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Wednesday, 11 December 2002
Page: 7728

Senator SHERRY (2:30 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer. Does the Assistant Treasurer recall placing an advertisement on 15 November this year in the Australian Financial Review that began with the words:

The Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, Senator The Hon. Helen Coonan, is seeking applications from suitable persons for possible appointment to two statutory positions—Chairman and Deputy-Chairman of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal.

Why then did the Assistant Treasurer tell the Senate this week, when asked to rule out appointing former Liberal Senator Michael Baume to either position, that

The situation relating to former Senator Baume is a matter entirely for the Prime Minister, and I am not in a position to say whether Mr Baume is even under consideration.

Given that Senator Coonan's spokesman was forced to clarify what she said in the Senate on this matter on Monday, by stating that it is in fact her responsibility to recommend tribunal appointments, will she now correct the record of the Senate?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I think the Labor Party's desperation knows no bounds. I might say that I am perplexed by the reaction of opposition senators to the appointment process for the chair and deputy chair positions of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. Let me run through it for those opposite, and particularly for Senator Sherry. Essentially, a recommendation is made by the relevant minister, but whether or not that recommendation is accepted is entirely a matter for the Prime Minister and/or the cabinet. I would have thought that was self-evident. Ultimately, any appointment must be approved by the Governor-General who, by convention, would accept the decision endorsed by the Prime Minister and/or the cabinet.

The chair and deputy chair positions of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal are statutory office holder positions, and appointments are typically for three-year terms. The usual practice is for the government to consider a range of candidates, along with the incumbents, in order to determine the most appropriate appointees. Accordingly, the positions for the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal were advertised in the Australian Financial Review on Friday, 15 November and in other major newspapers on Saturday, 16 November. The advertisement requested that applications be forwarded to Treasury by no later than 29 November.

While it may seem strange to Labor senators who are quite used to stitching up candidates in back room deals, I will continue to follow the due and proper process in relation to these appointments. What this means is that no matter how many times I am asked, I will not be announcing or vetting any candidates in the Senate chamber, or ruling anyone in or out, just to satisfy the day-to-day whims of those opposite. At this stage, I can say I have not received any advice with regard to potential candidates but, in any event, the applications are and will continue to remain confidential. The government will consider all the applications in due course, with a view to appointing both a chairman and a deputy chairman early next year.

Senator SHERRY —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the Assistant Treasurer is the minister with formal responsibility for the tribunal, were her comments in question time simply an admission that the Prime Minister will dictate who she recommends for appointment in order to hand out jobs for the boys, particularly when a Prime Ministerial mate is involved?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) —I have said in a lengthy answer to this question that the proper processes will be followed in relation to any recommendations that are made. Ultimately, of course, the matter is a cabinet decision. All applications will be considered in due course, as they should be, before appointing the chairman and deputy chairman. That should be early next year.