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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1387

Mr SINCLAIR(5.40) —Unfortunately we do not have the advantage of having yet sighted the latter day revelations of the members of the Ministry. However, I think it is sufficient unto itself and to the adequacy of the present procedures before the Parliament that, before this measure has been debated once , we already have a new category of details of the Ministers' income and status, apparently largely relating to their wives. I will say a little about that in a moment. What greater condemnation of the procedures before the House could there be than the fact that after seven months, or whatever it is, of deliberations by the Australian Labor Party, tonight the Leader of the House (Mr Lionel Bowen) rather shamefacedly has to come in and move the first addendum. One can only await the second addendum and whatever others might follow in the next few months.

The Opposition supports the desirability of a way to meaningful disclosure of areas of possible conflict of interests by members of this House. We would certainly want to remove any thought in the public mind of malpractice or corruption by Federal parliamentarians, a practice which I do not believe exists at the Federal level. Indeed, in recent years I do not believe that it is other than in other levels of government that any such allegations have been made. Where there have been such allegations, procedures such as the appointment of royal commissions have been facilitated that enable them to be corrected. The Opposition does not accept that parliament can legislate to make people honest. We cannot prescribe propriety. The consequences of public disclosure inevitably are that the dishonest will take steps to make sure that they are not caught out . The honest will reveal their hand and leave their families and themselves subject to the intrusion on their privacy of which the erratic and the politically eccentric, regrettably of our community, are capable.

The Opposition welcomes the concept of this motion and the opportunity to debate it. But in our view it is totally inadequate for the purpose. It is regrettable in that it will constitute a meaningless public revelation of apparently only partly formed conclusions for the Ministry and certainly of details of members which we do not believe in any way reveal what may well be necessary if one wants to ensure in the public eye the fact that there is no conflict of interest. So, while we welcome the concept of this motion and the opportunity to debate it, we certainly question whether it is appropriate and meaningful in the terms of the general philosophy that the Leader of the House has just enunciated.

The Prime Minister, in his statement to this House, said:

It is the Government's intention that the precise method of implementation of the provisions to apply to senators and members should be examined by the Standing Orders Committees of the respective Houses, meeting as necessary as a joint committee to ensure that the provisions are as far as possible consistent between the two Houses.

That is a very admirable admonition. But, regrettably, when one has a look at the motion that we are now debating and the general details that have been provided in two volumes now to this House, it seems that there is some difficulty as far as the Government is concerned in referring the whole matter to the Standing Orders Committee. I will shortly move an amendment. I had the thought in mind that, instead of coming into this House tonight and setting down with precision the form of consideration by the Standing Orders Committee, we should rather accept the principle and say, yes, it is appropriate that there be some way by which the income and the assets of individual members can be properly tabled and provided to somebody in authority so that any question of a conflict of interests in the mind of the public can be set aside. We do not believe it is appropriate, therefore, that we accept the text of the motion presented by the Leader of the House. We think it would be far better if that motion was sent to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration. I also want to comment on details within the motion. I will do that shortly.

Honourable members will recall that the Prime Minister further stated:

One question is whether the registration system should be compulsory or voluntary.

Yet again there is no reference to that matter within the motion now before this House. If taken literally, I believe this motion will impose on members a greater degree of revelation of their personal assets and their involvements to the community and elsewhere than that which is imposed on Ministers. I remind the House that the report of the Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest was quite specific in its recommendations against the adoption of a general scheme for the registration of private interests. The Committee indeed pointed out that a general register was directed to the contingency that an interest might affect an office holders actions. It concluded that the proper practice should be aimed at revealing an interest when a possible conflict arises. The Committee expressed grave doubts whether it would be possible to devise any register so as to eliminate lawful avoidance. It concluded that to introduce a register which could easily be avoided would fail to achieve any useful objective. It would be little more than political window dressing. Frankly, political window dressing is what we have before us tonight.

The disclosures made by the Ministers on 22 September are more interesting for what they do not disclose than for their disclosures. We find, as has been acknowledged, that incomes of some ministerial wives needed to be corrected and the forms completed. Indeed, if one has a look at the document, I can find it nothing less than incredible that there are so many blanks and so many 'nils' in areas where I would have believed the Ministers, if they are not aware of the income, would have put a statement to that effect as the correct answer. We need to remember two products of the tabling of this document: First, once this document has been tabled, it is properly the responsibility of Ministers to ensure that questions on anything in this document can be answered by them in this place. They are responsible for these matters under our Standing Orders. If they have said 'nil' and the answer is not 'nil', I suggest that they have misled the House. I am quite interested to see that in a number of instances where there are obvious discrepancies they are now corrected by this latter day statement introduced by the Leader of the House.

I think it is of grave concern that there are matters within this document that have no answer at all. As I have only just been handed this additional document since I started to speak, I find it a little bit hard to read it and check all the omissions. In some Minister's statements we find there are blanks. Does that mean that the question is not applicable or does it mean that they have refused to answer the question? If they have refused to answer the question, surely the appropriate course would have been to put some appropriate reference. We find that there is a dash in some instances, blanks in others and 'nil' elsewhere. I find that equally unacceptable.

Some Ministers wives' activities have been given quite considerable publicity. One wife-this may well have been corrected by the statement tonight-had her income and appointment revealed in the National Times of 24 June 1983. I refer to the wife of the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) and the fact that she has been appointed by the Victorian Cain Labor Government to the board of the Victorian Town Planning Appeals Tribunal with an annual salary of $53,000. Yet the original document says that she has no income.

Mr Braithwaite —A good socialist.

Mr SINCLAIR —True, a very good socialist. While I can understand the concern of the wife at the revelation of this detail-I want to say a little bit about privacy at the moment-I do not believe that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) should come into this House and table, on behalf of a Minister, an inaccurate statement . If one reads this article in the National Times, it is interesting to see that Mrs Howe and Jan Murray see themselves as in a type of political partnership with their husbands. It is a great partnership when the husband does not know whether his wife is in employment. I am delighted to know that at least that is one of the areas in which a correction has been made. I have been able to pick up the entry. The Minister for Defence Support has stated his wife's income as a member of the Victorian Town Planning Appeals Tribunal. Other omissions concern me just as much. I think it is rather sad that it is only through the revelations by Mr David Combe before the Hope Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies that we have learned at all of the income that the Prime Minister and, I have no doubt, other Ministers received, it now appears, when in opposition. The Prime Minister spoke at various venues around the nation, arranged, presumably for commission, by Mr David Combe. Of course there are other matters that need to be looked at as far as the details of the income of the Prime Minister are concerned if this motion is intended in any way to establish in the minds of the public that there is no reason for us to doubt the Prime Minister's integrity and every reason for us to accept that there is nothing in his affairs that could in any way lead to a conflict of interest.

Honourable members will recall another article in the National Times which referred to $4,600 in cash that was apparently stolen from the Prime Minister in the Boulevard. We regret his loss. I admit that many people in this place and elsewhere are fascinated by the fact that the police report says that the property stolen comprised $3,600 in Commonwealth bank notes, $1,000 in American currency and a quantity of travellers cheques, bank and number unknown. While I admire the Prime Minister's business acumen I confess that nothing in the details he has revealed to this House suggest that he has very much else to show for that acumen. It is also quite true that one must query whether the payments for his speaking engagements were in cash. One must also query how he came to be carrying such large sums of cash in the course of a weekend between parliamentary sitting dates. If those sorts of things can happen and they are not revealed in the Prime Minister's statement, one must certainly query whether the revelations are accurate at all.

I think the content of this motion and the so-called public register certainly need to be questioned as far as meeting any meaningful requirement of public disclosure is concerned. The motion requires members to disclose assets, including collections, but excluding household and personal effects, each valued at over $5,000. As with the proposed assets test for pensioners, both what is to be revealed and what is to be concealed are clouded in imprecision. Presumably a $40,000 car is excluded but a $5,000 painting is included only if it can be said to be part of a collection. The Opposition believes that if disclosures are to be made they should be meaningful and they should be private. We suggest that the appropriate course is for Mr Speaker to keep a register in this place and for Mr President to keep a register in the Senate. Indeed, we need only to suggest a scenario where members and their families can become subject to abuse or worse from the bigots, cranks and the unbalanced of our society, to realise the pitfalls in the Government's public register proposition. By public disclosure no member, nor the family from whom he is so frequently absent, can feel safe. Privacy is something which every Australian respects. Parliamentarians, once having met the responsibility of avoiding a conflict of interests too, should have the right of privacy. The public registration of private interests will deny them this right. Accordingly, the Opposition believes it more appropriate, as I have suggested, that private registers be kept by Mr Speaker and Mr President.

The Leader of the House has referred to our concern about the definition of a family. This is included in the motion. Obviously that needs to be contained to the immediate family. There are other matters in the motion that also concern us . Let us look at the requirements in paragraph 5 which states:

agreed that notwithstanding the lodgment of statements by Members and their incorporation in a public register individual Members should declare any relevant interest if they participate in a debate in the House or vote in a divsion in the House . . .

That is a very commendable requirement, but how is it to be applied? To whom is it to apply and in what way? Does it mean that a doctor should be precluded from voting on a Medicare Bill while a patient, about to go to hospital and knowing that he will be going, should be included? Obviously it needs to relate to a particular interest-an interest that pertains to that individual as against everybody else in his class. I think there are difficulties in its application. For that reason we would like to see the Standing Orders Committee charged with examining each one of these recommendations of the Leader of the House.

We accept the concept that there needs to be some form of register. We believe that it should be a private register. We query the contents as they are enunciated in the motion of the Leader of the House. We believe that, in most instances, they are meaningless anyway. After all, President Nixon and Vice- President Agnew seem to have been able to commit extraordinary sins against American society in spite of the very considerable measure of exposure that applies under American law. Accordingly, I shall move the amendment to the notice of motion which is circulated in my name. This amendment is designed to refer all paragraphs after paragraph 1 to the Standing Orders Committee for consideration. This requires hospitality to be substantial hospitality. The amendment picks up the fact that obviously there are other matters in the motion that need to be considered by the Standing Orders Committee. I suggest that, whatever the result, it will be necessary for the Standing Orders Committee to consider those matters. I am disappointed that the Leader of the House has not been able to get the acceptance of his Prime Minister and his Cabinet for what I believe to be an eminently sensible proposition. I move:

Omit paragraphs (2) to (6), substitute the following paragraph:

'(2) requests the Standing Orders Committee to consider and report upon-

(a) whether all Members should provide similar statements of their private interests, including those of their immediate families of which they are aware, covering the following matters:

(i) shareholdings in public and private companies (including holding companies) indicating the name of the company or companies;

(ii) family and business trusts and nominee companies-

(A) in which a benficial interest is held, indicating the name of the trust, the nature of its operation and beneficial interest; and

(B) in which the person or immediate family is a trustee, indicating the name of the trust, the nature of its operation and the beneficiary of the trust;

(iii) real estate, indicating the location (suburb or area only) and the purpose for which it is owned;

(iv) directorships in private companies indicating the name of the company, its activities and the total amounts of its assets and liabilities;

(v) partnerships, indicating the nature of the interest, the activities of the partnership and the total amounts of its assets and liabilities;

(vi) liabilities (excluding short term credit arrangements) indicating the nature of the liability and the creditor concerned;

(vii) the nature of any bonds, debentures and like investments;

(viii) saving or investment accounts, indicating their nature and the name of the bank or other institutions concerned;

(ix) the nature of any other assets (including collections, but excluding household and personal effects) each valued at over $5,000;

(x) the nature of any other substantial sources of income;

(xi) gifts valued at more than $250 received from official sources, or at more than $100 where received from other than official sources;

(xii) any sponsored travel or substantial hospitality received; and

(xiii) any other interests, such as membership of organisations, where a conflict of interest with a Member's public duties could foreseeably arise or be seen to arise;

(b) whether a public register of Members' statements of their private interests referred to in sub-paragraph (a) should be established or whether there should be a private register held by the Speaker;

(c) whether the provision of material by a Member to the register should be on a compulsory or voluntary basis;

(d) whether Members should provide such statements on an annual basis and what amended statements should be provided if alterations in circumstances occur;

(e) whether, notwithstanding the lodgement of statements by Members and their incorporation in a register, individual Members should declare any relevant interest if they participate in a debate in the House or vote in a division in the House and if so what might constitute a relevant interest and in what way it might be declared;

(f) what changes to the standing orders may be required to give effect to the matters contained in sub-paragraph (a) to (e) of this paragraph; and

(g) the desirability of adopting other provisions relating to Senators and Members contained in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Public Duty and Private Interest (except constitutional matters, but including, in particular, a Code of Conduct).'.

Mr Spender —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.