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Thursday, 21 August 2003
Page: 19231

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (3:16 PM) —I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving: That this House censures the Prime Minister for allowing the complete erosion of ministerial and parliamentary standards.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be heard in silence.

Mr CREAN —By any standards, the Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government must resign or be sacked—that is, by any standards other than those applied by the Prime Minister of the day. The Prime Minister has so debased his ministerial code that his ministers can do or say anything, and he lets them get away with it. Wilson Tuckey did, and so far he is being allowed to get away with it. But we on this side of the House say that the government should be censured for allowing this circumstance to happen. The real problem of course is that the Prime Minister cannot move on his minister, because he himself has breached the same code. He himself has misled this parliament. Both the Prime Minister and the minister for territories have misled the parliament.

I ask the gallery to understand that we use the term `misleading parliament', and indeed it is a serious offence—one of the most serious that can be committed in this parliament. It results in resignation. That is what misleading the parliament does. However, in normal parlance it means that they are not telling the truth. If they are not telling the truth to the parliament, they are not telling the truth to the Australian people. Now more than ever before, people need to be able to trust and believe in what their government tells them. This fortnight shows how that trust has been betrayed yet again.

Yesterday, the member for Corio posed the question, `Where's Wilson?' because a censure motion was attempted against that minister and the government would not take that censure either. Just as it is not taking the censure now, it would not take it yesterday. The question, `Where's Wilson?' was posed, and I want to give the answer. He sits there. He sits disgraced, he sits isolated and he sits gagged. He has been called a fool and an embarrassment by his own side. These are not criticisms any more, they are qualifications. These are the very qualifications that now pass for sitting on the frontbench of the Prime Minister's ministry. This is a person who the government has admitted did wrong, a person who is a fool and a person who is an embarrassment, yet he is allowed to stay in Prime Minister Howard's—

Mr Ross Cameron —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The moving of a censure motion does not alleviate the requirement to use parliamentary language.

The SPEAKER —Neither of the terms used by the—

The SPEAKER —When I next need the advice of the member for Gellibrand I will call on her—if she is still in the House. The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Mr CREAN —The other day, the minister for territories came into the parliament to give his explanation—his apology. His defence was pathetic then, and it remains pathetic and flawed today. But understand that what he did was apologise for two things: one, using his ministerial letterhead and, two, the fact that he held his son out to be a constituent of his when he was not. But these explanations are simply not good enough. It is not just how he did it, it is what he did. This goes to the very core of why this minister has breached the code of conduct and why he must resign. The reason the minister must resign is that he used his office to get a special deal for his son and, if that special deal had been agreed to, it would have broken the law. The Prime Minister says his minister did not break the law, but the fact remains that he sought to break the law, because he wrote to the Minister for Police in South Australia—not once, but on three occasions—urging the minister to a course of action which, if adopted, would break the law. The minister urged that not once but on three occasions, and he used his ministerial office to do it.

Now, he argues that the third letter was on his electoral office letterhead. It was, but it still had him listed as minister. I might also say it is very interesting to look at the sequence: why did he put the last letter on his electoral letterhead? Because it followed the Helen Coonan fiasco in the other chamber, when the Prime Minister warned his ministers that they should not use ministerial letterhead. Why didn't the minister go to the Prime Minister then and fess up to this indiscretion? The fact of the matter is that it does not matter how it was done; it was what was done.

Let us just go to his explanation today in the House—the three excuses. When he spoke in this House, he said—misled—that he did not press the matter. He did. He pressed it on three occasions, and it is worse now because he pressed it on all three of those occasions after his son had exhausted the mechanism for review himself—after he had got a letter back from the South Australian police saying, `We've looked at it and the penalty stands.' The minister did not write until his son had been knocked back. So he not only pressed it; he pressed it after the penalty was imposed and he pressed it on three occasions.

His second point today was that he asked that the matter be reconsidered, not changed. I ask people in the audience: what is the point of writing to ask for reconsideration if you are not expecting a change? Do you really treat the people as fools, Minister? In any event, I just refer you to your own letter, in which you specifically said, when the penalty had been imposed, `Don't do it. Give a warning instead.' That is change—and you nod in acknowledgement. And then, in a further letter, you wrote again. Having made the point that your two subsequent letters were only about the conduct of the proceedings, not seeking a change, you specifically asked for the costs to be waived. Minister, you have misled again today. You cannot help yourself. You are a serious misleader. You cannot tell the truth.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will address his comments through the chair.

Mr CREAN —Insofar as the situation concerns his final explanation, that the court's administration authority provided an opportunity for his son to get the matter reviewed, of course they did—but that was through the court system. What he sought to do was to get it changed through the police minister, and that was improper, that was unlawful and that is what the police minister of South Australia told him. Yet this minister persisted. The Prime Minister's code of conduct is quite specific. It says:

Ministers must be honest in their public dealings and should not intentionally mislead the Parliament or the public. Any misconception caused inadvertently should be corrected at the earliest opportunity.

It goes on to say:

... it is important that ministers and parliamentary secretaries avoid giving any appearance of using public office for private purposes.


Ministers should not exercise the influence obtained from their public office, or use official information, to obtain any improper benefit for themselves or another.

You have breached this code on three occasions, Minister, and the Prime Minister should dismiss you. This is his code of conduct, but we may as well tear it up because, as far as you are concerned, he has torn it up. The minister has breached this on three occasions and he stands condemned. Worse, the Prime Minister stands condemned because he is not only overseeing this government and allowing ministers to do and say what they like, to use their ministerial office to advantage their sons; the Prime Minister is using it to advantage his mates, and he is misleading the parliament as well.

We have the circumstances of not `helpem fren'; we have `helpem son', `helpem mate' and `helpem brother'—John Howard's brother, Minister Tuckey's son and John Howard's mate Dick Honan. Special deals if you are on the inside. Secret deals in breach of the Prime Minister's code of conduct. Matters that should be condemned. The Prime Minister should dismiss the minister, and he himself stands condemned. This House must censure this government in the strongest possible terms. What they have done is an outrage. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Mr Latham —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.