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Thursday, 10 October 1996
Page: 3919

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.09 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of answers given by the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Short) to questions without notice asked by Senators Faulkner and Sherry today, relating to senators' interests and the Prime Minister's Guide on Key Elements of Ministerial Responsibility.

I want to say at the outset that we have in the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Short, a minister who has had a most ignominious and inglorious ministerial career. From the time he was appointed Assistant Treasurer he has failed to be able to answer questions as the government's Treasury spokesman in this chamber. He has failed to be coherent on any of the issues that have been directed to him.

From the very start this minister has stumbled and bumbled and fumbled his way through even Dorothy Dix questions. This minister is even incapable of answering Dorothy Dix questions. He has no idea of the basic economic indicators. He has no idea of government revenue measures.

Senator Campbell —Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate has actually moved to take note of answers given by Senator Short today. In the first two minutes of his contribution in this debate he has not referred to any of those answers whatsoever. I know, Mr Deputy President, that during this debate in taking note you do allow flexibility as to the relevance of standing orders.

Senator Bob Collins —Nice try but it won't work.

Senator Campbell —Do you want to be Deputy President, do you, Bob?

Senator Bob Collins —I actually don't want to be Deputy President.

Senator Campbell —Good. The point of order, if I may proceed with it, is that Senator Faulkner should be asked to address at least some of his comments in this debate to the answers provided by Senator Short during question time today. There should be some scintilla of relevance.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner has been going for less than one minute. I think we should hear a little more of what he is saying before we make any decision about that.

Senator FAULKNER —This is a minister, I recall, who got so tangled up in the Sales Tax Assessment Act that I was forced to put out a media release headed `Senator Jim Short: when will the incompetence end?'. The answer to that question is never—never will the incompetence of this minister end. Today is absolute proof that this minister is not up to the job. Other ministers, other responsible ministers, have divested themselves of their shareholdings because of conflicts of interest—

Senator Bob Collins —When they got caught out.

Senator FAULKNER —When they have been caught out. Of course, Senator Short has learnt nothing from that—nothing at all. This is an absolutely clear breach of Mr Howard's ministerial code. There are no excuses for Senator Short's behaviour.

The fact is that Senator Short has owned up until today nearly 7,000 ANZ shares. His explanation to the Senate today after he had been caught out by the Labor opposition was to say that he is going to direct his broker to divest of them today. Of course he should have done that as soon as he had been commissioned as Assistant Treasurer in April because in that role he is directly responsible in the government of Australia for banking and superannuation matters. This is a clear conflict of interest. There is no question that he has been involved in high level discussions and has helped make decisions. There is a clear conflict of interest.

This issue goes right to the heart of probity in government. It goes right to the issue of integrity. This is beyond incompetence. This is beyond the fact that Senator Short is a failure. We know that Senator Short is not up to the job. We know that he should not have been appointed minister, but we have a situation today when Mr Howard said in the House of Representatives, `I regret very much the Assistant Treasurer's handling of this matter.' Mr Howard regrets it.

Senator Hill would not cut the Assistant Treasurer loose. I gave him ample opportunity during question time to support that. He said on two occasions that he didn't regret the Assistant Treasurer's handling of this matter. You ought to get your lines right, Senator Hill. Quite clearly, this minister has been exposed by the Labor Party as having a conflict of interest. He has done the wrong thing for a long period of time and he has been caught out red-handed by Labor.

Will Mr Howard do the right thing and sack him, as he should? This is a minister who has breached the Prime Minister's ministerial code of conduct. Who can forget Mr Howard, puffed up with all his self-importance, his bombast and pomposity, saying, `This will be a government of probity. This will be a government that cares about ministerial responsibility. This will be a government that cares about the importance of parliamentary process.' This minister has failed on all counts. Senator Short is a failure. Mr Howard has not committed himself to his own standards of ministerial responsibility. This minister should be sacked.