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Wednesday, 19 May 1993
Page: 844

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (3.10 p.m.) —And so has Senator Alston. There is nothing like selective quotations. Yes, I did read the editorial in the Age but I also read an article in the Age which I think is worthy of being read by all people—

Senator Alston —Don't you have opinions of your own?

Senator COLLINS —Yes, I do, and I have expressed them. It is a comment article by Geoffrey Barker which accords pretty much with my views and—Senator Alston may find this of interest—quotes the views of three previous and prominent members of the Opposition frontbench, including Senator Durack who is sitting opposite me here today, on ministerial responsibility.

  Let me say again that the issue on which I agree with Mr Stokes wholeheartedly is his understanding—as a layman, to quote Mr Gyles; that is, a non-lawyer—of what came out of the court case. It was the same understanding that Graham Evans and I had. I have read out the statement. It was that the court order had provided the basis on which a valid process could then continue. I then went on to say—before I got stopped by the clock, and I continued afterwards—that where I disagree with Mr Stokes, and I do, is that it is not just a question of semantics, as he described it. It is a question of complicated legal argument. No-one is seriously arguing that, having read the advices, which I presume—and I am speculating here—Mr Stokes has not yet had an opportunity to read.

  What I would like—it would be a great result as far as I am concerned—when we go back into court is that the judge would say, `I validated this process', which is what he did, `and it should proceed'. But I fear that the lawyers are probably right. That is why I sent the advices that I tabled here in the Senate; I will ask one of my staff to send them to Mr Stokes so that his lawyers can have a look at them. He will have prior notice of every argument we are going to run. I fear that the lawyers will be right. Mr Gyles's advice, which Senator Alston has not bothered to read—despite my having tabled these documents—

  Senator Alston interjecting—

Senator COLLINS —Or he has not understood it. That is canvassed in Mr Gyles's advice. He canvassed that advice. He said that, of course, the difficulty is that that particular matter of the technical deficiencies was not addressed during that court case.

Senator Alston —Because you withheld it from the court.

Senator COLLINS —Not at all. That is a nonsense and Senator Alston knows it. In fact, if I ever thought that a Question Time would demonstrate how threadbare the Opposition's arguments have become on this matter, Question Time today certainly did demonstrate it. The problem for the Opposition is this: it has been looking for a conspiracy since before Christmas last year; aided and abetted, I have to say, by some fairly enthusiastic and totally unobjective members of the press gallery—one or two in particular.

Senator Alston —You deliberately withheld it.

Senator COLLINS —I do not apologise for it. It is well-known that I have a very poor view of Tom Burton. I do not apologise for that. I have never forgotten the column that Tom Burton wrote years ago, I think in the Sydney Morning Herald, identifying un-named members of the Federal Cabinet—that is the Labor Cabinet—and accusing them of conspiracy to commit murder. I have never forgotten that. I have always regarded that column as the lowest point political journalism has ever reached in this country. So I do not apologise for my opinion of Tom Burton. But he knows what I think of him. He has a big axe to grind—fine. He has a newspaper's pages to pursue it—fine.

  The problem is that there is no conspiracy, there never has been a conspiracy and I know perfectly well that there is not. I commend honourable senators to read the `Comment' article by Geoffrey Barker on ministerial responsibility. I will start with Peter Durack:

. . . in the Australian system ministers do not resign unless some personal failing is involved.

In referring to Billy Snedden, he said:

There is no absolute vicarious liability on the part of the minister for the sins of his subordinates. If the minister is free from personal fault, and could not by reasonable diligence in controlling his department have prevented the mistake, there is no compulsion to resign.

And in referring to Sir Victor Garland, he said:

. . . a minister would "only resign if the Prime Minister believes it is for the good of the Government".

The Pearce report will be before this Senate shortly with all the paper.

Senator Ian Macdonald —When?

Senator COLLINS —As soon as I can get it here and before Monday if we can manage it.

Senator Ian Macdonald —After the Senate rises.

Senator COLLINS —That is rubbish. A commitment has been given, as Senator Macdonald knows, and the Senate will have that document in its hands at least three days before it rises. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.