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Keating And Hewson Do Battle In Censure Debate Over Sports Rorts Affair

The Liberal Opposition Leader, John Hewson, moved a motion of censure against Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating, in the House of Representatives, on February 24, 1994.

Keating had been prime minister for just over two years. He had defeated Hewson at the general election in March 1993. His 1993 Budget had broken an election promise on tax cuts and was widely criticised.

The censure motion focussed on the “Sports Rorts” affair. The Minister for Environment, Sport and Territories, Ros Kelly, had admitted the she used a whiteboard in her office to determine grants to sporting bodies. She was alleged to have favoured Labor and marginal electorates when deciding on grants. Kelly resigned as a minister four days after the censure debate.

Three months after this debate, Hewson lost the leadership of the Liberal Party. He was defeated in a challenge by the so-called “dream team” of Alexander Downer and Peter Costello.

The speakers in the debate were John Hewson, Paul Keating, Tim Fischer and Kim Beazley. The complete Hansard transcript is shown below. The video has been edited by the Parliamentary Sound and Vision Office for broadcast.

  • Listen to Hewson (15m)
  • Listen to Keating (7m)
  • Listen to Fischer (14m)
  • Listen to Beazley (15m)
  • Watch the Censure Debate (50m)

Hansard transcript of the Censure debate in the House of Representatives on February 24, 1994.

Dr HEWSON (Leader of the Opposition) (3.00 p.m.) —I seek leave to move:

That this House censures the Prime Minister for his refusal to ensure proper standards of ministerial responsibility, for his failure to sack the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, and for his undermining of the established processes of ministerial accountability to this parliament.

Mr Keating —What is that, your 14th question?

Dr HEWSON —You have not been here.

Mr SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition has leave to move his motion.

Dr HEWSON —It is nice to see the Prime Minister in here two days a week. I move:

That this House censures the Prime Minister for his refusal to ensure proper standards of ministerial responsibility, for his failure to sack the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, and for his undermining of the established processes of ministerial accountability to this parliament.

The Prime Minister deserves censure because he is a leader whose unbounded arrogance has led to the ultimate weakness; that is, he has not got the guts to do what everyone in here and everyone out there knows should be done: to sack the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly) for misleading this parliament on three occasions and for being overwhelmingly incompetent, overwhelmingly negligent and politically corrupt with taxpayers’ money.

This censure motion goes well beyond a situation where the Prime Minister is simply protecting a favoured mate or, as we say, a member of the royal family. The Prime Minister also deserves censure for three other main reasons: firstly, for refusing to require and enforce proper standards of ministerial performance, ministerial accountability and ministerial competence; secondly, because the Prime Minister himself has, in fact, misled this parliament; and, thirdly, because the Prime Minister has set out to demean and undermine the parliamentary processes, particularly by his changes to question time which have significantly weakened ministerial accountability.

There is absolutely no doubt that the government is taking water over the Kelly affair, over ‘Kellygate’; and there is absolutely no doubt that, as Ros Kelly sinks, she is taking others with her—the Prime Minister and other ministers that are involved on a daily basis. As we ask more questions and we probe more grants, the minister sinks, and the Prime Minister and other ministers are being dragged down with her.

Interestingly, the electorate understands sports rorts; it understands misallocation of taxpayers’ money; it understands political slush funds—and it is outraged. On a daily basis public opinion, as you and your backbench know, is mounting for you to act in the circumstances rather than to continue to try to defend the indefensible.

It is also clear that the backbench members on the other side are now getting worried. Just look through the clippings of today’s press at the number of references to backbenchers speaking out. An increasing number of government members are speaking out. We have references to two senior ministers saying that Mrs Kelly should resign. We have Labor MPs wondering how long this situation can be sustained and whether they should tolerate a minister who is a political liability to the party. Backbenchers of the Left and Right factions are referred to.

Mr Snowdon —You are gutless.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for the Northern Territory!

Dr HEWSON —I ask: is it you, Warren? Are you one of the ones out there bleeding? Put your hands up. You all know that this issue is killing you.

Government members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition might wait just a moment.

Dr HEWSON —You all know that this issue is Kelly—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the Opposition might just wait a moment. The House will come to order. Those on my right will cease interjecting across the chamber. The Leader of the Opposition has the call.

Dr HEWSON —I was just making the point that they know that this issue is unsustainable. They know that it is doing damage. They know that this issue is not going to go away. It is not going to go away by the Prime Minister sticking his head in the sand.

Mr Horne interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Paterson!

Dr HEWSON —They know that there is a stench from this affair that is getting up the noses of Australians right around this country. They know there is a stench; they know that they have to go back to their electorates and explain the unexplainable. Quite clearly, the Prime Minister is not only arrogant but also completely out of touch. He is still backing this minister 100 per cent. Why is he doing it? Because he has been in it from the very beginning. He knew that this program was being manipulated for political ends—

Mr O’Keefe interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Burke.

Dr HEWSON —He knew that this program was being used to buy votes. It is not going to wash, Prime Minister. It is reported in the press today that you are telling your colleagues that they have got to wear it, that they received the handouts and, therefore, they should share the flak. I can tell you that they are telling us that they do not agree with that. Your backbench is telling us that they do not agree with that. They know you are arrogant, they know you are out of touch and they know you have got to act. In fact, they are cringing with embarrassment, Prime Minister. But they are also worried that, if you do get rid of her, she will spill the beans. They are sitting there cringing with embarrassment but worried about the consequences of what they know you have got to do. I have absolutely no doubt, Prime Minister, that you have made a major mistake in your handling of this issue. You made the assumption that you could pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Australia. You are arrogant enough to believe you can fool enough of the people by standing firm behind this minister, but it is not washing out there because you cannot defend the indefensible.

I might also point out that you are now up to your armpits in the cover-up of what is a blatant exercise in political corruption. Mrs Kelly’s problems, Prime Minister, are now your problems. As she drags you and other ministers down, Prime Minister, you are going to face very significant political consequences of your failure to act and your mishandling of this situation. This is very clearly an open-and-shut case.

The minister has been incompetent and she has misled this parliament. She must resign or she must be sacked. The minister is an embarrassment. She is an embarrassment to the government, she is an embarrassment to the parliament and she is an embarrassment to herself. We have censured her many times, we have asked her many questions, and every time she has tried to dig herself out of a hole she has dug a deeper political grave. She has got something of a reverse Midas touch: everything she touches turns to crisis.

Let me go through in some detail the three main reasons why the Prime Minister is to be censured today. Firstly, the Prime Minister has abandoned any pretence of ministerial standards—standards about competence, standards about accountability. The Prime Minister has abandoned any pretence to accept or enforce those standards. Just look at the activities of the minister in question. She has clearly abused the office to which she has been appointed. She has clearly abused the trust of the office that she holds. She has run a politically corrupt operation to try to buy votes in Labor marginal seats. She has created in effect an ALP slush fund using taxpayers’ money with no proper standards, no documentation, no audit trail and no accountability.

Just look at the appalling way in which she has responded to our repeated questions and cross-examination on this issue. She started out by saying all the documents had been given to the Auditor-General. When that one did not carry water, she moved on to say, ‘I did it all in my head’. When that one did not carry water, she said she used a great big whiteboard. One attempt after another to obfuscate—never a clear-cut answer, never a direct answer, to any of the questions.

Just look at some of the appalling program mistakes that were made. She gave the Mount Gravatt Workers’ Club $200,000—and the club did not even exist when the grant was made. What about when she went down to Bendigo and told the people to deal with the local member, who was the Labor Party candidate, as the person who would organise the funding? There was the eastern suburbs Maitland Cricket Club: the club had no ground and no development application had been lodged when she gave it $49,000. That was clear-cut gross incompetence. There is no alternative conclusion to draw—clear-cut gross incompetence.

I noticed in this morning’s press that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts, which has been looking into the sports rorts affair, is already starting to form its opinion on you. This is a very significant change, because this is a committee you stacked to try to minimise the damage. It is now coming to the view that it will question your ministerial competence. Why would it not, after the list of facts that I have just given you? It will also question your role and say that it was totally inadequate and deficient—as reported in today’s press. There is a very clear message to you, Prime Minister, from your own stacked House of Representatives committee—Ros Kelly is finished; Ros Kelly has to go.

More important than her incompetence is the fact that she has misled this parliament on at least three occasions. The first occasion was when she said that all the documents had gone to the Auditor-General. We found a fax to the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) which had not been included in those documents. Similarly, this week we referred to a minute from the Department of Finance in relation to the Altone Park project in Perth, and you would not confirm that that document had gone to the Auditor-General either.

The second time you misled the parliament was when you actually dropped the Prime Minister in the deep end. You might remember that back on 8 February you gave a clear-cut denial. You said, ‘I did not discuss the distribution of any specific grants with the Prime Minister’. This week, on 22 February, you said the Prime Minister was involved in the $1 million commitment to Altone Park.

The third time the minister misled the parliament was in relation to the issue of eligibility. When she was before the House of Representatives committee on 9 February, she said, ‘If a project wasn’t eligible then it wouldn’t have been funded’. She repeated that in this parliament on 22 February. But later the same day she added to her answer and admitted that the department’s ineligible project for the Pine Rivers youth band was actually made eligible by her. That is three separate occasions on which this minister has clearly misled the parliament. Any one of them is a hanging offence; all three of them are threefold hanging offences.

The second reason the Prime Minister should be censured is that he himself has misled this parliament. He did this while mindlessly attempting to defend this incompetent minister. Back on 21 February, honourable members might remember, the Prime Minister was asked a direct question about the commitment made to Altone Park. He said, `I have no recollection of that issue, none whatsoever’. That is a Ronald Reagan memory if ever I have heard of one. Stephen Smith, your ex-staffer, had lobbied you for that grant. There is no way you could possibly have forgotten that. When Stephen Smith lobbies, people remember. I am sure the Prime Minister would have remembered that. Also, you personally authorised the $1 million—a convenient loss of memory at the very best.

More importantly, also on 21 February, you stated categorically that all the minister’s proposals—referring to the minister’s proposals under this sports rorts program—were eligible ones. This was clearly wrong, as admitted by the minister the very next day in relation to the Pine Rivers youth band. She actually turned a grant that had been determined to be ineligible by her department into an eligible grant. Therefore, the Prime Minister clearly misled the House in saying that all her proposals were eligible. So, Prime Minister, I believe that in the circumstances where you have misled the House—and misled the House very directly—you have a very real problem. It highlights the problem; it does not solve it.

I recall a situation back in 1975 when Gough Whitlam had a similar problem in relation to Rex Connor. You might remember the situation. Gough Whitlam had a better understanding of the significance of this parliament, and he was far more inclined to give this parliament its true place in Australian society—unlike the Prime Minister, who spends all his time trying to undermine and demean the parliament.

Whitlam had a solution. He was honest enough to come into the parliament and say that the minister had misled him. I imagine that we are about to see the Prime Minister take the same escape route. Whitlam said that Connor had misled him in saying that all the documents had been made available. I am sure that, now we have demonstrated that this Prime Minister has clearly misled the House, he will use the same escape route. If he does not, he will continue to go on misleading this parliament.

The final reason why the Prime Minister is to be censured today relates to the changes to the question time arrangements and other changes which demean and undermine the processes of this parliament. I focus particularly on the so-called ‘Ros-ter’ system, obviously named after the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. It is a way of reducing—

Mr Snowdon interjecting—

Dr HEWSON —A bit slow there, Warren. It is a way of reducing the accountability that ought to be on you as a minister.

Government members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order.

Dr HEWSON —We have had the ridiculous situation this week where this minister has been in the parliament for only two days. When we wanted to follow up with questions, she did not take any. Indeed, when the minister was censured, she came in to vote but she would not take a question on her way out the door on that afternoon. It is a ludicrous proposition to give a minister who is under pressure two days off to recover and to regroup.

Why are we doing this? Why is the Prime Minister proceeding with this? It is apparently all about changing his image. He is taking two days off a week to change his image. He wants to create a different image. He is trying to be a legend in his own lunchtime with some of these performances that he is carrying on with. He would have us believe that he is not the arrogant person that we all think he is and that he is actually quite a kind, humble and vulnerable person. I cannot say the word `humble’ very easily because it does not come out in relation to you. He is trying to be a kind, humble and vulnerable little human being.

We have heard that the Prime Minister has been spending these two days a week writing a book entitled ‘Zen and the art of pig farming’, which I am sure he would find very interesting to keep himself occupied. I doubt, however, whether it will be a big seller.

I can tell you, Prime Minister, that the people of Australia will not fall for this. They will continue to see you for the arrogant and dishonest person that you are. They know, as many of your backbenchers know and we all know, that you ought to be in this parliament every day and that you ought to sit more often and open up yourself and your ministers for cross-examination.

We know what the Prime Minister has been doing this week during question time. He has been sitting in his office glued to the television set to see what questions are being asked. It has been written in the papers. If you can sit in your office glued to the television set, you can come in here and answer the questions.

Paul Keating has now become the invisible man of Australian politics. One can imagine him going home and saying, `Hey, honey, I shrunk the ministry’. On Tuesdays he has shrunk it to six. Prime Minister, you might think that it was clever to change question time in the way that you did, but your backbench members think it was dumb, dumb, dumb. They think the roster system is a foolish idea. They think the minister is a fool and that the game is over for the minister.

Mrs Crosio interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Prospect.

Dr HEWSON —It is not a question now of whether Ros will go but simply when she will go. We now know that the only standard this Prime Minister has is his own arrogant self-interest. He is not worried about ministerial standards or performance. He is just worried about Paul Keating and what is good for Paul Keating—’Hang the rest of them; hang the parliament; hang the people; hang the interests of the people of Australia’.

We have a Prime Minister who is prepared to cop a minister who has misled this parliament three times. We have a Prime Minister who is prepared to cop a minister who has plunged ministerial standards to the lowest depths they have ever gone. We have a Prime Minister who is prepared to cop a minister who blatantly abused taxpayers’ money in the allocation of the sports rorts program. We have a Prime Minister who is prepared to cop a minister who is condemned by his backbench and the people of Australia. You may cop a minister like that, Prime Minister, but we will not cop a minister like that and neither will the people of Australia.

Mr Snowdon interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for the Northern Territory.

Dr HEWSON —Mr Speaker, it is almost about time I got some protection. One of the great political scandals of all time was the Watergate affair. We all remember the significance of the Watergate affair in the US political system. At the heart of that affair was a committee to re-elect the president, which was called CREEP. We have in Australia our own version of that CREEP—the committee to re-elect Paul, which was administered by the minister, the honourable member for Canberra, Ros Kelly, in the sports rorts program. I point out to you, Mr Speaker, that the two CREEPs—the Australian version and the American version—have a lot in common. I think probably most importantly both governments involved won their elections dishonestly; they capitalised on the circumstances and both won their elections dishonestly.

Interestingly, both of them have been destroyed in the process. We go to the very heart of what is wrong with members of the Keating government at the present time. Not only are they arrogant, out of touch and do not understand what average Australians feel about the role ministers ought to play, but they have total disregard for the hopes and aspirations of the people of Australia. You think you can run this system to your own personal benefit—everything from Thai teak tables through to protecting a member of the royal family. You do not give a damn about ministerial standards, the abuse of taxpayers’ money and the interests of average Australians. It is about time, Prime Minister, you were censured for gross incompetence and for having misled the parliament. You undermine parliamentary standards in a way nobody in our history has ever done.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Mr Tim Fischer —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Mr KEATING (Prime Minister) (3.23 p.m.) —Mr Speaker, one thing that is clear—

Mr Filing —Liar!

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. The honourable member for Moore will withdraw that.

Mr Filing —You didn’t correct them once. You have not stopped them once. You let them go on and on.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr Tuckey interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! When the honourable member for O’Connor has finished!

Mr Tuckey interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —When the honourable member for O’Connor has finished! The honourable member for Moore has been asked to withdraw the comment. I ask him to withdraw.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Moore has the call.

Mr Filing —Mr Speaker, I withdraw the unparliamentary term I used, but I ask—

Mr SPEAKER —Resume your seat. That is all you were asked to do.

Mr KEATING —I have seen some people grab at straws in my time but here we have the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson)—who has his own party rumbling away at him to replace him with a member from another place, Senator Bronwyn Bishop, and who has other pretenders to the throne on his side of the House—trying to mount a censure motion against me—

Mr Tuckey interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. The honourable member for O’Connor has been warned about coming forward and I asked him to resume his seat a moment ago. I find his attitude totally disorderly and, in line with standing order 304A, I require that he withdraw for one hour.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —I require you to withdraw.

Mr Howard interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —I have already given my reason.

Mr Howard —I move dissent from your ruling, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER —There was no ruling. I said to the honourable member for O’Connor that he has been warned in terms of walking forward, he has done the same thing just then, and under standing order 304A he is asked to withdraw.

Mr Tuckey interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —You will withdraw.

Mr Tuckey interjecting—

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER —You do not have the call. You may speak when you have the call and not before.

Mr Tuckey interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —You will withdraw from the House.

The honourable member for O’Connor thereupon withdrew from the chamber—

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, throughout the whole of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, there was a persistent and deliberate attempt by government members to interrupt him. Mr Speaker, you made no attempt at any stage to call them to order. At the first sign of retaliation by the opposition you throw one of our members out. We think that is unfair and unacceptable.

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

Mr SPEAKER —I would like to thank all those visitors who have come to attend Ian Sinclair’s farewell tonight for their support.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Resume your seats and listen.

Government members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Those on my right should know better.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The House will come to order. Over a long period of time now I have understood that members of this place for a variety of reasons have had some very deeply felt convictions about the matter which is the subject of this censure motion today. In the course of this debate, not only today but on a number of occasions, quite a lot has been said. And on a number of occasions I have been prepared to let that go by, on both sides, as I think members in this place—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Those on my left may choose to disagree, but they had better think long and hard about it.

Mr Beazley interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House! I request, therefore, that on both sides of the House those who are participating in this debate—

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Speaker,

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the National Party on a point of order.

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Speaker, in the course of your ruling you made a very offensive statement with regard to the right honourable member for New England. I think that in the interests of fair play and the conduct of this place that ought to be withdrawn, and I note that the majority of the gallery—

Mr SPEAKER —If the right honourable member for New England found the matter offensive then, with great pleasure and in the spirit of seeing this debate proceed, I withdraw. I call the Prime Minister.

Mr KEATING —The Leader of the Opposition—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr KEATING —Oh, yes. Well, I have been around long enough to know all about the rest of you, and I will give you some of your history in a moment. Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition comes here with a divided party, with a bloated frontbench—look at the absolute massive size of the frontbench—latching on to this issue to try to save his miserable political hide and his faltering political leadership.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Those on my left!

Mr KEATING —Opposition members hand out this treatment every day at question time, and they get a little bit of it themselves and they cannot take it. Every day at question time you do it. Every day at question time you get a little bit of it back and you go running taking your bat home. Mr Speaker, this individual, who is under threat in his party for his leadership, who has been basically stalked and dogged by Senator Bishop and other members of the coalition, has decided to mount an attack on the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly) to deflect attention from his own troubles and his own leadership. What does this matter boil down to?

Mr Speaker, let me tell you what the Auditor found. The Auditor found no fraud. The Leader of the Opposition described this matter as similar to Watergate—of all things, similar to Watergate. The Auditor found no fraud, no suggestion of personal gain on the part of the minister, no impropriety, no withholding of documentation, no suggestion that the money did not go to worthwhile community projects and no proven political bias.

Mr Atkinson interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Isaacs!

Mr KEATING —That is the clear lesson from the Auditor. Yet this individual goes on. He is trying to equate it to Watergate, of all things! Talk about having no feel for the occasion—a speech which had virtually no impact, not only on the government but also on his own backbench, who looked mournful through its whole delivery—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Those on my left!

Mr KEATING —This is the same Leader of the Opposition who wandered around in Cairns in North Queensland—

Mr Howard interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Bennelong at the table!

Mr Ruddock interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Berowra!

Mr KEATING —He wandered around handing out $30 million off the top of his head on a whimsy. This is the same person who, without any basis and evaluation, decided to lay down $30 million, not on the advice of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee and not on any advice from the Higher Education Council, just because he thought it was a good thing to do at the time. Yet, Mr Speaker, he has got the hide to come in here and censure me for not dismissing a minister—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Those on my left!

Mr KEATING —They know his speech was a dud speech. They are now trying to smother the fact that he could not hit a barn door. Today we had the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) on radio saying that the minister should be dismissed for life; that she should not be able to come back into public life as a minister and should be dismissed.

Mr Ronaldson and Mr Nugent interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Ballarat and the honourable member for Aston!

Mr KEATING —This is the honourable member for Bennelong who presided over the greatest criminal fraud of the Australian tax system in the history of the Commonwealth. The bottom of the harbour scheme was the greatest fiscal scandal in the postwar years. He sat there as though nothing had happened. He told us out of his own mouth in 1982 that 4,150 cases of this fraud had taken place. In respect of them he said, `evaded tax on taxable company incomes of $430 million’. That is $430 million of tax evasion.

Dr Wooldridge interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition!

Mr KEATING —And yet he is talking about $11,000 going to a band hall or a basketball court or a netball court, which I would have thought was high civic virtue compared to this sort of thing.

Mr Sinclair interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The right honourable member for New England!

Mr KEATING —Yet he has got the gall to be up in the parliament and up on radio calling for another minister’s resignation—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Those on my left will come to order.

Mr KEATING —When he presided over the most putrid criminal fraud of the tax system and his—

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Speaker—

Mr KEATING —No, there is no point of order. This is a censure motion and you will take it.

Mr Tim Fischer —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is it permissible—

Mr Peacock —This man is the only tax cheat in here. This man is the tax cheat.

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Kooyong will resume his seat.

Mr Tim Fischer —Is it permissible—

Mr SPEAKER —I say to the honourable member for Stirling, you do that and you cop it.

Mr Peacock —You talk about tax cheats; you are one and you know it.

Mr KEATING —Mr Speaker, I ask that that remark be withdrawn. There is only one person who let the tax system fall apart here and that is the honourable member for Bennelong.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Prime Minister, resume your seat for a moment. The Leader of the National Party had the call on a point of order. I am going to hear the Leader of the National Party.

Mr Tim Fischer —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Is it permissible for the Prime Minister to make those accusations when he himself failed to put his tax return in?

Mr SPEAKER —There is no point of order.

Mr KEATING —The most putrid criminal evasion of the tax system of this country—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. I call the House to order.

Mr KEATING —I ask that the honourable member for Kooyong’s baseless remark be withdrawn.

Mr SPEAKER —I ask the honourable member for Kooyong to withdraw the comment.

Mr Peacock —No, he did not put his tax return in two years in a row.

Mr SPEAKER —I ask you to withdraw the comments that the Prime Minister has found offensive, in the appropriate way.

Mr Peacock —With greater deference to you than he had to the Commissioner of Taxation, I withdraw.

Mr SPEAKER —No. You will just withdraw.

Mr KEATING —If we are talking about ministerial standards here, let me read what Mr Gyles in the Costigan report had to say:

Tax evasion and avoidance of this kind in such volume is extraordinary in absolute terms, but almost incredible in relative terms having regard to the small Australian economy. It has recently been reported that the largest United States revenue fraud case ever brought is being heard. It involved $48 million. The two committals currently being heard involve revenue loss of well over $200 million.

He went on to say this damning thing about the honourable member for Bennelong:

If there had been an adequate administrative, judicial and political response in the first place, the situation would never have arisen.

Mr Slipper interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat for a moment. Obviously, when I gave a warning to the honourable member for Stirling, the honourable member for Fisher did not hear. But if he also does the same thing as the honourable member for Stirling was cautioned over, I will take the same action as I promised him. I call the Prime Minister.

Mr KEATING —Mr Speaker—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER—The time has expired. The Leader of the House? The time has expired. The Leader of the National Party.

Mr Beazley —I move:

That the honourable member’s time be extended.

Mr TIM FISCHER (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.36 p.m.) —Mr Speaker, I want to say in very clear-cut terms—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the House has moved that the Prime Minister’s time be extended. All those of that opinion say aye; to the contrary no. I think the ayes have it.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. You clearly gave the call, after a very noticeable lapse of time, to the Leader of the National Party. You now contemplate accepting a motion that the Prime Minister’s time be extended. His time had expired. I think most Australians agree with that.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Resume your seat. I call the Prime Minister on the point of order.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Resume your seats. The Prime Minister has the call on the point of order.

Mr Keating —Mr Speaker, on the same point, at least 10 or 12 minutes of my time was taken up by interjections from the opposition. I am quite prepared, if it suits you—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister has the call and I think the honourable member for Bennelong wants to hear it.

Mr Keating —Mr Speaker, I am quite prepared, if it suits you, having called the Leader of the National Party, to hear him. But it would be only fair, on the part of the opposition, to give me equal time.

Mr SPEAKER —On that basis, I call the Leader of the National Party.

Mr TIM FISCHER (Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.38 p.m.) —I think it is time to go back to the year 1982, which the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) referred to a little while ago, and listen to another quote from Hansard. Before government members all walk out, they might like to hear this quote. It is a quote in which the Prime Minister defended the late Rex Connor in a circumstance not dissimilar from that involving the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly). The Prime Minister cannot take his own quote.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the National Party might like to wait until his colleagues have given him silence.

Mr TIM FISCHER —The Prime Minister cannot even face up to his own quote on the floor of this House when he defended the late Rex Connor. He decided to draw a very unfortunate bow in terms of the debate and the censure motion before this House this day. On that occasion, the Prime Minister referred to the Rex Connor of old, the Rex Connor who resigned his ministry in particular circumstances. The Prime Minister said:

There was never any suggestion of impropriety on his part, not a bit, but he resigned his position because he gave conflicting advice to the Parliament. He was a man of honour. What honour is there here?

That is a good question. What honour is there here now when the Prime Minister some 12 years ago said that because misleading advice had been given to the parliament that minister should resign? Prime Minister, you made a weak case here today that somehow this minister had done nothing overly wrong. You said that she may have just misled the Auditor-General a little and may have just misled the parliament but there was no real corruption involved. The Leader of the House and Minister for Finance (Mr Beazley) made the same point yesterday that on your own criteria—the criteria coming from your own quote in 1982—this minister should resign, resign now and resign quickly so that this sports rorts affair can be completely tidied up.

In supporting the censure motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson), I say that it is a censure of the failure of Keating and it is a censure of the failure of Kelly. Those sitting on the front bench for the government know she should go. The backbenchers of the government know that she should go. We all know that she should go and the people of Australia know that Ros Kelly should go.

Every government reaches a critical major turning point in the course of Westminster parliamentary democracy. This government has reached that turning point right here, today, on the floor of this House as it goes about the defence of a minister who those opposite all know should have resigned weeks ago. She should have been reshuffled out. But the arrogance of the Prime Minister was so great that although he had advisers coming to see him he dismissed them and failed to take the opportunity to reshuffle out Ros Kelly during the summer recess.

We know events move quickly around Canberra because last night there was a certain last supper in a pizza parlour in Canberra. Guess who was at that last supper at a pizza parlour—a pizza parlour, I might add? None other than Senator Richardson and Ros Kelly. Your time is up, Ros. The count is on and you are on the way out.

Mr Beazley interjecting—

Mr TIM FISCHER —I note with interest the interjection from the Leader of the House. Some of you might remember what the Leader of the House had to say yesterday with regard to a sort of hands-on Pontius Pilate role in relation to controlling and monitoring departmental expenditure beyond the Department of Finance. Well, some of us, including the shadow minister for finance, me and others, read with interest the annual report of the Department of Finance. I point out to the honourable member for Swan, the Minister for Finance, that his charter, mission statement and role are pretty well laid out on page 3 of this annual report, just in case he has not read it himself. You admitted yesterday that you are a new minister, so let me help you. In the annual report it states that the department’s mission is:

‘Serving Australia by promoting value for money in the management of the Commonwealth Public Sector through quality advice and service to clients.’

She is one of your clients in that context. It states further:

The values important to discharging this Mission are—

please listen—

high ethical standards, fairness, impartiality, accountability and mutual respect.

In case you have not seen it, that is the mission statement of your department. It goes on to detail the role of the Minister for Finance and the role of the Department of Finance. Again, in case you did not pick it up in the briefings you had with the Sir Humphrey equivalent when you took over the department, I will read it to you. Amongst other things, that role is:

evaluation and review of governmental programs and associated expenditure and staffing proposals—

that is a fairly significant role—

governmental financial administration and accounts, including administration of the Public Account;

oversight of Commonwealth public sector financial management policy development . . .

Sports and recreation is right there in the middle of that role. To cap it all off, let me read what is on page 4:

The Department’s responsibilities cover all facets of Commonwealth public sector resource allocation and management. Moreover, Finance is the principal source of financial analysis and advice on budget outlays.

In case you have not read it, minister, I will put it on the table. You tabled this two weeks ago. It might help you to come up to date with what your department’s responsibilities are in relation to this sports rorts affair. They are very big responsibilities. This is another reason why you are accountable along with Ros Kelly and Paul Keating.

What an extraordinary duo we have in Keating and Kelly—of course I should refer to them as the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories, and everything else, for a little while longer. One forgot to put in his tax return and the other forgot to put in returns for the expenditure of $30 million of taxpayers’ funds. That is a pretty glaring duo effort, and one they should now pay the price for.

As the Leader of the Opposition correctly spelled out in this debate, was the $30 million of the sports rorts affair equitably distributed? The answer is no. The Labor marginal seats received twice as much money as coalition marginal seats—and the poorer seats are not all held by Labor members. Many of the blue-collar suburbs of Australia are voting for the Liberal Party, as is clearly demonstrated in electorates such as Cowan and Stirling. A great effort was put in by those members to win those seats and they now carry out capable work on that sports committee. The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd), the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Truss) and others proudly represent in this House many blue-collar workers. They and their electorates deserve a fair go.

The second question is: were departmental guidelines and recommendations adhered to? No. The Pine Rivers youth band is just one example of where they were not, because it was ineligible. Could the minister please start reading the statements before she reads the cover? That is where she went wrong a few days ago, on Monday. She stood up and gave a supplementary answer on Tuesday and, of course, she forgot to actually read what the department had fed up to her for that supplementary answer. As the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Ronaldson) correctly points out, buried in the middle of it was the ultimate clanger of all time: the admission that the Pine Rivers youth band was ineligible for a grant. The minister breached her own undertaking to the House and she misled the House in relation to that.

The third question is: was the matching funds requirement adhered to at every stage? The answer is no, in no way shape or form—I will not dwell on that. Simply, this comment relates to a whole raft of material the coalition has from right across Australia as far west as Perth.

The fourth question is: was any audit trail kept intact? The answer again is no. In no way shape or form did the minister keep an audit trail intact. That is why she must resign. That is why she is accountable to that ultimate court of law in terms of parliamentary democracy: the floor of the House of Representatives and the parliament of Australia. That is why she should read the message flowing from this debate, flowing from the Senate, flowing from an extraordinary committee report where even leaping Leo is prepared—

Mr SPEAKER —Order!

Mr TIM FISCHER —I apologise—where even the government whip is prepared to seek criticism of the minister, and insert it as a sort of Mexican trade-off with the Democrats to try to head off in another direction an even deeper and bigger inquiry. This minister has lost the confidence of this House, and along with that the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of this House.

Minister, you might remember a period when you were the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. You might have collided with a thing called command structure in the navy, the army and the air force. Well might you laugh, but if a ship happens to sink while the captain is in bed at night and his duty officer is at the bridge, the captain resigns—that is what is called command structure. Your ship sunk weeks ago. You must now resign, no ifs and no buts. Today the South Australian Premier is calling for you to resign over the Lake Eyre world heritage matter. That is a pretty unusual event, but it is not a bad effort that you even have a state premier so far off side that you have to resign on yet another issue.

The minister, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Finance not only have lost the confidence of the House and the coalition but also they have lost the confidence of the people of Australia who want value for their money and justice in the expenditure of taxpayers’ money. We have here a government that is so arrogant, so incompetent, so dishonest and so willing to trample on what might even appear to be right that it has gone past the turning point in terms of its future.

Where else in the Western world would you find the Auditor-General of the nation housed in the political headquarters of the governing party? Where else would you find such a scam associated with that? You do not even go to the decency of separating out the role of the Auditor-General from political headquarters. I fully accept that government departments will lease headquarters from political parties where space exists from time to time. It has happened with McEwen House and Centenary House. But it is a little different when you have the deal of all deals associated with the leasing of Centenary House to the Auditor-General, to such an extent that the Auditor-General has now asked for an inquiry into the matter.

That is by the by, but what is not by the by is that the Prime Minister of this nation continues to stand by his mate the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories in a way which is disgraceful. We know she should go. Many of you know that she should go—and please keep your voices down in the corridors because it is becoming embarrassing. We will have to start quoting some of the names, but I am above doing that. Above all else, the people of Australia know that this minister should resign and resign now.

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the House) (3.51 p.m.) —I do not think I have ever been in a situation in this chamber in which a person under censure, be it the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) or anyone else—particularly the Prime Minister—has not been able to complete a speech. We started on a censure motion with a 20 minute advantage to the other side, because the mover of the motion gets 20 minutes and the responder gets 15 minutes.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Leader of the House might just resume his seat for a minute. I am sure you all have long enough memories to know that when the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister were engaged in this debate there was some considerable uproar in the chamber. However, the presentation by the Leader of the National Party was heard in silence. I request that the same courtesies be extended to the Leader of the House.

Mr BEAZLEY —I am amazed at the situation where the Prime Minister or any minister—

Mr Bruce Scott —Amazed that he should walk out?

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Maranoa!

Mr BEAZLEY —The opposition considers a matter serious enough to raise in this place but does not consider it serious enough to hear the answer. It is the most extraordinary outcome. The principal reason why the interruption occurred was simply this: as with the previous speaker, the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Tim Fischer), there was a weak and puerile argument. What an extraordinary thing in a censure motion against the Prime Minister for the honourable member to read out to me, as Minister for Finance, copies of the duty statement for my department. What an extraordinary thing to do to spend a couple of minutes on that.

In the course of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson), in which he was trying to raise issues to censure the Prime Minister, he threw into the middle of it the failure to adequately protect Prince Charles during his last visit to Australia. He went through a whole series of other suggestions which were absolutely unrelated to the issues at hand. It was a weak speech, followed by an even weaker one, and the last thing that the opposition wanted was to actually have an opportunity presented to any member on this side of the House to give an answer to it. It was a deliberate effort to prevent a discussion in this place by an opposition which has made an art form of endless chanting and disruption during question time and which then goes to the point where a censure motion is moved.

Mr Howard interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Bennelong!

Mr BEAZLEY —I admit it has become a devalued instrument under this opposition which repeatedly moves censure motions.

Mrs Sullivan interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The honourable member for Moncrieff!

Mr BEAZLEY —But to debate a censure motion in that fashion is absolutely absurd. I must say that, for those of us on this side of the House, there has been some chagrin in having to debate these matters, particularly with the honourable member for Bennelong. He has gone around the country in a state of extreme unction discussing what are appropriate levels of ministerial propriety.

The honourable member for Bennelong places a program which has been in existence for six years, which has been before Senate estimates committees for six years and which has had opportunities for public and parliamentary scrutiny for six years with his own performance as Treasurer when for six years, or thereabouts, he presided over the greatest defrauding of the taxation system. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost at the bottom of the harbour—half the Liberal Party finance committee in Western Australia actively engaged in the process. No doubt at the time he would have said, `Because this involves no personal corruption or fraud on my part, I ought to survive’. No doubt from time to time he had to discuss these issues with his Prime Minister of the day, presiding as he was over the greatest scandal in public life. It is certainly the greatest in the time that I have been a member of parliament. He paid no penalty for that, except subsequent election to the Liberal Party leadership. I take just one quote from the Times. It states:

Far from the picture presented by Treasurer Mr Howard of a tax office which did not tell him enough of what was going on in 1978 and 1979—

we remember those calls—

the record shows a continual flow of information from Mr O’Reilly to Mr Howard.

Billy Hughes is dead, but you are not yet. It goes on:

At several stages Mr O’Reilly wrote to Mr Howard saying the problem was assuming more urgency. Would he write to Senator Durack to get some response?

It goes on with this instance:

A week later he was writing to Mr Howard again trying to head off cabinet doubts and warning that if action was not taken the whole range of government anti-avoidance activity would be of no avail. The same day he wrote again saying the changes cabinet wanted could be accommodated in legislation put before parliament that year.

The point of raising this is to get some degree of perspective on the issues that we are discussing here today. If ever there was an issue on which everybody has lost their perspective it is this one. The Auditor-General did a study of this particular program and said that he could find no evidence of fraud, he could find no evidence of political bias and he could find nothing that would normally cause him to issue for censure, but he was unsatisfied with the recording of materials so that he could make a judgment on these matters. What was revealed in that process was a set of administrative procedures which he determined were unsatisfactory and which the minister subsequently agreed with him were unsatisfactory.

That was expenditure not on a program that had to do with hundreds of millions of dollars. When the business community failed to bear that Malcolm Fraser actually introduced a petrol tax to cover it. That hole in the revenue was filled by a petrol tax on every Australian. That hole in the revenue from the business community, the Liberal Party’s mates, was why that petrol taxation arrangement started.

We cannot compare and contrast that set of events, which produced no ministerial resignation, no discussions of ministerial propriety but a program absolutely rampant with fraud, with this. Of course we all know that at the time one of the advisers to the honourable member for Bennelong was the current Leader of the Opposition. We have that situation contrasted with what was admitted by the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories (Mrs Kelly) to be quite clearly a set of unsatisfactory administrative procedures which could be dealt with.

We then go to the actual program itself. There were two elements of the actual program. The first was a process in the department which classified grants into four divisions, starting with ones that seemed most acceptable under the criteria and going through to those that were not. The other, incorporated in the guidelines of that program, was substantial ministerial discretion.

That is not unusual to that program. Many programs have substantial ministerial discretion. So, when guidelines are established, the program gets under way and there are anomalies or people who fall outside the guidelines, there is an opportunity for a minister to intervene and put his or her own judgment upon it. It is not unique to this program; it is a common feature of just about every government program you care to name.

The recommendations that came through from the department produced these results: in the first category of those most acceptable, the minister approved of 55 per cent; in those in the category that were next, 28 per cent; in the one after that, 19 per cent; and in the one after that a few made it through—and that is it. One ought to think that a program which had both ministerial discretion and an appropriate set of offerings from the department on what conformed with the guidelines would, in any normal circumstances, produce an outcome very like that. That is the sort of result you would see from that program. That is, in fact, all that has resulted from that program. So it is not particularly surprising, sitting down and looking at those particular outcomes, that the Auditor-General came to those conclusions.

Then there were the questions of whether or not these programs were likely to produce a situation where fraud became endemic in one way or another to them. Then we have on them the two checks in that process. The first of those checks was the requirement upon a particular committee associated with a club or whatever that was applying for those grants to make a contribution itself, or sometimes a local authority, or sometimes a state government. That was one check. The second check was that, unless the program moneys were spent on the purposes, money would not be paid across. Those are both pretty strong checks on any program. ‘If you don’t build it, you don’t get it’—that was the second check.

Contrast the administration of that program again with that which the honourable member for Bennelong presided over when he was there. Would you say that there was comparability between the two? Would you say that the propositions that those opposite had engaged in on their side of the House were better or worse than an outcome based on that set of operations?

Ministerial discretion is important here because, when you got through that 20-minute puerile speech from the Leader of the Opposition, the ground at the end of the day on why he said that the Prime Minister ought to be censured for maintaining the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories was that in a couple of answers she had misled the House and she gave the Pine River band $11,000. What happened there? A note went from the department to the Pine River band—$11,000 for instruments—saying, ‘Look, we don’t think that you fit into the criteria but, if you feel you’ve got a case, approach the minister’. The department advised the Pine River band, ‘Approach the minister’. In other words, ‘Invite the minister to exercise her ministerial discretion on your behalf’, which she subsequently did.

What is particularly wrong with that? Why is that misleading the House? Why is that such a devastating problem in a program whose criteria were established and publicly known, so that you were able to make judgments upon them? For that she is supposed to be censured by the House. The $11,000 Pine River band instruments bid did not fit into the criteria because it was not a building. But, if you are talking about a program related to capital programs, what is a capital program for a band? A capital program for a band is instruments. All right, so it does not meet the criteria because it is not a building, but the department clearly thinks that that is a pretty good ground for giving a grant under these propositions. So what does the department do? It writes to the Pine River band and tells it to appeal to the minister. There is nothing more commonsense than that.

Those opposite then go to another issue: in one or two of these instances they have found that it was not the case that the particular club or community group concerned was obliged to raise dollar for dollar for the particular programs they entered into. Again, if you look at the criteria for the programs, you will see that there is a capacity upon the minister to make a variation in that regard as well. That is the second big misleading of the House that the minister is supposed to have engaged in—the fact that there are one or two programs which, given the criteria of the program, she is allowed to exercise independence on.

They come rocking into this place-‘Let’s have her head! Let’s have her head for a grant to the Bundaberg Netball Association because the Bundaberg Netball Association failed to come forward with a dollar for dollar contribution to the program’. What a pathetic crew. They proposed the total haemorrhaging and collapse of the taxation system, combined with imposing a massive petrol tax upon the ordinary Australian to pay for it and to keep Johnny Howard’s balanced books. We had no removal of him during that. It was all good solid support for the old Johnny Howard when he was under threat and under attack from the then honourable member for Fremantle and others at the time. Were they calling for Johnny Howard’s resignation for misleading the House when he kept getting up in this place saying, ‘I am not aware of these things that are coming to me’, despite the fact that he was getting a weekly letter from the Commissioner of Taxation telling him? Oh no, there was no misleading of the House. Tax evasion? Minor issue. No worries about that. What we will have is the head of the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories because of 11 grand to the Pine River band—’She misled the House with 11 grand to the Pine River Band!’.

This is puerile. It was an extraordinarily puerile speech from the second speaker. You disrupted the prime ministerial reply because you concealed the puerility of your speech. You are not worthy of further debate on this matter. You do not permit debate to take place on this matter. I move:

That the question be now put.

The motion was put and the censure motion defeated 75-61.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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