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Monday, 21 September 1987
Page: 375

Mr HAWKE (Prime Minister) —Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank the honour- able member for Menzies (Mr N.A. Brown) for raising this matter. He did me the courtesy of indicating that he would be raising it. I had thought that essentially I had addressed in my answer to the question from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) the concerns that were in the mind of the honourable member for Menzies but, if not, let me in a sense repeat and add to what I said.

The honourable member for Menzies says that the Constitution knows no division. When we talk about what the Constitution knows, unfortunately in this life the Constitution does not have a voice that can speak for itself and we have to go through the very expensive process of approaching those in the honourable member's own profession, who charge highly for saying what the Constitution knows and says. Obviously, we have gone to members of the legal profession and we have received advice from them as to what the Constitution knows, to use the honourable member's rather mystical phrase. We have acted on the best advice that we got, and that advice is reflected in the statements that I have made to the House.

I suggest to the honourable member for Menzies-and I say this with great respect-that apparently he had no problem in understanding either the constitutional or the factual basis upon which we have acted until he heard the statements by the Minister for Land Transport and Infrastructure Support (Mr Duncan). I suggest, with respect, that the Minister quite properly used the word `responsibility' in regard to the division that had been sensibly arrived at between the portfolio Minister and himself. The honourable gentleman said in his question that he could understand a situation where we could have two or more Ministers responsible for a department. Now obviously--

Mr Peacock —Do they do that in Argentina?

Mr HAWKE —Come on! The honourable member has gone from foreign affairs to economics and has enough on his plate now in just starting to understand economics without going back into the foreign affairs area. I am saying to the honourable member for Menzies that, if we were talking about two or perhaps three Ministers in a total portfolio area, good sense would demand them saying among themselves, `In regard to the handling of this portfolio I will take particular responsibility for these areas and you will take particular responsibility for those', and that is what is being done. In that sense the Minister was saying that that was not his particular responsibility. But that does not take from the fact that, in regard to responsibility for the administration of the portfolio as a whole, that is something which each of the Ministers is sworn to do.

As I said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition earlier today, Ministers having been sworn to administer a department, as they have been, a Minister is responsible, jointly with the portfolio Minister, for that administration. That is clearly the case. It is totally in accord with the constitutional advice that we have received. The only difficulty that has arisen in the mind of the honourable member for Menzies is as a result of the language properly used by the Minister for Land Transport and Infrastructure Support which reflected nothing more and nothing less than the fact that, sensibly, in order to conduct their affairs, in regard to this Minister it had been said, `He will have the responsibility for handling that and that'. That is what he said in the House. There is nothing in that statement by the Minister which is in any way inconsistent with what I have said to the House, with the constitutional advice that we have received and, most importantly, with sound administrative practice.