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Wednesday, 16 October 1996
Page: 4268

Senator ROBERT RAY —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Minister, are you aware that Senator Reid this morning told reporters:

. . . you are faced with a situation where somebody who has been thrifty and diligent, saved and invested, is being penalised.

Are you further aware that on the same subject Senator Crane said:

To be quite frank, I think we've been quite silly. . . I think we should have looked much more carefully at it.

Minister, do the Prime Minister's much vaunted guidelines punish the thrifty? Are they silly? Has any government member written to the Prime Minister prior to this week pointing out the faults in the guidelines? Isn't it true that the Prime Minister is now about tailoring the guidelines to fit the behaviour of his ministers, rather than directing his ministers to behave according to the guidelines?

Senator HILL —I am sure that what Senator Crane was saying was that Labor's interpretation of the guidelines was silly. I am sure that that is the case. They do require a very high standard. There is no doubt about that. But that was a decision that the Prime Minister made—and that's fair enough. We are expected to maintain high standards and they are set out in black and white. The issue about thrifty is really what the Labor Party has been seeking to imply in its questions concerning Mr Fischer today because what they have been saying is that a minister should not hold any shares.

Senator Bob Collins —Rubbish.

Senator HILL —Well, it does. The implication in what you have been saying is that the trade minister cannot, consistently with the guidelines, hold any shares. So if he has been thrifty and has built up some assets in the form of shares, before taking ministerial office, he should get rid of them. If that is what the guidelines did say, that would be a penalty on the thrifty.

Senator Cook —That is wrong.

Senator HILL —That is correct, Senator. They do not say that; that is the point. That is why Mr Fischer did not have to sell the shares. The guidelines allow shares to be held provided there is not a conflict of interest.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I ask a supplementary question. Do you, Senator Hill, agree with another one of your colleagues this morning who said:

If the Labor Party had their way the only people who would be fit for office are people who are too congenitally stupid to make a quid and make an investment, and that's not what we want in this country.

Is it a fact that the Prime Minister has not owned any shares in the last 20 years? Is it a fact that now the Prime Minister is no longer considering Senator O'Chee as a replacement for Senator Gibson as the new parliamentary secretary?

Senator HILL —I am sure there are trade union officials who are not stupid. If the Prime Minister has chosen to invest other than in shares, that is his business. He, like Senator Bolkus and me, might remember the 1969-70 boom and crash, and therefore perhaps have decided to invest elsewhere.