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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 31

Senator CARR (2:32 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Hill representing the Prime Minister. In the light of the requirements of the caretaker conventions, can the minister detail what cabinet processes underpinned the authorisation of government announcements during the election campaign? Can the minister confirm that the Expenditure Review Committee scheduled to meet tomorrow, Tuesday, 30 November, will consider authorising additional estimates expenditure in order to fund recent election commitments? Is it the intention of the government now to retrospectively seek to legitimise grants worth $27.5 million announced as part of the `regional icons' program to sites in marginal National Party seats or in former National Party seats now held by Independents? Will this retrospective authorisation include the R.M. Williams Bush Centre in Eidsvold, Queensland, which received a commitment of $4 million without even putting in an application?

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I think Senator Carr is a little confused in relation to process. Since the year dot governments and oppositions have made promises during election campaigns. Often those promises are related to infrastructure development, tourist development and the like. If they are successful, we would hope the relevant party would seek to implement its promises, and to implement its promises it would require funding through the orthodox means. There is nothing extraordinary about that.

As Senator Campbell has indicated, the Labor Party, which was hopeful of winning government in the last election, made a number of promises to its constituency. Some were made specifically by Senator O'Brien, and I can list others that were made. There was one in relation to the Rockhampton showground, where a $6 million upgrade was promised by Labor. An Illawarra multimedia design and technology centre was promised by Labor in the then Greens seat of Cunningham. In fact Labor upped its offer between the by-election and the general election—$9 million in the by-election, $12 million in the general election. There is nothing illegitimate in that. If Labor had won the election, presumably it would have then sought to fund its promises. So, if the coalition has made promises to regional Australia during the election, you would expect the coalition in government to fund its promises. It is not a surprising thing that it would make promises to regional Australia because the coalition, as has been said, has a deep commitment to rural and regional Australia. It also recognises the disadvantages that it suffers and the importance of public support in order to build its competitiveness. So you would expect the coalition in government to fund its promises and meet its commitments, and that this government will do.

Senator CARR —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask that the minister's attention be drawn to the requirements of the ministerial code of conduct, particularly to page 11, which says:

Ministers should not exercise the influence obtained by their public office ... to gain any improper benefit for themselves or another.

Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate recall Senator Sandy Macdonald stating that voters in the seat of New England will suffer a lack of access to ministers and to project funding because they did not vote for the National Party candidate in that seat? Does Senator Macdonald have the full backing of the coalition government when he points out to voters that ministerial doors will be closed to their parliamentary representative because they failed to vote for the National Party?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —As the Prime Minister has said, we seek to represent all Australians and, as Senator Ian Macdonald has said most clearly today, we certainly represent the blue-collar workers of the forest industry in Tasmania far better than the ALP, and it seems that the ALP's own union base recognises that. Certainly during an election each side will make promises that they believe will be in the interests of that constituency and if they are elected they will seek to implement them through the normal financial means and the passage of necessary appropriations. That is what has happened in this case.