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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 31

Senator WEBBER (2:25 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the section of the ministerial code of conduct that addresses contact with lobbyists. Is the minister aware that the explanation given by Mr Ken Crooke about his attendance at a meeting with the Queensland government and A2 dairy marketers has now been disputed by the Queensland minister for primary industries? Can he confirm that the Queensland minister has publicly stated that Mr Crooke `did not indicate that he was working for Ms Kelly' but rather `said nothing to lead us to believe that he was not still acting for A2'? Given that Mr Crooke was employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act at the time, and in light of the specific requirements of the ministerial code of conduct, what action has the Prime Minister taken to resolve the many contradictions in Mr Crookes's statement?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —If that question is whether I am surprised that a Labor minister from Queensland is attacking The Nationals then, no, I am not surprised. Am I surprised that he is attacking the staff of a member of The Nationals? No, I am not surprised by that at all. Do I believe that these regional programs are in the best interests of Australia? Yes, I do believe that. I believe it is important to have a government in this country that recognises the need to build infrastructure in rural and regional Australia to give them a chance to be competitive with the rest of the country. I am disappointed that the Australian Labor Party still does not appreciate the importance of that objective. No, we will not apologise for supporting rural and regional Australia. We will give them a fair chance. We are committed to that, and perhaps that is why they keep voting for us at election after election.

I do not ask the Labor Party to look to that objective in supporting rural and regional Australia. I ask them rather to look to support rural and regional Australia because it is in the best interests of the whole nation. There are only a couple of days to go, but it is not too late for the Labor Party to get out of the gutter and start looking more positively at what is necessary to benefit all Australians. One way to do that is to help the bush build its infrastructure, and that is one of the commitments for which this government is not going to apologise.

Senator WEBBER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I remind the minister that my question was about the ministerial code of conduct. We will try again. Can the minister confirm that the ministerial code of conduct requires that contact with lobbyists does not `give rise to a conflict between public duty and private interest'?

Senator WEBBER —Now that it has been confirmed that Mrs Kelly employed in her office a lobbyist for a company seeking a grant from a program under her direct control, can the minister confirm that at no time did Mrs Kelly formally consult the Prime Minister on this matter although she is expressly required to do so by the code of conduct?

Senator WEBBER —In light of the unresolved questions about the lobbying activities of one of her staff, can the minister confirm that in accordance with the code of conduct Mrs Kelly is accepting responsibility for the actions of this staff member?

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Abetz and Senator Evans, if you want to have a conversation, go outside.

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —It was difficult to hear all of the supplementary question with the interjections of Senator Evans in the front row, I have to say. If the supplementary question was whether this government stands by the code of conduct, yes, it does. Does it believe that it is important to separate private interests from public interests? Yes, it does. Do all coalition ministers accept that? Yes, they do. Are they adhering to it? Yes, they are. I suggest that the Labor Party worry more about its own deficiencies, even suggested recently by the Premier of Queensland, than these matters. Rural and regional Australia deserves our support. We will give it and we will not apologise for it.