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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6842

Senator FERGUSON (3:21 PM) —It has been the hallmark of the opposition over the past six years plus to engage in grubby little exercises whenever they have nothing else of consequence that they can achieve in questioning the government. I think of previous ministers who have been attacked personally by Senator Faulkner, Senator Conroy and others when the only form of attack was personal abuse, and not always at the senator themselves but, as in this case, on the spouse of a senator, which is a totally improper use of Senate privilege.

It seems to me that the likes of Senator Conroy and Senator Faulkner only ever want to attack people who cannot defend themselves. I think that is despicable and grubby, and I think the tone of the questions by Senator Faulkner and Senator Conroy today in question time was about as grubby as you can get. Senator Conroy has made an art form of it.

Senator Ferris —But he won't stay and listen.

Senator FERGUSON —And then he leaves the chamber as soon as anybody dares to criticise him. Because those opposite could make no headway at all in questioning the performance of the Assistant Treasurer in her ministerial capacity over the past months, what do they do? They start to get personal; they attack the senator and attack her spouse over matters she has adequately explained in the Senate today. The Assistant Treasurer has satisfied the Senate in relation to her taxation liabilities and has explained at every opportunity.

Senators opposite cannot even get their questions right. On at least four occasions today their first attempts at questioning were ruled out of order. That is how thin the ice was that they were skating on when it came to determining what their questioning of this minister was going to be or on any matters related to the minister. They did not relate to the minister's portfolio; in every instance the questions related to matters other than the minister's portfolio. So we had the situation where on at least four occasions their questions were ruled out of order by the President, and they were then given some leniency in order to rephrase the questions. I think they were given more than the required amount of leniency today. If you get it wrong once, maybe you should get a chance to rephrase the question; but if you continually get your questions wrong, you cannot expect the President to say, `Listen, that is out of order; have another go.' On four occasions they were allowed to rephrase their questions, which I think is totally inappropriate and they ought to do their homework better.

Today Senator Coonan, in her role as a senator not as a minister, adequately answered those questions put to her in relation to her register of interests. She then came back as soon as possible at the end of question time and clarified any misconceptions there may have been. We all know that, in relation to her taxation liabilities, everything that had to be done has been done. Her husband's property in Clareville, which Senator Coonan has no interest in, cannot be subject to capital gains tax. That is the only tax that was referred to today that would have any bearing on the federal government. Every other taxation liability that was brought up today in relation to any properties that they might have, that Senator Coonan might have or that her husband might have were all New South Wales state government taxes, over which Senator Coonan has no responsibility whatsoever.

So if you are talking about Senator Coonan's portfolio responsibility, there is no way other than the capital gains tax issue that any of it has any bearing on her portfolio. As she said, the property has been owned for over 20 years and therefore is not subject to capital gains tax, which was introduced by the Labor Party in 1985. Land tax is a state tax; it has nothing to do with federal revenue or Senator Coonan's portfolio responsibilities. As a senator and as a minister she of course would not condone the non-payment of any properly assessed tax at either a state or a federal level. So Senator Coonan came into this chamber and answered the questions put to her by both Senator Conroy and Senator Faulkner.

We also know, of course, that Justice Rogers had been in contact with the Commissioner of Land Tax in mid-November, notifying him of a change of circumstances and seeking a land assessment in relation to his property at Clareville, before questioning of this issue ever arose from the opposition senators—who have nothing better to do on behalf of the Australian people than to personally attack Senator Coonan and her husband—and before any questioning was ever raised by the Sydney Morning Herald in today's newspaper. (Time expired)