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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25988

Senator FAULKNER (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (2:00 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer the minister to former Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Richard Alston's employment by the large radio company Austereo only months after his eight-year term as minister for communications ended. When did the government first become aware of Mr Alston's employment by Austereo? What, if anything, was done to ensure the former minister did not use or access any confidential or sensitive government information? In the light of the actions of former Howard government ministers Reith, Wooldridge, Fahey and now Alston, what assurances can the minister give any business dealing with the Howard government that the minister they are dealing with will not be working as a lobbyist for a business competitor soon after their leaving ministerial office?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —One of my colleagues, through interjection, was reminding the Leader of the Opposition of former Senator Graham Richardson and his employment subsequent to parliamentary service. The Labor Party tends to distinguish between the employment of former members from its own side and former members on the government side who might seek employment. Neither the parliament nor successive governments have imposed constraints on former ministers as to what employment they may take up after leaving office. I have no reason to think that former ministers from either side of politics have abused the public trust by taking unfair advantage of their past positions, nor do I have any reason to doubt that Mr Alston has acted, and will act, with the utmost propriety.

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, I note that no attempt was made to answer the question I asked. I ask a supplementary question. Given that Mr Alston resigned as a senator on 10 February 2004, can the minister assure the Senate that Mr Alston was not working as a paid or unpaid lobbyist for Austereo before that date? Can the minister assure the Senate that Mr Alston had not reached an understanding with Austereo before leaving the Senate or, in fact, before completing his term as minister for communications in October 2003? Could the minister please provide those assurances to the Senate?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —For me to give those assurances, I should refer that to Mr Alston, obviously, to seek his response. I am rather surprised to hear Senator Faulkner attacking Mr Alston in this way, because I think all honourable senators would accept that Richard Alston is a person of the highest personal standards.

Senator Conroy —We're asking you what your opinion is.

Senator HILL —Is Senator Conroy disputing that? To some extent, we on both sides of the chamber have to rely on proper standards of behaviour from those who retire with particular sources of knowledge. Those who leave the parliament are entitled to take employment, but they must do so consistent with the obligation to ensure there is no conflict of interest. (Time expired)