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Tuesday, 8 October 1996
Page: 3640

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.10 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister representing the Prime Minister (Senator Hill), to questions without notice asked by Senator Schacht today, relating to media ownership.

I do that particularly to draw to the Senate's attention the extraordinary situation that we have had at question time today: when a minister in a government that professes the highest standards of ministerial accountability and parliamentary process has determined, in answer to at least two supplementary questions and one primary question in question time today, that he will not provide any information to the Senate at all. He has determined also not to take a question on notice.

Of course, that inadequate minister who put forward this wimpy and pathetic performance today is none other than the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Hill. Not only has he failed to be across the brief and across his responsibilities as Leader of the Government in the Senate, but he is acting in clear contravention to the guidelines that his own Prime Minister (Mr Howard) has put down in relation to ministerial responsibility and ministerial performance.

On page 3 of the Prime Minister's much vaunted A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility, we see this particular paragraph. It says this:

.   the portfolio minister is ultimately accountable for the overall operation of his/her portfolio. Other ministers in the portfolio, however, also have a clear accountability for areas of responsibility allocated to them and are required to answer questions in relation to those areas . . .

Senator Hill, you ought to take note of that part of A Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility . While you are doing that, you may care to flick the document over to page 23 and read the section on questions without notice. It says:

In general, questions asked at question time are answered fully by ministers. From time to time, a minister may undertake to provide further information during question time. This undertaking is regarded as taking the question (whether in part or in whole) `on notice'.

Then it goes on to outline how the minister may provide further information or answer. But what Senator Hill has done in question time today is to try to, in the most miserable and transparent way, duck his responsibilities to answer questions in this chamber during question time. It is not good enough for you to stand up and say to Senator Schacht—who asked a very clear and very pertinent supplementary question—`Oh, I don't understand what that question means,' and sit down and not even, as any other minister would do, take a question—about which you knew nothing, about which you had no knowledge, about which you were found to be grossly inadequate and incompetent in terms of your own ministerial responsibilities in this place—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The point of order is on relevance. The senator has moved that note be taken of the answer. So far—and he is four minutes into his speech—he has spoken about the way Senator Hill chooses to make an answer not on the substance of the answer. It would seem to me that Senator Faulkner is not speaking to the motion to take note of the substance of the answer but is simply giving his views on the way different ministers should or should not answer questions. So I raise that as a point of order on relevancy on the motion to take note.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner is moving to take note of the answer, not necessarily the substance of the answer. Senator Faulkner, it might help if you directed your remarks through the chair.

Senator FAULKNER —I will. Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I say through you that absolutely clearly the supplementary question asked by Senator Schacht was a perfectly reasonable question. It followed from the rather pathetic answer that Senator Hill gave to the primary question asked by Senator Schacht. Senator Hill—who clearly did not understand the question, who clearly did not have a sufficient grasp of his own responsibilities as Leader of the Government in the Senate, who could not answer that question—ought to have done the honourable thing in accordance with this government's much touted guidelines on ministerial responsibility and taken the question on notice.

The same situation arose in relation to questions that were directed to Senator Hill in his capacity as Leader of the Government in the Senate representing the Prime Minister in relation to DDB Needham, the advertising agency that was awarded the contract for the national gun control public education advertising campaign. Senator Hill was asked a three-part primary question which he not only could not answer but was unwilling to take on notice so that he could provide Senator Bolkus with the information that he required. Senator Hill was also asked a clear supplementary question which he could not answer and refused to take on notice.

Mr Deputy President, the opposition will not accept the situation where the ministers of this government treat their own responsibilities and this place with such contempt, and Senator Hill ought to get his act together in the future. (Time expired)