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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 34

Senator COOK (Minister for Industry, Technology and Regional Development) (4.16 p.m.) —Regrettably I was between my office and the chamber for most of what Senator Bishop had to say, but I was here for the concluding remarks. I know that Senator Bishop is fleeing this chamber in pursuit of her leadership ambitions. It is a pity in a way that the timing may mean she is able to take part in her celebrated victimisation of public servants at estimates committee proceedings. But the estimates committees are the logical place in which this would be pursued.

  The slur I have just heard her conclude on is indeed properly described as that. It is a slur. But what she has done seems to me to knit together a couple of half-baked ideas in order to create some sort of controversy, hopefully on which she can ride to greater public notoriety.

  That is not surprising from the Liberal Party, because in its period of government it was attended by a whole range of controversies and allegations of manipulation. One of its Senate leaders was required by the Prime Minister at the time, Malcolm Fraser, to resign under such a charge. People coming from that background might see manipulation in everything—

Senator Bishop —I do not come from any background.

Senator COOK —The honourable senator comes from the background and culture of that party. I answered truthfully and from my brief, and nothing that Senator Bishop has said can change that.

Senator Bishop —You have just admitted you didn't hear it.

Senator COOK —I said I did not hear Senator Bishop's last remarks in full. I did not hear the middle of her intervention on this occasion. But the question she asked me contained an allegation of manipulation of this study for electoral purposes—and that is a fraudulent allegation. If she makes it, she is being fraudulent.

  The answer I gave, which is the truth, is that the regions were selected by a group of public servants representing a diversity of departmental interests, properly representing the interests of industry, the Prime Minister's department and regional Australia. They made those decisions without reference to the minister—as they were empowered to do—or, as I am advised, without reference to his office.

  It is a calumny on those people and their integrity that the honourable senator should raise this slur and it is a calumny that will reflect back on her. But they are the facts of the matter, and while the facts can be manipulated they cannot be overturned and must remain as the case.

Senator Bishop —It remains to be seen.

Senator COOK —They do remain as the case.

Senator Bishop —Members of this party lobbied hard.

Senator COOK —People lobby in a political process. I am telling Senator Bishop the truth of how the decision was made. Senator Bishop lobbies all the time but whether anyone pays any attention to her is another matter. It may be of great bitterness that less attention is paid to her than she would like—certainly by the government. What I have said is the truth. This was an arm's length decision by the government made by public servants discharging an obligation to arrive at the right criteria and select objectively the best areas.

  The truth is, on almost any mosaic of regional Australia, some marginal seats will be caught up. It is a perversion of logic to say that therefore the whole thing is done from that perspective. It is not and was not. The McKinsey organisation, which is conducting this survey and is shortly to complete it, is a reputable organisation, internationally and in Australia. I think its participation in this ought not to be subject to the sort of allegation that Senator Bishop has made either because it damages it commercially. Politicians make allegations from time to time which bring this place into disrepute and give rise to the allegation that this is cowards' castle, because they hide behind parliamentary privilege in doing so. I suspect this is one such occasion.