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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (26 October) . . Page.. 2095 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Now they are trying to formulate a new rule: That members of the Government - I assume that it should apply to members of the parliament because we all have influence in this place; this is a minority government, after all - should not have links with people in the community who are doing business with the Government. That, Mr Speaker, is a ridiculous rule. If Ms Follett and her colleagues believed in that rule they would have implemented it. They would have formulated it and put it into legislation when they were in government, but they have not done so because they do not believe in that rule.

MR CONNOLLY (12.27): Mr Speaker, I was very interested to hear the Attorney-General announce a very fundamental and substantial change in Government policy on transport, which I thought would have come from the Minister for Urban Services. The Attorney-General has now let the cat out of the bag; there is a conscious desire to force down the capital value of taxi plates and, as a result, fares will drop. The Minister for Urban Services or somebody from the Department of Urban Services might care to explain to Mr Humphries the way taxi fares are set.

Mr Humphries: I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not announce that that was Government policy. I expressly said that it was not Government policy; that it was my personal view.

MR SPEAKER: Mr Connolly, I uphold the point of order. I listened to Mr Humphries very carefully and I can confirm what he has just said.

MR CONNOLLY: To the extent that the number of taxi plates is relevant to this debate, he put the argument that they have done a good thing and would force the price down. Somebody might explain to him the way taxi fares are set through a regulatory committee which is specifically excluded from looking at the capital costs of running a taxi industry. Ministers who set prices are required, as is the committee, to not look at the capital value of the plates. Somebody may explain that to him. But, Mr Speaker, that is as irrelevant as was the bulk of Mr Humphries's speech.

This debate today is about fundamental ethics in government. Ms Follett, the Leader of the Opposition, was ambushed in this place with a little stunt - to force Ms Follett or someone from the Opposition, with no notice, to make a speech. Then Mr De Domenico got up and very carefully read a very long prepared speech, so they knew what they were about here. What Ms Follett said in her opening and unprepared remarks has remained fundamentally unanswered, and that is that on the facts of this case we have a significant conflict of interest. At best, and viewing it in the most charitable light, we have a significant breach of ethical standards by this Government, by this Minister, by this Chief Minister, and by Mr Hird.

It seemed from Mr Humphries's remarks to be common ground that it would be wrong if a company that Mr Hird owned, as an MLA, or had shares in, was bidding for and winning government contracts. I take that as a given. I take it that we all accept that it would be wrong for individual members to be bidding for and winning government work. So why is there no conflict of interest? Because the shares have been transferred to his wife. Mr Speaker, we have here the ethics of the 1970s tax avoidance industry. As long as you can set up a shelf company, as long as you can get something behind the corporate veil, what was unethical becomes ethical.

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