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Monday, 9 August 2004
Page: 25897

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:34 PM) —It has never been the practice of the Labor Party in opposition to complain about ministers not being present in the chamber at question time. In fact, since 1996 I have never done that. It is a practice that was regularly followed by Senator Hill and Senator Chaney when they were leaders of the opposition during the life of the Hawke and Keating governments, a practice that senators who have been here since 1996 would be well aware of. I do not do it, and this opposition does not do it, but on this occasion I think comment needs to be made about the absence from the chamber of the Minister for the Arts and Sport, Senator Kemp. The Labor Party will not oppose the motion, but I want to speak briefly to it.

I received a letter on 6 August from Senator Hill indicating that Senator Kemp would be absent, representing the government at the Athens Olympics. I interpret the government whip's comments about `parliamentary business overseas' to be Senator Kemp's attendance at the Olympics. I do not understand why it is necessary for the minister for sport to leave the chamber and his important parliamentary duties today to attend the Olympic Games, given that the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games is to be at 4 a.m., eastern standard time. So he is leaving early, getting out of here as quickly as he can, because there are many issues he probably does not want to be present in the chamber to deal with. I admit that we are probably better off without him. I am sure most people would accept that we are probably better off without him because no minister could give a worse performance than we have seen from Senator Kemp at question time.

Honourable senator interjecting—

Senator FAULKNER —I am sure about that. I do not believe we could have a more vacillating minister, a more inept minister, a more incompetent minister or a minister who is less across the detail than Senator Kemp. You can nominate a minister if you like, Senator Brown or Senator Murray, but I cannot think of one. I really do believe that his performance has been an absolute disgrace in relation to the crucial issue that has been before this parliament—the very important issue of drugs in sport. It is of course an issue the minister has to accept responsibility for.

I understand that this is a lap of honour for Senator Kemp. I know that the brothers Kemp are in the doghouse. I know—everyone on the government side tells me—that Senator Kemp will not be a minister if the Howard government is re-elected. I understand that, but that is no excuse for leaving the parliament early for the Olympics. Even though Senator Kemp's time must be up, even though he has no ministerial future, the key point here—and I take this opportunity to stress it—is that Senator Kemp leaves at a time when we have a real scandal on drugs in sport. There is a festering scandal on drugs in sport being left behind as Senator Kemp jets off on this lap of honour.

The key thing is that it should never have got to this. Senator Kemp should have acted way back in December last year and instructed the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian Institute of Sport to deal with these issues. These issues of drugs in sport should have been dealt with comprehensively. They should have been dealt with with expedition so that we did not find ourselves with these matters still unresolved just a few days before the Olympic Games. It is an absolute indictment on this minister. He has very limited ministerial responsibilities. He is minister for sport and for the arts. I know he has struggled with that comparatively minor portfolio. I know that Senator Kemp is the only minister in the history of the Commonwealth of Australia who has been demoted from the position of Assistant Treasurer—even lower down the pecking order. But when an issue like this comes up, however small those ministerial responsibilities might be, he has the task to do the job properly.

Those matters that were identified in December last year should have been investigated and dealt with well before this week leading up to the Olympic Games—when they are still unresolved—and when the evidence was fresh. So I say quite clearly that I am disappointed that Senator Kemp is leaving early at this time to attend the Olympic Games. There are many questions that need to be asked of the minister in relation to these matters. As I say, they will be asked of another minister, who certainly could not do any worse—no minister could do any worse—than Senator Kemp on these issues. I think everyone understands, and I believe the Prime Minister understands, that Australian sport has been failed here. I sincerely hope that when Senator Kemp gets to Athens for this lap of honour he does not embarrass Australia as he has embarrassed himself in this chamber on this very important issue of drugs in sport.