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Wednesday, 5 October 1983
Page: 1404

Mr LIONEL BOWEN (Minister for Trade)(8.47) —In replying to the amendment, I seek leave of the House to table a statement by the Minister for Aviation (Mr Beazley).

Leave granted.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The most interesting thing about the debate is the amendment moved by the Opposition. We have had a debate this evening which I think has reached a pretty low level. Let me take honourable members through it. The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) was very anxious to say that the Minister for Territories and Local Government (Mr Uren) forgot to disclose his war disability pension. For the benefit of the honourable member for North Sydney, his war disability pension comes from being a prisoner of war of the Japanese. He ought to pay some credit to the fact that that man offered his life for his country and perhaps people like him saved the likes of the honourable member. Honourable members ought to think about those matters. Let us make it very clear, honourable members have had the time of their lives--

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! I ask the House to come to order. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition was heard in comparative calm and quietness. I now ask that the Opposition extend the same courtesy to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Howard —I did not say anything offensive.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable gentleman opposite says that nothing offensive was said. What about the fact that the Minister offered his life for his country and was taken by the Japanese as a prisoner of war? Honourable members drag the matter into this House. Why cannot honourable members just listen and look at the facts? I am talking about what the honourable member for North Sydney said in this debate. He did not spare anybody in the Ministry. He took them all on. Ministers have made a statement of their assets and liabilities. What does the Opposition's cowardly amendment say? It says that none of the members opposite want to make a statement.

Let us have a look at the Opposition's amendment. I and the Opposition Leader of the House, the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), tried to come to some agreement on the basis that the Standing Orders Committee would determine the matters dealt with in this motion. For the benefit of the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey), I point out that this is a motion, not a piece of legislation. He can work out from this motion what penalty, if any, he wants to impose. I do not know what honourable members opposite are frightened of. I know that the honourable member for O'Connor is not frightened of anything. I admire the fact that he is prepared to disclose his assets.

The Opposition's amendment is curious. It states that the Opposition is prepared to send all these matters to the Standing Orders Committee. But what are honourable members opposite prepared to send to the Standing Orders Committee? They are prepared to discuss shareholdings, family and business trusts, questions of partnerships, directorships, real estate, bonds, savings accounts and they are prepared to disclose all their assets and all their income to the Standing Orders Committee. What have they been arguing about for the last two hours? All Opposition members admitted that they are prepared to send all that--

Mr Spender —Are you saying it is not accurate?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I know the catch in it. What honourable members opposite are prepared to do is contained in their amendment. So why are they arguing against this motion by saying that they are worried about disclosing their interests? They have said that they are prepared to detail these matters to the Standing Orders Committee. But here is the let-out. If we look at the Opposition's amendment we see that the question that arises is whether the members register ought to be public or private.

Mr Tuckey —That is a point.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —That is a point.

Mr Spender —It is a legitimate question.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It is a legitimate question. We then come to the next part of the Opposition's amendment which is whether there should be a compulsory or voluntary register. Imagine that! The first part of the amendment suggests that- -

Mr Peacock —That is what your Prime Minister suggested, straight from his speech .

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I ask the honourable member to wait for just a moment. I state clearly that the Opposition's amendment proposes that honourable members do not know whether they want the register to be public or private. The next part of their amendment states that they do not know whether they want to disclose their interests. How inconsistent can honourable members opposite be? But it is understandable. They have had the time of their lives for two hours talking about everybody's assets and liabilities; yet they do not have enough courage to declare their own. This is the sort of standard of honourable members opposite. They want to know about precedents. I admit that there are all sorts of weaknesses and that we cannot legislate for honesty. But it is pretty clear tonight on listening to the debate that, from here on, we all have the time of our lives discussing everybody's assets and liabilities. Honourable members opposite think that this is terrific.

Mr Howard —No, I do not think it is terrific at all.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —For the benefit of the honourable member for Bennelong, this point is very relevant. Perhaps the way democracy has to go, if we have reached this level, is that all honourable members want to know is whether somebody is dishonest. The interesting thing about this motion is that, from the point of view of democracies, it is not new matter anywhere in the world. I do not know why honourable members opposite are so worried about it. Such declaration has been compulsory in the United Kingdom since 1974, in the United States of America since 1978 and in Canada since 1978. In most of the States in Australia, including the Northern Territory, it is obligatory. But we in the national Parliament are too frightened to make a statement.That is all it is, a statment-

Mr Fisher —But you did not tell the truth.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —It is just a statement. If honourable members do not tell the truth, that would become the subject of public ridicule as we have had in this chamber this evening. What is wrong with that? Why are honourable members opposite frightened of it? Why are they not prepared to put in their statements?

Mr Spender —I will put mine in any time.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable member should put in his statement. But he should not support an amendment that says that he does not have to put in his statement. That is all that we are arguing about. We are arguing about the form in which this material will be disclosed. The Opposition's amendment is the weakest amendment I have ever seen in my life. It suggests that perhaps some honourable members need not disclose this information. What party room discussion did honourable members have to reach the conclusion that some of them need not disclose what they have? Which honourable members opposite are prepared to stand up and say that that is what they wanted and that what they got in that resolution is that they did not have to disclose anything? Opposition members have been catcalling in this chamber for a couple of hours about Ministers who have disclosed this information. That is all the debate has been about this evening. But if the precedents are to be looked at, it is obvious that, in a world of democracies, people who enter public life are fair game for one another , for the Press and for the public. That is the penalty that we all have to pay.

Mr Spender —Fair?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I do not know that it is fair. But this issue is established in the Constitution. Section 44 states that members will disclose pecuniary interests if they have any direct or indirect interest in an agreement. So we start from that principle. There was always an obligation to disclose an interest if one were legislating for the benefit of oneself or one's family. I admit that I do not see members of parliament making much money, nor can they, from performing their duties in the precincts of this House. They can make a lot more money outside this House. But there is no doubt that public opinion has been conditioned to the fact that we are all prone to be dishonest, that we all cheat and that we all have a lot of money.

Mr Steele Hall —Especially some.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Opposition members have set the climate again this evening but they should have a look at their own back bench. And they should have a look--

Mr Steele Hall —We are looking at yours.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I know the honourable member can point--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Boothby will remain silent.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —The honourable member for Boothby is very vocal this evening. But the point is that the Opposition's amendment is trying to give honourable members the means of escape when they do not want to give that right to other people. I make the point that we have seriously looked at this question. We have had the report of the Riordan Joint Committee on the Pecuniary Interests of Parliamentarians, the report of the Bowen Committee of Inquiry concerning Public Duty and Private Interest, the Webster problem and the problem of judicial interests not being disclosed. We have had all these matters that certainly can affect public opinion of national institutions and even the courts. Surely all honourable members opposite, in their calmer moments, would agree that we need to be able to answer the question of what this matter is about. I suggest that it is about the acceptance by the public that people who enter public life must have integrity.

Mr Sinclair —How can they trust anybody when you have ten amendments?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I do not know. No doubt they have had a good look at the background of the right honourable member for New England. The right honourable member has been the victim of public disclosure.

Mr Howard —He had to stand down for two years.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I know that.

Mr Steele Hall —I suggest--

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Boothby. He has already been cautioned. Honourable members should realise that the Deputy Prime Minister is addressing the chamber. There has been an incessant stream of interjections across the table. I ask honourable members to observe the Standing Orders.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I am trying to get some sense of sweet reasonableness. All honourable members are in agreement that these matters are to go to the Standing Orders Committee. Nobody is objecting to that. I say again that we agree on all matters about which honourable members opposite have been worried-for example, bank accounts and bonds. All these matters go to the Standing Orders Committee. The only difference is that the Government says that all honourable members will now do the same as the Ministers; they will all make a statement. But honourable members opposite do not want to do that. That is what worries me. Why is it that honourable members opposite are so worried about making a statement? That is what the amendment means. If this amendment is carried honourable members will not have to make a statement. Perhaps it will be on a voluntary basis.

Mr Sinclair —Rubbish! Read the amendment. That is one of the alternatives.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I will read the amendment. That is an alternative that can be accepted.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to address the Chair and to ignore disorderly interjections.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Mr Speaker, I know that you want me to address the Chair. This matter concerns you and everybody else because we all have to disclose our interests. But when honourable members opposite interject asking what the amendment is I am at pains to say that, if the amendment is carried in the terms in which honourable members opposite want it carried, nobody will make a statement. How stupid that is! If proceedings were broadcast this evening, the multitude that would be listening to this debate would be horrified to think that all honourable members opposite were so cowardly that they stood up in this chamber and, for two hours, attacked honourable members on the Government side yet they are not prepared to make statements themselves.

I emphasise again that these matters will go to the Standing Orders Committee. This matter is not related to an Act; it is in the form of a resolution. The Standing Orders Committee will determine the penalties; it will determine the method of registration. But this will be complusory in the sense that every honourable member should disclose his or her assets and liabilities and those of his or her immediate families. There is nothing wrong with that. Where is the danger in the proposal in terms of the argument of honourable members opposite? They do not want to do that.

Mr Lusher —It depends what your point of view is. I think there is something wrong with that.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —If the honourable member thinks that there is something wrong with it, I remind him that he has had the time of his life discussing everybody elses difficulties this evening. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Canada and most of the States of Australia have already made this declaration compulsory. Honourable members opposite have to accept the fact that their own peers are having to comply with this sort of standard now introduced into public life. I know that honourable members can think of all the exceptions. The point I make is that the Opposition was in government for a long while, yet it was never prepared to do this. The Bowen report was given to the former Government in 1979 and it did not have enough courage to do what it proposed.

Mr Lusher —Nor should we have to. It is an ideological solution.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Hume should cease interjecting.

Mr Lusher —It is absolutely ridiculous.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Hume.

Mr Humphreys —Put him out.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —Yes, put him out. Get rid of him.

Mr SPEAKER —I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to continue.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I will. I want to make this point: Not only are we talking this evening about the disclosure of interest of members of parliament but also we are talking about public servants. Honourable members will notice that the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) adverted to that fact. I think that is of interest to the public. We are also talking about the fact that the Australian Journalists Association might also be prepared to talk about a code of conduct. I think this debate has been of interest because it shows the calibre of debate we face at times in this House. I thought that the debate could have been on a much better level than this. I am amazed to think that all we have to debate is an amendment which states that honourable members opposite want certain matters to go the Standing Orders Committee. Perhaps they will get a result from that which will mean that they will not have to declare their assets. I am astounded to think that anybody would frame an amendment in those terms. I invite the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), who I think has some integrity about these matters, to say why he does not want to delete paragraph ( c). If it were included the Opposition would not have any trouble at all. I think it has been an unnecessary debate except that it has given honourable members opposite the chance to vent their spleen as to what they think of us.

Mr Holding —Do you want an extension of time?

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —No, I do not want an extension.

Mr Howard —You could have done without it.

Mr LIONEL BOWEN —I do not need the extension of time. I could have done without all the interjections from honourable members opposite. I move:

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Question put:

That the paragraphs proposed to be omitted (Mr Sinclair's amendment) stand part of the question.