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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28329

Mr BEAZLEY (3:04 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Aged Care. I draw attention to the fact that a few minutes ago she said that she appointed the board to be an independent board. Can you confirm that in November last year the ex-chief of your accreditation agency, Dr Penny Flett, told a public conference that she might:

... be decapitated for saying this but `The agency is not independent enough and I do not know of any similar body that has to bear the control that this agency has to deal with.'

Minister, doesn't this statement from the ex-chief of the agency prove that it is not at arm's length, that it is not independent and that you have exerted political control over it?

Mr SPEAKER —I will allow the question to stand, but the minister will ignore the latter part of the question which imputed her exerting political control over it.

Mr Leo McLeay —Don't mention politics in here, whatever you do.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the Chief Opposition Whip!

Mr McMullan —I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What is it in the standing orders that makes it out of order to imply that a minister has political control over a government agency?

Mr SPEAKER —I have in fact indicated that, if you look at standing order 144, you will find that there are a number of issues that are tolerated by the chair, but among those that cause all occupants of the chair most concern are imputations—

Mr McMullan —What is the imputation?

Mr SPEAKER —The imputation was that there was political influence being exercised over the board.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the Deputy Leader of the Opposition!

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for McMillan!

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, there is nothing in standing order 144 or in House of Representatives Practice that has ever said that it is in any way an improper imputation to suggest that a minister has exercised political control over an agency which is within her departmental responsibility. She is the minister responsible for that agency; she must be able to answer questions in this place about her relationship with it.

Mr SPEAKER —I have allowed the question to stand and I ask the minister to ignore the question of imputation. I would have thought that, if I were being difficult with any member of the House, the question would simply have been ruled out of order.

Mr O'Keefe —Mr Speaker, in respect of the ruling you have just made, the history of this parliament is littered with situations where ministers have been brought to account in question time for having improperly used their role as a minister to influence some area of government activity. This is a perfectly legitimate question aimed at exactly probing that point.

Mr SPEAKER —I remind the member for Burke that at no period during my occupancy of the chair or my period in the parliament, which includes a number of occupants of the chair, have imputations of improper motives been permitted. I have allowed this question to stand with that portion excluded. The question stands. The minister is called.

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Minister for Aged Care) —Dr Flett was the inaugural chairman of the accreditation board. She is also the chief executive officer of a group of homes known as Brightwater. When Dr Flett's period of office was completed, people were thankful that she had started the process and done it well. She is free to express her views as she will. People are appreciative of the work that she did initially, but I do think it was better to have a chairman who was not a provider, in order that the board could properly get around its business of compliance.