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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26143

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (2:11 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer the minister to question time yesterday, when she claimed that Richard Alston would not have any knowledge of the outcome of the government's digital radio study group report. Given that the former minister Richard Alston formed the study group in mid-2003 and was still in the parliament when the study group reported to the then minister, Daryl Williams, late last year, on what basis does the minister assert that Richard Alston has no knowledge of the contents of the report and the government's long awaited response to that report? Has the minister ordered comprehensive inquiries to be undertaken to ensure that Richard Alston has not had access to either the digital radio study group 2003 report or the government's draft response to that report?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —On my understanding, the report was received in May 2004. Mr Alston was not in the parliament then. I doubt very much that my predecessor, Mr Williams, would have shared with Mr Alston the contents of a confidential report that is currently being considered by government.

Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer again to the minister's statements that Richard Alston would have no knowledge of the digital radio trials. Given that these trials began in December last year, when Richard Alston was still in parliament, has the minister also made full inquiries to ensure that Richard Alston has not at any time had access to confidential government information regarding the government's plans for digital radio trials? Can the minister also assure the Senate that Richard Alston has not profited from his inside knowledge of the government's radio broadcasting policies in his new role at Austereo?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I will not deal with the imputations in that question, which I think are entirely improper. To imply that Mr Alston would somehow or other behave in any kind of improper way traduces the reputation of someone who has conducted himself throughout his long parliamentary career, and no doubt in his life as a private citizen, with the utmost integrity. There is absolutely no basis on which to be making those kinds of imputations. However, Mr Alston left this portfolio, I think, in October last year. That is almost a year ago. The results of the digital radio trial had certainly not been concluded by then. They were concluded and, as I understand it, handed to my predecessor fairly recently. There are some ongoing trials. I would doubt very much whether Mr Alston would have any way of having access to any of the information in connection with those trials. (Time expired)