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Tuesday, 3 December 2002
Page: 6999

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:59 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Coonan, Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Is the minister aware of the obligation in the Prime Minister's code of ministerial conduct that ministers should:

... have regard to the interests of members of their immediate families ... as well as their own when ensuring that no conflict or apparent conflict between interests and duties arises.

Can the minister confirm that Endispute Pty Ltd is actively engaged in the provision of alternative dispute resolution services with an emphasis on commercial disputes? Now that we know that Endispute is an active trading company, not a shelf company, can the minister assure the Senate that none of the activities of Endispute Pty Ltd constitute a conflict or an apparent conflict of interest with her ministerial responsibilities?

Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. If we accept that Senator Coonan has disposed of her share and ceased to be a director, how can the activities of that company be in any way relevant? On that basis, the question is out of order.

The PRESIDENT —I do not rule in favour of your point of order, Senator Hill.

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —Senator Faulkner is making no allegation, so far as I know, that I can deal with. But I certainly can give an assurance that I have complied with the ministerial code of conduct. Once my resignation as a director and the transfer of my share were effected, no other conflict arose anyway. It is a non sequitur.

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister recall the Prime Minister saying in 1996 that former Senator Gibson and former Senator Jim Short had to leave the ministry:

... because they were in technical default of the rules because they breached the requirement that there must be no appearance of a conflict of interest.

... ... ...

But they were technically in breach and in those circumstances—there was an apparent conflict of interest—they had to go. I'm very sorry about that, but they are the rules ...

Why does the minister believe that there is any difference between her current situation and that apparent conflict of interest that former senators Gibson and Short found themselves embroiled in?

Senator Hill —Mr President, I raise a point of order. How can she be expected to debate the differences in the Prime Minister's application of his terms of reference in relation to different individuals? In no way is that relevant to her portfolio; in no way is that relevant to her responsibility to uphold ministerial standards.

Senator Cook —It is.

Senator Hill —It might be a question that could have been asked of the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's representative in this place, but it is certainly not a question that is appropriate to be asked of somebody who is the Minister for Revenue.

The PRESIDENT —Senator, I believe part of the question may have been hypothetical, but I would ask the minister to answer that part of the question that was within her portfolio.

Senator Alston —Mr President, on the point of order: you cannot possibly expect her to make invidious comparisons between her own conduct and that of others, when a whole range of factors might be taken into account which are beyond her knowledge. So I presume you are only inviting her to deal with any matters of fact.

The PRESIDENT —I might not have said it in as many words, but I meant for the minister to deal with any part of the question that was within her ministerial portfolio or ministerial conduct, which I have consistently ruled today.

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I do not think there is anything within my portfolio that I need to respond to. The question was so convoluted that I found it very difficult to follow how it was actually framed and what was being asked. I have complied with the ministerial code of conduct, and Senator Faulkner makes no allegation, as best I can tell.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.