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Thursday, 18 November 1993
Page: 3140

Senator PATTERSON —I refer the Minister for the Arts and Administrative Services to the unprecedented back to back Keating creative fellowships awarded to composer Geoffrey Tozer. Does the minister agree with composer Ms Judith Clingan that `nobody on earth' deserved a second grant when so many people were still seeking their first? What guidelines are there for the awarding of back to back fellowships to the one artist when so many other deserving applicants remain unrewarded? Will the minister categorically deny that the Prime Minister had any influence, either directly or through his contacts on the advisory panel, in the awarding of these two fellowships, valued at $575,000, to his family friend Mr Tozer?

Senator McMULLAN —The first question I get from the opposition on the arts is a little bit of sleaze—no substance, just sleaze. Even the Herald-Sun, which ran this story, said, `We are not making any allegations that Mr Keating was involved in any way and you would not'. Let me say very clearly that when the guidelines were originally set down in this scheme in 1988 they said that people would be able to get a second round of grants. It has been in the guidelines since 1988.

  Of course, given that the first five-year round of fellowships has just expired, it is not surprising that no-one else has had two, but it has been in the guidelines since day one. Nobody should be surprised. There are strict guidelines. This matter is resolved at arm's length from the government by a committee of the Australia Council.

Senator Hill —How many have got back to back grants?

Senator McMULLAN —I just tried to explain but, of course, Senator Hill was not listening. Will he just shut up and listen! This is the first time that the 1988 round of five-year fellowships has expired. How could there have been others? Why does Senator Hill not listen?

Senator Vanstone —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I very rarely take points of order in question time because I do not like to take up the time unnecessarily. But I just want to know whether you think it is appropriate under the standing orders to let a senator, or a minister—we expect lesser standards from ministers in this parliament—to tell someone else to shut up and sit down. Mr President, can I tell you to shut up and sit down? Why don't I tell you to shut up and see how far I get? You just let it go because he is one of your own.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Vanstone, I resent that implication. It is unparliamentary. I would ask that it be withdrawn, but I would spend the whole of question time pulling people up if I took that to its logical extreme. Will you apologise, Senator McMullan?

Senator McMULLAN —I certainly withdraw. All these decisions are made by an independent committee on the basis of applications made to it. It seems to me a gross reflection on that distinguished group of Australians to pretend that they in some way made this decision on the basis of some sleaze. Mr Tozer was chosen on his merits.

  There are an enormous number of talented Australians who could well have qualified. It is a very vigorously contested process to determine who wins these fellowships, as it should be. It would be terrible if it were not because this is a proper recognition of the outstanding contribution of a number of outstanding Australians.

  I welcome the fact that this capacity has been available since 1988. It has provided tremendous support to many outstanding Australian artists who have been able to make an even greater contribution because of the access to these fellowships. There is always a hot contest for them and people are always disappointed at the outcome because inevitably more people fail than succeed; that occurred on this occasion. But nobody should be surprised that the potential for a second round success exists because it has been in the guidelines since 1988.

Senator PATTERSON —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. The minister said that nobody should be surprised—but they might be surprised, given that Mr Tozer reportedly said yesterday that he had been one of the catalysts for the federal government's setting up the awards in 1987 through his contacts with the then Treasurer, Paul Keating. Does the minister think it is appropriate that he has been an award recipient for 10 out of the first 11 years of the awards?

Senator McMULLAN —I realise that Mr Tozer should be severely punished for the offence of knowing the Prime Minister. But it is actually a free country and he is entitled to apply even if he knows the Prime Minister. Even if he is a friend of the Prime Minister he is entitled to apply. Even if he knew Senator Patterson I suppose he could apply—that would not discount him. It might be an extraordinary confession, but it is still possible. I think it is appropriate that anybody who is selected by the independent committee receives the grant—it is that person's right. In a democracy even friends of the Prime Minister remain citizens.