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Monday, 28 October 1996
Page: 4559


Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate)(3.07 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (Senator Vanstone), to a question without notice asked by Senator Faulkner today, relating to ministerial responsibility.

I think what we have in relation to Senator Vanstone is growing evidence of a pattern of behaviour from a minister which is totally unacceptable. We have a pattern of behaviour with a minister playing fast and loose with the truth. We have a pattern of deceit from Senator Vanstone. I think we have from this minister no understanding and no comprehension at all of the sorts of responsibilities that a minister has to tell the truth, both to the parliament and to the Australian people.

We now have clear evidence that Senator Vanstone has again misled this parliament. First, it was the `Wright family' exposed by the Labor Party in this place. Now we have exposed another very clear breach of Minister Vanstone's ministerial responsibilities. On 19 August in the Australian Senator Vanstone stated that at the time of the March election her department had advised Mr Crean, the then employment minister, that unemployment by the year 2000 would have been, at best, 6.8 per cent. The department has confirmed that after this statement was published in the Australian, the minister was informed by DEETYA that Mr Crean was advised about:

. . . a range of conditions that would need to be met to achieve the former government's 5 per cent unemployment rate target by the turn of the century.

The department says it did not put any view on the most likely outcome or suggest any particular level below which the unemployment rate was likely to fall.

When asked, this minister has categorically refused to make that departmental advice available to the Senate. Of course, when it was the case of the Wrights, Minister Vanstone was forced to make departmental advice available. I suggest, Minister, on this occasion, you will be forced to front up with the advice again. On 25 August, Minister Vanstone repeated her untruth on Channel 10's Meet the Press. She said:

Labor knew before the election that its target of five per cent by the year 2000 was unachievable; it had been told that. I know that's absolutely true.'

Then on 10 September in the Senate, Senator Vanstone repeated that untruth for a third time. In answer to a question from Senator Bolkus, she said:

That is my understanding—that the Labor Party knew well that the target it was promoting as being achievable was not achievable . . . If you want to allege I am wrong, I am happy for you to do so, and I am happy to check the matter out.

When asked the supplementary question by Senator Bolkus:

Did you receive any other advice from your department to confirm your Meet the Press statement?

Senator Vanstone said:

I have nothing further to add.

During the estimates in October, the department detailed advice correcting the statement by the minister in her 19 August pronouncement in the Australian , after being pressured by the opposition. The First Assistant Secretary of the Economic and Policy Analysis Division of DEETYA, Mr Grant, said:

I have the Australian report in front of me. Certainly the statement which caused us to advise the Minister's office was the suggestion that the department had advised Mr Crean, when employment Minister, that unemployment by the year 2000 would have been at best 6.8%. We have no such advice.

Mr Grant added that there was no way such a conclusion could be drawn from the advice given to Mr Crean.

There is a pattern from Senator Vanstone of deliberately misleading the Senate and the Australian people. There is no other conclusion any reasonable person could draw but that it is a deliberate pattern of deceit on her part—on a minister's part. She simply has no understanding of her responsibilities to the parliament and to the public as the minister responsible for employment, education, training and youth affairs in this government. Minister, you ought to do the honourable thing and resign.