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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 73

Senator CARR (2:26 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I ask: with reference to the obligations imposed on frontbenchers under the ministerial code of conduct, can the minister confirm that Mr Ken Crooke was a senior member of the staff of the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Mrs Kelly? Wasn't Mr Crooke employed by Mrs Kelly when Mr Crooke acted for both her and A2 Dairy Marketers during negotiations for a Regional Partnerships grant this year? Can the minister advise the Senate on what date Mr Crooke commenced employment in Mrs Kelly's office? Isn't it the case that Mr Crooke was on the staff of Mrs Kelly when he represented the A2 company at negotiations with representatives of the Queensland government on 8 July 2004?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I do not like referring questions, but obviously there is detail in that question that will require a considered response. I do not know Mr Crooke. Generally speaking, though, it is disappointing that the Labor Party, despite a fourth election loss, has still not learnt the importance of rural and regional Australia, has failed to understand the particular challenges and difficulties faced by rural and regional Australia and has failed to note the constructive and positive efforts by the Howard government in supporting those in rural and regional Australia. And that, of course, is reflected in the very low electoral support that the Labor Party is getting from outside the cities. Whilst it is legitimate to ask for details of any particular grant application—

Senator HILL —It is legitimate. Unfortunately from the Labor Party's perspective what it is doing is entrenching the perception within rural and regional Australia that this is a party that has no interest in their issues at all—no concern for their issues at all. There are difficulties in employment, there are difficulties in infrastructure, there are difficulties in building economic opportunity in rural and regional Australia, and the public of this country know that this government has gone out of its way to, in effect, kick-start rural and regional Australia so that they can then compete fairly with others. We on this side of the chamber believe that the responsibility of national government is not just to those in the cities but to all in Australia, particularly those who have not been doing so well in rural and regional Australia. They have had many difficulties in recent years—difficulties from droughts, difficulties in transport and difficulties, as we know, with the temptation to centralise business within the cities. At least with the Howard coalition government you have a national government that recognises these problems and is prepared to do something about it.

And what is the response from the Labor Party? It is just simply to knock those efforts, to undermine the constructive efforts to build a competitive rural and regional Australia. The Labor Party can continue; we do not mind. We do not mind if they ask these questions all next week, and if they come back in February they can go back onto it again, because all they are doing is entrenching the perception in the eyes of those from the bush that they are hated by the Labor Party. That will not do the Labor Party any good. What the Labor Party ought to do is try to develop some policies that help those in the bush, and then they would be starting to get onto a constructive path. But, of course, you have a Labor Party that are so focused on their own internal disorder that they are certainly not going to be addressing issues of constructive policy for a very long period of time. So, with those few general comments, I will refer the detail of the question to the minister.

Senator CARR —Mr President, I thank the minister for taking that question on notice and I ask a supplementary question. Is it the minister's contention that people in rural and regional areas are not concerned with the propriety and probity of government grant allocations? I ask further that he take on notice—because he cannot answer the rest of the question—to seek advice on whether Mr Crooke still works for Mrs Kelly. If he is not still working for Mrs Kelly, on what date did his employment cease? Has the Prime Minister investigated Mr Crooke's involvement with A2 Dairy Marketers, including any role he had with the company in connection with the activities that led to the recent conviction of that company for false advertising? I further ask: can he confirm that on 8 July Mr Crooke, as a director of the Asia Pacific Corporation, was actually involved in negotiations with the Queensland government with regard to the A2 company?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —All of that could have been included in the primary question, but I will add it to that which I am referring. What I do know about those in the bush is that they want a fair go from government. They are getting it from this coalition government, and that is being undermined by the Labor Party. It demonstrates how little the Labor Party has learnt in the last 8½ years. It has had four election losses and it still wants to kick those in the bush in the guts. The Howard coalition government will support those in the bush. They deserve a fair go, and they deserve better than what they are getting from the Australian Labor Party.