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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1174

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave-I received just before Question Time, obviously through no fault of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-I was at a function at the American Embassy-the details of the Prime Minister's statement. But had I had even the two hours notice I would have asked honourable members to accept that after the many months that have transpired since March the Opposition would need some time to look at not only the content of the Prime Minister's statement today but also the content of the motion which it has been foreshadowed the Leader of the House and Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Lionel Bowen) will be moving. Mr Speaker, I therefore indicate to you that we will give consideration to the statement during next week and when the House resumes we will indicate a view.

The fact is, of course, that the Australian Labor Party was very strong in putting its viewpoints on full disclosure in this area. In a notoriously pious manner it would advise us from time to time that it would disclose all. During the period in which it said that we were not aware that the man who is now Australia's most notorious double dipper was, in fact, engaging in those sorts of activities. We were not aware that he was in breach of the standards contained within the report of the Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest. It has taken us many months to get even to the stage where we have got this statement by the Prime Minister. So much more had been promised by this man and so little has been delivered, as we have found in so many areas. On this occasion the efforts of Ms Jan Murray, who is closely connected to one of the Ministers of the Prime Minister, I think have ensured that a degree of rational approach has been brought to bear so far as wives are concerned. I commend her for the remarks she has made on this issue.

Mr John Brown —I don't know that she would fancy your endorsement.

Mr PEACOCK —I am not troubled about that, old son, because if the sorts of references made earlier to wives by those from the other side is the line that is going to be taken and the standard to which this Parliament is going to be brought, honourable members opposite condemn themselves out of their own mouths. That was the reason why members of this front bench restrained themselves from coming back on that issue. So we will not follow that track because, in my view, it is the antithesis of proper parliamentary behaviour, let alone normal and reasonable conduct by reasonable men and women. I say, however, that we have listened to a fairly pious statement on propriety alluding to elements of integrity of politicians from a government which already has a record of startling impropriety. It is a government which has talked incessantly of high standards. And it has been no more than talk. It is a government which has had to consider regulating its dealings with lobbyists because its Ministers cannot be trusted to observe appropriate statements. It is a government led by a Prime Minister who has admitted accepting fees for doing no more than his job as a shadow Minister. It is a government whose trademark has become misleading and contradictory statements and a very cynical deception of the Australian electorate. We have seen that yet again today in regard to capital gains tax.

Against that background the Prime Minister has come into the House with a register of the pecuniary interests of his Ministers. Of course the Opposition supports the need for Ministers to perform their duties without fear or favour. Of course the Opposition supports the need for Ministers to act impartially in the public interest and not to be influenced by their private interest. Of course the Opposition supports the need for Ministers to have the confidence of the public in their integrity. These standards must apply to all members of parliament, be they Ministers or private members. The report of the Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest of 1978 stated:

. . . to introduce a register which could easily be avoided would fail to achieve any useful objective. It would constitute little more than political '' window dressing'' and would, indeed, be somewhat misleading if it suggested to the public that objectives were being achieved which in fact the register was inadequate to bring about.

Frankly, I think this political statement amounts to just that sort of dissection. The Bowen Committee listed seven arguments against this type of register. It is worth mentioning them here. The report stated that such a register could be an 'unjustifiable invasion of privacy', and could 'deter suitable persons who might otherwise have entered public life'.

Mr Hawke —Ha!

Mr PEACOCK —These are not my words; they are the words of the Bowen Committee. The Prime Minister may laugh at them; I am simply mentioning them. I have indicated that I will give endorsements. I have not tacked like a yacht and made the original pious proposals end up with a death of a thousand cuts as a consequence of my actions. The phoney propriety that was put forward in the Prime Minister's statement is not what I am endorsing today. I will give consideration to it together with a motion that has been foreshadowed by the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Hawke —Have a conscience vote on it.

Mr PEACOCK —That would be impossible for the Prime Minister because he does not have one. The Bowen Committee stated that registration would be quite easy to avoid by lawful re-arrangement of one's affairs, that it could 'furnish information which might be used by kidnappers, extortionists or terrorists' and that there is no demand for it by the public. It is relevant to bear these factors in mind. That does not commit the Opposition to a view, but it indicates a viewpoint expressed in a report of the Committee of Inquiry, which received a very warm reception when it was brought down in this country.

Not all of the arguments of the Bowen Committee that I have mentioned carry equal weight and not all apply to the measures that the Prime Minister proposes, of course. But the Bowen Committee concluded that there was insufficient justification to introduce a compulsory system of registration. I understand that the Standing Orders Committee will be examining this matter as it applies to members and senators to determine whether we will have compulsory registration. We, of course, as members of that Committee, will be participating in that examination, quite apart from the debate that will flow from both the Prime Minister's statement and the motion to be moved. I said that the Bowen Committee concluded that there was insufficient justification to introduce a system of compulsory registration. In doing so it agreed with the Salmon Committee in the United Kingdom, which observed:

An individual who was determined to exploit public office for his own ends would probably be able to find ways round any registration requirements that were not of such complexity that they would be generally unacceptable and unenforceable.

These comments do not outweigh the points that were made by the Prime Minister but in an immediate response, so that there is a degree of balance to be weighed up in this area, I have quoted those matters. That has been done purely, as I said, as a preliminary response. We will not take more than six months to determine our view on the proposition; we will be determining our view on the proposals before the House when the House resumes after the forthcoming break.

Before concluding I reiterate that, with the constant breaking of promises, the constant breaking of undertakings and the constant reiteration of a determination to involve people in a particular area and then stepping back from it on the part of this Government, I am not prepared to allow this statement to be put down expressing a view of moral rectitude and propriety without pointing out that the Prime Minister-the man who has come before us and indicated how pure his government will be on this matter-has himself been in breach of the Bowen report. It is stated at page 31 of the report:

The Committee recommends that the following Code of Conduct be adopted for general application for all officeholders:

The term 'office holders' in the terminology of the report covers Minister, members of Parliament, public servants and statutory office holders-is not just Ministers and leaders and deputy leaders of the Opposition who are called office holders; The term covers all members of parliament. At page 32, under category 8 of paragraph 4.9, the report states:

An officeholder should not:

(a) solicit or accept from any person any remuneration or benefit for the discharge of the duties of his office over and above the official remuneration;. . . . .

(c) except as may be permitted under the rules applicable to his office, accept any gift, hospitality or concessional travel offered in connection with the discharge of the duties of his office.

It may well be that many honourable members have transgressed that code, but day after day we will sit on this side of the House and listen to these pious statements by the persons performing the duties of office. They reached the depths of degration this afternoon. I simply could not give even a preliminary response to the statement today without indicating that even on a matter such as this, which will receive the detailed consideration of the Opposition, the person who is to move a motion on the matter does not come before the Parliament with clean hands.

Motion (by Mr Lionel Bowen) proposed:

That the House take note of the papers.

Debate (on motion by Mr Sinclair) adjourned.