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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27141


Mr ALBANESE (3:05 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Aged Care. Minister, can you confirm that the owner of the Yagoona Nursing Home, Mrs Millie Phillips, has contributed $14,000 to the Liberal Party? Is that why you have exempted the Yagoona Nursing Home, owned by Mrs Phillips, from the government's own accreditation standards? Why has this provider—


Mr SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler will resume his seat. I have interrupted the member for Grayndler's question because, as the member for Grayndler is aware, questions cannot contain inferences and imputations, and the inference and imputation in the member's question have ruled it out of order.


Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise in response to that ruling. Are you saying that it is not possible to question a minister as to (a) whether they are aware of a donation to the political party of which they are a member, and (b) whether that donation affected their performance? Are you saying that that fundamental question of accountability—that is exactly what it was—cannot be asked in this place?


Mr SPEAKER —In response to the comment made by the Manager of Opposition Business, I indicate that I believe it is entirely proper for question time to be an opportunity for members to ask questions of ministers, but what I cannot allow to stand is a question that contains a specific imputation or inference. Had the member for Grayndler so framed his question that he had suggested that the minister's decision may have been influenced by some other external factor, I would, I would have thought, consistent with what previous Speakers have ruled, allowed the question to stand.


Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order going to the question of whether or not it is within standing orders. It is very difficult to see what is wrong with this:

Minister, can you confirm that the owner of Yagoona Nursing Home ... has contributed $14,000 to the Liberal Party in the last five years?

What is wrong with that?

Is that why you have exempted the Yagoona Nursing Home ... from ... standards?

It is a perfectly—


Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition cannot repeat the question. He will resume his seat.


Mr Albanese —On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I was not given the opportunity to complete my question. Had I been, the final part of the question is: why has this provider been given special—


Mr SPEAKER —The member for Grayndler will resume his seat. The imputation in the question was, as anyone could tell, that the person responsible for the Yagoona Nursing Home had in some way purchased accreditation.


Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, the key paragraph, which is the one to which I assume you are referring, is the one which says, `Is that why you have exempted ...' That is questioning the—

Government members interjecting—


Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business has the call. The question he has put thus far is entirely in order and he deserves to be heard.


Mr McMullan —That is quite clearly questioning whether the minister has behaved properly. It does not suggest that the person concerned has behaved improperly. They are entitled to donate or not as they choose. What ministers are not entitled to do is to be influenced by those donations. That is our allegation, and that is what—


Mr SPEAKER —The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.


Mr Reith —Mr Speaker, I put it to you that your response to the question is entirely in accordance with the standing orders, in particular standing order 153, which states:

Questions shall not be asked which reflect on or are critical of the character or conduct of those persons whose conduct may only be challenged on a substantive motion, and notice must be given of questions critical of the character or conduct of other persons.

For the benefit of members on the other side, your advice to the honourable member, Mr Speaker, is also supported by House of Representatives Practice, on page 515, which simply amplifies. It was quite clear what the imputation was in the question. On that basis, I believe it would be appropriate to invite a question from this side of the House.


Mr Beazley —On the point of order, Mr Speaker: it will become virtually impossible to ask questions of any seriousness in order to get accountability in this place if you rule out this question. Even if you ruled other sections of the question out of order, which you should not, what on earth is wrong with a question which says:

Minister, can you confirm that the owner of the Yagoona nursing home—


Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition cannot repeat the question. I have ruled the question out of order and you will resume your seat.