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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 551

Senator TROETH —My question is addressed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I refer to the astonishing admissions yesterday by Mr Crean in the other place regarding the appointment of Joan Kirner to the $104,000 position as chairperson of the Employment Services Regulatory Authority. The minister will be aware that Mr Crean indicated that he had checked with Mrs Kirner on her health to carry out this job and was assured that she could perform this full-time job. At the same time, Mrs Kirner apparently had an application before the Victorian Parliamentary Superannuation Fund indicating that she was in poor health and that this had forced her to leave the parliament. Mrs Kirner was in such poor health that she needed $360,000 extra from the superannuation fund while at the same time she was apparently in such good health that she could take on a $104,000 job offered by the Keating government. Could the minister please explain this farcical position that Mrs Kirner has placed herself in as part of Labor's relentless quest to plunder the public purse for its cronies? (Time expired)

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not surprising that I should find helpful some specific briefing on this matter because it is outside my immediate area of portfolio responsibility. But the situation is, as the Hon. Simon Crean said in the house yesterday, that the issues associated with any question of Mrs Kirner's health and her claim against the Victorian government were discussed with her before her appointment, and Mr Crean was satisfied that she could fulfil the role; otherwise she would not have been appointed.

  There is no doubt as to Mrs Kirner's commitment, her understanding of labour market programs and her record of working with people, which is long and extensive. Through a very long involvement in community affairs education and as Victorian Premier, she has a thorough understanding of the processes of government and of community and industry bodies. She satisfies every known relevant job description.

Senator Vanstone —Mr President, my point of order is on the basis of relevance. The question is quite clear. What the minister is being asked to tell us is how it is that someone can be considered competent for one job and so unwell as to require extra funds from the superannuation fund, on the other hand. He cannot answer that simply by listing out the reasons why the minister thought she could do the job. She may well be able to do the job. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue is: if she can do the job, how come she is putting her snout in the trough for more money from the super fund? That is the question he should be answering. This mishmash of matters is a waste of question time. You should bring him to order.

The PRESIDENT —Order! You have made your point of order. I can judge only on the general relevance of issues. I am in no position to tell a minister how to answer a question or whether indeed he should answer a question. I judge it to be generally relevant. That is all I can do. I call Senator Evans.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Mr President, I was simply beginning—

Senator Kemp —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The President in the past has regularly ruled on the issue of relevance. The relevance, as Senator Vanstone pointed out, was: how could Mrs Kirner, on the one hand, be in such ill health that she needed all this compensation and now apparently is in such good health that she can take this full-time job? As Senator Vanstone said, listing a whole host of Mrs Kirner's apparent achievements—I have to say that that is very disputable as well—is not answering the question. I ask you to reconsider your ruling on the issue of relevance. And could the minister answer the question?

Senator Robert Ray —Mr President, I rise on the point of order. We have had two points of order that have basically been putting arguments rather than being relevant to the standing orders. As far as relevance goes, what Senator Evans has been doing is saying why Mrs Kirner was appointed to the job. It is not within his ministerial portfolio. It is about events that happened in the state government superannuation fund.

The PRESIDENT —On the point of order, it may be a neat way of making a point, but I have no reason to change my ruling. I call Senator Evans.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Mr President, I have already answered the question. I said that Mr Crean discussed with Mrs Kirner the question of her health and her claim against the Victorian government at the time he made the appointment—before he in fact made the appointment—and Mr Crean made the judgment, taking all relevant circumstances relating to her health into account, that she could do the job. That is what I began by saying.

  I went on to conclude my answer by saying that in terms of every other criterion for the job, in terms of ability and experience and the elements in the job definition itself, Mrs Kirner is admirably equipped for the job. So on both counts, so far as her qualifications are concerned, her health and her qualifications and her experience associated with those qualifications, she is manifestly the right person for the job. Mr Crean has made that decision and it is simply not colourable in this place any more than it was in the House of Representatives yesterday.

Senator TROETH —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I did not ask the minister why Mrs Kirner took the job. My question asked him to explain the position Mrs Kirner has placed herself in where apparently she told one version of the truth to the parliamentary superannuation fund and she must have explained the other version of the truth to Mr Crean when she accepted this job. To whom did she tell the truth?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not privy to the precise details of Mrs Kirner's health as retailed either to the superannuation commissioners or to Mr Crean in her application for this particular job. Senator Troeth may well be making a very large and very rash judgment about what was said by Mrs Kirner in relation to her health in relation to those different situations in which different criteria and different contexts apply. I am not in a position to make that judgment. Mr Crean obviously was in a position to make that judgment.

  I have told Senator Troeth, as Mr Crean told the House yesterday, that he took those matters into account and he made the judgment that not only was Mrs Kirner a woman of absolutely admirable ability and experience in terms of meeting the formal criteria and qualifications for the job; she also had the physical capacity to handle it, to carry it out. So there is Senator Troeth's answer on all counts.