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Phillip Street, Sydney, 17 April 1997: transcript of doorstop [Colston affair, wage decision]

REITH:

Mr Beazley yesterday called on the Federal Government to lance the boil of the Colston affair. And yet the fact of the matter is the Labor Party has been sitting on the boil for many years and we have the incredibly hypocritical statement from Mr Beazley yesterday, when he said that the Colston vote was a tainted vote. And yet at the same time he announced that the Labor Party would continue to rely upon Senator Colston's vote in any close votes in the Senate.

This is an incredible proposition from the Labor Party. They deserve to be condemned for their hypocrisy in announcing yesterday that they would continue to rely upon Senator Colston's vote and we call on them to reconsider that decision. And we also call on the Democrats to give favourable consideration to matching the statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister, that the Government would not continue to rely on Senator Colston's vote in the Senate.

The ramifications of the Labor vote for using Senator Colston also need to be taken into account. For example in the industrial relations area, we have a critical regulation which is shortly to be before the Senate, providing additional benefits to the small business community in handling unfair dismissal claims. It would be the greatest travesty of justice if that regulation were to be defeated with the Labor Party relying upon Senator Colston's vote to achieve the defeat of a Government proposition recently announced.

JOURNALIST:

Is the Government going to review its position of not relying on Senator Colston's vote?

REITH:

Our position is that we will not rely on Senator Colston's vote, and we call on the Labor Party to do the same, and we call on the Democrats to do the same. It would be incredible hypocrisy for the Labor Party to continue to rely upon Senator Colston's vote, which is the position they announced yesterday they would.

JOURNALIST:

What about the perception that you're not giving much up by taking this route?

REITH:

There is no doubt whatsoever that we are giving up a vote which can be critical in a Senate which is very finely balanced.

There are 76 Senators, we have got 37 votes. The Labor Party and the Greens and the Democrats have 37 votes and there are two votes in the balance. Senator Harradine has in the past exercised his independence. He has been known to vote on different sides and to abstain from votes. And so therefore the vote of Senator Colston is critical and the Senate's consideration of a whole range of matters and it is simply not the case to say that this will not have an impact on the balance in the Senate.

The fact of the matter is that Labor's decision to use Senator Colston's vote in the future will provide them with a political advantage using a vote which they yesterday described as tainted.

JOURNALIST:

When will the living wage decision be announced?

REITH:

That is a matter for the Commission and we look forward to the Commission's decision on it.

One other matter in the Colston affair which needs to be put on the record.

As Senator Hill said yesterday and the day before, the Government has made no decision in respect of a proposition to refer one aspect of the Colston matter to the Senate Privileges Committee. The Government has had, preliminary independent legal advice to the effect that it may be the case that Parliamentary procedures of that sort could jeopardise the due process of the criminal law if the police decide to take certain action following their investigations.

On that basis the Government's position remains the same; we will await formal legal advice. But the preliminary advice is that in fact by referring matters to the Senate Committee you can jeopardise the proper conduct of criminal proceedings or other proceedings that the police may wish to take. On that basis the Labor Party should also review their position on that matter and they should await proper legal advice before any decisions are taken.

JOURNALIST:

What would the Government's reaction be if the full living wage claim is granted?

REITH:

We will have a response to the Living Wage Claim when we have seen the decision of the Commission.