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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18593

Mr LATHAM (3:02 PM) —My question is to the Treasurer. When did the Treasurer first become aware of Mr Knott's two-man business partnership with Ian David Stafford Collie? Does the Treasurer believe that, as head of ATSIC, Mr Knott should have publicly disclosed his involvement with Collie Knott and Co.? Given that Mr Knott will remain as head of ASIC for the next four months, what action will the Treasurer now take to ensure full disclosure?

Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —Mr Speaker, can I come to the last part of the question first. What action will I take to ensure full disclosure of a matter which is on the front page of the Financial Review? I would have thought that was full disclosure enough. It only happens to be on the front page of the Financial Review, which says—

Mr Latham —It is a disclosure, is it?

Mr COSTELLO —What is the disclosure about? As the Financial Review says:

BRW does not suggest that Knott was directly or indirectly involved in the sales tax scheme, nor that he advised on it, took any benefit under it or was aware of [his partner's involvement in it.]

That is the matter. Mr Knott no doubt can defend himself.

Mr Latham —Why won't he answer the questions?

Mr COSTELLO —Why won't he answer questions? I am sure that if the member for Werriwa wants to make his allegations outside the House he will answer questions—I am sure he will. As it turns out, Mr Knott, before he was the Deputy Chairman of ASIC, worked for APRA as its chief operating officer. Before that, he worked for an executive search company in Melbourne. Before that, he was the CEO of the Commonwealth Funds Management company. He was appointed in 1995. Which government would that have been under in 1995? Before that, he was director of the Australian Financial Institutions Commission in Brisbane, appointed by the states to run their financial regulatory thing. Before that, he worked for Capel Court Investment Bank in Melbourne from 1986 to 1992. Before that, he worked for CIBC in Victoria as a state manager. Before that, he was in Collie Knott and Co. solicitors from 1982 to 1983. Before that, he worked for Arthur Robinson and Co. That is his history.

There is no allegation that he has been involved in any sales tax matters. That is his full CV. He was appointed in 1995 to run the Commonwealth Funds Management. I know that this government did not come to office until 1996, so, if there is something particularly heinous about Mr Knott and what he did in 1982 and 1983, wouldn't the people in 1995 have been interested in that? Or, if there were something heinous, wouldn't the states that appointed him to be head of AFIC have been interested in that? Or, if there were something heinous, wouldn't it have been relevant when he went on to APRA? Or, if it were heinous when he went on to ASIC, wouldn't somebody have twigged to all of this—perhaps one of the states that was consulted? Maybe they took the view that the Financial Review did: that he was not involved and did not profit, and that guilt by association is still no longer a disqualification in this country. Maybe they took that view. Guilt by association has never been a ground for disqualification.

This is where I really get puzzled, because two days ago the position of the official spokesman of the Australian Labor Party was that Mr Knott had been doing a brilliant job and it regretted that he will be standing down. Today we have the slur from the member for Werriwa. Just put me out of my misery: is it Labor policy that Mr Knott is unfit for office or that he has done a good job? Perhaps we can ask Catherine Wolthuizen from the Australian Consumers Association—she seems to think he has done a good job. But it is not enough for the member for Werriwa, because back in 1982 and 1983, long before Mr Knott held any of these Commonwealth positions or state positions, there was a partner who engaged in tax avoidance. As I said earlier, if he engaged in tax avoidance, he deserves the full force of the law. But there is another principle of our law, which is that, if Mr Knott did not, he is not guilty by association.

By the end of the day the Australian Labor Party can make up its mind and issue an official statement, whether it is the Conroy position or whether it is the Latham position, but we are not going to let the Australian Labor Party walk two sides of the street on all of these issues—on the one hand, slur around and then, on the other hand, have their official spokesman talk about what a wonderful job people are doing. We will hold Labor accountable on this.