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Monday, 14 October 1996
Page: 4094

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(4.22 p.m.) —I did indicate when the suspension of standing orders was debated on this matter on 10 October that I would go to the substantive issues during that debate. That was in the interests of ensuring that this matter is progressed through the chamber as quickly as possible. I do not really want to revisit the issues that I canvassed there at any length. I did indicate previously that the opposition would support this substantive motion when it came before the parliament. We see no reason to change our commitment in that regard and we will be supporting the motion that has been moved by Senator Woodley.

The matter here is that the government defends its actions in relation to the tabling of documents on the basis that there have been very substantial numbers of documents tabled in the Senate. It would be churlish not to say that that has been the case because clearly a lot of pages of documents have been tabled.

The key point is that the crucial documents, the sensitive, most revealing documents, are the ones that have not been tabled by Senator Hill, who came into the Senate chamber at the hour of midnight early in the last sitting week and sought leave to table even more documents, many of which have been on the public record for a long time. He did not include legal advices, correspondence between colleagues—e-mails, memos or drafts.

That is the point, because we do want to look at the very clear contradiction between the statements Senator Hill has made at the Senate estimates committee and in this chamber during question time that he and he alone was responsible for making a decision on the go-ahead for the Port Hinchinbrook development. This claim is in very clear conflict with statements that have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Fischer).

Mr Howard made clear in the Townsville Bulletin newspaper that he had been personally involved in this project and made a number of very clear statements in relation to his own interest in the matter. Mr Fischer, on the other hand, spoke in an interview on Queensland regional radio and then at a conference of the Queensland National Party—which would be something that none of us, I am sure, would ever want to attend but, unfortunately or fortunately, the speech he made at that conference was made public—and there is Mr Fischer in black and white claiming credit for this development going ahead.

On the one hand, we have Mr Howard and Mr Fischer claiming credit for making this decision and, on the other hand, we have Senator Hill saying, `Oh no, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister did not stand over me. They had nothing to do with it. I don't take any notice at all of Mr Howard and Mr Fischer. It was my decision and mine alone.' And there is on this matter—as, I think, all senators accept—a very severe credibility problem for this environment minister in this administration who is so regularly stood over by his cabinet colleagues on so many issues on so many occasions.

That is the situation that this Senate is faced with. It is for this reason that the opposition believes that it is appropriate for us to support this motion so at least we get closer to the truth of this important matter. I have absolutely no doubt that Senator Hill is involved in nothing more or less than a cover-up on this issue. It is Senator Hill's stock-in-trade on this issue. There is no doubt that we have an attempted cover-up from Senator Hill and the opposition has dedicated itself to ensuring that the truth comes out.

Senator Carr —It is very diligent.

Senator FAULKNER —It is very diligent and, as you know, Senator Carr, it has meant long hours—

Senator Carr —Particularly of your time.

Senator FAULKNER —Of my time, I must admit, and long hours of very successful and forensic cross-examination of this minister at estimates committee hearings. While at times we have been able to extract information from the minister and of responsible officers—it is like getting blood out of a stone—there is still a lot of information that the minister has withheld. It is as simple as that. Information has been withheld and, as far as the opposition is concerned, we have indicated that we intend to get to the bottom of this and we will be supporting the motion accordingly.

A lot of the environmental arguments that have been mounted in relation to Port Hinchinbrook have a lot of resonance with me and, I am sure, with all members of the opposition. We do hold the responsibilities that this nation has to protect the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area as very important in terms of the protection of the environment in this country. I suspect in the international community there is no world heritage area in this country or perhaps even internationally that is viewed as more significant than the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area.

All world heritage areas require the highest standards of protection and conservation of their values. That is certainly the case with this. It is for that reason that the opposition has spent so much time ensuring that those values are protected. It is for that reason and because of our commitment to both accountability and transparency of process in government that we will maintain our strong commitment, just as we have led the struggle to ensure that that world heritage area is protected.

The opposition, the Labor Party, will not resile from that commitment and from what has been since the election of this government a difficult challenge because of its reluctance to come forward with information on this issue and a range of other environmental issues. We will be supporting Senator Woodley in this call today as we further eke out the truth on this important issue.