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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25990

Senator CONROY (2:08 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, representing the Prime Minister. Does the minister acknowledge that the actions of former Howard government ministers, such as Dr Wooldridge, Mr Fahey, Mr Reith and now Mr Alston, are causing public disquiet that ministers can trade on their public position for private profit? Does he understand how such actions can give rise to suspicion that ministerial decisions could be made with one eye on future employment prospects? Why will the government not support Labor's commitment to impose a 12-month ban on former ministers taking up paid employment in areas relevant to their responsibility as ministers?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I guess the difference is that we believe that former ministers on both sides can be honourable. We do not necessarily think that an arbitrary period of 12 months resolves an issue if somebody is not going to be honourable.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner and Senator Evans, the minister is answering the question. I ask you to come to order.

Senator HILL —If you are going to provide an arbitrary period of 12 months, why not 24 months, why not six months? Or why not do what the defence department does and provide 12 months but allow a discretionary waiver of the 12 months, which seems to occur more often than not? If you are going to allow the waiver, to whom are you going to give the power to grant the waiver?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner and Senator Ellison, conversations while the minister is on his feet are not allowable.

Senator HILL —This issue has risen today because our former colleague Richard Alston has taken a job. I do not think that that is an unreasonable thing. Can he manage conflict of interest situations? I am sure he can. Will he act honourably? Yes, I am absolutely certain he will act honourably. I think any senator on the other side who is honest with himself or herself would agree that they would have no concern at all in relation to the behaviour of former Senator Alston.

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister is agreeing with the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan, that it should just be left to former ministers themselves to determine whether taking a job creates a conflict of interest. According to Senator Coonan, `They know what they knew and what they didn't know.'

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —Labor object to former parliamentarians taking jobs. What about those who take jobs whilst they are still in office—perhaps even prime ministers? What former Labor Prime Minister invested in piggeries, made decisions in relation to the Commonwealth Bank and negotiated secret treaties with Indonesia when they were Prime Minister of this country? Wasn't that Mr Keating? How many Labor senators got up in this place and said, `That is appalling. We should bring in a 12-month period of grace for Mr Keating. He should be out of office for 12 months before he can invest in his piggery'? How many Labor senators got up in this place and said that then? What hypocrisy! In office, it was Mr Keating; out of office, it was former Senator Richardson. It does not matter: one set of rules for the Labor Party and another set of rules for the coalition. One set of rules when they are in government and another set of rules when they are out of government. (Time expired)