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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1605


Senator BISHOP (11.09 p.m.) —Earlier today in question time this chamber was treated to the greatest piece of evasion that this house has seen since the Khemlani letter affair nearly 20 years ago. I refer to the evasion we saw on the part of the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services (Senator McMullan) and the infamous and notorious Labor Party lease, which the Commonwealth has entered into, which will deliver to the Labor Party $80 million over 15 years—$34 million more than the Department of Finance says is justifiable in commercial terms.

  Let me start with an elementary proposition. When the government of the day is a Labor government and it takes a non-commercial lease of a building, which is not yet even built, for a non-commercial term of years, without any evidence at all of any attempt to negotiate a proper commercial arrangement—and takes this lease from its own party—the very least we could expect is that the punctilious observance of all relevant statutes, regulations and guidelines would be the case.

  But, as we heard today, the minister is not even prepared to say who made any of the relevant decisions. He is unwilling to say what act of parliament the minister at the time claimed to be acting under. He has not even produced a scrap of paper showing how in all of Canberra this was the only building on these exorbitant terms available to the government.

  Instead, in meaningless phrases, he distorts every question asked by attempting to treat them as slurs upon the Public Service. He well knows that this is not the purpose of my questions. Their purpose is to sweep away the tissue of evasions, distortions and obstructions and ultimately to get to the truth about this unprecedented deal—and `deal' is the right word. This Labor Party is notorious for its deals—a deal here and a deal there—and when it uses the people's money to do its deals, this house is not prepared to be treated with contempt.

  The minister seems unwilling to face the very serious implications raised by the questions. It would be difficult to imagine a worse situation of conflict of interest. The situation appears graver day by day as it remains unexplained and festering.

  The other very serious implication arises from the application of the fruits of this fantastic deal. Do members of this house, enjoying the largess of the contract, sit here with their places in jeopardy because of the operation of section 44 of the constitution?

  These are matters which I certainly will continue to pursue, no matter how long it takes and no matter what obstructions I am confronted with, because I can think of no more important matter upon which the light of day needs to be shed.