oppose the motion moved by the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland). As the Minister rightly points out, it is relative to the declaration of interests of members of the Parliament, the Parliament being, I take it, the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Originally, this matter rose to the surface, if I can put it that way, when Senator Willesee gave notice of his motion on 1 August.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Notice was given in the House of Representatives at the same time.

Senator WITHERS -I think they were both put down on 1 August. Our objection at that time was, in effect, that the Parliament would have been asked to prejudge this proposition and then set up a parliamentary committee because of the judgment it had come to. As I recall what happened in the other place- I am speaking purely from recollection- there was an accommodation arrived at between the Government and the Opposition that the Government would not proceed with the motion of which it had given notice and which stands in the Senate in Senator Willesee 's name. In return for that, the Opposition agreed to go along with the setting up of a Joint Committee to investigate this matter. I think it was at that time that the words which appear in paragraph 12 of the message were written in. They read:

That the Committee report within the shortest reasonable period, not later than 90 days after the members of the committee are appointed,-

I hope that the Committee does not expect me to be here on New Year's Day to receive its report.

This is an important matter. It is a matter which we on this side of the Senate have no objection to being investigated. In fact, it may be even more interesting to see disclosed some of the assets of our representatives of the workers rather than those of the so-called big, wicked capitalists on this side of the Senate chamber. I think that the way the message is worded it contains a lot of bugs. Nothing is said about spouses, about family trusts or about the methods whereby a person can set out deliberately as a member of the Parliament to hide his income but retain control as well as the ownership of his assets. These are the matters to which the members of the Committee will have to bend their minds. I wish the Committee well. I understand that in spite of the fact that the committee of the House of Commons receives a good deal of publicity, to some extent it has been a fiasco. It has not quite worked out as intended.

I have no objection to this proposal. But it strikes me as being strange that after 74 years of the existence of the national Parliament I cannot recall any incident in which any member of either House of Parliament has ever been accused of voting or taking part in a debate because of some direct pecuniary interest and has therefore perhaps acted corruptly. I think this has been one of the great virtues of the Australian Parliament. In that period of 74 years under I do not know how many Prime Ministers and how many governments, to my knowledge there has never been a serious substantiated allegation of corruption by a Prime Minister, a Minister or a member of Parliament. That is a record of which, I suppose, very few Parliaments could boast. Somebody may be able to jog my memory on this matter, but that is the best of my recollection. I am still old fashioned enough to believe that most people who come into the Parliament- I think just about everybody who comes into it- have personal integrity. That is the best discipline of all to make certain that those who are elected are people of the proper calibre and integrity. If that is the case, all these other things tend to be unnecessary.

In my experience, no matter how many audits are conducted within the public or the private sector or no matter how many checks and balances are carried out, if somebody sets out to defraud the revenue or to steal from his employer, he will do so. It may take some time for him to get caught because we hear only of the ones who are caught. We never hear of the ones who are never caught. Maybe the law enforcement officers catch only 5 per cent of those who commit such crimes. Therefore, I look upon the whole operation with some scepticism. But we wish the Committee well. I suppose that the Parliament will rise on Friday, 13 December. I trust that the Committee members will then work assiduously over the Christmas break to have their report ready to be delivered to the President, not in my presence, but within the 90-day period.

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