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Tuesday, 8 October 1996
Page: 3629

Senator SCHACHT —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that at the launch of the coalition's communications policy document, Mr Howard said:

But there will also be interest in the strong commitment of the Coalition to have a public, and I underline the word public, inquiry into the appropriateness of the existing cross media rules relating to media ownership.

Why has the Prime Minister condoned such a blatant breach of his election promise? What has changed in the interim that would justify such a breach?

Senator HILL —As I recall, the policy provides for a comprehensive media review. That has now been announced by my colleague Senator Alston. So the policy commitment has been met. The public will have the opportunity to contribute to this media review out of which, no doubt, good policy will flow.

Senator SCHACHT —I ask a supplementary question, Madam President. Has the government or the minister contacted that person singled out to chair a public inquiry, as stated by the Minister for Communications and the Arts, Senator Alston, as reported in the Canberra Times of 9 August this year, and explained to them that they will no longer be needed?

Senator HILL —I don't know what he is talking about, Madam President.

Senator Faulkner —I rise on a point of order, Madam President. Is it in order for any minister, let alone the Leader of the Government in the Senate, having been asked a clear question from a member of this Senate, to respond in that way? Is that answer in order in question time? Is that in accord with Mr Howard's and this government's professed standards of ministerial responsibility and accountability to the parliament?

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. It is a matter for debate and comment as to whether or not members of the opposition regard any answer as satisfactory. But the minister is entitled to answer the question as he sees fit.

Senator Cook —On the same point of order, Madam President: the minister responded by saying that he had no idea. It may well be that that is exactly true of Senator Hill. But the minister is accountable to the parliament, and to the Senate specifically, to provide answers to questions put. If he has no idea, as Senator Hill claims he has, his obligation is to go back and find out from the relevant minister and reply to the parliament and to this chamber so that an honourable senator's question can be answered. I think it is contemptuous of Senator Hill to answer as he did, dismissive of the interests of this chamber. I think you should direct him, Madam President, to answer the question or obtain an answer if he does not know it.

The PRESIDENT —The minister has answered the question as he is able to do so. If he obtains any further information and seeks to give it to the Senate, he can find the opportunity to do so.