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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 72

Senator BOLKUS (2:25 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill representing the Prime Minister. I draw the minister's attention to the Prime Minister's code of ministerial conduct, and I refer him to the Regional Partnerships letter from the former parliamentary secretary, Mrs Kelly, to the Horse Australia 2005 project, dated 26 November 2004. Is the minister aware that this letter contains advice that Mrs Kelly had written to Senator Boswell advising him of funding approval and asking him to liaise with the proponents as to the date of the announcement? Can the minister confirm that Mrs Kelly asked the proponent, would you believe, to keep the advice secret until a later time and explain why Senator Boswell did not act on the minister's request to announce the grant? Minister, contrary to the terms of the code of ministerial conduct, why was a ministerial funding decision made contingent on an announcement by a government senator who was neither a minister nor a parliamentary secretary?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I cannot see a code of conduct issue in the question that has been put to me by Senator Bolkus. The minister has obviously got a responsibility to make the decision as to how it is announced. That is really at the minister's discretion. I really cannot see the issue at all.

Senator BOLKUS —No wonder the code is not much respected in government. Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why did Mrs Kelly advise Senator Boswell of the $220,000 Horse Australia grant before the proponent and before the local member Ms Kirsten Livermore? Exactly what role did Senator Boswell have in the administration of this and other Regional Partnerships grants? Is the Leader of the Government satisfied that all actions taken by Senator Boswell and Mrs Kelly, as well as Senator Boswell's failures while apparently acting on her behalf, are fully in compliance with the ministerial code of conduct?

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —If the very distinguished Senator Boswell, the well-known and highly respected Queensland senator, was asked to make an announcement in Queensland to his constituents, that would seem to me to be a sensible thing to do.

Senator Chris Evans —He didn't make the announcement. Why didn't he make the announcement?

Senator HILL —I actually do not know why he did not make the announcement. I am a bit surprised that he did not make the announcement because I know that Senator Boswell is pretty keen on making announcements in Queensland, particularly announcements that benefit rural and regional Australia. Senator Boswell is a member of a coalition committed to helping the people of the bush, and these grants are for that purpose. We are pleased that they have been made. They can benefit local regional communities, improve their infrastructure and enable them to become more competitive. That is why the grants were made and it is a good program.