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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2898

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(4.40) —It is clear that the definition offered originally by Mr Justice Mahoney is essentially the definition that has remained constant throughout this entire period-that is to say, the question of whether a particular place is a principal place of residence must be determined according to the ordinary meaning of the term and the facts of the particular case. What has tended to vary over time is the way in which that broad common law description has been interpreted and applied by different governments and by different Ministers within different governments.

Senator Archer —It has always been interpreted the same way but applied differently.

Senator GARETH EVANS —If we are arguing about semantics, the concept is `determined according to the ordinary meaning of the term and facts of the particular case'. People's perception as to what the ordinary meaning is will no doubt vary depending on what the particular facts are. It is a constant definition but a variable application. I think that is as precisely as I can define it. Certainly there is no universality of acceptance of what Senator Sir John Carrick regards as the essence of the definition; that is to say, the place where a person's family lives, where his kids go to school and where the person normally lives, whatever that means. That is Senator Sir John Carrick's contribution to the content of it.

Senator Sir John Carrick —No, it is not. It is the previous Government's and it says that there is no change.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am explaining the situation as I understand it. Senator Sir John Carrick has had his go. I am doing my best to introduce some coherence into what has been, increasingly, I am afraid, incoherent debate. I am making the point that there are all sorts of considerations that could be relevant other than where one's children go to school. It might be relevant that one is maintaining a house, as the Treasurer (Mr Keating) has, which is not rented out to anyone else, which is available for occupancy but which happens to be going through a period of extended renovation. I suppose it would be very difficult to argue that a place was one's principal place of residence if it was being physically occupied by other people but that, combined with other considerations, is something that has led the Treasurer to take the view that that is and continues to be his principal place of residence.

There have been, of course, notorious instances over the years where people have made decisions of this kind and other people have been critical of them. I can think, in particular, of some of the nominations of a principal residence that were made by Ministers in the previous Government, notwithstanding that they maintained family residences in Canberra.

Senator Michael Baume —Not subsequent to December 1982 when the criteria were set out.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am talking about Mr Anthony so nominating for Murwillumbah, Mr Sinclair nominating for Bendemeer in New South Wales-I do not know how much time he spent there-Mr Nixon nominating for Orbost, Mr Hunt nominating for Moree and, of course, Mr Street nominating his holiday home at Barwon Heads as his principal place of residence. We sought to rationalise the situation when we came into office, bearing in mind the extraordinary and almost unique difficulties that are associated with being a Minister in any government, which is common to all governments, and particularly with occupying the position of Treasurer, which is so much more conspicuous and so much more the subject of constant pressure than is perhaps the case for a number of other Ministers.

As the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) indicated in his letter of 23 September which Senator Sir John Carrick has quoted from, the Government struck a ground rule for this which sought to have some regard to the reality of the necessity for an almost constant presence of some Ministers in Canberra, combined with their desire to maintain, for the sake of their sanity and certainly for their future, substantial residences elsewhere. The basis on which the ground rule was struck, for better or worse, was as Senator Sir John Carrick has described.

Senator Sir John Carrick —Only applying to weekends and nothing else.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Only applying to weekends; that a claim could be made in respect of--

Senator Sir John Carrick —And no change regarding the past, except weekends?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Sir John Carrick has read out the way the ground rule has been applied. It has been observed religiously by the Treasurer and in accordance not with some private decision of his own but with a decision reached by the Government seeking to impose some kind of order into a situation which is almost, by definition, difficult to--

Senator Michael Baume —But not in accordance with the December 1982 guidelines.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not know what happened after the December 1982 guidelines because Senator Michael Baume was not around very long thereafter. The only change that I am aware of after those 1982 guidelines were promulgated is that the Hon. Ralph Hunt changed his nomination for his home base from Moree to Collarenebri. I am not aware-I would be delighted if Senator Sir John Carrick could inform me otherwise-whether any of the other Ministers I mentioned before changed their somewhat problematic, if I might so delicately describe it, home bases to their Canberra family residences after the decision in December 1982. I would be very surprised if his information is any different from mine. What we need to realise is that there is an inherent flexibility and an inherent uncertainty about the proper scope of application of this concept of principal place of residence.

The decision made in 1983, on its face, was directed to Ministers and was regarded as applicable only to Ministers. It was not intended to apply to other office bearers. They were left to make the decision themselves without this restrictive guidance that the Commonwealth Cabinet imposed upon its own Ministers. I think that is about as much as I can usefully say. There may well be a case for everyone sitting down in a calm atmosphere at some stage, ceasing to score political points, successfully or other- wise, trying once and for all to get some rationality into this which would be generally accepted, recognising the extraordinary and unique difficulties under which Ministers of the Crown operate and the fact that their jobs are not nine to five jobs, five days a week, but seven days a week jobs whether we like it or not.