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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 640

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.08) —I move:

That all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'the Resolution passed by the House of Representatives with respect to a Register of Members' Interest and Forms for completion by the Members of the House in the 34th Parliament be deferred until the Declaration of Registrable Interests is established on a common basis between the Senate and the House of Representatives.'

The reason for moving this amendment is that we believe that for the Special Minister of State and Leader of the House (Mr Young) to come into the House and suggest that honourable members should disclose their pecuniary interests is like a highwayman advising a bank on security measures. He alone of the Ministers, after his return to the Ministry, has failed to have the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) table his new declaration of pecuniary interests. Not only did the last Parliament begin with a farcical exercise with the Prime Minister bringing in a first version of members' interests, but we then had amended members' interests. The Special Minister of State was sacked quite properly and then returned to the Ministry improperly, and the Prime Minister has failed as of this date, so far as I am aware, to have Ministers' declarations tabled in the House.

Mr Young —We would love to look at yours, George.

Mr SINCLAIR —I am delighted to hear the Minister's interjection. He is very sensitive on matters of judgment about personal behaviour, but there are few who have been so properly condemned by a senior justice of the courts as he has. We all need to remember that it is on national security that this Government is making an absolute mess of things-first, in failing to meet its obligations on MX missile testing, and then in failing to act properly with the New Zealand Government in trying to retain the whole of the ANZUS arrangement. It is this man who has failed in matters affecting national security. It is he who has the hide to come into this House and suggest that members should declare their pecuniary interests.

This matter should be of great concern to all honourable members in this place. On the last occasion when the resolution to which the motion moved by the Leader of the House refers was before the chamber we on this side of the House first of all canvassed the format of the declaration the Government required. We pointed out the anomalies that were in that form, questioning the extent to which members were required to declare their spouse's financial interests. Not only were they required to declare their spouse's pecuniary interests but also they were required to declare those of their children. We regard that as a total breach of personal privacy. We see no justification whatsoever for members being called upon to act in the way the Government required.

We are concerned about the many anomalies in the declaration form. As has been said on so many occasions in this place, no resolution of this Parliament will impose honesty on those who seek to be dishonest. The sooner honourable members realise that this declaration of pecuniary interests--

Mr Kent —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I think that this debate has taken place last year.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! There is no substance in that point of order.

Mr SINCLAIR — It is important to remember that honourable members on the Government side of the House have far more to hide than anyone else in regard to their involvement in matters outside the Parliament. Even yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) came in here and said that he would refuse to give indemnity to policemen who could give evidence on matters pertaining to very serious criminal allegations. He is quite prepared to give indemnity to drug runners to disclose criminals but he is not prepared to give it to members of the police force.

Mr Howard —He is part of the Wran cover-up.

Mr SINCLAIR —Of course he is. He is part of the Wran cover-up. Looking at this amendment before us today, we must remember that Government members cannot get their act together in this Parliament. What we seek to do, and what my amendment seeks to do, is to suggest that if there is to be any type of register of members' interests it should not be peculiar to the members of the House of Representatives. Even honourable members on the opposite side of the House must ask themselves why senators are not to be asked to make the same disclosures. What is the purpose of requiring a declaration from members of this House when senators, some of whom are Ministers, will apparently be left scot-free?

Apart from anything else, there is a significant distinction between the obligations of disclosure on the part of those who are Ministers as opposed to those who are ordinary senators or members of the House of Representatives. In the days of the coalition Government we accepted that there needed to be a disclosure of Ministers' interests. Indeed we all provided a declaration, which was periodically updated. That is more than can be said of what has happened in regard to the Ministers of this Government. Our declarations were held by the Secretary to the Prime Minister's Department. It would seem to me that our considering at this stage the motion that the Leader of the House has moved, which suggests that we will receive another 28 days grace, will in no way resolve that fundamental conflict; namely, why senators should be exempt from any disclosure.

This matter has been brought before the House before. I am setting aside all concerns that we have regarding the adequacy and meaningfulness of the required disclosure. These are serious concerns which the Parliament needs to consider and which the new Committee needs to consider. I am sure that the Committee of Members' Interests will look very carefully at the meaningfulness of the form and at the ridiculous way in which the form which the Ministers filled in during the Thirty-third Parliament was set forth.

We need to understand that there are many other people in this place who, if we are to disclose our pecuniary interests, should equally be involved. Are all honourable members opposite saying that members of the Press Gallery ought to be exempt from disclosing their pecuniary interests? They comment on what we do. They have exactly the same involvement. I see the Minister for Communications (Mr Duffy) sitting in the House. Each member of the Press Gallery has an immediate and vital financial interest in affairs relating to the transfer of media information around Australia. Will members of the Press Gallery in some way be required to disclose their interest in any of the means of communication that are controlled by the Communications ministry before they are allowed to comment on them? That is what is being asked of us. Henceforth, we will be told that we have to fill in a form. It is suggested that if we have an interest in the communications field we will in some way be prejudiced in what we say. One thing that needs to be remembered-I have mentioned that at least the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives should be on common ground-is that there are many others, therefore, who should be considered. If we are to have a declaration of pecuniary interests, I fail to see why such declarations should be restricted to the members of the House of Representatives.

I am concerned that this motion will provide for a 28-days period within which the form will be distributed and members will be required to complete it. I believe that if there is to be a register, the motion is not unreasonable as after the distribution of the form members will have 28 days to complete it, but I see absolutely no justification for it to apply peculiarly to this chamber. If there is to be a form, it must apply equally to the House and to the Senate. I think we need to hear the views of the Committee of Members' Interests as to what other interests are to be disclosed. I think the present form of disclosure should not include references to members' spouses. I see no reason why children should be included in the disclosure. Indeed, I believe it is because they cannot be properly included that the whole farce is before us.

Let me hark back to the attitude that was laid down by the Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest from which we adopted the proper principles that ensued. Let nobody think that we are not concerned about conflicts of interest, for it is obligatory even under our existing Standing Orders that if any member has a conflict of interest, that is, an area where he has a particular interest as distinct from that of the community at large, he should declare that interest before he speaks and before he votes. We need to understand that in a democratic process, the very fact that a person is elected to the Parliament is of itself a measure of giving him a voice, not for himself alone but for all those he represents. If we deny a person a vote or a voice on matters we do not affect the individual member, we affect all those in his electorate who have a right to expect their voice, attitudes and philosophies to be expressed in this Parliament. The very essence of democracy is that there should be first an understanding that members of the House act with propriety, secondly, that there should be no conflict of interest, but, thirdly that they not be denied a voice. It is for that reason that we believe that the disclosure of pecuniary interests in the form now provided under the Standing Orders and the compliance with it is the preferable basis on which this whole matter should be considered.

It is necessary, however, putting aside all the other intricate arguments about the forms that the original resolution of the Thirty-third Parliament provided, that we now in this Thirty-fourth Parliament start afresh. If there is to be a registration of members' interests, it cannot apply uniquely to this House, it must apply equally to the Senate. It has to be in a form that is acceptable to the members of both chambers. It has to be in a form, therefore, which is not just laid down by a House of Representatives committee in a manner that the motion that the Leader of the House has just submitted would require. It is essential that members of both chambers be subject to exactly the same consequences and responsibilities. After all, we are all answerable to the same Australian electorate. We are all elected members of parliament and there is absolutely no basis in reason or common sense why members of the Senate should not be called on to complete the same type of declaration as that which this motion would seek to require of those who are elected to the House of Representatives. It is with that in mind that I have moved the amendment that we have just introduced into the House which defers the implementation of the whole of the registration procedure until such stage as the Senate has accepted a form which is common to the senators of the Parliament of Australia and members of the House of Representatives.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?