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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18713

Mr CREAN (3:29 PM) —My question is again to the Minister for Trade. Minister, isn't it the case that your own department initially identified 1,000 pages of documents relating to the Manildra ethanol arrangements? Isn't it the case that the minister has chosen to release only 30 pages of documents to the public? Will the minister now come clean and release all of the outstanding documents or will he continue to cover up his involvement in this scheme?

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition knows that the allegation of cover-up is unparliamentary in the context of a question. I ask him to remove the latter part of the question.

Mr CREAN —I ask the minister: will he come clean and release all of the outstanding documents associated with this matter?

The SPEAKER —I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the latter part of his question.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! I have given the Leader of the Opposition a great deal of licence. I merely ask him to withdraw the allegation—I understand how the question stands; I have not ruled it out of order. I simply ask him to use the two words `I withdraw' in relation to the statement earlier made.

Mr CREAN —I withdraw the statement.

The SPEAKER —I thank the Leader of the Opposition.

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER —If the Leader of the Opposition or the member for Fraser have a particular difficulty there is a facility for that, but it does not consist of sitting in a chair shouting at the chair.

Mr CREAN —Mr Speaker, I do not want to belabour the point, because I have withdrawn, but normally, if you find the words offensive, you give the person asking the question the opportunity to rephrase it. I did. It does not require the withdrawal of the words, but you insisted on that as well. I have complied. But let us get some consistency into this, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser.

Mr McMullan —Further to that point, Mr Speaker, and at your invitation, let me seek clarification from you as to the circumstances in which the word `cover-up' are now considered unparliamentary. I can imagine why—although I do not particularly agree—you required the question to be reworded. I do not exactly agree with that, but I understand the standing orders under which you did that. But I can think of no precedent, circumstance or justification for the suggestion that the word `cover-up' is unparliamentary. I have never heard it ruled unparliamentary before, and I do not understand why it had to be withdrawn.

The SPEAKER —The member for MacKellar will resume her seat. Let me offer some clarification for all members of the House. Standing order 144 states quite clearly—as the member for Fraser has, I think it is fair to say, conceded—that a question should not contain, among other things, imputations. The term `cover-up' was of itself an imputation. The chair had the absolute right, had it so chosen, to rule the question out of order. I did not choose to do so because, until the Leader of the Opposition had used the term `cover-up', the question was in order. I therefore asked the Leader of the Opposition to rephrase the question and I expected him in so doing to withdraw the latter sentence that he had used. The question stands—by any standard a generous gesture on the part of the chair—because I have not ruled the question out of order.

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —Going to the substance of the question, FOI requests are dealt with by departmental officers in accordance with the law. There are rules and regulations about how departments deal with FOI requests, and that is how this has been dealt with. The reflection on me is uncalled for. My department has dealt with the FOI request that was put in.

Mr Anderson —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the response to the FOI request which identifies that there were 1,000 relevant pages.

Leave granted.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has just said across the table, directed at the Leader of the Opposition, `smear by innuendo'. According to your earlier ruling that `cover-up' is out of order, surely that statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs is out of order and should be withdrawn in the interests of consistency.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa will resume his seat. I would remind the member for Werriwa in his capacity as Manager of Opposition Business that the way in which questions are framed is determined by standing order 144. Standing order 144 specifically refers to imputation. The member for Kingsford-Smith has made the point that that would mean that a number of questions are out of order, and of course he is quite right. But that would also mean that a number of questions, asked by oppositions normally, for decades would have been out of order. As everyone in the parliament knows, I have been tolerant of this. I merely sought to have rephrased the last question asked by the Leader of the Opposition. I did not require a withdrawal of a statement; I required the question to be rephrased.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: can I just clarify for the benefit of this side of the House that you are now saying you did not require the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the word `cover-up'?

The SPEAKER —I required the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the latter part of his question.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Lingiari! I required the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the latter part of his question because, under standing order 144 about how questions are framed, it contained an imputation.

The SPEAKER —I did not, as I am sure is self-evident, hear the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I will take it up with the minister. I tend not to take a relaxed view of these things, as everyone in the House must be aware.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a further point of order. Could you also take up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs his action in just leaving the House when another member had taken a point of order against him? What an act of disrespect to the House to leave before you had ruled.

Dr Emerson —Mr Speaker, on the same point of order—

The SPEAKER —I have dealt with this point of order.

Dr Emerson —Mr Speaker, the other day you asked me to withdraw a statement—I am talking about consistency here—in which I said the Prime Minister had lied. Then the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations said that all members of the opposition had lied. You did not ask him to withdraw that. We are just seeking a bit of consistency, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER —I cannot recall one instance in my entire career in the chair when a member has asked for a withdrawal when I have not followed it through consistently with all other withdrawals. If the member for Rankin has an issue to raise with me, he can raise it with me separately. On this matter, the record stands. There has never been an instance in which I have asked for a statement to be withdrawn on one side of the House and have not required it, if drawn to my attention, to be withdrawn on the other.