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Wednesday, 16 October 1996
Page: 4251

Senator FORSHAW(12.56 p.m.) —Today I rise to discuss a matter of great public interest and importance—that is, standards of parliamentary and political integrity and leadership. Events of recent days, involving the shareholdings and conflicts of interests of certain ministers of the Howard government, demonstrate clearly that when it comes to the crunch, the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, is all talk and no action.

Mr Howard has long trumpeted that he is a person who demands and expects the highest standards of integrity and honesty in public life. It was John Howard who went to the people on 2 March claiming that he would raise the standards of politics and of parliamentary debate in this country. I do not accept for one moment that the standards of honesty and integrity of former ALP governments under Prime Ministers Hawke and Keating were anything but of the highest order. They were governments of high integrity and high standards.   The record shows that in over 13 years of ALP governments, from 1983 to 1996, there were only a couple of isolated instances where ministers were required to resign. Indeed, in nearly all of those cases there was no fundamental breach of guidelines or principles. But, in accordance with Westminster traditions, the ministers nevertheless took the honourable course. The record of the Labor government contrasts markedly with that of the previous Fraser government, where it became almost a monthly occurrence for ministers to be required to resign their commission for breaches of conflict of interest or of misleading the parliament.

When John Howard, the now Prime Minister, set out to be holier than thou, when he established his code of ministerial conduct, he said to the people and to the parliament that he would expect nothing less than absolute adherence to those guidelines that he laid down. What have we seen within a period of only six months since the government came to office in March? We have seen at least five ministers be in breach of those very guidelines. Ministers Anderson, Herron and Short, Parliamentary Secretary Gibson and now Mr John Moore. Who knows? There may well be more to come as the days pass and events unfold.

Faced with this situation of these ministers being in breach, the Prime Minister has been left floundering. He has failed to act, notwithstanding that day after day proof has been given of conflicts of interests and of non-adherence to or breaches of the code of conduct. The Prime Minister failed to act until forced to do so by circumstances and by embarrassment caused to him and to his government.

What do we get still from the Prime Minister? We get pathetic attempts to defend the conduct of his ministers—conduct which should be condemned. But, more so, we get a pathetic counterattack—a disgraceful attack—by members of the government upon opposition members simply because they happen to be members of trade unions. They attack people because they are members of trade unions, as if that meant that you are some lower form of human being and not fit to represent the people in the parliament, or indeed in any form of public life; that, some how, if you have been a trade unionist, you have never had a real job or a real commitment.

We do not attack members of the opposition because they happen to be shareholders or because they happen to be company directors. We happen to believe in, and have advocated through all of our existence, the importance of the private sector in the economy of this country. But what we will attack is the hypocrisy and the failure to comply with standards of conduct demanded of ministers. It is nothing short of pathetic and disgraceful for members of the government to single out people in the opposition simply because of their membership of trade unions. I remind members of the government that people such as Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela or Caesar Chavez have proudly spoken of their membership of trade unions—and I do not think anybody would ever suggest that they are not people of integrity and commitment.

Similarly, on the issue of the disgraceful racist rantings of the member for Oxley, Ms Pauline Hanson, the Prime Minister has failed to demonstrate the leadership necessary, and has singularly failed to stand up for the very principles that he espouses and that I believe he adheres to. But it is not a question of Mr Howard's beliefs so much that is at issue here; it is the question of his responsibilities as Prime Minister. He has declined until very recently, I understand, to condemn in any real way the outrageous, divisive, inflammatory, scurrilous, despicable, erroneous and racist views of Ms Hanson. Despite numerous calls for the Prime Minister to speak out, he has declined. Rather, he has responded by saying that he believed in freedom of speech, and that he actually believed this had somehow been suppressed under previous governments and he was going to stand up for it.

Frankly, the right to free speech is something to be defended, as Voltaire so correctly put it many years ago. But the right to free speech does not involve the right to attack people because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic background. And it is about time that the Prime Minister, instead of just waxing on about the right of free speech, actually stood up and defended the right of indigenous Australians and Australians of ethnic background to live in a tolerant society free of racial abuse.

When Voltaire proclaimed those noble words, that he would defend to the death the right of people to put alternative views, I cannot imagine that he ever had in mind that that involved defending those who would seek to attack and demean people simply on the basis of the colour of their skin. Voltaire believed in the dignity and the equality of all people. That is what is at issue here and that is what the Prime Minister should stand up for.

I might say in passing that I note in today's press that there are now some moves towards a bipartisan approach which would involve the Prime Minister in endorsing the recent statements of the Governor-General calling for a recommitment to the principles of reconciliation. If that comes to pass, I certainly believe that would be a vast improvement on the recent failure of the Prime Minister to stand up and be counted on this issue.

My concern—and the public concern about this issue—also extends to what is happening within the Liberal Party itself, particularly in the south-east region of Sydney in the federal electorates of Cook and Hughes for which I happen to be the duty ALP senator. It appears—and is certainly acknowledged by spokespersons within the Liberal Party—that extreme right wing elements have infiltrated the Liberal Party in that area. Some very dangerous elements appear to be gaining influence and control. I refer to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 27 July and I would like to quote a few paragraphs from it.

The article is entitled `P-plate Libs in race for power' and it deals with the young members of a new right wing faction seizing control of Liberal Party branches in south-east Sydney. The article says:

The Mother's Day massacre of the Menai branch—

Menai being a suburb in the Sutherland shire—

as party moderates have described the May 12 meeting, has highlighted an internal storm that some believe could threaten the factional stability of the party in New South Wales. Moderates in the party have become increasingly concerned about the growing influence of a new right-wing faction, known loosely as the Team, whose activities centre on the south-west of Sydney. They believe the activities could tip the tenuous balance of factional dominance to the right wing of the party.

The article also says:

While more senior members of the party's right wing watch from the bleachers, indirectly benefiting from any advances their younger colleagues can muster, left-wing leaders have trouble on their hands.

There have been numerous complaints to party headquarters, including allegations of infiltration by extremist right-wing groups such as shooting enthusiasts and members of Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI).

The Herald has been given a list of electorates where branch control has allegedly been taken over by the right-wing group, including Wollongong, Cabramatta, Fairfield, Campbelltown, Granville, St Marys, Mt Druitt, Smithfield and Bankstown.

It seems that they are encircling your area, Senator Woods. The article goes on to say:

Allegations of sneaky tactics and branch stacking have come thick and fast in recent months.

One branch meeting was allegedly called in a national park at noon on Christmas Day; at another 45 gun enthusiasts signed up to join the Sutherland Young Liberals. There have also been accusations of party officials being threatened physically.

Other claims, unsubstantiated, are more sinister; in Bankstown there have been allegations that party infighting might be linked to an arson attempt at the home of a prominent party member—

Senator Tierney —I rise on a point of order. Madam Acting Deputy President, I wonder if you could direct the speaker to stop misleading the Senate with out-of-date information.

Madam ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Patterson) —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator FORSHAW —It is obvious that Senator Tierney does not believe in the right of free speech. I will complete that quote:

. . . prominent party member and local councillor, Clive Taylor. Police have so far found no evidence to back Taylor's claims.

Senator O'Chee —I rise on a point of order. Madam Acting Deputy President, I have been listening with great forbearance, but Senator Forshaw should be made aware of the fact that this time which is allocated for debate during lunch on Wednesdays is allocated for non-contentious matters. There has been an enormous amount of leeway given to Senator Forshaw. Now he is canvassing matters which might well be criminal. Not only are they ill-founded; I think it is very rude and abusive of the processes of the Senate.

Madam ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order, Senator O'Chee.

Senator FORSHAW —Thank you. These are non-contentious matters. There is no contention between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. All the contention happens to exist in the Liberal Party. The article continues:

Though party leaders say there is no evidence of such infiltration, they do not deny the factions are at war.

Because the senators opposite have endeavoured to deprive me of my time I will cut short my quotation. I will just quote this paragraph:

The issue was broken wide open this week when an opposition frontbencher, Chris Downy—

He is a member of the state opposition in New South Wales.

Senator Conroy —Which faction?

Senator FORSHAW —I think he is a left winger—

told the Herald he would resign from the party unless the State executive moved to deal with the problems in Sutherland. In a letter to Liberal MPs across Sydney, Downy and the Federal member for Hughes, Danna Vale, claimed there had been attempts to destabilise the branch and conference by a group of `agitators' who lived outside the electorate.

`This explosive local issue, and others like it, are [diverting] our focus in retaining marginal Liberal seats,' the letter said, `We cannot be left spending our time playing petty games with a small group of destabilising factional hacks whose activities are destructive to the functioning of our branches.'

As my time is drawing to a close—and there is far more to come with respect to this story—I would just indicate that there are dangerous elements being recruited into the branches of the Liberal Party in the electorates of Cook and Hughes. And this is not the Labor Party saying this. This is coming directly from members of the Liberal Party and parliamentary representatives of the Liberal Party in the area. Frankly, there has been no sign to date that the Prime Minister has done anything to curb this activity and it is about time he acted to get rid of these dangerous elements.

Senator Woods —Madam Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. It is similar to the one raised by my colleague Senator O'Chee. This is really a gross abuse of this period, which is very clearly set aside, by understanding, in the standing orders for non-controversial matters. What Senator Forshaw is attempting to do is to raise controversy, stir the bucket and pour a bit of mess around the Liberal Party, with no substance whatsoever. It is very clear that this is an abuse of this current period of time, and really he should be directed to address matters of public interest which are non-controversial.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Senator Forshaw, would you take your seat for a moment. There is no point of order. I have been advised that the question of whether or not this is a controversial issue is not appropriate here and that issues of a controversial nature can be raised. There has been an agreement that there will be no divisions or quorums called; but the question as to whether a person can or cannot raise a controversial issue is not set out in the standing orders. So Senator Forshaw is in order, and I have to rule that there is no point of order. Senator Forshaw, I think you have nine seconds left now. So I call Senator Tierney. Your time has expired, Senator Forshaw.