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Wednesday, 12 May 1993
Page: 442

Senator O'CHEE (3.21 p.m.) —This debate is about decency. It is about the standards that are expected by the community of parliamentarians and the standards that parliamentarians expect of each other. Most importantly, the highest standards of all are the standards that the Parliament expects of the Ministry. That is what this debate is all about. It is about whether we have, in the Minister for Transport and Communications (Senator Collins), a Minister who accepts that those standards must apply to him as they do to everybody else and whether he is willing to discharge his duty in relation to those standards.

  We have already seen that Senator Collins quite clearly does not believe that he has an obligation to answer to this chamber. He has set up an inquiry which has no standing under the rules of this Parliament or the conventions under which this Parliament runs. Yet every time he is asked a question here, in the chamber where he is expected to answer, his response is always, `Well, I've set up an inquiry so you shouldn't ask me about those things'. That is a grave slight on this Senate. It shows, first and foremost, that Senator Collins lacks the respect and the decency to recognise that it is here in this chamber, amongst his colleagues and the elected representatives of the people, that he must answer for his manifest failures. That is Senator Collins's first grave mistake.

  Secondly, we have a Minister who seems to have misled the Federal Court of Australia on two separate matters in sworn evidence. First, he told the Federal Court that he received legal advice from his department's senior legal adviser to the effect that he could rule out the MDS-pay TV option. Secondly, he told a judge of the Federal Court of Australia that he was doing it to preserve the intent of the legislation. When we read the legal advice that was provided to him by his department's senior legal adviser, what does it say?

  The advice is quite the contrary to what Senator Collins has said. Instead of saying, `You are absolutely right, Senator Collins. What are you going to do will preserve the extent of the legislation', the advice says:

The ABA does not seem to have a legitimate basis to adopt the approach of rejecting all applications put before it for subscription TV broadcasting licences via MDS.

Senator Collins is wrong. It goes on to say:

A direction not to grant MDS licences for subscription television broadcasting services seems to cut across the objectives of the legislation.

Senator Collins is wrong again. The problem is that these clearly misleading statements that he made were made under oath in the Federal Court of Australia. He is a Minister of the Crown. As a Minister in this Government, he is expected to have a standard of decency and honesty that is elevated to a sufficient degree so that he will tell the truth. But unfortunately he will not do it.

  Finally, we find the situation that Senator Tambling has shown the Senate today where Senator Collins has one standard for when he is in the electorate and another for when he is here. If this chamber is to maintain any relevance or to uphold the principles on which good government in this country is based, Senator Collins must at least do the Senate the courtesy of maintaining in this place the same standards and code of behaviour that he seems to reserve for his electorate in the Northern Territory.

  We clearly see Senator Collins time and again flouting both the rules by which government is run in this country and the rules of this chamber. If Senator Collins cannot tell the truth to a court or to us, and if he will not let the Senate hear the whole story so that he can be judged, he is guilty by default. Quite simply, under the rules of this place, it is a hanging offence.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.